Saturday, November 3, 2012

I Met Mr. Giant Panda in Beijing Zoo (北京动物园 Pinyin)

I first saw panda in Year 2006 when I went to The Ocean Park in Hong Kong.  It was so lovely to see this ever-shy mammal in the world.  I learned later that Panda originated in China and had been imported for breeding in other parts of the world.  Is this the reason why there is a movie, "Kung Fu Panda"?

So on our Day 2 in Beijing, we were up to be kids again and explored the zoological park of Beijing and scheduled to be transformed back into ladies as we set to shop in the afternoon.
at the entrance of Beijing Zoo
Our wake-up call is at 6AM so we left the inn at 8AM and proceed to Yonghegong Station entrance to Beijing Zoo. We took Line 2 first and get off in Xizhimen Station for our transfer to Line 4. You should be aware of the end to end station of the Line station, otherwise, you will be going to the opposite direction. For Beijing Zoo, you should check if the line is going to Bagou/Longbeicun. From Xizhimen, Beijing Zoo Station is just one station away. We took Exit A as instructed and just followed the group of families with kids as we surely knew they were bound to the zoo too. =)

At the entrance of Beijing Zoo
Since we only have three hours to spend in the zoo so that we can maximize the other attractions of Beijing, we prioritized the main areas of our interests.  This downloaded map from Travel China Guide helped us organized our stay in the zoo.

Panda Overload
We first went to the East part of the zoo to see the Giant Panda, Big Cats and Bear area, the Lion and the Tiger, and some of what the zoo labeled as "Australian" and "American" animals are located.  We spared North part where the Hipo, Elephant and Beijing Aquarium were located.

Next, we walked towards the West Area where we were able to see Giraffe, Golden Monkey, some Aviary and the Flamingo and Deer. We tried to see some penguins but unfortunately the place was closed to visitors.

More than the animals in the zoo, I did not expect that the park would be beautiful because of the flowers abundantly blooming there.

We walked towards the Southwest Gate for our next destination, Beijing Clothing Wholesale Market 动物园服装批发市场.  But, of course, we still managed to get some group photos.

I must have mistaken being a kid in the zoo, I was still a lady that I am.  I had fun having shots solo with the beautiful backdrop! It was a fine day at the zoo.

Important information about Beijing Zoo:

Ticket Prices:
  • Entrance Fee (excluding the panda's house): CNY 15 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31); CNY 10 (Nov. 1 to the next Mar.31)
  • Combo Ticket (including the panda's house): CNY 20 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31); CNY 15 (Nov. 1 to the next Mar.31)
  • Cruise Boat Combo Ticket (including the panda's house and the boat): CNY 40 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31); CNY 35 (Nov. 1 to the next Mar.31)
  • Aquarium Combo Ticket (including entrance fee, the panda's house and the aquarium): CNY 130 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31); CNY 120 (Nov. 1 to the next Mar.31)

* Free of charge for kids lower than 1.2 meters.

Opening Hours:
Zoo: 7:30 - 18:00 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31); 7:30 - 17:00 (Nov. 1 to the next Mar.31)
Aquarium: 9:00 - 17:30 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31); 10:00 - 16:30 (Nov. 1 to the next Mar.31)

Getting There:

Via Subway:
Subway Line 4: get off at Dong Wu Yuan Station, get out of the station from Exit A (northwest exit), and you'll find the south gate.

Via Bus:
Take bus no.27, 45, 105, 107, 111, 206, 209, 319, 334, 347, 360, 362, 534, 632, 634, 697, 714, 808, 814, 特4, Yuntong 104, Yuntong 105, Yuntong 106 or Yuntong 205 and get off at Dong Wu Yuan Station.

It's Spring in Summer Palace ( 颐和园 Yi Je Huan)

Who'd think that you can feel Spring in a Summer Palace?

After spending half of the day in Great Wall of China, we took Bus 980 back to the city to the next destination in our itinerary for Day 1 : Summer Palace ( 颐和园 Yi Je Huan).

Named as the largest imperial park in China and has been recognized as "The Museum of Royal Gardens", Summer Palace is located at Yiheyuan (Summer Palace) Road, Haidian District (northwest of Beijing City).  It is also recognized as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites declared being "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design". Mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake covering 2.9 sg kms, three quarters of Summer Palace is water.

From Great Wall of China, we arrived nearly three in the afternoon in the bus terminal in Beijing. We have the list of buses that will pass by Summer Palace but we don't have any idea where these buses pass by so we were left with one option, that is, to take the subway.

By subwaySubway Line 4: get off at Beigongmen Station (Beigongmen means the North Palace Gate); or get off at Xiyuan Station, get out of the station from Exit C2 (southwest exit) and walk west.
By busTake bus 209, 330, 331, 332, 346, 394, 683, 690, 696, 718, 801, 808, or 826 and get off at Yiheyuan Station.

Take bus 469 or 539 and get off at Yiheyuan West Palace Gate Station.

Take bus 209, 319, 320, 331, 332, 333(内), 333(外), 394, 432, 438, 498, 628, 664, 718, 801, 826, 特6, Yuntong 106, Yuntong 114, or Yuntong 118 and get off at Yiheyuanlu Dongkou Station (The Eastern End of Yiheyuan Road).

Take bus 303, 331, 346, 375, 384, 393, 498, 634, 683, 696, 697, 718, 801, 808, 特5 or 特10 and get off at Yiheyuan North Palace Gate Station.

Take bus 74, 374, 437 or 952 and get off at Xin Jian Gong Men (Yiheyuan New Palace Gate) Station.

Travel China Guide has this directions in English and Chinese characters and advised to be printed which the tourist can show to locals, if needed.

From Dongzhimen Station, we get off at Beigongmen Station and got out of Exit C2 (Southwest exit) and walked west.  We just walked along the Gongmenqian Street until we found the signage going to the Summer Palace.

We paid entrance fee of CYN 20.  There is a map sold at CYN10 so you can be fully guided how to maximize your tour inside the Summer Palace. But we were too tired to go around the palace and opted not to buy a map anymore. Instead, we just walked and walked and had some few stops to enjoy the sceneries surrounding the place.  With aching soles and very tired legs from the hiking adventure in the Great Wall of China, we only had so much energy to sustain.

Enjoying our first taste of ice cream that sounds like "Jing-min-er" while taking a rest in the midst of sleepy mid-afternoon air
Summer Palace is divided into four parts with its famous landmarks:
1. Court Area (East Palace Gate, Hall of Jade Ripples, Hall of Benevolence and Longetivity, Yiyun House, Hall of Virtue and Harmony, and, Hall of Joyful Longetivity)
2. Front-Hill Area (Long Gallery, Baoyun Pavillion, Hall of Utmost Blessing, Hall of Dispeling Clouds, Through the Wonderland, Tower of Buddhist Incense and Hall of Sea Wisdom)
3. Lake Area (Causeway, Nanhu Island, Kunming Lake, Bronze Ox, Back Lane and Wanzihe, Seventeen-Arch Bridge and Marble Boat)
4. Rear-Hill Area (Four Great Regions, Garden of Harmonious Interests, Suzhou Market Street)

We spent much of our time at the Court Area (which is at the East Palace Gate entrance) and the Lake Area where we had lots of "striking a pose" moments, just sitting down enjoying the scenery and the varieties of activities (families, students on a field trip, flock of tourists organized in a tour, couples and some groups like us) in Kunming Lake.  

Court Area
In the Court Area, that is where we had a taste of the sugar-coated haw in stick. It's yummy!

We enjoyed the view at Kunming Lake.  It was mid-afternoon and with the sun and the cool breeze of Spring, we all felt idle to go on walking. 

Kunming Lake
For a time, we stopped walking along the stretch of the lake, and just enjoyed eating ice cream and people watching.
the long stretch along Kunming Lake
After taking some rest, we continued walking, searching for the Marble Boat.  The walk took almost an hour as we had more stops striking a pose while enjoying the view as the sun was about to set.

along the stretch of Kunming Lake
With Summer Palace being recognized as "The Museum of Royal Parks", we found more of Chinese architectures that depict China's history, culture and tradition.

Stopping near the harbor where rentals for water bikes and floating boats can be found, we enjoyed the sunset with our jump shots instead.

 As we walked towards the exit of Summer Palace, we saw this Chinese man having the solitude of his life fishing under the bridge. 

To wrap-up my trip to Summer Palace, it was a place that I think is best to idly sit down, people watch, or just get the ambiance and beauty of the place ignite the writer in you. At the end of the day, you'll surely complete one good story.   It's also best place to jog or brisk walk in the morning, stroll a bit towards mid-afternoon and ride your bike in the late afternoon. 
at the other end of Seventeen Arch Bridge
It was an enjoyable place to end our first day in Beijing.  I climbed the Great Wall of China admiring the beauty surrounding Mutianyu with its bountiful flowers that only bloom in Spring, I ended up the day walking along the long stretch of Kunming Lake thankful for the opportunity to see the other side of my world.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Three Full Spring Days in Beijing

Athough I live in a tropical country, Philippines, I heart Spring so much that I chased it in South Korea in May 2010 but was a little bit late to experience the cherry blossom season.  Finally, I realized that dream in Beijing in Spring of 2011. 
the beautiful cherry blossoms and the magnificent Great Wall of China

Why do I heart Spring so much? 
Because this is when the flowers bloom, when everything around is vibrant, colorful and full of hope after the white winter season and this is where it seems love is everywhere. Just by reading books with a plot on Spring and watching movies with the season of Spring, I am always fascinated.

My trip to Beijing is quite different from the other travels that I had - it was full of surprises and expect the unexpected for me.  Anna was "unofficially" our assigned itinerary planner and did most of the research of the places that we visited. Here she shared the comprehensive itinerary including the pre-departure preparations and expenses of our whole trip. Without any idea of the whole thing, I found it more fun discovering the new experiences as we explored Beijing in three full days. 

Here, I will share my own personal experience of our Beijing trip. 

Day 1: Arrival and Checked-In at Candy Inn

19:00   Departure NAIA 3
00:30   Arrival Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 2
02:00   Check-In at Candy Inn

Day 1
Here's my travel friend, Anna's blog and my blog about Candy Inn.

Day 2: Great Wall of China and Summer Palace

05:00           Wake Up Call
07:00           Leave Candy Inn to Great Wall of China
07:00 -  13:00  Great Wall of China Mutianyu (including lunch)
13:00 -  18:00  Summer Palace
20:00           Dinner
22:00           Lights Off

Great Wall of China 万里长城

We kicked-off our own tour of Beijing in its famous landmark, Great Wall of China.  Check my post about my personal experience in conquering Great Wall of China here.

Summer Palace 颐和园 Yi Je Huan

the charming Summer Palace

Summer Palace is such a charming place, a good place to relax and just get the day passes by.  I liked the long stretch of the road that connects to the other gate with the horizon of the river and surrounding trees that complement the architectural structures of temples and pagodas that depict the era of dynasties. Here's my post about Summer Palace experience.

Day 3: Beijing Zoo, Shopping and Peking Duck Dinner at Quanjude Restaurant

06:00           Wake Up Call
08:00 - 13:00   Beijing Zoo
13:00 - 14:00   Beijing Zoo Clothing Whole Sale Market
14:00 - 15:00   Zhongguanun Electronics
15:00 - 18:00   Tianyi Market

19:00 - 21:00   Dinner at Quanjude Restaurant
21:00 - 22:00   Quick Photo-op at The Egg, Bird's Nest and Watercube
23:00           Lights Off

Beijing Zoo 北京动物园

Not only the kids love the zoo, us too!
I've never been to a zoo as vast, spacious and green like Beijing Zoo. There I saw so many pandas, leopard, white tiger and other animals.  Check how I enjoyed being a kid again at the zoo here.

Quanjude Restaurant

Peking Duck experience
Quanjude Restaurant is famous for its Peking Duck so we splurge to our delights - our best dinner ever. Watch more of my culinary adventures in Beijing here.

NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts)or The Egg 国家大剧院

Bird's Nest 国家体育场 Natl Aquatics / Water Cube 国家游泳中心 Natl Stadium

the night view of Beijing's major landmarks
We wrapped up our day with more endless walking for a glimpse of Beijing's major landmarks at night. More of these soon.

Day 4: Wangfujing Street, Temple of Heaven and Forbidden City

07:00           Wake Up Call
09:00           Palm Sunday Mass at St. John Cathedral
10:30 - 12:00   Wangfujing Street Market
12:00 - 13:00   Bird's Nest and National Stadium
14:00 -         Check-Out Candy Inn (but left our luggages in the storage area)
15:00 - 17:00   Temple of Heaven
17:00 - 18:00   The Forbidden Temple
18:00 - 19:00   Wangfujing Street Market
19:00 - 20:00   Back to Candy Inn to get the luggages          
22:00           Check In Beijing International Airport

The Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven is a discovery for me.  I don't know about this place but I had enjoyed there even though the sand storm started to strike in Beijing during our last day. Watch out for my Temple of Heaven experience here.

The Forbidden City

We're not able to go inside The Forbidden City as it was closed already but worth the visit still.  But I'd love to know more its history too.

Wangjujing Street

The different faces of Wangfujing Street
Wangfujing Street can be considered as the best of both worlds - flea market at the other side of the street and premium outlets of signature brands at the other side.  It has different faces  as well from the materialistic facade of shopping sprees to the holiness of the Catholic Church.  Check more of my Wangfujing experience here.

Day 5: Departure from Beijing at 1AM

01:00           Departure Beijing Capital International Airport
05:30           Arrival NAIA 3

A Must Prep!

  • I shared how to apply for a Tourist/Family Visit visa for Beijing here.
  • Do-It-Your Own Itinerary (refer to Anna's blog, it's very informative). She shared the following points:
    • Print the name of the places and useful phrases written in Chinese characters for the locals to look at when you ask them for help
    • Exchange your PHP to CNY here to avoid the CNY50 charge when you have it exchanged at Beijing Capital International Airport
    • Bring a set of spoon and fork if you're not used to dining with chopsticks. Most restaurants don't have spoon and fork.
    • Print out Beijing Subway Map with Chinese characters. It's a great help for D-I-Y travellers.
My Beijing Take Aways:
  • Great Wall of China is a valid proof for me that dreams do come true. You should not wait for it to happen but chase for it to come true! It left me in awe and I nearly had my tears fall when I saw the greatest work of mankind.  I just learned it in school and I got the chance to finally set my foot on this historical and partly political construction in the world.
  • Cherry Blossom Overload - I only wanted to see even one cherry blossom but I saw other flowers that only bloom in Spring.  It will always be a beautiful scene for me.
  • My first Peking Duck experience - Dining at the famous and fancy Quanjude Restaurant was a wonderful experience. Other than that, I enjoyed my gastronomic adventures in Beijing. Check my post about that here.
  • An unexpected cheap tour - Never did I think that I won't spending much in Beijing. Not that I stopped myself from splurging but it was just that the food are not that expensive even the entrance fees of the famous places that we'd gone to.
  • I won a chic luggage! - My entry to Travel and Leisure Magazine won me a chic luggage. It was so unexpected that I felt winning is like an icing to my cake of travels.

my winning photo

The Beijing Tour Wanderers
Credits: Anna for our detailed itinerary.

Travel Dates: April 14-18,2011
Joiners: Anna Bano (Itinerary Maker)
             Claire Dote (On-Tour Navigator) with Anna
             Vivian Siccuan
             Joan Guanlao
             Jen Zamora
             Lea Javier

Day 5 in South Korea: At Home at Full House and Bukchon

Day 5 Itinerary:

06:00 -       Wake Up Call
08:00 - 10:00 Travel time to Incheon
10:00 - 12:00 Si-Do Island (Full House set ground)
12:00 - 12:30 Travel back to Incheon
12:30 - 14:00 Lotte Mart
14:00 - 16:00 Back to Seoul/Check out of Hongdae Hostel
16:00 - 17:00 Travel to Anguk for transfer to Bukchon Guesthouse
17:00 - 20:00 Bukchon Guesthouse
20:00         Dinner
22:00         Lights Off

Monsoon season kicked off on our second to the last day in Seoul.  It was raining all night and the temperature was getting colder.  We're a bit anxious! We're going to an island all set with our summer dresses and thinking of shooting our MTVs. Don't know much how island is an island in Korea.  I lived in the Philippines blessed with beautiful beaches and islands. And when we say island hopping or crossing an island, it means crossing the sea literally! Bad weather means braving the angry waves so will it be bad to cross the island in South Korea with a bad weather? 

But we pushed it through anyway. Come what may!

From Hongik Station (the nearest station to Hongdae Guesthouse), we made two transfers and took AREX to reach Incheon Subway.  We got off in Unseo station and crossed the road to Lotte Mart.  We should have taken Bus#201 to Sammok Ferry Terminal. Fortunately, there was a mini-van with the charming, old man enough to be called "Ajussi" who offered to drive us to the ferry terminal.  With the signs of bad weather all throughout the day, we arranged with Ajussi to pick-up us from the terminal when we returned from Si-do Island.  That was convenient for us and saved us more time wandering inside Lotte Mart.

Here's the snip of the MTR subway map to Unseo Station.

Aboard AREX train. Spacious and design like the airplane seating.
You would know you've reached Sammok Ferry Terminal because of the billboards of the Koreanovelas that were filmed across the islands of Shido and Si-do.  How I found this place?! I commend South Korea's Tourism Board for promoting their movie dramas to open their film locations to the tourists.  Visit their website and they even have a suggested themed itinerary that cater film locations only! I am in the process of doing that for the Philippines too. :-)

Korean dramas billboards in Sammok Ferry Terminal
We arrived Sammok Terminal nearly nine and the weather was still gloomy and drizzling. The temperature was too cold, probably 8 degrees and our clothes could not really sustain the cold. The ferry terminal is not fancy unlike those in Hangang River but enough to keep us warm.  It has few old chairs with some paints started to peel-off and only one stall of Ajumma selling snacks and some stuffs.  I only saw around five or six locals and thought we might be in a wrong terminal. I tried asking them but they could not understand me.  Then, came in a father and his daughter so I assumed the teen could understand little English so took another attempt.  But she's too shy and just looked at his dad.  Then his father told me, "The ferry will arrive at 10 to Si-do. There, take the blue bus." I happily thanked him and then calmly told my friends about it. 
At Sammok Terminal 
With almost an hour to spare, some of us went outside the ferry terminal inspite the prickling coldness and wind.  Outside I found a rusty coffee machine which I never thought still working.  I took my 1000 won and chose a hot coffee from the machine then looked around the place.  I walked towards the edge of docking station and saw the vast island in front of me. Nearby is Incheon International Airport with a perfect postcard of airplane that had just taken off and the wild birds flying nearby too!

the natural beauty surrounding Sammok Terminal
I took some photos and enjoyed the serenity of the place. it was like in another place of solitude where you can only hear the chirping of birds like black-tailed gulls and the breeze of the wind . The ferry (also like Philipines' Ro-Ro) arrived at 9:30AM and I was surprised to see some cars boarding the ferry. So there were other passengers too. I thought it was only us. Where did they hide?! We left Sammok at 10:00AM.
the ferry going to/fro Sammok Terminal
We enjoyed the trip feeding the black-tailed gull and another bird called swinhoe's egret with bread crumbs. It's like enjoying life amidst the gloomy weather. I looked forward to the tranquility and beauty that I'd be discovering in Full House.

The travel took almost forty minutes.  When we arrived at Shimdo Terminal, I first checked the next schedule of ferry going back to Sammok so I can adjust our stay at Full House.  Next sched is at 12:30pm and the last trip at 4PM. We were scheduled to transfer to Bukchon so we had to get back to Seoul by 2PM.

Going out of the terminal, we were welcomed by lots and lots of black-tailed gulls as we threw more crumbs. I was trying to see if indeed there's any swinhoe's egret bird but i think i saw one. 

Inspite the fun feeding and playing the birds, I had to cut it short and ran to the blue bus. I asked the driver if he'd be heading to Full House and nod. "Full House" is the magic word.
I asked, "How much?". He answered showing his point finger, "1000 won".

The short trip to the Full House set ground was worthwhile.  It was also relaxing with the picturesque rice fields boxes along the road but i know that fishing is more of a main source of income in si-do island. Quite few people in the streets, not too many houses, saw a few stores and some vehicles that I can count with just my five fingers. The place was so quiet or maybe because it was just drizzling that time so perhaps people were staying inside their houses.

After somewhat 15-minute ride, the bus stopped at an intersection showing the direction to Full House set ground.

A few meters from the bus stop, we saw a bike station that offers bike for rent to the tourists . We're supposed to take the bike since the old man told us that it's quite far and the walk would take 30mins. But that 30mins depends on who's walking. =) but since Joan doesn't know how to bike, we all decided to walk.

If I looked back, it was quite near to walk actually but perhaps of the very cold weather and the chilling air was already prickling to the skin made the walk more than thirty minutes. Anna's nose was getting purple and we're not fully geared for a chilling weather. But when i finally saw the road sign and the road up where the full house female lead was running on her high heels down the road to get away from Rain, I knew we're getting there! =)

I was too enthralled to see the house! This is exactly the same in the movie drama. All the odds that we'd faced in getting to Full House just gave us an hour to explore the whole place, including the beach!  Posing everywhere around and outside the house, re-enacting every scene that we can remember from the drama. 

 Check more about my Full House experience.

It's nearly 12NN and with just one or two public buses I saw along the way, I was not sure if we can get back for the 12:30PM ferry schedule.  Then, I saw an old sedan outside Full House.  I asked the lady at the gate who gave us the entrance ticket if she knew the owner of the car.  She shook her head with a helpless expression trying to comprehend what I was saying.  Tried all my might as I asked in English "key" words and some pantomime that I just used to do during Christmas party games, sleep-overs and just for fun. I asked her slowly, "Can you drive (while gesturing I was driving) to Shindo-Terminal?" She answered, "Car small". She thought it would be crowded for the six of us. I answered, "It's OK.". She answered, "Yeh". And I asked how much.  We settled for 10,000 won, enough for us to catch the ferry!  We thanked her that much as we boarded the ferry back to Sammok Terminal.

Whew! That made my whole trip a memorable one.

When we arrived, Ajussi was already waiting for us. We don't have his phone number but there he was waving his hands to us.  He dropped us at Lotte Mart where we had our lunch.
We then went back to Seoul and checked out Hongdae Guesthouse. It was already two in the afternoon and beyond the check-out 12NN. But Mary was kind enough to wait for us and gave us some souvenirs.

Tagging our luggages from that almost whole day trip, we took the subway to Bukchon Guesthouse.  I realized it was a bad decision to take the train.  Coming out of the train including transfers, we pulled and pushed our luggages along the stairs.  No elevators! (Or I was just too tired to notice it.)  Finally, we went out of Anguk Station where Jay, the owner of Bukchon Guesthouse, was waiting.  Another good man in Korea. :-)

He took one of our luggages and guided us going to the next place that we called "our Korean dwelling place."  Check out my Bukchon experience here.

the homey, cozy Hanok house
Too tired from the whole day's adventure and with weather too inviting for a nap, we cancelled our plan to go to Lotte World. We just took some rest, enjoyed the traditional house experience and had our dinner at the nearby tent tasting some famous Korean dishes.