Doi Suthep Mountain Thailand: Free Things in Chiang Mai

There’s Beauty and Adventure in Chiang Mai For Free

We’ve been on what you might call a shoestring budget. Sure we want to see all that we can, and often times you have to pay in order to do it, but with trying to maintain a strict budget, we sometimes have to forgo some of the more expensive options.  With this frame of mind it made it easier to notice, starting in China with the Black Bamboo Forest, that sometimes the most amazing experiences, the most relaxing, adventurous and beautiful times, cost little to nothing.

This was the case here in Thailand, when we decided to drive up the mountain from Hang Dong District to Mae Rim and Doi Suthep. It only cost us about $6 for the day for the rental bike and $3 in gas for a full tank. We were told there were many attractions to see along the way, the Chiang Mai Zoo and Aquarium, the Tiger Kingdom, Elephant Parks, The Palace and some temples and we thought we would make the drive and see what we wanted to stop at along the way.

The skies were blue with white clouds and we figured it would be a good day for a ride. Loong Kum, or “Uncle” as we call him, told us not to worry because there would be no rain. So, we traded our ponchos for extra water in our backpack, strapped on our helmets and started off on our rented motorbike to explore the mountain.


Once on the road to Doi Suthep the way quickly became an uphill winding drive. It felt very much like driving in a rain forest or jungle and it was surprising how lush and green the vegetation was. There are a couple lookout spots on the way to the first tourist area by the base of the temple.

doi suthep ountain, doi suthep view, chiang mai view,

The view was gorgeous and even though it was a partially cloudy day we were still able to see down to the city below. There was an artist set up, doing charcoal caricatures of those who wanted to pay and had mentioned that he thought it was going to rain. Still seeing blue skies and with “Uncle’s” forecast in our minds, we didn’t think anything of it and headed up the mountain once again.


We stopped a little further when we came across a little waterfall and couldn’t resist taking a moment to snap a few photos and enjoy the sound and view of the water.

doi suthep mountain, doi suthep waterfall, doi suthep view, chiang mai waterfall

Driving further up the mountain, we finally reached the base of the temple. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Buddhist Temple located near the top of Doi Suthep Mountain. The legend of the temple is that King Nu Naone of the Lanna Kingdom placed what was thought to be a holy relic (a bone from Buddha himself) on the back of a white elephant. This elephant climbed Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, and then died. It is there that the King built the temple, seeing the elephant’s death as a sign. If you want to climb to the temple from the base, prepare yourself for 309 stairs.


If not, you can take a shuttle bus or a cable car. Important to note is that proper attire is required so be prepared to have knees, shoulders, and chest covered for both men and women, and no tight clothing for either. We opted to visit the temple another day and instead walk around the shops and food stands that lined the street and the interconnected streets behind.


Doi Suthep Mountain, DOi Suthep Monk, Doi Suthep Temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Walking around the little village was a lot of fun. It was quite touristy though with lots of souvenirs for sale and although we didn’t plan on buying anything, Macrae tested his skills at bargaining with a few of the shop owners. The shop owners were unwilling to budge from their initial prices and it’s obvious that since this was a main tourist location, they knew they could get the price they want from another tourist eventually.


So we kept going and ventured off the main road and explored the side roads where little shops popped up here and there between houses and other village buildings.  We took our time, enjoying the walk, each other and the area around the temple’s base before hiking back up to our bike to continue on our way.



Thailand During Rainy Season – It’s All About Murphy’s Law

Phuping Village, Bhubing Palace, Doi Suthep Mountain, Doi Suthep Village, Doi Suthep Palace,

The drive from the base of the temple became a little steeper, with a lot more bends in the road, but the bike we were on handled it well and we had Macrae at the wheel so it was not an issue. Perhaps the neatest part of the trip was when we realized we were driving in a cloud. We stopped to enjoy the moment and the thought of being high enough on a mountain to be surrounded by cloud cover.


A little ways further and we reached another tourist stop, Bhubing Palace, or Phu Ping Palace. This winter palace for the Thai Royal family boasts beautiful gardens. We again decided to leave this tour for another day when it was less overcast and when we were up for some tourist activity. Instead, we walked through the adjacent Phu Ping Village which sold clothes, crafts, souvenirs and food. Again, we rambled along the side streets exploring and enjoying the different shops and things for sale.


It was as we were heading back to our bike that it started to rain. We had noticed signs of some rainfall as we drove up the mountain, but it had looked as though the rain had passed and we would be okay. For two weeks we had diligently lugged our two ponchos with us everywhere we went. We were prepared. But the one day we decided to leave them at home was the one day we actually needed them.

DOi Suthep Cloud, Doi Suthep Mountain, Doii Suthep Temple, Doi Suthep Palace

The rain only got worse driving down the mountain.  We stopped several times with other bikers to seek some shelter in the large overhanging trees but it didn’t really seem to help and it didn’t look like the rain was letting up any time soon. So we opted to keep driving, hoping to outrun, or drive past, the rain.  About 5 minutes into it, our plan worked, the rain had stopped. But only until we reached the base of the mountain.

Our hour long drive (or at least it seemed like it) from the mountain base to where we were staying in Hang Dong was a wet, cold and windy ride, but all we could do the entire way home was laugh, make jokes and shake our fists at “Uncle” for being a typical weatherman and getting it wrong.

By the end we looked like drenched rats pulling up to our guesthouse. Uncle shouted out to us and our host translated. Apparently Uncle joked that he thought we’d come back and kill him for telling us it wasn’t going to rain. They all had a good laugh at our waterlogged state. But then again, so did we.

Comment below and let us know when you’ve encountered Murphy’s Law while travelling.




Daily Digital – Firefighting in the Imperial Gardens

Beijing attractions, Forbidden City, Imperial Gardens, Chinese bronze pot


Walking around the Imperial Gardens of The Forbidden City in Beijing, many of these large bronze and copper pots can be found scattered around the enormous property. These were a form of ancient fire fighting. Hundreds of these large containers would collect and hold rain water which could then be used in the event of a fire. During the winter, hot coals, fires and covers for these pots would be used to prevent the water from freezing. The above is a simpler design but there were more elaborate and ornamented vats across the gardens. It’s clear these were essential by the durability of the metals used and the sheer number of them throughout the Forbidden City.  We thought this simpler design made a great contrast to the ornate and colourful buildings behind.


Daily Digital – Old Beijing Yogurt


Walking around Beijing, these small plastic containers (sometimes ceramic) with paper lids and bands keeping them in place, can be seen frequently displayed on store fronts and roadsides. While we weren’t sure at first what these were, we risked it, bought one and tried it out. Discovering it was yogurt was quite the surprise and the fact that they seem to all be served at room temperature was another! Old Beijing yogurt is considered a specialty and yes, it is served at either room temperature or slightly chilled.  It is made using old processes and has more of a liquid consistency than typical Western yogurt. This is definitely something to say you’ve tried and if you are buying one in a ceramic container, be sure to stick around while finishing it to return the jar, or else pay for the jar in advance!

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10 Things to Know About Beijing

The Capital of China – An Experience in Extremes

It’s always hard to describe a place to someone who hasn’t been there, but with Beijing, we don’t believe there could ever be the words, pictures, or videos, to fully explain what it is like. It is a full sensory experience. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile sensations are constant and overwhelming. The combination can be disconcerting and sometimes incredibly frustrating and at the same time fascinating and thrilling, all in one.

Like we mentioned in our post about the Beijing Night Market, it seems as though the unexpected exists around every corner. Every turn presenting a surprise and usually an unbelievable experience. Here we were in a world so incredibly different it was difficult to fully comprehend what was going on at any given moment, and while we were excited for the adventure, we were quickly worn down by the inundation of extremes.

The above video gives a good visual of what you will see and experience, but we’ve also put together a list of 10 things we feel are key to know about visiting Beijing.

From the budding in line to the sound of horking and spitting to the constant pungent smells, if you are planning on visiting Beijing, are interested in what it’s like or if you are already there and just want to know you are not alone in how you feel, the following will help explain exactly what it’s like to visit Beijing.

1. Don’t be afraid to push your way through crowds and lines.

night market crowd, night market beijing, wangfujing street beijing, beijing attractions

You may feel rude but from our experience it is just customary there to do what you have to do, to get where you need to go. There are so many people in Beijing, 19.6 million as reported in 2010, that you have to be assertive and sometimes a little aggressive in order to survive. The concept of “a personal bubble” seems to be a vague and uncommon concept. If you don’t want someone to bud in front of you in line you are going to have to get cozy with the person in front of you.Stand as close as you can to avoid someone sneaking their way in. If there is an opening in a line or crowd, someone will fill it so be prepared to wait if you don’t seize the opportunity yourself.

beijing subway, crowded subway, Beijing subway car,

In the week we were there, we were bumped, budded, and squeezed out of our turn in line. A split second of inattention and a new person would have stepped in front of us. So we adapted and learned fairly fast. There’s no need to be rude, but you definitely need to assert yourself in crowds and in queues. The exception to this rule is the subway. Generally, guided by markings on the floor, people stand to the side in a line and wait for people to exit the train before boarding in an orderly fashion.

2. Don’t be discouraged about asking for help.

It may be hard to find help and you may not get an encouraging response with the first person you ask. Like our experience on our way to The Great Wall, those that will help you will go out of their way. Often times it is just a language barrier so your best bet is with the younger locals as they have probably had more experience and practice speaking English.  If you are looking for directions, or any other kind of help, keep asking until you find the answer you need. There will be someone willing to help.

3. Make use of the subway system.

beijing transit, beijing subway, subway car

As we mentioned before, the subway system is incredibly easy to navigate once you understand how it works. The transfers for each line are visibly marked, numbered and colour coated. All stops and transfers are translated in English, both on the signs and on the announcement system on the subway trains themselves. Don’t be intimidated by the seemingly fast paced crowds and network.

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This system will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go in and around the city and will save considerable amounts of time and money if you are considering taking a taxi. We paid under 50 cents CDN per ticket with unlimited transfers. One thing to note is that most hours are rush hour, so it can get busy and finding a seat is a rare (and exciting) occasion.

4. You will start getting used to the cultural differences.

beijing 711, asian 711, beijing 7/11

Or at least we feel like we started to become immune to many things by day 5. It is a pretty significant culture shock coming from a Western country. You will experience the following in large doses: the almost constant sounds of horking and spitting; the sounds of honking; the sounds of audio voice recordings broadcast in a loop; the smells of sewage and, in alleys near public washrooms, fecal matter; the smell of stinky tofu; the sights of many dogs and many dogs peeing; the sights of many, many people.

beijing alley, beijing hutong, chinese traditional house

You will also experience, in equally large doses: the sights of little children with rips in their pants, squatting on the sidewalk to pee, or poo; the sights of smog, pretty much all day, everyday; the feel of people walking, on bikes, or scooters brushing past you as you walk, the feel of other people bumping into you in crowded areas and on subway rides. But it is all part of the experience and eventually some of these start to fade into the background of the city.

5. There’s something unbelievable everywhere you go – go out and immerse yourself in the city.

beijing city, beijing city streets, beijing sights, beijing attractions

Whether you are visiting a temple, an historical site, a market or just walking around the streets of Beijing, chances are you will see something unexpected. We found that just wandering the streets or taking the subway to another part of the city had us stumbling upon interesting areas, new sights and some pretty neat things. Just being a part of the city is an experience in itself and it seems like each area has something different to offer.

We found incredible things getting lost while walking the streets, while visiting Tiananmen Square, while walking through parks and while sitting at coffee shops. Beijing is truly a study in extremes and you don’t always have to be visiting a major attraction to see something great.

6. Search online and ask locals for good restaurants.

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We had a hard time finding good food. We’re pretty sure there is lots out there since it seems as though there are thousands of restaurants, but many are without English translations and so we would inevitably ended up going into one of the first restaurants we could find with English or with photos that we could point at to order.

On the last day, we finally went on TripAdvisor.com and found The Brown Door, a restaurant that was recommended. While it was slightly more Westernized Chinese fare, it ended up being delicious and definitely the best meal of our trip. If you want to find good food, look online for reviews or find locals you can ask to point you in the right direction.

7. Plan your sightseeing according to the day of the week and time of day.

Like we mentioned, there are over 20 million people in Beijing and that’s not including the tourists, so if you are looking to cross off certain attractions on your list, plan accordingly. Every day will be busy but weekends will be PACKED, especially when visiting sacred locations such as temples. On weekdays, you will have to navigate between rush hour, and the after work crowds as well as early closing times for many of the sights.

As an example of what we planned, we went to the Beijing Zoo when it first opened on a Friday morning. It started getting busy by mid-day, when we were already ready to leave, so we headed over to the Bamboo park which is more spacious and we ran into few people or crowds. Mondays are a holiday for many attractions. If you are looking to get into a government run building, some of the museums, or most temples, you will be sorely disappointed if you try visiting on a Monday.

Definitely check to make sure you’re planning to visit someplace that is not only open to tourists but has no restricted areas. For example, The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays but you are still able to access the Imperial Gardens and walk around.  Even with many closures, most markets are open on Monday and there are still tons of things to do in the city.

8. Go to the bathroom when and where you can, comfortably.

squat toilet, asian toilet


If you can go, go. There are many public bathrooms on the street and in alleys between hutongs but these are not the most pleasant of experiences. There are also many places you may THINK should have a washroom (e.g. McDonald’s) but that’s not always the case. So if you are around a fairly clean and comfortable washroom, try and do your business there.

It’s also always good to keep some tissue to use as toilet paper as many public washrooms do not have any and don’t be surprised to find a squat toilet. Often times, some of the newer washrooms will have one Western toilet, but the majority of the time, if you are using a public washroom, you’re going to have to plant those feet and learn to squat!

9. Learn some basic phrases.

No smoking sign, water buffalo no smoking sign, beijing no smoking

English is not very common in Beijing so it helps to have a few basic words and phrases in your arsenal to communicate with others. There is a surprising amount of English translation on buses, subways and other transit areas and you can usually get by fine in the markets. The communication barrier really exists with interpersonal communication. Knowing key phrases can help when trying to interact in Beijing and you may be able to get by just knowing the basics.

10. It’s important to keep your passport with you at all times.

Security checks are prevalent across Beijing. Every time you enter into the subway station and any major attraction such as temples, etc, you will be asked to run your bags through a scanner. In some areas where military and police presence is high, such as Tiananmen square, you will also be asked to present your passport in order to gain entrance. It’s good practice to keep your passport readily available, and be prepared for bag checks as well having them use metal detectors on the people who pass through the entry ways.


Is there a general rule you follow when travelling abroad? If so, comment below and let us know what it is!



Daily Digital – Guardian Figures

Imperial Gardens, The Forbidden City, Beijing – Guardian Figures


While walking the Imperial Gardens surrounding The Forbidden City in Beijing, we came across these figures along the sides of the roofs of the buildings. These are known as Guardian Figures. Protectors of sacred buildings, these creatures are displayed in a row with a god-like figure riding the one in front (in this case it looks like a rooster). It is believed that he has superior vision and hearing and can identify evil from afar and can then lead the rest of the animals to fend off the evil spirits. Typically, lions, phoenixes, dragons, and roosters are depicted and the more important, or sacred, the building the more animals added to the row of defenders.

While we were struck by many incredible buildings and important relics around the property, including giant the bronze and copper pots used for fire fighting, the guardian figures are something we noticed throughout our exploration of Beijing. From buildings in the Black Bamboo Park, to walking through and around the Beijing Night Market, we saw these figures on important buildings and decided to learn more about them to really appreciated their significance. While they aren’t listed in our 10 things to know about Beijing, we still think they are an important cultural and historical symbol to understand as you’ll most certainly see them perched atop many buildings… probably more so now that we’ve pointed them out!


Daily Digital – “Uncle” in Thailand

Hang Dong District, Chiang Mai, Thailand – “Uncle”


“Uncle”, as we call him, is a Chiang Mai local. At 75 years old, he still works building houses, running errands and travelling from watering hole to watering hole, keeping an ear to the ground to learn the latest news regarding the sale of local land and property. We met him through our Airbnb host, a man we quickly befriended and stayed with through the majority of our time in Chiang Mai, in one of his guesthouses on his property. During our stay, additional guesthouses were being built and locals were frequently coming and going, working on the build. Uncle was not only part of the crew, but also a kind of foreman for the group.

You may not be able to tell by this photo but Uncle rarely stops smiling or laughing. We were often laughing right along with him, even though we had no idea what he was saying. Since he usually spoke Chiang Mai language, rather than Thai, our host didn’t always know either!

What he would say to call us over for a visit, after finishing work on the neighbouring guesthouse for the day, was “Hello” and “Whiskey” before sharing his locally made whiskey and the local Chiang Mai food he had bought. We loved sitting with Uncle and trying our best, with the help of our host, to communicate with him and enjoy each other’s company. His humour and friendliness was representative of the Chiang Mai people we met during our time in northern Thailand and we were quickly enamored with him.

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Beijing Night Market – A Sensory Assault

NOTE: The Wangfujing Night Market is no longer operating. Closed in 2016, the area is now being repurposed. Here’s what you would have experienced:

Wangfujing Street Night Market – Fried Insects Anyone?


We were incredibly happy when we ended up meeting up with our fellow travel blogger/adventurer, Emily, back at the hostel after our day at the Beijing Zoo and the Black Bamboo Park. We had a great time at the Great Wall and were hoping we’d get a chance to say goodbye before she left the following day to continue on her journey in China.

We were all interested in seeing the Beijing Night Market, or Donghuamen Night Market, off Wangfujing street, we had heard so much about and decided to find our way, once again by foot, to this infamous market.

Walking down Wangfujing Street, it was clear that this was a downtown location (although we discovered that there are many downtown looking areas across Beijing). Major stores and brands such as H&M, Gucci, Prada, and the like lined this busy street.

At a particular portion, the street turned into a pedestrian only route with tents showcasing Maseratis and other expensive cars. We turned into one of the smaller streets off Wangfujing and it was here that the experience of the Beijing Night Market really began.

Wangfujing Street, Beijing Attractions, Beijing Night Market, Downtown Beijing    Parking in Beijing, Bikes in Beijing, Beijing Night Market, Wangfujing Street Beijing


It was, in one word, chaos. An assault on all the senses. True, much of our experience in Beijing could be considered a sensory assault but this was sensory overload.

Exiting from the main strip of Wangfujing street into the maze of winding and interconnected alleyways, we were bombarded by the sights, sounds and smells of the Night Market.

It was difficult to process exactly where we were. On one street there were souvenir vendors anxious to sell you something and on the next, there were vendors of fabrics, purses, jewelry and pretty much anything you could think of.

All these tables of items lined both sides of alleys anywhere from 7 ft to 10 ft wide and were packed from end to end with people.

snack street Beijing, Beijing night market, Beijing Attractions, Night Market  Beijing Night Market, Beijing attractions, Wangfujing street

We walked around at first in astonishment, trying to get our bearings and adjust to the onslaught. People yelling “hello! hello! do you want [insert any and every item here]?”, the smells of cooking food, stinky tofu and Beijing itself permeating the air, the push and shove of the people trying to get by, and the visual display of goods and art and food and people overwhelmed and enthralled us.


Night Market Lanterns Beijing, Beijing Night Market, Chinese Lanterns, Wangfujing Street Beijing

We stopped at a few souvenir stores and vendors to browse and to practice some bargaining. It was surprising to see a price start at 198RMB and be easily dropped to 40RMB simply by saying “too much” and starting to walk away, a few times.

Bartering was pretty big at all the places we went to in Beijing and it is a skill you need to learn fast if you want to get the best deal for what you are buying.

The Beijing Night Market is EXACTLY the place where these skills would come in handy as virtually everything has an initial price, and a significantly lower final price.

Beijing Bracelets, Beijing Night Market, Wanfujing Street Beijing

After a bit of perusing the stands and wandering between the small roads, we hit snack street. The Wangfujing snack street is a busy, narrow stretch with tons of food vendors.

If you’ve heard about strange fried insects and animals in China, this would probably be one of the places mentioned.

We first passed pretty typical looking foods: chicken skewers, squid and prawn skewers, some dumplings and takoyaki (balls of dough with octopus in the centre). There were stands with candy, nuts and even BBQ quail.

Chestnuts Beijing, Beijing Snack Street, Beijing Night Market

bbq fish and prawns at the beijing street market   BBQ Quail Beijing Night Market, Beijing Night Market, Beijing attractions

Then we hit the creepy crawlies. Rows of fried or BBQ insects and other creatures on skewers. We’re talking beetles, scorpions, crickets, lizards, starfish, snakes and seahorses…

We had heard about these stands and knew what we would be coming across but it was still a shock when we saw them live and up close. Apparently, these stands exist for the tourists with many locals completely baffled as to why anyone would even want to try these critters.

We’ve got to say, we were pretty baffled too, especially when we saw the skewers of uncooked and sometimes live scorpions, but we did see people buying and eating them.

BBQ cockroaches, BBQ scorpions, Fried insects, beijing night market, beijing attractions, wangfujing street

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Carolann had mentioned early on that she wanted to brave the Night Market and try something weird, probably a tarantula, just to say she did. So we hunted for a while among the other fried creatures until we finally found a tarantula on a skewer.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos of the stand itself, so she decided against the tarantula and we all opted to try something different and fried…

bbq lizard, bbq starfish, Beijing Night Market,


No, we didn’t try any of the above fried “delicacies”. Instead, we opted for something a little more appealing and bought some deep fried ice cream.

deep fried ice cream, Beijing Snack Street, Beijing Night Market, Beijing Attractions

This was definitely a better option and we enjoyed the tasty treat as we walked through more of the twisting roads of the Beijing Night Market. We found a street of restaurants at the end of which had a small stage with a performer dressed in colourful, traditional clothing.

street performer beijing, beijing night market, beijing attractions

It seemed as though the things to do and see at the night market were endless and we could have walked around for several more hours without experiencing everything it had to offer, much like our experience of Beijing City as a whole and it’s surrounding areas: An incomprehensible amount of sights, smells and sounds and around every corner you turn, the unexpected.

Comment below and let us know which of the creepy crawly skewers you would choose if you were brave enough!


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A Day in Beijing Part Two – Black Bamboo Park

Beijing was one interesting experience. Over the week we were there we went through a wide range of feelings and experiences. Our favourite part of our time there however, were the times we simply walked around and explored the culture and the city. We learned 10 things you need to know before you go to Beijing, and saw a lot of different things, including an interesting night market, some historic landmarks and a few interesting attractions we simply stumbled upon,

Beijing’s Black Bamboo Park – A Photo Tour

After our visit at the Beijing Zoo, we decided we would venture on our own to Zizhuyuan Park, also known as the Purple Bamboo Park, or the Black Bamboo park, depending on who you ask. We opted to find our own way by foot, rather than take the ferry directly from the zoo as we knew it was close by. Asking directions from the tourist information centre at the zoo, we learned it was “down the street”, so we set off on yet another adventure to find a Beijing attraction.

zizhuyuan park, purple bamboo park, black bamboo park, beijing attractions


It was a ways down the road, there were no signs in English, and no one seemed to know what popular park we were talking about, but once we hit the black iron gates lined with bamboo, we knew we had found it. The Zizhuyuan park is by far one of the most interesting parks we’ve seen and offers so much to see and do.

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Upon entering the gates to the bamboo park, we were immediately met with music and dancing. Many couples and individuals gather together at different places in the park to perform various styles of dances, apparently just because they can.  They seem to enjoy it just as much as those that pass or gather to watch and it was interesting to see how many people were actually participating.

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The 34.5 acre, 3 lake, two island, expansive park has a host of activities including gondola rides, fishing, an amusement park and some pedal boat rides and there are many busker type performances. We didn’t end up doing anything other than walking but we had a great time watching all the activity around us, the sights and sounds and the beauty of the park. We had been slightly overwhelmed by the city of Beijing and its people and this was a wonderful respite from it all.

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Black Bamboo Park, Purple Bamboo Park, Beijing attractions, bamboo forest  chinese lantern photos, black bamboo forest, purple bamboo forest, beijing attractions

The winding roads took us to tea houses, a worship area, a small market, gardens and many hidden gems along the way. The park seemed to be a popular place for many locals of all kinds but it was large enough that we didn’t feel crowded like in the rest of the city.

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We spent several hours just strolling and taking photos and enjoying the temporary serenity before we had to head back into the bustle of the main streets of Beijing. The Black Bamboo Park is one of the largest parks in Beijing and it was definitely one of the best we’ve seen so far.

Comment below and tell us about a great park you’ve visited while traveling!

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A Day Touring Beijing Part One – The Beijing Zoo

The Beijing Zoo: Elephants and Tigers and Pandas, Oh my!

Still adjusting to the time difference, we were up pretty early one morning and decided to venture out to the opposite end of the subway system to where we knew there were a few tourist attractions. Since the zoo opened early, and Carolann loves elephants, we decided to head there first. Zoos aren’t our favourite places, and before we got to the Beijing zoo we had forgotten how hard it is to witness animals in captivity, but we had wanted to see the Giant Pandas (and of course the elephants) and with our limited time, we made the decision to check it out. We used a site with all the tourist information for Beijing to find all the information for the zoo we needed.

A few subway line transfers and we arrived at an already busy front gate. Purchasing our tickets proved to be an education in “queue etiquette” in Beijing, which is pretty much: move into any opening you can and take advantage of every opportunity to move yourself up in line. We learned fast and managed to get our entrance tickets, including admission to the panda house, fairly quickly. What surprised us was the price of admission. For a single entry with admission to the Panda House exhibit, it only cost 20RMB which is approximately $4 CDN. That made the cost of our entire trip, with subway to and from the zoo, come out to about $5 each!! They have one of the largest aquariums as well but we decided not to include that as part of our visit that day.


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Beijing zoo entrance

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Gotta see the elephants!!

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Entrance to the panda house

beijing zoo, blown sugar art, beijing tourism

Blown sugar art

The park is pretty expansive and colourful with lush greenery and many traditional Chinese buildings, statues and decorations throughout the winding roads. We strolled along the river, watching the ferries and boats go by taking zoo-goers on rides to various places, and stopped in at the different animal habitats along the way.


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beijing zoo, lion statue, Beijing tourism, things to do in Beijing

One of many statues decorating the park

beijing zoo ferry, beijing zoo, beiing attractions

One thing we noticed was that despite the signs instructing visitors not to feed the animals, many people ignored these postings and fed some of the animals various vegetables.  No one stopped them so we aren’t positive the zoo wasn’t selling these somewhere, we just didn’t see anywhere to buy feed.  This upset us both so we opted to visit only a few more before heading out. What did help us feel better was that it seemed as though all the animals were in good condition and there was always feed (from the zoo) visible in each habitat.

Gazelle, beijing zoo, beijing attractions,  ostrich, ostrich beijing zoo, beijing zoo, beijing attractions

snubnose monkey, beiing zoo, beijing attractions   zebra, beiing zoo, beijing attractions

Two of the last areas we visited were the tiger and the giraffe habitats where we managed to get a few amazing photos of each.

Giraffes, Beijing Zoo, Giraffe love, Beijing attractions   tiger photo, siberian tiger, beijing zoo, beijing attractions, beautiful tiger photo

The panda house exhibit was actually split into two areas, one was exclusively for the Olympic Games panda and boy did he have it made! An entire habitat to himself, with all the platforms, stairs and toys he could want.  The other pandas didn’t have it too bad either. The final habitat we visited was the elephant habitat. They had a decent sized area to roam in and around but it’s always sad to see them (as well as any animal) in captivity.

olympic panda at the beijing zoo   elephant photo, beijing zoo, beijing attractions, asian elephants

We were going to take the ferry from the zoo to a popular Bamboo Park nearby but decided we would save the money and create our own adventure getting there, just like we did to get to The Great Wall!

See our post for the rest of our day, where we will take you with us on a walk through the Bamboo Park!


beijing zoo, playful elephant, asian elephants, beijing attractions, elephant photo

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Climbing the Great Wall And Tourist Scams

The only thing harder than climbing the Great Wall is ordering dumplings.

Our first full day in China had us learning many a lesson about the tourist scene here in Beijing. The learning curve is steep and it is definitely not without stumbles but we managed to navigate our way to, and from, the Great wall with only a few “tourist bruises”, a great story to tell and one amazing memory of travelling to the Wall.

We met a fellow travel blogger/backpacker who was also on day one of her own journey (see Emily’s blog here) and started discussing possible ways to get to the Mutianyu portion of The Great Wall. At the hostel in Beijing we are staying at, there are guided tours but we were hoping to spend less and also wanted the adventure and challenge of getting there ourselves.

After researching the route and suggestions from other bloggers, all three of us set off to find our way to the Wall. From what we read, it was possible but tricky as scams and money grabbing schemes are common, so we knew we would very likely run into a few snags along the way. And we sure did!

Lesson #1: Don’t Act Like Tourists (Even Though It’s Obvious)

It started out pretty smoothly. We knew we needed to get to Dongzhimen station to catch a bus. Easy enough. We’ve only been here a short time but the subway system is pretty simple to learn once you’ve tried it and seen a map, so we knew how to navigate to get to the line transfers we needed.

Our instructions told us to catch the 916 bus to Huairou so we made our way to the bus transfer and found the line we needed. We hesitated. Just a moment where we opened a map and all three of us looked at it with concern, like we didn’t quite know where to go. And that’s all it took.

We were instantly approached by a woman claiming she could take us to bus 830 that would get us to Mutianyu quicker than the one we were waiting for. We followed at first but remembering that the lady at the reception desk at our hostel confirmed our directions for us, we quickly decided that even if it was quicker, we weren’t going to risk it.

We never did see bus 830 on route to the Wall but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or wouldn’t have gotten us there faster, we just don’t believe that’s the case. We opted for the way we had researched and got back in line for the 916.

        Mutianyu Great Wall, Guides at the Great Wall, How to get to Mutianyu

Lesson #2: Don’t get off the bus.

Three stops and an hour in and a man steps on the bus, walks up to the three of us and says this is the stop for Mutianyu. Now, we know for a fact this is not the stop the directions indicated and we wouldn’t have gotten off the bus, but two Chinese girls on the bus with us spoke to the man and told us the taxis weren’t running from Huairou (the station we needed to reach).

They said they’d get off the bus with us so we could go together as they were headed there as well. As the bus drove away and we listened to the one girl and the man, who we learned was a taxi driver, talk to each other in Chinese, it became increasingly obvious that this was one of those scams we had read about and by the sound of the girl’s tone, she was not happy about it.

It would have ended up being a scam and we would have had to pay significantly more. While we wouldn’t have gotten off that bus without the girl, she ended up saving us money and time in the long run by negotiating with the driver and ensuring we all went in the “cab” together.

She was incredibly helpful making sure we got our tickets and gave us instructions and directions for getting back. It was quite the contrast in attitudes to see one person working so hard to work their scheme and another fighting so hard against it. While we don’t appreciate being taken advantage of, we also don’t fault someone for wanting to make a little extra cash, and we sure are thankful for having someone who just wanted to help.


Dumplings in China, Great Wall of China restaurants, Mutianyu Great Wall, Dumplings and Noodles

Lesson #3: When Ordering Dumplings, Make Sure You Know How Much You’re Ordering.

The three of us were pretty hungry by the time we made it to the first entrance to get to the Wall, so we stopped in a dumpling restaurant. The waitress didn’t speak English but we tried hard to communicate that we wanted 3 pork and chive dumplings and 3 pork and shrimp dumplings.

We weren’t sure she had completely understood what we had said and were proven correct when we received three of each alright. Three plates of each for a grand total of 60 dumplings. We were shocked at first and a little upset because we weren’t convinced she didn’t “confuse” our order on purpose, but our frustration quickly turned to laughter at the absurd number of dumplings set before us.

We decided to make light of the situation, pack up a to go bag, pay our bill, and take the dumplings with us. Before we left Macrae joked in English/make-shift signing that since we bought so many dumplings, maybe we could take the chopsticks for free. She smiled and agreed, so we are now travelling with our own set of chopsticks.

mutianyu village, mutianyu great wall, stone carvings china

Lesson #4: Climbing the Great Wall is not a piece of cake but it is definitely worth every step.

After lunch we headed, on foot (instead of buying a shuttle ticket), the half hour walk from the first gate through the village of Mutianyu, to reach the stairs that would take us to the Wall.

Once there we started our climb to the top of the mountain and the Wall itself. It was not an easy task. Steep staircase, after steep staircase, we seemed to be climbing for hours but in reality it was probably only one.

By the time we made it to the top we were sweaty, exhausted and had drank more than half of our water. It was hard to focus on much else but the fact that our legs hurt, until we took the final step onto the Wall and got our first real glimpse of the view. It’s one of those views that no lens could ever capture to its fullest extent but regardless, you keep snapping photos in the futile hope of getting just one that may do it justice.


Great Wall Selfie, The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Great Wall, Climbing the Great Wall

Lesson #5: Tours cost 280 Yuan (aprox. $40 USD). Finding our own adventure is priceless.

We walked along the Wall for a while before heading back down and making our way back to our hostel. The route home was somewhat less eventful since we knew the buses we needed to take and ignored all offers of a “taxi” ride.

Looking back on the day it was completely exhausting, filled with the unexpected, and one of the best days ever. It was only the first day of our adventures but we definitely learned and experienced a lot and it is a day we won’t soon forget.   

One Modern Couple Visiting The Great Wall Of China Mutinyu

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