|Subject: Trip to China and Mongolia|
We recently returned from a three-week trip to China and Mongolia. The
impetus for the trip was a friend who teaches in Mongolia and we (my wife
and I) went with his mother to visit him. He met us in China and we spent
two weeks in Beijing, Xian, and Quindao. We had hotel and air line
reservations, but otherwise traveled independently. We stayed in four and
five star hotels, and it was a real pleasure to have the air-conditioned
comfort after a day of 105 degree heat.
China is very easy to travel independently in. There was a lot of english spoken, but even without it (or without an english menu) we had no trouble being understood. We were in a lot of neighborhoods where caucasions are rare, and our friends mom is a redhead, so we got used to being stared at. While we were careful, I saw no evidence of any pick-pockets or other petty crime; in that kind of system there are lots of uniforms and no one wants to deal with them. People are friendly, although in Beijing and Xian almost anyone who says hello wants to sell you something. We went to the downtowns in Xian and Quindao and just shopped at will. Quindau has few western tourists (although a lot of russians) so we were novelties on the beach there. The places where the locals eat are quite good and very cheap. We often found children and teenagers who asked to talk to us so they could practice their english. We took taxis everywhere, and like most places you had to keep an eye on the meter, but they were pretty reliable. The airlines were new Boeing 737's and on time (although we had the same meal about 6 times).
We then took the train to Mongolia - for the experience - 36 hours, hot and dusty. Our only real mistake. We were there for a week. Mongolia is rather a disaster after two years of fierce drought and the post-soviet collapse, but the people are very friendly and very attractive. Again, very easy to travel in (at least in the capital where we were.) We were there for Nadam, their national festival of horse racing, archery and wrestling, and it was like being in a Rocky Mountain state capital at fair time - horses and nomads in town for the big event! The country is vast, empty and rolling, but has a wild charm about it. Ulaan Bataar is the only big city. Eating was great, since there are a lot of aid agencies there, so there are Koren, Indian and many other very good ethnic places - as well as a great German brew pub! We spent two days in a ger camp out of town and it was like a vacation within a vacation.
So a great adventure