Trip to China - March 2003
Xi'an and Hong Kong

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Going to Xi’an by train
Western Beijing train stationTime went fast in Beijing and all of a sudden we had reached Saturday March 22nd. We had decided to take the train to get to our destination and we bought our train tickets at the hotel for 417 RMB each (+ 40 RMB fee to the hotel). There are several trains going to Xi’an each day and we went for a train that departed at about 5.15 PM. The train went from the western train station and even though the train station is big it was quite easy to get around. Once you get in there is a big board announcing the departure times and destinations and from here you go to a waiting hall. In the waiting area the departing trains were announced in both Chinese and English.

The wash room on the train to Xi'anThe train itself was OK. We had bought tickets for a soft sleeper and we shared our little cabin with two Chinese ladies. The toilet and wash room were decent and boiled water was also available if we wanted to make tea or make a noodle dinner :-) But even if we hadn’t brought anything along we wouldn’t have starved.Nikki on the train From time to time someone would walk by selling hot food, snacks, drinks and so on. I always get bored on trains and this time was no different. To start with it was nice to just look out the window and see a bit of the ”real” China. It looked like the living standard was considerably lower once we got out of the city compared to Beijing itself. We could see children play around on the dirt roads, people working the soil with simple tools, cattle being kept near the houses, people looking after sheep and so on. But soon it got dark and there was not much to do on the train apart from reading.

Hanging in the passage on the train I found a little book in Chinese and I looked at it a little bit. A man walked past me and he asked me if I knew what it was and I said no. He told me that this was the book where you could give feedback to the train company about the service on board and so on. But in the end he also added that he didn’t see the point of using it because they didn’t take the advice anyway :-)

It seems like the authorities likes to keep an eye on the movement of people because we had to present our passports on board the train and information was scribbled into a record book – the same was true for all the other passengers. I’m wondering if this is being used for something or are they just doing it due to old habits.

Arriving in Xi’an
Xi'an hotel front
After a restless night we arrived in Xi’an at about 7 am. Outside the train station we found the most un-organized line of taxi’s that I have ever come across. People were just jumping into cars no matter where they were in line so it was hard for us to find a vacant taxi. We kept showing our little note where we had ”Please take us to Xi’an hotel” written in Mandarin but most of the drivers just frowned and said no to us. In the end we found one guy that would drive us but he didn’t want to use the meter of course. But by then I was fed up and we agreed on paying him 20 RMB to get to the hotel. The only problem was that he drove us to Xian Hotel China and we were supposed to stay at Xi’an Hotel. After a bit of a fuss we did realized the error got back into the same taxi – he charged us another 15 RMB!

We booked the hotel using www.planetholiday.com by the way. When we first made our booking we wanted to stay at the Bell Tower Hotel but this was fully booked so we switched to Xi’an hotel. I’m not sure that the room was worth the $65 but you can read more details about the hotel itself here.

The Terracotta Warriors
The first thing on our minds when we got to Xi’an was to try to organize a trip to the Terracotta Warriors. This was after all our main reason for coming to Xi’an in the first place. Lucky enough we found CITS (China International Travel Service) right next to the hotel and there we bought a full day tour for about 350 RMB pr person and we were picked up 10 minutes later. The first 45 minutes were spent picking up other people from surrounding hotels.

A sleeping munk near Big Wild Goose PagodaOur guide Susan spoke very good English and gave us quite a lot of information. But she did not seem very keen on answering questions…I’m not sure why. Our tour started at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda but frankly we didn’t really enjoy it that much. It might have something to do with the fact that I was starving (my breakfast that day turned out to be a Coke and some Oreo’s :-) A tomb at the Banpo villageand we were pretty tired after the train ride. After about ½ hour we moved on to the Banpo Museum. On this site they found the remains of a 6000 year old village when they were planning to build a power plant. The power plant was moved and they built a museum around the archaeological site where the primitive tools and household utensils were found. From there we moved on to a terra-cotta factory where we got some more information in the process of making things in terra-cotta. They did of course have stuff for sale there and we bought 4 little warriors. The price was 140 RMB (a very special price since it wasNine-Dragon Pool at Huaqing hot springs Sunday :-). We got back in the mini bus again and this time we drove of to the Huaqing Hot Springs which is a former resort area for the emperors and the royal family. It was a sunny day and walking around the little Nine-Dragon Pool was really nice. Nikki was particularly thrilled to see that the trees were in blossom because it is a sign of spring’s onset and that the summer is near. But we were soon yanked back to reality when we saw that the flowers on the trees were fake!! Lunch was included in this tour package and soon we headed of to a place near by to get some lunch. The most interesting dish was sweet potatoes covered in caramel. I have never tried that combination before.

Terra-cotta Warriors in pit 1After lunch it was finally time to go to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors were found by accident in 1974 when some peasants were digging a well. It soon turned out that they had found a real treasure. The army of Terracotta Warriors was built to protect the tomb of Emperor Qing. Today there are 3 pits that have been excavated and pit 1 is the largest one with its 6000 soldiers. Pit 1 is very large and contains thousands of soldiersUnfortunately, a general went berserk here at one time and smashed up most of the warriors and took their weapons. The archaeologists have done a great job puzzling the warriors back together and the result is quite amazing. The first place we went into was pit 1 – with an interior of 210 meter by 68 meter it is like a ”hangar”. Not all of them have been reassembled yet but it is still an amazing sight. You don’t get to come too near them as you are lead around the edges of the building but it is still an awesome sight.

More of the Terra-cotta Warriors in Pit 1From there we walked through pit number 3 which is really small compared to pit 1. This is the headquarters for the army itself. And from here we moved into pit 2 which is something like half the size of pit 1. They are still working on the excavation in here so some areas are covered with tarp and lit with floodlights. Some of the warriors found intact have been placed in glass display cases so you can get really close and look at all the details. They say that all the warriors have a unique face. We also stopped by the exhibition hall to take a look at the magnificent bronze chariots that has been found here.

A Terra-cotta generalTo get back to the tour bus we had to walk about 100 meters. On our way out we experienced a throng of locals literally in our faces trying to sell us stuff. It was more or less like seeing a pop star trying to break through a crowd of fans :-) And they were all selling small terra-cotta warriors for … 5 RMB. Maybe the expensive ones we bought were of better quality but I have my doubts. They looked more or less the same and they also came in similar boxes. I guess we will never know but we felt that we could have maybe gotten some advice from our tour guide Susan. After all she was right there when we bought the stuff at the factory :-). There is a lot of information on the net about the warriors. Here is one page.

Leaving Xi’an by plane
Drying spices on the pavement by the street
The Terracotta Warriors were great but I didn’t think the city really had that much else to offer. Maybe we should have taken the time to look at the city wall around Xi’an and the bell tower but we decided to leave. So when we got up the next day we had to start the working on getting tickets to get to Hong Kong. We soon found out that if we wanted to take a flight directly to HK it would be expensive because it was considered an international flight. The option was to take a plane to the city of Shenzhen (located right next to HK) and then take a train or boat from there. The city wall around Xi'anThe price difference between these two options were pretty big (1000 RMB to get to Shenzhen and about 2500-3000 RMB to get to HK). So we bought the tickets to Shenzhen (at the business centre at the hotel) and got into a taxi and drove out to the airport and that cost us 150 RMB (fixed price). The driving in Beijing was peanuts compared to Xi’an. On our way to the airport I think we were closed to crashing like 5 times. The guy drove like a maniac: he drove fast, close to the car in front of him and he ”shaved” past bikers and pedestrians.

Plane taking us from Xi'an to ShenzhenThe airport in Xi’an is not that big and checking in was pretty fast. Nikki had forgotten her Swiss army knife in her bag so that was taken from her when going through the safety check. We were more ”worried” about the quality of the plane because people have mentioned that the standard is not that high. But we had nothing to worry about because our plane was a fairly new Airbus 320 (bought from Swissair maybe). On the 2 hour flight to Shenzhen we got a meal and some drinks and it was a very comfortable trip.

Arriving in Shenzhen - and going to Hong Kong
Tickets to Hong Kong by boat
We landed in Shenzhen at about 4 pm and we were met by 23 degrees Celsius. Once we had picked up our suitcases we started looking for a way to get to HK. We soon found a sign saying ”To HK” and a boat displayed on it. It turned out to be a company called TurboJet. We bought tickets to Kowloon for about 190 RMB each – make sure you don’t pay extra for insurance. The boat-pier is only a short bus ride away and it is included in the ticket.

After filling out a departure card we got on board the TurboJet boat. For Norwegians this will be a pretty common sight because the boat is like most fast boats that traffic Norwegian fjords. The only thing that disappointed me was that I could not go outside to take a look at HK as we were approaching it. The boat trip only takes about 1 hour and the boat docked at the Ocean terminal/Harbour City. Arriving here is almost like arriving at an airport: you have to go through immigration and then you pick up your suitcase to go through customs.

The Ocean terminal is more or less in the heart of Kowloon so the taxi trip to Kowloon hotel only took like 5 minutes. The Kowloon hotel was booked once again by using www.planetholiday.com. It was nice to come to the hotel by the way. All of a sudden we had access to news again so that we could see what had happened in the Iraq war. If you want more information about the hotel please press here. In short the hotel is nice, the location is great (Tsim Sha Tsui) but the rooms are kinda small.

Nathan Road by nightThe first thing we did was to take a walk along Nathan road. It is quite amazing to see how many neon boards it is possible to put up in one street *grin* The street looked very different in daylight by the way. One thing that is quite annoying is the people that are constantly offering you fake watches and tailor services. I kept trying new methods to avoid them but I ended up saying ”no thanks” quite a lot.

Walking around in Hong Kong
Nikki if front to the Hong Kong skyline
On our first day in HK we took the short walk down to the harbour. Victoria harbour is quite impressive because there is so much traffic on it. And the skyline of HK is pretty impressive too. The skyline is first of all dominated by the new ”2 International Finance Centre” (412 meters tall) but lets not forget other buildings like Central Plaza, Bank of China Tower and The Centre.

A meat market on a street in Hong Kong islandWe tried to go to Hong Kong space museum on the first day but it is closed on Tuesdays so we decided to just walk around that day. We took the subway from Kowloon over to HK Island and we picked up some brochures from the Hong Kong Tourist Board at The Centre. Walking around in the streets on the HK Island is pretty fascinating. It is a strange combination between new and old. Here you’ll find modern concrete buildings next to a meat or live fish market. Another thing that amazed me was the use of bamboo as scaffolding material. I have seen it in movies but I didn’t really think much about it. But bamboo is still being used to put up scaffolding on pretty tall buildings. It seems like the city wakes up pretty late but I can understand it because everything seems to be open late at night.

How to get around in HK
Nikki is buying tickets to the subway
The subway station Tsim Sha Tsui was located right outside our hotel so that became a pretty natural choice for us. It is pretty easy to use the ticket dispenser: press the screen to indicate where you want to go and the price appears. Put in coins or bills to pay the fare. When we were there the SARS virus was on a rampage and I guess the subway is not the best option if you want to avoid the crowds. But we took the subway anyway. The only time we took a taxi was when we arrived from China so I can’t really comment on how expensive (or efficient) it is to take a taxi.

HK space museum and science museum
The Hong Kong Space museum
We enjoy going to space and science related museums and after reading about this in the Lonely Planet guide we decided to check it out. We went there on a Wednesday and there was no entrance fee. We were hoping to find a planetarium at the space museum but it seems like there were only shows (that we had already seen) in the big globe. The museum itself was not great but it was interesting. And they do have some hands-on stuff so that kids don’t get too bored walking around. The space museum is located on the tip of Kowloon (at the harbour). After we had been to the space museum we walked over to the nearby science museum (Tsim Sha Tsui east). Once again we found a museum that was OK with quite a lot of hands-on exhibits. The only problem was that there were quite a lot of stuff that was out of order or being refurbished.

Temple street market
Hong Kong by night
Markets can be fun to check out and we had read about the Temple Steet market. The market is open in the evening so we took the subway up to Yau Ma Tei station at about 7 pm. After walking in the wrong direction for a while we finally found it *grin*. The market could offer quite a lot of different stuff. We found everything from t-shirts, lighters, cheap watches, VCDs and DVDs, jewellery and even dildos. In the same area you’ll also find lots of restaurants. We came across a few guys that were waving some big yellow flags and it turned out that they were doing advertising for an Indian restaurant near by. Our empty stomachs made the decision to fall for this ”marketing” effort and we went to the restaurant…and it was such a tiny place *grin*. In the end it was so crowded in there and they had to stop people from coming in. But the food was pretty good and pretty cheap.

Ocean Park
The mine train roller coaster
One day we got beautiful weather and the timing couldn’t have been better because we had decided to check out the ”theme park” Ocean Park. It is pretty easy to reach this place: subway to Admiralty subway station and once you get out you’ll find buses going to the park (for 12 HK dollars). The park is located on the south end of Hong Kong Island itself and it didn’t take us long to get there. After paying the entrance fee of 180 HK dollar we started out by taking the Mine train. A view of Ocean ParkThis roller coaster was ok but the view from it was really great. We took it twice of course :-) One thing that really surprised us was the fact that there were hardly any people in the park so we never had to wait in line for any of the attractions. There are two entrances to the park by the way and we came in on the ”Tai Shue Wan” side and we got on the 225 meter long escalator(s) to get to the top. The view here was very nice and it got even better when we got into the 72 meter tall Ocean Park Tower. The park has a nice mixture of fun rides, shows, aquariums and animals.

One of many sharks at Ocean ParkIt was great to walk through the Atoll Reef and the shark aquarium in marine land. In the Atoll reef you start at the top and you work your way down. According to the website there are more than 2000 fish in this aquarium. And they range from tiny small fish to a 7 feet long grouper. And in the shark aquarium you go through a tunnel were you can take a pretty close look at the 70 sharks that swim around. It is pretty interesting to get this close to the shark :-)

Taking the cable car to Lowland GardensAnd the roller coaster The Dragon was not great but it had some pretty nice loops. The park layout is a bit strange by the way because you have to take a cable car to get from one section of the park to another (from Lowland Gardens to Headland Rides). But hey, it didn’t really matter much because this was more or A giant panda in Ocean Parkless just like a ride :-) The view was great from the little cable car gondola. In the Lowland gardens we finally got to see a giant Panda by the way. While we were in Beijing we were thinking about going to the zoo. But we had read some negative things about it so we decided to skip it. But at the Ocean Park we got to see it in the giant Panda habitat. Another cool attraction in the Lowland gardens is the dinosaur walk and the butterfly house. I’m not used to big butterflies from back home so it was nice to walk through the butterfly house and look at ”giant” butterflies. If you stand really still you’ll even experience that they come and land on you…I think that the trick is wearing bright colours :-)

Victoria Peak
The view from Victoria Peak
Another thing one ”must” do in Hong Kong is to visit Victoria Peak. There are several ways of reaching the 396 meter high peak: you can walk of course and it is said that you get a great view of the city as you reach the top. If you have a car you can drive there. We chose to take the Peak Tram to the top. This is HK’s answer to Flĝibanen in Bergen in Norway by the way :-) The Peak Tram station can be found not to far from Central subway station. There is a shuttle bus from the subway station to the Peak Tram station if you don’t feel like walking (it only costs like 3 HK dollar). The Peak TowerThe return ticket with the Peak Tram costs about 30 HK dollar and the ride takes less than 10 minutes. The view as you get higher and higher gets better and better of course and the track is pretty steep some places (maximum of 27 degrees). On the top we got to the Peak Tower and this is the home to the viewing point, restaurants, Madame Tussaud’s, Ripley’s Believe It or Not and others. The view from the top was great but unfortunately it was a bit hazy the day we went up there. Another thing that can block some of the view is actually the tall buildings that has been built quite close to the peak.

Shopping
Before we came to HK we were under the impression that HK would be a shopping paradise. We walked around at Tsim Sha Tsui, we went to Causeway Bay, we walked around at Central and we went to Ocean Central. The selection of stuff in the shops were pretty good but we were not impressed by the prices. We kept comparing the HK shopping to the shopping in Bangkok last year and Bangkok came out as a winner :-) So we didn’t really buy much during our stay in HK.

Time to go home
Taking the Airport Express to the airport
All of a sudden it was Saturday morning and we packed our stuff, checked out and took the airport express to get to the airport. We took a shuttle bus from our hotel to the Kowloon Station and here we checked in our baggage at the train station before taking the 20 minute ride out to the airport itself. I think we paid about 90 HK dollar for the trip out to the airport. The flight home is always boring and after 3 movies and a 12 hour flight we were finally going via Amsterdam and back home.

Conclusion
Nikki and Gard at the Forbidden City
This trip has been a bit strange. Although we travelled within the same country it still feels like to different places if you compare HK and Beijing. I didn’t really have any expectations for Beijing and I have to admit that I was surprised in a positive way. Beijing has quite a lot to offer when it comes to sights, history and attractions. So if you are able to ignore the traffic, Freezing a bit while walking around in the Forbidden Citythe pollution and the people that are trying to sell you all sorts of stuff everywhere Beijing deserves to by visited for quite a few days. Do not miss going to the Great Wall! Be sure to go there on a nice clear day so that you can enjoy the amazing view. And if possible: try to go to a part of the wall that is not visited by everyone else (read Badaling). Another attraction that should not be missed is of course the Palace museum / Forbidden City. Be sure to get a guide or rent the audio guide so you can get some information on the different buildings.

Xi'an was just a stop on the way for us and we got what we came for: the Terracotta Warriors. Even though we went through quite a lot to see the warriors I still think that it was worth it. It is quite amazing to see what humans can achieve if they have the power and money to do something.

James Fin together with Nikki and GardHong Kong was a bit disappointing in my opinion. Or maybe disappointing is not the right word…but I didn’t enjoy HK as much as I thought I would. First of all I was not feeling well during our stay in HK after I caught some sort of cold in China. And hence I was not really feeling up to anything. And while we were there, there were more and more talk about the SARS virus and people started wearing face masks. Of course we started to worry a little bit if it was safe to move around in the city. And last but not least I think that I had too high expectations for the city itself. I have read and seen so much from this city but when we came there we didn’t really think that the city had that much to offer.

Nikki and Gard on the Great Wall at SimataiSo when did I say ”Yes, this is truly China”? I guess it could have been said when seeing Chinese people doing their exercise in the parks in the morning … or when seeing people walking around with the big cups of green tea on different attractions in Beijing. But I think that I would have to go for the Great Wall. Since I was a child I have read about it and seen pictures of it. So when I finally got to climb it, it was just an amazing experience.

China is a big country and we only got to see a little bit of it. But I think that we experienced quite a lot and I hope that you have gotten some useful information by reading it. Get in touch on gardkarlsen@hotmail.com if you have any questions.

 

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