Beijing and Beyond

Whenever I hear the word, Beijing, two things come into my mind, the Great Wall of China and the Peking duck. Beijing may be synonymous to plenty of words, but architecture and food come first for me.

Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China, a country with a very aggressive economy, and a super power in the making. China has a very rich history and culture, starting from its era of dynasties, to its era of communism under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong. The legacy of each emperor/leader can be seen until today through many things.

Beijing, China in a glimpse of 2 nights and 2 days. (02.24-25.19)

I arrived in Beijing around midnight as part of the crew operating for MNL-PEK-MNL. Our hotel is located right in the downtown of Beijing, accessible through metered taxi cabs, local MRT, Didi (local version of Uber in China). We were in the last week of February, and the season is still winter (although the snow was starting to melt). Since our crew were mostly first timers, we were planning to get around the city, and visit the famous landmarks. One of our seniors shared with us their local contact, who can speak good English, and who can take us around the Great Wall. It was in the wee hours when I tried my luck and called Mr. Qian, and to my surprise, he answered. He said that he will be picking us up from our hotel.

It was 8am, and Mr. Qian was waiting for us at the lobby of our hotel. I was joined by my 2 colleagues, and another 3 from the crew operating KLO-PEK-KLO-CEB, and together we took the van bound for Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. The trip was about  an hour and a half from the city, and the temperature dropped at 1 degrees C. There are actually other sections of the Great Wall that is open for tourists, but this one is less crowded and most areas of the Great Wall are still intact and tourist friendly.

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As we arrived at the Mutianyu entrance, we have to pay for our entrance fees and transfer fees (shuttle, chairlift and toboggan). From the main entrance, we have to walk a little bit more, passing by some restaurants and souvenir shops, before we can take the chairlift that we will bring us to Tower 6.

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chairlift to Tower 6

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Bucket list check- Walk along the Great Wall of China

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toboggan ride down- slide away!

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Picture with the guards for 10RMB each

We had an ample time going around the Great Wall before we decided to have lunch and buy some souvenirs. For lunch, we had roasted duck (super crispy), dimsum, yang chao rice. The meal was quite expensive, although this is expected as the restaurant is located in a tourist area.

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Before finally calling it a day, we stopped at the nearby Frozen Lake. It’s starting to defrost as the climate rises. We were not asked to pay for an entrance fee (although the ones before us were charged)

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Frozen Lake

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the squad with Qian (guy in the middle)

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Since it was a 2 day layover in Beijing, we had another day to spend around the city. We started our day after brunch, to recover from yesterday’s trip to the Great Wall. We visited the Tiananmen Square, Forbidden Palace, and the Wangfujing Street. We had everything DIY. From the hotel, we walked about 15mins to the train station. From there, we took a train ride, and alighted at Tiananmen Square. Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square are just next to each other. The train ride was pretty easy to understand as long as you know where to go (there are English translations.) Going to Tiananmen Square on a weekend can be a little crowded, as you may have to line up to get in. When we were there, they never asked for IDs or passports, but a few months later, I heard from some crew that police are starting to do some random check, so it’s always best to bring your passport whenever going out (be sure that you won’t lose it). If you’re planning to really get inside the Forbidden Palace, it’s best to go there in the morning, so you can maximize your visit, and entrance comes with a fee. I was really looking forward to our stroll along Wangfujing, but to my dismay, most stalls are closed due to renovation. Wangfujing is known for its street food and the exotic food that it offers. I have no plans to eat it, but I just want to see it.

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Tiananmen Square

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Mausoleum of Chairman Mao

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I personally think that most Chinese are misunderstood. If you can only visit the mainland, and you’ll probably understand. I have several encounters with them, and based from experience, they’re really nice. They may not be fluent in English, but trust me they try their best to help you out.

TIPS

  • Before going to China, make sure that you have a VPN (at least 3, just in case that it fails to work or it has been blocked) to have an access to the outside world. All those apps that we use are forbidden and blocked in China, and they have their own.
  • Download Mandarin from the Google Translate. It works offline too. This will help you to break the language barrier.
  • China has a reputation of producing fake items, and that includes food. When in doubt, order from your hotel. (Although, I have eaten in decent restaurants, and food is yummy)
  • Don’t touch anything if you don’t intend to buy the item. The old ladies will shout at you and probably curse you.
  • Always haggle with the lowest price possible that you can imagine. Stick with your price until they give in. If they don’t agree, walk out, and they will run after you and give you your price.
  • It’s best to have your money exchanged at your hotel to avoid being scammed
  • Be careful when paying. Make sure that it’s the money that you handed. Some might trick you and tell you that it’s fake. (when in fact they have already exchanged it with another paper bill)

If you need a driver/guide around Beijing, you may contact Mr. Qian.

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Vietnam Vibes

Vietnam may be popular as part of the Indochina backpacking series (Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos-Thailand), so most travelers under this category, spend only a night or 2 in the city of Ho Chi Minh, before moving to another country. We were in Vietnam for 4 days, and you’ll never go wrong if you want good food, budget and city vibes in your itinerary.

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Saigon City Hall at night

Ho Chi Minh is an hour behind Manila and would take about 2.5 hours of flight. Based from my experience, your budget will have a long way to go because Vietnam is actually cheaper than Manila, and it’s best to bring US dollars. You can have it exchanged in Vietnam Dong at the airport for your Grab fare or taxi fees, and the rest around the Ben Thanh Market for good rates.

Ho Chi Minh, VIetnam in a glimpse of 3 days, 3 nights (06.10.18-06.13.18)

Our flight was via Cebu Pacific and left Manila around 10pm, and arriving a little past midnight (Vietnam time) at Tan Son Nhat International Airport. We had our dollars exchanged for their local currency to pay our Grab ride. Airport to our hostel in District 1 was about 20 mins., and we were charged 108K VD. My parents and sisters arrived a day earlier than us, so they were already in the room when we arrived.

We stayed at Polygon Hostel, which is a few blocks from Ben Thanh Market. We had a good deal from Agoda, and booked it for only PHP 9659.52, considering we’re 5, all with breakfast buffet. We just made additional payments for early and late check in that cost us 1M VD. It was a total of  597/hd per day. Good deal indeed. The hostel was the perfect one if you’re looking for strategic location, value for money, complimentary breakfast, and staff that speak good English. If you’re a first timer, their lift is quite shocking. It stated that it can fit 8 pax. We’re 5 when we took the lift, and we were packed inside. It turns out that most buildings have that size of a lift. It was really small and I think it was made for locals. I barely saw a fat or big Vietnamese.

Since we arrived at midnight and we were hungry, my parents recommended a nearby Japanese restaurant. The restaurant was already closing, but thanks to my sister’s convincing powers and the staff welcomed us. Each of us got a rice meal and gyoza and our bill was a little more of 1000PHP but not more than 2000PHP.

06.11.18- Independence Palace, Cu Chi Tunnel Tour

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Independence Palace

We woke up at past 7 for our breakfast before going for a walk. Our first stop was the Independence Palace. It’s about 10-15 mins. walk from our hostel. Independence Palace played a vital role during the Vietnam War in the 60s-70s. It used to house the French Governor during the French Colonial Period, and the South Vietnamese force during the war. Many historical events occur in that building. The interiors were preserved from how they look like nearly 50 years ago. Some of the fighter planes were also on display at the grounds of the palace. Entrance is at 65000VD.

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Pres. Nguyen’s office

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First Lady’s Portrait

It was really hot that day, and at the same time my mom was experiencing jet lagged.  We were forced to leave earlier than expected because my mom was having a headache. We took a cab going to our hostel. We stayed at the hostel until our tour fetched us at the hostel.

It was past lunch when our tour group arrived. We were taken to the Cu Chi area, an hour away from downtown. Cu Chi Tunnel was a base camp used by Vietcong. They lived in the tunnel during the war, and have the complete supplies to survive. I would really say that Vietnamese are smart people based from the tactics used by the guerrillas. Everything was planned out well, that Americans couldn’t spot their enemies. We were toured around the area, and showed us how everything was well maintained down under. We were also given the chance to go under the tunnel and tried to fit ourselves going down and up from the tunnel. The effects of the war have lasted until today. You’ll see bomb craters, and the effects of Agent Orange (chemicals used to kill crops and forests) to  forests and  even to humans. You’ll get to see how traps are made, and even their combat sandals. We get to taste tapioca (local cassava), which was their food while living in the tunnel. You also get a chance to fire a gun, but for a fee. Our tour only includes transfers, tour guide, cassava, and entrance to Cu Chi Tunnel. Our tour was booked from Klook. It was 22USD per head and we availed the premier tour. I still got a 5USD discount from the total because of my rewards points from previous bookings.

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Viet slippers are weather proof and leaves no trace of footprint

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Making of bombs

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A kind of trap made by the Viets

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One of the entrances to the tunnel

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Bomb crater

When we got back to our hostel it was past 5 in the afternoon and rested for a while before we had our dinner. While looking for some restaurants to have dinner we spotted the Saigon Street Food Market. We went inside and we didn’t go wrong because it was a haven of good food. We had pho, barbecue, and some rare fruit juice for drinks, and it was in big servings. I didn’t quite expect that good food will come this cheap.

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06.12.18- Mekong Delta, Saigon Cathedral, Post Office, Opera House and City Hall

DSC00976-01The next day, it was my birthday, and we had the whole day for tour. After breakfast, we were picked up by our group tour bound for Mekong Delta. It’s roughly a 2-hour bus ride from our hostel in downtown Ho Chi Minh. Before we reached Mekong Delta, we had a stop over at Vinh Trang Pagoda, a Buddhist temple and monastery.

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After several minutes, we transferred to a ferry ride going to Unicorn Island. We were welcomed by folk singers and served with native fruits and tea. We had a tour to the cocoa, honey and coconut production. We had the option to buy their products as souvenirs. Part of our tour was to be served with local lunch and a cruise down the Mekong Delta tributary, it’s actually like a swamp. We availed the tour from Klook and bought the premier tour for Mekong Delta full day tour at 25USD per head.

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Native fruits and tea were served

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A folk singer sang to me their version of Happy Birthday song

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Cacao drying before turning into coffee

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Candies for souvenirs

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Snake wine

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After the Mekong Delta tour, we still have time to go around the city. We had the chance to see French architecture through the Saigon Cathedral, Post Office, Opera House and City Hall. We wanted to go inside but the cathedral is under construction, while the post office was already closed when we got there. There was an on-going show when we passed by the opera house. We didn’t bother to go in, because our stomachs were already asking for dinner.

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Saigon Cathedral

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Post Office

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We, once again, had dinner at the Saigon Street Food Market. We had a sumptuous meal for 5 persons, and believe it or not our bill didn’t go over PHP 2000. You’ll never go hungry and broke when you’re in Vietnam.

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06.13.18- War Remnants Museum, Lunch Lady

After having breakfast, we went out for a walk until we reach the War Remnants Museum. It is a museum dedicated to the Vietnam-America War in the 60s till 70s. You get to see to see the planes and choppers used by the Americans, as well as the impact of the war to the civilians.

After our museum tour, we hailed a cab going to district 4 where the famous Lunch Lady is at. I was actually expecting a restaurant when we arrive, but what we saw were few tables and chairs in the middle of an alley. I’ve learned about the Lunch Lady from Anthony Bourdain, wherein he features local dish of every country that he gets to visit. It was not a disappointment to spend our lunch with the Lunch Lady. We ordered a set meal, and it was so good and in large servings. Definitely good food! A little bit around PHP 2500 were spent for lunch, and definitely worth it.

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Sumptuous lunch for 5

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With the famous Lunch Lady

In the evening, we flew back to Manila and bought some souvenirs from the airport, since we didn’t have a chance to go around our hostel after having lunch.

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Free cake from our hostel coz it’s my birthday

Budget for this trip:

Accommodation- PHP 11900.3 (3 days plus early and late check-in fee, 5 pax with breakfast)

Cu Chi Tunnel Tour- PHP 5250 (5 pax with snack; premier tour)

Independence Palace Tour- VND 65000 (PHP 146 per head)

Mekong Delta Tour- PHP 6250 (5 pax with lunch and fruits/snacks; premier tour)

War Remnants Museum Tour- VND 40000 (PHP 90 per head)

Lunch/Dinner- PHP 7000 (5 pax; large servings)

Taxi- PHP 1000 (assuming, including airport transfer)

TOTAL-PHP 32580.3 for 4 days (PHP 6516.06 per head without airfare and shopping)