Travel Blog Series – China, Denfeng to Beijing – Post #11

Shaolin Temples

Today we woke up early and visited the Shaolin temples. Unsure of what to expect, we pulled up on the bus and walked down a walkway to the temples with different schools of monks down the side practicing Kung Fu, as well as several others marching through with flags.

 We took a brief walk around the pagoda forest, basically a graveyard for great monks with spectacular stone monuments. After that, it was time for the hike.

We were told it was about the same distance/difficulty as our previous hike to moon hill – they lied. The hike took about 35 minutes and I have to say was one of the most difficult I’ve ever done, all steep uphill, the majority of it steps.

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When we finally made it up to the top, we reached a cave in which an Indian Buddhist, once rejected from a monastery, lived in and meditated for 9 years. Another flight of stairs up was a statue of this Buddha, as well as spectacular views. As difficult as the walk was, it was well worth it.

 

 

 

When we came back down we got to visit the temples which were very different to what we expected. We both imagined it to be a giant building with Buddhists meditating, all in silence. However, it was multiple temples, all open to the public with everyone shouting and taking photos of rather beautiful buildings.

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We then joined everyone for a Kung Fu show before getting the bus back to the hostel late afternoon to enjoy our last lunch before we got another overnight train to Beijing (thankfully this one was only 8 hours).

Beijing

After an early 5:30am rise to get off the train, rubbing our eyes and yawning, we all trekked through the station like a scruffy pack of sheep. We were met by our last tour guide, Evan, who was one of the big bosses, and we were satisfied that we were in good hands.

 Straight from the train we dumped our bags at the hostel and had a few hours waiting around for everyone to get showered and at approximately 10:30 am we got a minibus to the Birds Nest Olympic stadium, and had a walk around there. As I’m not that big into sports anyway and we couldn’t get inside to see the running tracks ect…I personally found it a bit pointless, however, it’s another thing we can add to the list.

From here, we all piled back onto the bus and drove for a few hours to what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. We were surrounded by small brick buildings and stray dogs running the streets, and the driver kept stopping every few yards and shouting down the phone. After another hour or so, we finally found where we were supposed to be and pulled up outside a very run down building with an outdoor courtyard with chairs in the middle, surrounded by little rooms. It appeared to some form of a guest house and we all chipped in for some food which was prepared and brought out for us all.

It was a feast of meat, rice, veg and bread, and we well and truly filled our boots as we were going straight to the Great Wall of China afterward and knew this food would be it till morning (barring the two bags of onion rings in our rucksacks). After we were all full up, we left and drove a bit further down the gravel roads till we were met by a man with an array of camping equipment all arranged into piles.

We gathered everything together and piled it onto our rucksacks like a carry horse (well, Dave carried all of it…) and begun to walk up the hill for our 45-minute hike.

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After the hike at the temples previously, we thought this would be a doddle – however, it was all mud and steep hills and very hard to get the grip of our feet on the ground. Red-faced and panting, we finally made it up – and oh my god. Hand on heart one of the best views I’ve ever seen. All the pictures I’ve seen of the Great Wall, here I was stood on it.

Surrounded by misty mountains, eagles soaring and a low setting sun.

Breathtaking.

Due to the driver getting so lost, we were set back a couple of hours and it was beginning to get dark, so we pitched our tents and found firewood as soon as possible before it got dark. When all was done, Dave and I snuck up to the top to get a few last pictures before the sun went down and then joined the others to try to start a fire. Unfortunately, due to the copious amounts of rain in Beijing, the majority of the firewood was damp and it was near impossible to get a fire going.

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Dave gave it a go for about an hour and then gave up and the two of us and Serine piled into our two-man man tent (was pretty much a one man) and sat listening to music, drinking and keeping warm. An hour or so later, the rest finally got a fire started, however by this point we were too cosy in the tent and had an early night.

 

 5:30am rise again, we were woken to experience the sunrise on the wall – however once again to be let down by the weather as a shield of mist covered everything.

So we went back for another hour or so of sleep and we were awake again to begin packing the tents up and heading back down. As beautiful as it was up in the mountains, packing up tents and walking down steep muddy paths in the pouring rain wasn’t exactly the most fun – I slipped a few times sending all my camping equipment tumbling down in front of me, as well as Dave doing a full pirouette in the mud to try to avoid the fall. All in all, we still managed a laugh out of it and just focused on getting down to get warm and dry.

Once we’d all made it down, we stopped off back at the guesthouse to have breakfast, which consisted of strange egg bread. Tea was being passed around and as many times as I’ve tried it and disliked it, I needed something to warm me up. To my surprise I found myself enjoying it, so perhaps I’ve discovered a new love for black tea (comment from present Soph – this is definitely not the case, I lied. Fruit/green tea is my limit!). After this we stopped off at another point of the wall to try and get more photos, but had to buy tickets to get in and not much could be seen anyway.

After a long drive back, we were all itching to get to the hostel to get showered, back to bed and rested. Some few hours later, we awoke and the two of us went for a walk to explore Beijing and it’s beautiful traditional buildings – this involved Dave buying a tub of lavender tea and a flask with a tea strainer, he’s a true Chinese now.

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Another quick shower and warm up (it was like being back in England, and I didn’t think to bring a jacket) we regrouped and were taken by Evan to a popular Beijing duck restaurant. This was something Dave had been looking forward to ever since entering China, and he thoroughly enjoyed it. The duck in sauce was incredible, and we ate pancakes until they came out our ears and finally admitted defeat. It was then time to get some pre drinks for our last big night out in China/with the tour group. We were going to go out with a bang.

The only problem is, white wine is very limited and expensive over here, and vodka and whiskey weren’t even an option. So we settled for a large bottle of rice wine – very popular with the Chinese. I can’t even begin to describe how this tastes, literally vile. But washed down with a few red bulls whilst all sat on a long wooden table playing drinking games, we were ready to get out in Beijing. Evan also joined us all and suggested a club for us to go to – and what a night.

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The gang as mentioned in previous photos. (From left: Ricco, Sarah, Serene, Dave, Me)

Females got free entry to the club, as well as free drinks all night. And the males paid 100 yuan (£10) for entry, also with free drinks all night (rather sexist but hey-ho). It was an extremely cheap and fantastic night. The first proper night out with all of the group together, and everyone was in good spirits. About 3:30/4:00 we all stumbled back to the hostel as the itinerary was to all go visit landmarks at 8am the next morning.

(I’m sure you can guess that this didn’t happen for any of us).

Sophie Amelia
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