| Part 1: Beijing, Xian
This is was my second trip to China, after the one in November/December 2004. This time I flew to
Beijing from Seoul and joined my wife (who came from Malaysia). We
spent one week together in Beijing, Xian and Chengdu. From Chengdu my
wife flew back to Malaysia, while I continued my trip to Lhasa (Tibet)
and Guangzhou. From Guangzhou I flew to Bangkok, and from where back
to Munich together with my wife. All the time we left our baby daughter
in-laws in Malaysia.
We didn't like Beijing - huge and polluted, but most of all huge, with
12-lane streets and huge buildings. Long times to walk from one place
to the next and long times to get from A to B by taxi. So we left
Beijing earlier than planned and instead spent more time in Xian, a
more pleasant town. We only stayed one day in Chengdu,
visiting the Giant Panda breeding centre.
I had great plans for Tibet, but ended up spending most of these five
days in the hotel room, because of mountain sickness problems. Once in
Guangzhou however I recovered immediately. Guangzhou itself is a
relatively pleasing town (I was positively impressed).
This is the pre-departure plan for the overall trip:
|Arrive at Taipei airport 21:55
|Fly 17:50-21:10 with GE702
|Visit Busan; Busan->Gyeongju with bus in the
|Gyeongju - Seoul
|Gyeongju until afternoon; Seoul in the evening
|Meet Shirley in the evening in Beijing
| Shirley flies Chengdu-Kunming-Kuala Lumpur;
Alfred flies Chengdu-Lhasa
|Do the Gyantse-Shigatse-
Yam Tso lake loop
|Arrive in the evening in Guanzhou
|Afternoon flight Guangzhou-Bangkok
The overall trip is a bit ambitious, but doable. I don't have the
tickets for the flights within Asia when I leave Munich (will have to
buy them while I'm in Asia). Shirley already left for Malaysia on
September 23rd. She'll leave the baby with the in-laws and meet me in
Beijing on October 10th. We'll travel for one week across China, then
we'll split and meet in Bangkok for the return flight. I'm planning to
do a three-days circuit (Gyantse-Shigatse-Yam Tso) in Tibet.
The hotel expense averaged 400 yuan/night (this time I stayed in more
upmarket places). The biggest cost block were the transportation costs,
as we used a lot of internal flights to cover the huge distances and
local taxis (which are cheap, but we used them for longer distances and
half-day trips). Food is relatively cheap in China.
/ Exchange rate (October 2005)
1 Euro = 9.78 yuan
the Universal Currency Converter.
phones and prepaid cards
I used a prepaid card of China Mobile with my mobile phone (GSM). The
price was 100 yuan for the card and telephone number. You could
purchase airtime in 50 or 100 yuan increments. The price of phone calls
was around 1 yuan / minute for national calls and you had to pay for
In all hotels except the one in Guangzhou I had a fast Internet access
in the hotel room (through an Ethernet cable). Not as fast as in South
Sunny, dry and fresh most of the time (some overcast skies every now
and then). It was possible to walk around in a T-shirt in most places.
In Guangzhou it was not too hot.
I didn't do any additional vaccinations, relying on the immunity gained
from the vaccinations in the past years. Lots of people on the streets
wearing breathing masks, which indicates either a fear from the
polluted air or fear to catch bird flu.
VISA / Entry
A valid VISA is required for nationals of most countries. For Tibet a
permit is required - I obtained mine through a travel agency in Chengdu
(see the Chengdu section).
Was ok. I never felt unsecure when walking in the streets. We were not
cheated and nothing was stolen while we were in China.
We relied on flights to rapidly cover the huge
internal distances and used mostly taxis for local transportation, even
for half-day trips due to the convenience and their relatively low
cost. We didn't try out buses or trains.
Seoul -> Beijing
Hotel Hilton, Beijing. We get the
employee rate of USD 50 per night. Nice five star hotel, with free
Internet in the lobby (the access speed in the lobby is too slow for
VoIP phone calls). For that you have to use the DSL line in the room (3
Weather: In Seoul sunny, but with a
layer, more or less thin. The weather improves in the afternoon. Warm
enough to walk around with a T-Shirt. No rain. Dry and fresh in Beijing
in the evening.
We arrive in Beijing on time at 7:20pm local time. It takes 25 minutes
to get through immigration, get the luggage and leave the airport.
David, my wife's brother is there waiting for me. I try to change the
remaining Korean won into yuan, but no the airport bank won't take them.
Then what happens is that David brings us to his place, we fetch
Shirley who arrived earlier, and David spends the next three hours
driving us around Beijing. Thanks a lot David, but we are just too
Hotel Hilton, Beijing.
Weather: Sunny, no clouds, no rain
the whole day. Warm enough to walk around with a T-shirt. The air is
not clear (either dust or fog).
We get up just in time to have breakfast (breakfast closes at 10am).
Then we sort of lose time discussing the plan for the day, and finally
fetch a taxi to the forbidden city, arriving at 12:15pm. The taxi
driver "forgot" to switch on the meter and charges us 40 yuan for the
trip, which is more than the 20 yuan the trip would have normally cost.
We settle on 30 yuan.
Everything in Beijing is HUGE and actually Beijing is a huge, ugly
town. There is a lack of comfortable areas with shops, restaurants,
tourist attractions etc. within walking distance. Everything is
huge and far apart, streets have 12 lanes and it takes a lot of time to
get from one place to the next. Beijing is not like Shanghai, where
around the Bund there is an area with interesting sights, shops,
shopping complexes, restaurants etc. From a tourist point of view
Beijing is messy - you lose a lot of time for getting from one place to
We need two and a half hours for instance to visit the Forbidden City
(entry ticket is 60 yuan) and we don't visit everything. All buildings
and structures inside the Forbidden City look similar and after a while
we get bored - very nice, but too much stuff which looks the same.
Around 2:40pm we finally get out of the Forbidden City and get a taxi
to a shopping area (Wangfujing Dajie). The idea is to have some lunch,
then do some shopping. 10 minutes later we are there, but it is kind of
difficult to find a restaurant. Lots of shops, but no restaurants
anywhere. So we walk into a shopping complex. Even there it's not so
easy to find a restaurant. We end up on the fifth floor, where we have
something in sort of a Chinese fast food. The food is tasty, but I'm
sure you can find better food in Beijing.
While in the shopping complex, I end up buying some walking shoes for
298 yuan. Quite nice and good quality. At 4:15pm we leave the shopping
complex and walk along the Wangfujing Dajie street. Wangfujing Dajie is
a pedestrian area with lots of shops and malls. An interesting place,
where you can do some shopping.
Around 4:40pm we reach the end of Wangfujing Dajie and fetch a taxi to
the Beijing World Trade Centre, which we reach at 5pm. We spend some
time there, doing some shopping, then get back to the hotel by taxi.
In the evening we don't do much. At 7:30pm we have a dinner in the
hotel with David, Shirley's brother, who is executive chef at the
Hilton hotel in Beijing.
Tomorrow we'll visit the Temple of Heaven in the morning, then we'll
take a taxi to the Great Wall in Jinshanling. Jinshanling is further
away from Beijing (110 km), but the wall there is more "natural" and
less touristy than in Badaling (should be less crowded).
By the way, today I haven't managed to buy a prepaid telephone card.
Was planning to do so, but couldn't find a mobile phone reseller. We
also have to buy the plane tickets and I still have to get Chinese cash
from an ATM. I wonder where the Citibank outlets are.
Hotel Hilton, Beijing.
Weather: Sunny with a clouds layer
and sort of a fog (bad visibility). The "sunnyness" improves when we
reach the Great Wall. Fresh, but not cold (we can walk around with a
T-shirt). No rain, but rain has been forecast for tomorrow.
As usual we get up at 9am to have a breakfast before 10am. Around
10:30am we jump into a taxi to visit the Temple of Heaven. The taxi
driver tells us that the temple of Heaven is undergoing restauration
and is closed. Never mind, we still decide to go there.
It takes almost one hour to get to the Temple of Heaven (northern
entry) - an unbelievably long time, it seems we
will never arrive. Beijing sucks, if you need one hour by taxi to reach
a downtown place starting from another downtown place. On the map the
temple of Heaven and the Hilton hotel don't look so far away.
Anyway, we walk through the park of the temple of Heaven, from North to
South, in about one hour. The park is quite nice and so are the things
While in the taxi on the way to the temple of Heaven we have negotiated
with the taxi driver that he will bring
us to the Great Wall at Jinshanling and back for 550 yuan. After
exiting the park, we walk into a nearby restaurant and have some food.
While eating, at 1pm Shirley calls the taxi driver and tells him to
pick us up in about half an hour.
After lunch we walk to a grocery where I buy a GSM prepaid card for 100
yuan (for the telephone number) + 100 yuan (available calls).
At 1:20pm the taxi driver arrives and we leave for the Great Wall. What
follows is a very long trip to the Great Wall - it take us three hours
to get there, longer than we expected. We lose one hour just to get
the airport (28km from Beijing and on the way) due to the huge
traffic. When we finally get out of the taxi it's 4:20pm, and the sun
is about to set.
From the parking to the Great Wall it's 24 minutes of fast walk. A
local very stubborn (female) seller of souvenir stuff follows us all
the way from the parking to the wall, despite us continually telling
her that we are not going to buy anything (later Shirley admits she
gave her a "donation" of 15 yuan).
The good thing about being so late at the Great Wall (and in a section
so far away from Beijing) is that the wall is completely empty - it's
only Shirley and me who are up there (and the stubborn seller).
At 5:30pm we're done and walk back to the taxi. It is getting
rapidly dark. Around 6pm the drive back to Beijing starts.
We reach the Hilton hotel at 8:20pm - this time the drive took less
time. Both the driver, Shirley and me are exhausted. We have spent a
total of 6 hours and 20 minutes in a taxi today. No fun being in a
place where you have to spend hours in a
taxi to reach a tourist attraction. We'll leave Beijing tomorrow, one
day earlier than planned.
Hotel Dynasty, Xian. 55 Huang Cheng Xi
road, north. Tel.: 88626262. 400 yuan for a room not as luxurious as
the one in the Beijing Hilton hotel, but with everything (nice bath),
including a free high speed Internet connection in the room (bring your
notebook computer) with 56 KByte/s download speed (sustained - compare
that to the Internet line for 3 yuan/minute of the Beijing Hilton hotel
with just 8 KByte/s). Breakfast not included (38 yuan).
Weather: Beijing: dark, heavilly
overcast day, with poor visibility (kind of foggish). It rains a little
bit in the afternoon. More fresh than yesterday.
After breakfast we pack our stuff and book the flight to Xian (price is
720 yuan per person). At
12:15pm we check out, leaving the bags in the hotel.
We take a taxi to the Citibank, where I withdraw a larger cash amount
ATM. It comes all out in notes of 100 yuan (corresponding to 10 Euro
each). When I try to change part of it to notes of higher denomination,
the guy at the teller tells me that 100 yuan is the largest
denomination they have in China. I only believe this, after David
confirms that this is indeed the case. 100 yuan - so what do people do
when the want to buy a car ? Carry a wheel barrow full of
cash with them ?
After the cash withdrawal we go to a shopping complex on the opposite
side of the street and shop around for a while. At 1:15pm we have a
lunch in a Chinese restaurant in the basement of the shopping complex.
One hour later we take a taxi back to the hotel. At 3:20pm we jump into
a taxi to the home of David, where we briefly visit Lisa (David's
wife), her mother and the baby. At 4:15pm we take a taxi back to the
hotel, and from there drive to the domestic airport at 4:30pm. The
drive to the airport lasts only half an hour. Surprisingly the meter of
the taxi breaks (or was broken from the beginning), but the trip to the
airport ends up costing 70 yuan, which is in line with what we've been
The domestic airport is very crowded, especially the waiting area for
the gates 41-44. The security freaks at the security check feel the
need to check every single bottle of mineral water Shirley is carrying
in her backpack. They even open (breaking the aluminum wrap) a bottle
of soia milk. The domestic airport itself is a modern and clean
At 6:48pm, since our flight to Xian is still not boarding, I briefly
check the information monitors. It appears that they changed the
departure gates from 43 to 31, without announcing this. Some moments of
panic, I ask the airport staff to check again, they know nothing, so at
6:50pm we rush to gate 31. Yes, that's the correct gate and the flight
is delayed a bit.
At 7:15pm there is an announcement - the new gate is Nr. 42 - at least
this time they announced the gate change. The flight leaves with a
delay of half an hour.
The plane lands in Xian after 9pm - over half an hour late. Everybody
rushes out and within a
couple of minutes the plane is empty, as if there was
a fire on board. Overall the exit and luggage retrieval procedure is
very fast. By the way, the Xian airport looks quite modern. We walk to
the hotel reservation counter, where after a long discussion (the five
star hotel they have is fully booked and also the Bell Tower four star
hotel) we book a room in the four star Dynasty hotel for 400 yuan/night
(not including breakfast).
After, since the airport bus to Xian (25 yuan/person) is full and we'd
have to wait for the next one, we take a taxi to Xian (130 yuan,
approx. 40km distance) and are in the hotel around 10:30pm. I briefly
check the emails in the business centre (30 yuan per hour). After I
hear that the rooms have free high-speed Internet access.
Hotel Dynasty, Xian. There is a travel
agency in the lobby of the hotel, which can issue flight tickets
Weather: Overcast and some
rain in the morning, less overcast and no rain in the afternoon. Cold
and windy for the whole day - we have to wear jackets.
We have an à la carte breakfast in the restaurant of the hotel
at 10am. Not bad, but not cheap either (100 yuan for the two of us).
After we book the flight to Chengdu at the travel agency in the lobby
of the hotel (we get the tickets immediately, price is 640 yuan per
At 12pm we leave the hotel and get adopted by a taxi driver who is
waiting in front of the hotel. For 200 yuan he will drive us the
remaining part of the day to the Terracotta army and two more places
(the tomb of Qin Shihuang and the hot springs).
It takes one hour and 15 minutes to arrive at the site of the
Terracotta army. By the time we buy the tickets (90 yuan per person)
and reach the main site it's 1:30pm (you have the option of walking 1km
or taking a minibus for 5 yuan). We initially visit the museums, then
start visiting the halls with the statues. The halls are very crowded.
We are in the halls until 3:15pm (I would have stayed longer, but
Shirley has had enough of terracotta statues), then leave. On the way
back Shirley buys some jade bracelets at the market outside the site.
Then we drive to the tomb of Qin Shihuang (entry ticket is 25
yuan/person) and climb up the stairs. At 4:10pm we are on top of the
hill... and there is nothing to see. Apparently this hill is the tomb.
After that we drive to the hot springs, but since the ticket is 40
yuan/person and we are not going to take a bath, we simply skip the
springs and drive back into town, where we get off the taxi at the
Parkson department store around 6pm.
We spend the evening having dinner in a restaurant and shopping around
Hotel Dynasty, Xian.
Weather: Overcast and cold
in the morning. After 4pm the sky opens up and the sun shines through.
In the evening almost no clouds in the sky.
We get up with no hurry, and after having breakfast in the hotel, get
the ticket from Chengdu to Kunming for Shirley (630 yuan) in the travel
agency in the hotel. We call again Sim's Cozy guesthouse in Chengdu and
ask about the flight and permit for Tibet (this morning the Sim's Cozy
guesthouse said that I should fly to Lhasa with the 7:40am flight, even
if I asked for the 10:25am flight). Some confusion, they need to find
the right people, we end up making several phone calls. They insist
that I take the 7:40am flight, because that is the flight which
eveybody takes. I explain that I need to company my wife to the airport
and that her flight is at 9:50am. In the end they finally accept the
After some time, while we are still having breakfast, the guy who works
there (let's call him "Peter" for simplicity) calls asking for a
deposit. Well, now we are in Xian, so we can't leave a cash deposit.
Peter insists and we ask if he accepts credit cards. No, no credit
cards and we must make the deposit, otherwise he won't book the ticket
for us. He suggests to go to a Bank of China branch, pay the money
there and fax the receipt to him. Ok, so I aks him to email us the
details of his bank account.
Back in the room I check the emails and there is an email from Sim's
Cozy guesthouse, but the characters are in Chinese and don't display on
my computer. So I call Peter and ask him to send an email with no
Some time (and confusion later) Peter calls and tells us that the
flight CA4112 at 10:25am is fully booked in the economy class. Very
strange, because amadeus.net is showing availability in the economy
class. We check with the travel agency of the hotel and they also get
no availability in the economy class. Only the business class is
available (2340 yuan, vs. about 1500 yuan for the economy - these
flights to/from Tibet are not cheap).
So we call Peter, and tell him that I'll fly in the business class on
October 16th at 10:25am to Lhasa. Some phone calls later (in the
meantime the prepaid card of my mobile phone stops working, because the
call balance is empty) and we finally agree on the 10:25am flight in
business class. I also ask Peter to book me on the 1:10pm flight from
Lhasa to Guangzhou on October 21st. Fine and the necessary deposit is
now 1500 yuan.
In the meantime it is getting late - it is already 2pm. Because of this
ticketing mess we haven't yet started our sightseeing of Xian. We jump
into a taxi and ask the driver to bring us to the nearest branch of the
Bank of China. Should take only a few minutes, as it's 20 minutes by
walking according to the hotel staff. The driver starts making a huge
detour, driving us far out of town. Obviously this guy is trying to
cheat us and make us pay more for a trip. I understand that these guys
don't make much money and have to make a living, but we just don't have
time at the moment for such stupid jokes.
After about 15 minutes of driving around we tell the driver to stop the
car immediately and let us out. We take another taxi to a Bank of China
branch. There we try to make the cash transfer. Some confusion, we call
Peter and put him in touch with the clerk at the teller. Bla bla bla,
in the end it turns out that we cannot make the payment there, because
Peter wants the money soon (a fax of the receipt as proof of payment
won't suffice) and we need to go to the central branch of the Bank of
China in Xian. I get Peter on the phone and tell him that I'm fed up.
Strong feeling of swearing on the phone and insulting Peter, but my
education prevents me from doing it.
So we take another taxi and after some time reach the main branch of
the Bank of China. There we queue up and manage to do the payment after
some time. By the way, the payment procedure is very complex and if you
are not fluent in Chinese and can't write in Chinese characters, you
won't be able to do it. Of course we have to call again the idiot in
Chengdu for the account details.
Then we walk to a nearby hotel and fax the receipt to Peter of the
Sim's Cozy guesthouse. We then call him to inform him of the fax and
the paranoid guy says "oh but this is currency exchange form...".
Sorry Peter that is what the competent lady at the Bank of China gave
us. In the meantime it's 3pm - we have lost most of the day on this
cash advance matter and I've lost most of my patience.
We spend the remaining few hours of the day walking to the nearby Bell
and Drum towers (quite nice and nice view; drum performance in the drum
tower), doing some shopping, visiting the great mosque. In the KFC
restaurant I ask for a chicken burger and an orange juice. They serve
us a hot orange juice - first
time in my life somebody serves me a hot orange juice.
At 7pm we have a dinner in a restaurant (again the waitress doesn't
bring what we ordered, even if my wife explained clearly what we wanted
to have), then at 8pm get a taxi back to the hotel.