My first vacation choice is always beachside. However, since Meagan had China as a top choice country to visit before leaving Korea, we booked flights to China. We got a great deal on the tickets but they were non-refundable/non-transferable so, when Meagan couldn’t get her Chinese visa, we were stuck with tickets. NOTE: If you apply for a Chinese visa from Korea, you must have at LEAST 6 months left on your E2 Korean visa in order to be approved for a Chinese visa. AND a dual entry visa is impossible (again leaving from Korea) if it’s your first trip– so, that left out Mongolia as I had originally planned to do a week there before making it back to China for my return flight.
I arrived in Beijing and made my way to the hostel I had booked for the first week. It was so horrible that I checked out the next morning, deciding that finding a new hostel with availability would be difficult the first day in. Plus, I would lose the first night anyway, so I toughed it out. Besides the horrible customer service, this place had basically turned into a love motel instead of a hostel. Apparently, after talking with the French guy who used to manage the place, it was doing very well as a hostel, but upper management decided to fire him to save costs. Yea, it was clear that the French guy was making it a great place prior to his being let go.
ANYWAY, enough about that. The second day I found Drum Tower Hostel on hostelworld.com (my favorite site to book hostels by the way) for a great price, and in a good location. The staff were great, friendly and helpful. Unfortunately, I became ill due to the air pollution and spent a full 24 hrs in bed with an extremely dry nose/throat, a low-grade fever and an overall fatigue. The air is so dry that my nose literally bleed on and off the entire time I was in Beijing.
I must admit, it’s hard for me to find many positive things to say about Beijing. It’s dirty, the people are really selfish and they fry everything. It’s not uncommon to see people hawking up the contents of their nose and throat and spitting it– anywhere– the bus, the street, the subway, the bathroom, a restaurant floor… yea- GROSS. Now, if you know me, you know I am not a big complainer. I try to see the positive side of everything. Here are some good things I can say: the food is good and the portions are plenty. Haggling is a blast there as there are vendors galor. Most of them will play along with you and have a fun banter but if you’re the angry negotiating type, it won’t fair well for you. RELAX with it. Here is a rule of thumb: Plan to pay abut 1/3 of what they start at. As with any negotiations, think about what a good deal is for you, consider what you could pay for it in your country and know that it is made in a factory with cheap labor in China… If they don’t make a profit, they won’t sell it to you and the vendor two doors down will have the exact same thing!
Shopping at the Silk Market was definitely the highlight as I was able to (fairly) easily find my size clothes. Clearly, the markets have a lot of bigger-than-Asian-size tourists. I bought 6 pair of jeans, 3 pair of shoes, a coat, a belt, 20 pair of underwear, 2 shirts and some socks. Yea, I re-stocked!
Instead of giving you a play by play, like I usually do, I am basically going to give you the important pointers of Beijing:
*Leaving from Korea, you must have at LEAST 6 months left on your contract and ARC card.
*Single entry visa only if it’s your first time
*If you’re American, a visa is 200,000won (about $200) and can only be obtained from a travel agency (cannot apply directly to the Chinese Embassy)
*Tickets are usually reasonable though– around 300,000won round trip.
*Beijing is SUPER DIRTY– TAKE and USE a MASK
*I stayed at the Drum Tower Hostel– SUPER cheap if you book through hostelworld.com and great accommodations/location/
*If you want to see the Great Wall– of course– It’s much cheaper to go on your own, but you have to be good at negotiations, otherwise, they stick it to ya!
*Mutianyu is the best part of The Great Wall as far as (lack of) tourists but still able to scale by the average person. Simatai is the prettiest but will take you a 4-hr hike in and out! *
*USE THE SUBWAY… taxis and buses don’t have/use English.
I also visited two different cities in the middle/eastern part of China, Shanghai and Nanjing. I have friends who live in each of those cities. Shanghai was the best of the three, in my opinion and I could find a few people who spoke a little English here and there.
I caught an acrobatics show, which China is famous for, so I would definitely recommend finding one in the city you’ll be in.
I know this blog is a little less detailed than I usually give, but hey. I have tried and tried to come up with some exciting, positive things to say, and after a couple months, I am simply ready to put this blog out there. If you have specific questions, please leave a comment and I will get back with you.