Resourceful- that's how I'd describe myself. I took a twelve hour overnight sleeper train from Shanghai to Beijing, and I bought a seat instead of a bed because all my money was willingly handed over to some smiling con artists. I've totally moved passed it. I figured if I can sleep on an airplane seat I can sleep on a train seat, no harm. Not so. The "seats" were really two beds facing each other on the wall, with two bunks above each and the idea was to cram as many people into the room. I was wedged between an older couple eating ramen and hard boiled eggs and a girl yelling into her phone. 12 hours. Overnight. After about an hour I move into the bunk above and lay down. The elderly man loved this, he keeps pointing and smiling, shaking his head and offering me peanuts. I thought we'd be best friends until about 11pm when he decides it's appropriate to strip nude and change into his pajamas, his wife helping him get each leg in his pants. On my return trip I find out from the train attendant, after about five or six people came to my room to point and laugh, that I had been sleeping in the luggage racks.
I arrive in Beijing with really no idea where my hostel is, just the address written in English on a piece of paper (my fault). I head To Tiananmen square and find a tourist information center and...... No one speaks English. After screening a dozen pedestrians, I find a girl who, through very broken English, tells me to take bus 82. Two bus rides, five block walk and a tuk tuk driver (man on a bike with wagon) who tried to charge me $50 laterrrr, I arrive at the hostel.
As I said before, the Forbidden City was majestic looking, the kind of temple and palace architecture that would make you feel like you were in ancient imperial China; if there wasn't thousands and bus loads of tourists being squeezed into the gates. Its a huge site and people are shoving each other to get to each palace or garden. I head over to the wall to cool off and feel some water hitting my foot. I look down to see a Chinese mother holding her babies legs open as the baby relieves himself all over my foot.
The next day, I decide to do an organized tour of the Great Wall. I usually hate organized tours and would strongly advise to avoid them at all costs, they herd you around like sheep and take you to places to pressure you into buying things, which this tour ended up doing. Not the sheep part, there were luckily only four people on the English speaking tour and we all happened to be poor backpackers but that didn't stop the guide from taking us to the jade store, silk store and the tea house. However, hiking the Great Wall is one of those experiences you never forget. We took a ski lift up the side of a mountain to the wall. "walking" the wall is really doing the hardest level of stair master in 100 degree heat. But the view of the Chinese countryside and the vastness of the wall that extends for miles beyond sight in each direction makes it totally worth it. They built a toboggan course out of metal with sleds for people who want to sled down the side of the mountain after. Which I highly recommend.
Apart from the Forbidden City, I also explored the Ming tombs and the Summer Palace. These emperors took their summer home very seriously. Beautiful palaces built on a lake overlooking Beijing, I skipped the tour and took the subway out and back, very manageable and well worth it. Beijing as a city wasn't too exciting, it's not built like shanghai, which is a great walking city. It has large city blocks spread out far apart and the street names will change suddenly with no notice. It was hard to find my way around and I got lost several times. However hidden between these large city blocks are a secret Beijing gem known as "Hutongs", winding alleyways that formed a maze around the large city blocks. Older men sat around tables playing Chinese checkers as women sewed or cooked out on the street, people opened their kitchen windows and invited the passerbys inside for a meal. There were small shops made up entirely of sacks grains and rice or old toys and gadgets. These Hutongs really gave a taste of life in old China, and its these little streets, in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, that struggle to hold onto Chinese culture, and are a must see.
Off to Bangkok!