Saturday, November 28, 2015

Golden Week: Travelling With Low Expectations

My time in China is passing by so quickly and every time I see my friends, who are also abroad either studying, doing volunteer work or just travelling, posting something on their blogs, I feel a sting of guilt. Why haven't I managed to post anything?

I could say that I don't have enough time for this and it wouldn't be a lie. I really don't have the time to write a long blog post that I would read through several times, correct all the mistakes and add some great photos to accompany it.

But honestly, it's just that I have decided to spend my time on other things - I've decided that it's important to concentrate on school, to see as much Beijing as possible and most importantly, to spend as much time as possible with the people I've grown to care about. For god's sake, I only have two months left in Beijing!

But one thing that I haven't still managed to tell you about is my Golden Week trip, which (spoiler) was really awesome.

I guess the biggest thing that we learned with this trip was that you should never have high expectations while travelling. Just a week before our golden week holidays we honestly  had no idea where are we going, where are we sleeping or when and how are we going to get back to Beijing. We ended up booking a place in a hostel, which had no rooms left, so they were going to "put us somewhere" and our train tickets to come back home were "standing tickets", which if you know anything about the Chinese train culture or the masses of travelers during the golden week, wasn't a good idea at all.

But if you really don't know what to expect, there is no chance to get disappointed.

So we finally ended up taking the bus to Hohhot, which was actually pretty decent, had soft chairs and took us from point A to B. The only disturbing moment was the toilet stop, which at the same time could be considered an experience because I am pretty sure I will never ever see a toilet that awful again. And when I say awful, I mean like really awful and even if I had a picture of it, it would probably be too immoral to share the picture on my blog.

But after about 8 hours we arrived to Hohhot and we even had a guy with a minivan picking us up from the station. And although at one point we were quite sure that we had gotten into a random guy's car who had taken us to some creepy small alley and was going to kill us, our hostel was actually over there on this strange street and it turned out that they had booked us a room in a hotel nearby for the same price. Since the hotel actually looked nice and breakfast was included in the price, our expectations had already been exceeded more that 100 percent.

This was followed by our two-day-trip to the Inner Mongolian grasslands and to the Gobi desert. And let's be honest, I didn't really expect that much from the grasslands because well I'm from Estonia, which has a lot of flat land and these big fields of nothingness. But the whole trip was so awesome and the grasslands with their endless emptiness, clean air and amazing night sky were great. We spent a night in a traditional Mongolian yurt with -5 degrees, had traditional Mongolian food and spent the following day in the Gobi desert with +25 degrees. And for real, everything was amazing!

But we had to wrap up our things in Inner Mongolia pretty quickly because we also wanted to make it to Datong. The 5-hour train ride to Datong was pretty good, the only annoying factor being the Chinese people constantly taking "not-so-secret" pictures and videos of us. And again to our surprise, our (quite cheap) hotel turned out to be a really nice "love hotel". If you haven't heard anything about these Chinese or Asian "love hotels", they are the places where young people go to spend some time alone with their partners (the dorms in school are usually only for men or only for women and no visitors are allowed after 11).
But how can you recognize a love hotel?
1. You can only check in for one night and every day you have to register and pay again
2. Instead of snacks and alcohol, your room is supplied with a wide selection of condoms
3. The bathroom and toilet have see-through glass walls
4. You see a lot of young couples
5. Prices are relatively cheap

But enough about that. Datong was really great! I loved the old town, walking around in local markets, having the famous Datong shaved (yes, shaved) noodles, climbing on Hengshan mountain and seeing the Yunggang grottoes and the Hanging Temple. The only negative thing was that there were masses of Chinese travelers in the touristy places and the amount of pictures that we had to take with them was way too big (Yes, I'm still famous here and everyone wants to take pictures. And WOW, I'm SO WHITE!).

By the end of the trip I was quite sure that such an awesome trip with such great people has to end with something bad, because how is it possible that everything goes so well?! But it didn't. Yeah, the train ride back was the worst train ride ever, but we got back to our not-so-soft beds by the next morning and the memories we had collected during the trip were so vivid, that nothing could really ruin our mood.

So to wrap this up, I really want to thank Karianne, Jing,  Inge, Tobias and Robert for this amazing trip! And once again, I would like to say that China is so great and diverse. Where else could you climb a mountain in a 26-degree heat one day, walk around in a desert the other and spend the night with -5 degrees in a Mongolian tent?!

But now, prepare yourself for an overdose of pictures!

PART I: Inner Mongolia (Hohhot, Xilamuren grasslands, the Gobi desert)

On our way to Hohhot

Welcome to Inner Mongolia
Just next to our hotel in Hohhot there was this coffee shop, which was the cutest and coziest place ever. 
The view from our hotel in Hohhot

Our Mongolian yurt, which was actually way more civilized than we expected. But it was for sure the coldest night of my life.
Our five-star hotel in the Xilamuren grasslands

PART II: Datong, Shaanxi province (Hengshan mountain, Yunggang grottoes, the Hanging Temple)

On our first day in Datong we were just walking around the city center and looking for a place to eat. Since we literally didn't see any restaurant, cafe or anything, we asked some locals where should we go. This is where they lead us - the restaurant street behind the shopping area. 

But to our surprise we actually found a decent place next to that street and their food was  honestly amazing!

The climb up to Hengshan mountain was pretty rough to say the least. We had a limited amount of time, but the Chinese people, who had already overcrowded the whole mountain didn't really want to give us the opportunity to make it to the top. After taking like the 10th picture of the day with them, our conversations weren't that long and polite anymore. Instead of making small talk it was more like: "Can I take a picture with you? - Make it quick." But we did make it to the top and the view was amazing!

The Hanging Temple - built more than 1500 years ago it is the only existing temple which combines the three traditional religions: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Since it literally hangs on a cliff, it is a miracle that it still stands. 

But as you can see, the day had been long and our bodies tired.   

But as it turned out, China is small and so we happened to meet our friends from Tsinghua at the Hanging Temple. 

This picture describes travelling during the golden week pretty well. I think there might have been like ten times as many people there as there are on my home island in Estonia. 

For our last dinner in Datong we were planning on going to the best restaurant in Datong, but since the waiting time there was like 3 hours, we found this place just at the main square of the old town. And luckily they even turned on the lights just before we finished our dinner. 

Hopefully you will see a new post from me soon, but if not, be safe and enjoy life!

PS: I miss you all back home :)

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