3 Places not to visit in Beijing

Been there, done that. That usually the tourist’s mantra. Go to a country. Die die must visit those iconic places that are featured so prominently in the tourist brochure and advertisement. Like people comes in the hundred to look at the Merlion here.  Or travel 2 hours to have a 10 minute peek into some tourists and touts infested area that is so artificial that it there is an equivalent in every city.

So this article instead of the usual places to visit in XXX country, I decided it is easier to write about places not to go. Places that are not worth the entrance fee or the long journey there or is a total tourist rip off. Since my last major overseas trip is to Beijing I shall start from there.

Forbidden City

This is a must see for every people who visit Beijing be it a foreign tourist or a native from another province. After all who has not seen the beautiful palaces complex in the many movies of China. But is it really worth the time and money?

Firstly on any given day, there is a super long queue to get in. During weekend and holidays, that queue can stretch up to 3 hours not helped by the super tight security and the blatant queue cutting by the locals. And maybe after 2 hours of queuing you finally reached the first courtyard and the ticket counters. And you freaking queue again to buy your admission tickets before squeezing in with the crowd. And talking about crowd, this is the crowd on a Monday morning20160517_101241

This doesn’t look too bad except this is just one of the many court yards within the Palace Complex so there will be more than enough place to walk through until you get to one of the halls and then you get thisdsc_1138

These people are not praying or holding joss stick ok! What they trying to do is to catch a glimpse and perhaps a snap of whatever is inside the building. Now every thing would have been fine and dainty if there is some sort of queue system and directional walking but there isn’t.  Everyone is jostling for space and trying to look inside and which inexplicably for a top notch attraction is shroud in darkness and separate from the public eyes by a piece of blurry perspex which have seen better days. So after all that struggle, what one get is a quick glimpse of some furniture in a dark chamber and nothing else! And repeat this for the 1001 halls there.  And in fact all the other historical places like the Heavenly Temple are the same. Nice looking on the outside. Dark and gloomy inside through the perspex glass.

Tiananmen

Of course if you go to the Forbidden City, you got to go to Tianamen which is just across the road. But to get there, you need to walk a big detour from the exit of Forbidden City and again pass through multiple level of security check to get to a ………. big empty ground facing the outer gates of the Forbidden City!20160517_164308

Its only claim to fame is of course the Tiananmen Protest site of 1998. Other than that, there is nothing to see except facade of the various historical buildings around it and I must admit nice flower bed.dsc09835

But really truly it is a waste of time to be there. You would do better going to go to one of the shopping streets where at least you can get shelter from the heat or cold depending on which season you are visiting and food to eat at decent prices.

Beijing Aquarium

I am not sure whether this is a children playground with fish exhibits or an aquarium with children playgrounds. There is a playground or some thing resembling that in practically every exhibition halls. And the fish? Most of them were kept in small little tanks and this include the 2  Beluga and the dolphins.dsc_1065If you cannot bear the sight of the fish being confined to their prison cells or the sound of a thousand screaming children, avoid at all cost. And definitely not worth the queuing and the cost of the tickets. I have a more detailed post on this a̶t̶t̶r̶a̶c̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ prison here.

Great Wall of China Marathon – Conquer the Wall

This is the 2nd year that I am experiencing a Great Wall Marathon. Last year the race was held at Jinshangling and involves the full marathon runners running 4 loops mainly on restored section of the Great Wall . It was a tough race judging from the looks on the runners. Will it be the same this year?

This year the race moved to Zhangjiakou, a remote village on the outskirt of Beijing.  The start line is just a small patch of open ground with no facilities around. The 42 km Full Marathon and the half marathon runners start and run along a 3 km stretch of village road before returning to the start line and going up the mountain to the wall proper. The runners run 8 km on the wall doing a loop. At the end of the loop, the runners goes down the wall before going back up. HM do 1 full loop, FM 2 loops and 10 km and 5 km gets to skip the first part on the village road.7-DSC_1083

On the wall, it is mainly unrestored wall and in poor condition. There is not even a shadow of a wall with most part having broke off.1-DSC08816

8-GWC_5602Most part of the wall is so badly damaged that they are not really “runnable”. There were 2 sections where runners had to be diverted to the forest at the side. 6-DSC_1084

While it looks tough for the runners, I didn’t think that it was really as tough as last year’s edition as there are less steep climbs at least not the sort where one got to get down on hands and knees to climb up.3-GWC_1936

But still judging from the vast number of runners who dnf the full marathon, it was still tough notwithstanding the nice cool weather and the more “gentle” altitude.

More photos of the route in this post. Photos of the race are available here. For order, please contact the race director for details.

Singapore runners who are looking for a different race experience might want to consider this. Not only is there great view, there is also an event tee, medal and food at the end of the race for runners, something that Singapore runners can’t seem to get enough of.

The Great Wall at Zhangjiakou

Whenever people talk of visiting the Great Wall of China. they only think of the beautiful nice wall in say Badaling or the slightly more out of the way Jinshanling. In most people’s mind, it will be something like this:1-DSC00903

This was also what we encountered last year when we went to do our first official photo cover for the Great Wall Marathon. Sure it was a bloody tough climb up and down the towers but at least the grounds we were on were in good conditions.

This year, back for a second year, I expected more or less of the same but boy were we in for a big surprise. This year, the marathon moved from Jinshanling to a super ulu area known as Zhangjiakou which was actually an old village somewhere outside Beijing. To get up to the wall, we started from the foot of a hill where there was totally no facilities. So first we got to go up a trail.01-DSC_0924After about 1.5 km of huffing and puffing we finally reached another open area where apparently the locals can camp there. And that was the most easy to walk part of the whole route.

At this big open area, runners will have to turn right to go and go up a long steep part of the wall to the restored section of the wall. Did I said restored part? Yes because other than that particular restored section, the rest of the wall was unrestored like this:06-DSC08588

and this:09-DSC08631

and this:11-DSC08692

We didn’t went right because apparently that was the most challenging part of the race route involving a long climb up and then the more difficult and dangerous climb down this section.03-20160513_125438

During race day, quite a number of the runners got injured here including one who was hit by falling rocks. Some runners had to literally sit down on their butt to get down.

But the challenging aspect of the route was more than compensated by the beautiful and magnificent view of the surrounding mountains 12-DSC08677

This is M slowly easing herself down another steep slope14-DSC08729

We were just supposed to recce about 8 – 10 km of the route but the wall seems to go on and on and on.15-DSC0870104-DSC08535 05-20160513_133213_001

We took close to 5 hours to walk through the whole recce which is about 2/3 of the 10 Km route so I don’t envy the runners who will have to do this loop twice!

More about the Conquer the Wall The Great Wall Marathon here.

Beijing Zoo and Aquarium

I make it a point to visit the major zoo in every country that I visit.  Last year when I was in New Zealand, we wanted to visit the zoo there but was dissuade by our host who told us that no zoo can compare with our Singapore Zoo. But still I wanted to go not to compare the zoos but to see some of the species that are not available in the Singapore Zoo.

So this recent trip to Beijing, we dutifully made a trip to the Beijing Zoo. The hope was to see some more unique animals like the Siberian Tiger and hopefully some other. The zoo had no website or at least one that I can find and the reviews on Trip Advisor was rather bad and so I went with quite a low expectation. It didn’t help that it was drizzling and yet the place was packed. Admission price was rather cheap at only RMB20 which also include admission to the Panda House.

With the rain pouring down, it was a miserable day for not just the visitors but also the animals. Here a poor fox huddled in one corner of its glass enclosure.3-DSC_0956

To avoid the rain, we skipped most of the open exhibits and walked only at those that had some shelters but these were mainly the smaller cage housing birds and small mammals and most of which were hiding indoor.

We then decided to head straight to the aquarium since that has to be indoor and away from the rain. We got a shock when we realize upon reaching the aquarium that there was a separate admission charge and at RMB150 – almost 10 times the admission price of the zoo! And yet it was crowded. We beat a hasty retreat and settle for a lousy lunch but it was still raining after lunch. The rest of the group decided to skip the aquarium but M & me decided to go in since we were there already.

There wasn’t anything much to see. The first part of the aquarium remind me of our old Van Kleef Aquarium with its small tank display of freshwater fish. The usual “giant” fish tank with all the sea water fish such as sharks, rays and bigger ocean going fish were not really that big and spectacular. But the aquarium boast of having Belugas and dolphins, of which the former was something I have never see even on tv. 4-DSC_1064

But sadly the 2 Beluga looks very stressed and pitiful. Throughout the time we were looking at it, they were almost always in an upright position. The aquarium also had 2 dolphins, housed separately in 2 teeny weeny little square tanks. One dolphin was swimming violently round and round and the other was just stationery in an upright position. The other “highlight” was the Chinese Sturgeon. Other than that, there was the usual fish and many many jelly fish.

Back out at the zoo, it was still raining and so we did a quick walk through. Unique animals spotted was the Snub Nosed Monkey, 1-PRP_1673

The Yak5-DSC_1069

And of course the Panda.2-PRP_1684
Overall, the place was a big disappointment. Not only were the animals housed in small enclosures despite the big sprawling site, the enclosures were badly maintained and mostly barren. And information provided were misleading. At the elephant enclosure, the display picture was of an African elephant but all the elephants were actually Asiatic elephants. And because of the rain, we didn’t manage to see the Bison, the Gorilla and Siberian Tiger. The only tiger on display was the more common White Indo China Tiger.

The saving grace for the trip was some beautiful birds in fairly large enclosures and there was a mini walk in shore bird aviary.7-PRP_1654

Channel Billed Toucan

Channel Billed Toucan

PRP_1635

Would I go there again? Definitely not. Would I recommend it as a place to visit when in Beijing? I think there are better place to go than this unless one really has nothing else left to do.

Street Food in Beijing

I enjoyed eating street food whenever I travel overseas. And one of my favourite place for street food is Bangkok which has almost everything. And then what I saw in Beijing blew me away. There at Wangfujing was streets after streets of food. And according to the local, this is not the best. There is apparently another place which has better food. But what was available at Wangfujing was more than enough.

Here are some pictures. First up, the nice looking stuff and desserts

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This is some sort of pastries

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Rice ball with yam, banana and coconut filling

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Fried durian!

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Fruits and the famous pintanhulu

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This is supposed to be an imperial delicacy eaten by the Empress

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Not ice cream but some sort of rice cake

Next up is all the more mundane looking stuff:

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Grilled pigeon I think

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All sort of fried fish

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Fried crab claw

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Pancake

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Mantou. But not too sure what meat are those though

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Whole crab. How to eat?

Last but not least, the yucky stuff

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The white thingy is snake and the round thingy are cocoon

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Meal worms and grasshoppers

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Seahorses and lizards

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Crickets

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Giant scorpions

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Centipedes and those black things are spiders!

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Star fish! How could they possibly eat this?

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And last something more normal looking. All sort of meats and crustaceans

Contrary to my usual self, I did not try any of the yucky stuff. Firstly wasn’t too sure how hygienic it was and secondly, some of the creepy crawlies were still alive although pierce on the stick! No way I am going to eat such cruel food!