Jeff and I just came back from a 5 day trip to Beijing.
Great but exhausting.
We joined a group tour since it is a lot cheaper (all inclusive) and a good way to see many things in a limited time frame. Everything is in Cantonese but Jeff translates the main parts and I don’t mind not understanding much.
My university housemates were also in Beijing at that time so we had a little reunion!
We left home at 4:30am on Friday to get to the airport by 6am, once in Beijing we immediately started the tour. The morning call was at 6:30am every day, followed by hours of walking and going to bed late every night (we like to discover the city by ourselves once the tour is over for the day). So we had exhausting days and little sleep – but it was totally worth it.
- Olympic park
The Olympic park was the first place we visited. It’s nothing special but interesting to see the massive constructions and feel the vibe of the place. It must have been vibrant during the games.
It’s now become a park where Bejingers chill and fly (many) kites.
- Tiananmen square & The Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square is just in front of the Forbidden City and is the center of Beijing. It is one of the biggest city squares in the world and is at the center of Chinese political life.
It’s impressive by its size and all the official buildings surrounding it.
The most obvious building is the South gate of the Forbidden City, with Mao Zedong’s portrait.
There Forbidden City is indescribable.
It’s huge, magnificent and detailed. It’s hard to imagine how such a construction was made at that time (built in 1406-1420).
This palace was house to the Ming & Qing dynasties and the beauty of the buildings, the detailed paintings and carvings, the golden tiles and materials used reflect the power of the empires at that time.
It was occupied by the French & British during the 2nd opium war, as well as other rebellions.
Part of the collection of the palace’s museum was taken to Taiwan when the Kuomintang (now the Taiwanese government) retreated to Taiwan.
To give an idea of the size, the Forbidden City has approx. 900/1000 buildings and covers 180 acres.
Everybody should see this place at least once it their life.
- ·Summer Palace
The summer palace was a residence for Empress Dowager Cixi (but was built prior to that). It has various buildings, lakes and gardens.
We didn’t have time to visit this properly, which is my main regret because it looked beautiful.
In China, the dragon is the symbol of the emperor/king and the phoenix is the symbol of the empress/queen and the dragon is always placed before the phoenix (in sculptures, gardens ect) to show that the king is superior to the queen.
The main thing I take from the summer palace is that the Empress was kind of big headed because she switched the positions of the dragon and phoenix sculptures to show that she was more important than the emperor.
- ·Temple of heaven
Once again this is a must see.
Beautiful round wooden temple that makes you wonder how they possibly made this so many years ago.
This was constructed at the same time as the Forbidden City by the same emperor and was used to pray heaven for good harvests.
It was occupied by the French & British during the 2nd opium war, as well as other rebellions and collapsed in several places due to lack of maintenance. It’s now restored and beautiful.
- Hutongs (traditional houses) and Wushu
Beijing has several neighborhoods of Hutongs, traditional houses built closely together forming walled residences with courtyards and tiny alleyways.
People still live inside the hutongs, but since they have become protected by the government they have become very expensive. Walking inside these neighborhoods shows what life would have been like during the Dynasties and it’s great that they are now protected.
We also saw a Wushu show performed by children belonging to the same school as Jet Li.
Wushu (Chinese martial arts) are impressive, graceful and come in different styles.
My favorite is Drunken Kung Fu, where one pretends to be drunk to destabilize the opponent, I find it fascinating.
- Great Wall of China
The great wall is not one big continuous wall, but rather many different walls built by the Ming and Qing dynasties in different areas of China.
We got to see a Ming built section of the wall.
I was a bit worried because it seemed so difficult to climb up all those stairs, but I managed it no problem, actually left the whole group behind (blowing my own trumpet).
How they built this wall is beyond me. It’s jaw dropping.
Beijing is not the most beautiful place to walk the wall, but I loved it and want to hike it in other places, say for one or two days.
- Peking duck and street food
Of course we had to taste the famous duck! It’s yummy but fatty. You have little pancakes, add soy sauce, spring onions, the duck and you are good to go.
We had a look at Beijing street food (notice the choice of word here).
Beijingers enjoy grilled food, ranging from your usual BBQ beef and chicken to more …adventurous… ingredients such as scorpions, snakes, lizards and seahorses.
We didn’t try any of those but went for the famous Beijing drinking yogurt. It was nice and sweet, you just need to ensure they give you one from the fridge and not one that’s been on display for 5 hours.
All in all I loved it; it is so different from Hong Kong! The only big negatives were not visiting the summer palace properly and the turbulent return flight (Jeff says I over-reacted, which is true but still…)