The capital of China it is just a different world. It is a massive city, with massive population, massive tourism and unfortunately massive pollution. Beijing offers anything that the traveler may need, monuments, museums, palaces and many more attractions. The gastronomy it is very wide and you can find many different dishes but the specialty it is the Beijing duck. There are also very popular street foods which we found very interesting and cheap.
The must see in the capital are the Forbidden city, the summer palace, the national museum of china (you will spend at least one day to see it all) and if you have more time you could see the hundred-flower garden which it is situated in the park of the hill of prayers and the circular altar. There are also more than 100 museums located along the city. The subway it is super cheap so makes it a very good option to move around.
Among the many comercial areas we found 2 very interesting ones, the Wangfujing snack street which is full os street food shops where you can find rare specialties such scorpions or grasshoppers, and also some souvenirs, and the other place it is located in Dazhalan street and Its surrounding area. Many different shop and food places are found in this area but explore specially the east part as there are artisanal streets with arts shops and good prices.
Of course do not miss the Great Wall, One of the 7 wonders of the world!!! From there are many access points to several sections BUT be careful which section you go as you may find lots of tourist to the point of impossible. As far as we heard the worst location it is Balding which is the closest and the best preserved one. We visited the SIMATAI section which has an impressive view over the mountains and also the river that cross the wall. On top of that, the access point is the Gubei water town, a traditional village that was restored for tourism propurses. Despite it is a touristic place has nice sights around and you can get an idea of how it was in the past.
After a few days in the Baikal lake and more than 5000 km, we change to the transmongolian train. Leaving Russia was a bit tiring as with the time change our visas where expired for a few hours and we had to pay an adicional 15€ in local currency in order to leave the country.
Ulan Bator train station
Once we entered in Mongolia the landscape changed drastically. The trees disappear little by little leaving a big extension of grass exposed. The land was flattening shortly and we found ourselves in a big plain. From the train you could see small spots in the green canvas of the landscape that were the famous yurts. This tents made with wood and felt with a protective layer outside are the way of living for many Mongolians. Despite they are not as nomads as they used to be, the Yurt can be set up in about 3 hours by 3 experienced people.
Mongolia landscape with Yurts
Ulan Bator it is another big city with a big change between the city center and the surrounding area, big urban agglomeration of basic buildings and Yurts gather around the city. The people there are quite warming and kind and you can feel the nomadic attitude around every corner. As soon as you leave the city, the landscape change and families campsites, yurts and nomad farms flourish everywhere.
In the city, you can find lots of interesting activity apart of sightseeing. There are many museums and I specially recommend the Mongolian museum of history where you can get an idea of the country and culture which I found very interesting. You can also visit their national theatre show where you can watch among traditional dances and music the very especial contortionist show or the Mongol chant, also called diphonic singing.
In the countryside are many activities but camping in the nature I would say it is the most important. It does not matter if it is in the dessert, in a valley, in a river or in a mountain, you may see people with their tents preparing a fire or setting up the tent. On top of that you have the Yurts, that spread along the whole country dispersed in the landscape. Many natural places are to be seen in the countryside but if you are passing by Mongolia, the top 3 touristic places out there are the Gengis Kahn statue, the ottoman empire rocks and the yurts situated all over the country.
Gengis Kahn statue
In my opinion, Mongolia it is a must see within Asia countries and specially if you are a nature lover. It is a place to visit and not to pass by, it is a place to interact with the culture and with the people.
One of the rail hotspots of the trans-siberian train it is the city of Irkust which is approximately half of the way toVladivostok, the last stop of the train. Being half way does not make this place special but being the detour for the transmongolian train going to Beijing and having the Baikal lake as one of its main attractions make it a good stopover.
We arrived of course with a little bit of time hangover due to the multiple changes in time zones and we headed directly to the Baikal lake. Our first stop was the museam of the lake where we found very interesting information of the lake for a reasonable price. I totally recomend to go there and inform yourself about the lake. Some curious facts of the lake
- Biggest fresh water reservoir in the world with about 20% of the whole fresh water on earth.
- Deepest lake in the world, 1668 m deep.
- 630km long and 80km in its wider part.
- Many unique spices lives in it
- More than 330 rivers flow into the lake
The lake sourrandings are also very beautiful, covered with a green layer of pine trees and valleys that make such a nice environment. The main town in the lake is Listvyanka which is a very touristic place with lots of restaurants, boats companies and a local market. The activities that you can do there goes from hiking arround the lake (there is a Baikal great trail that surround the lake) taking boats of any kind from fast boats to slow ones or even overdrafts, you can take a lift from a ski station to go up a close mountain to get a good sight, there are camping areas arround the lake and you can also walk through town.
The lake it is quite cold as the water comes from the surrounding montains which melts their ice and snow into the lake. The average surface temperature is 4 degrees and in summertime can get up to 11 degrees depending on many factors as the deep or the kind of lake bed in that part. We went in the lake twice and we could experiment the difference in temperature as the first day we guess that the water was arround 6 degrees and the second time arround 11 degrees.
One of the activities that we liked the most was to cross the Angara river in the local ferry to port Baikal. There was a local train still running on steam locomotive and a nice town not affected by the tourism which gave us a great sight of the "real" Rusia. Also we found warmer waters than in Listvyanka.
The city of Irkust it is as well very nice, many beautiful churches and a very interesting museum of the history of the place, the Krayevedcheskiy muzey. It has a lot of nice places arround the river and lots of history. The capital of the siberian Rusia it is a place to visit.
After a few days in Rusia's capital we took the world famous trans-siberian train that runs 5153 km from Moscow to Irkust. The train take about 3 nights and a half as there are a 6 hour difference between this two cities. The route between them has a total of 19 stops of no longer than 30 min, and goes over mayor cities in Rusia as Ekaterinburg, Omsk, Novosibirsk or Krasnoyarsk. Due to the short time of the stop, you can only get an insight of the city from its train station unless you decide to stay in the stop and take a following.
So in this situation we decided to run! Not only to see as much as possible but to exercise a bit as you spend most of the time in te train sitting or lying. Some stations give you more stop time tha others so in some we could just go to the locomotive and back to the train. In some of them we even had time to do the groceries as the restaurant wagon is quite expensive. There are also a great variety of local food, and local products as Siberian hats or smoked fish.
Despite the train it is quite boring some times, the cabinets are confortable enough and it is also a good moment to meet other travelers and share stories and experiences.
The views from the train changes but you may see mainly forests and the towns in the way. But pay attention or you may loose a beautiful river, lake, or sunset sight.
I would say that the worst part is going through the time zones as the train runs in Moscow time but the restaurant wagon, the cities which you go through and the daylight runs in local time, so you kind of get time sickness through the trip and loosing time conciseness it is a normal thing.
You also need to be lucky with your wagon assistant as some Russians may be not as kind as others.
I will let you know from Irkust and the Baikal lake in the next post.
It has been 3 days in Moscow prior to take the trans-siberian train and I have to say that in the few time that I have been here, I really like the city.
Despite the cirilic russian alphabet that makes every sign very difficult to read and understand, the city itself it is very beautiful and monumental. You can see the greatness of the capital showing off his power through big statues, squares and buildings that you can find in almost every corner in the city.
The subway system it is a marvelous collection of mini museums. Each metro station has a different style and materials that have been used specifically for the style. They use marble, granite, glass and bronze among other materials. I have to say that the saying they have here: "we have the most beautiful subway system in the world" it is totally true as far as I have seen. It is also very cheap transport to move arround the city and very fast and reliable.
The kremlin, which is the old town, it is as well very beautiful and has inside many representative buildings such as the parlament. There are also a few churches and squares inside.
The red square out of the kremlin walls it is called like that not because of red buildings sourrinding it but because in the past the word red use to mean beautiful, so it was called the beautiful square.
Appart from the main sights of the city, we explored a bit more and went to the parks that surround the moskow river. In the Gorki park we found a great colection of Lenin statues and many others from the soviet time. The Lenin park it is also a beautiful place with a triunph arch and a great fountain with a water and music show.
There are many other places that we did not have time enough to explore as the city needs at least 5 or 6 days to be seen in depth.
In the next post I will tell you about the trip in the trans-siberian train!! Stay in tune!!