Beijing is the gateway to China and a quintessential part of every China itinerary. The seat of power of Chinese empires for centuries, it has multiple architectural marvels and landmarks of great historical importance. During my recent stint in Hong Kong, I did a 3 day trip to Beijing, to get a peek into China. I have been to Shenzhen and Guangzhou before but Beijing is different. I was a bit apprehensive as I had been forewarned by my Chinese colleagues about language issues. Plus it’s China so google maps don’t work! All those warnings were true– even the staff at a business hotel like Pan Pacific know only a bit of English and their drivers literally didn’t understand a single word I said. But I somehow managed using iMaps, sign language and asking locals who knew a bit of English for help.
My first impression wasn’t good- arrived at night and stood for an hour in the taxi queue. Crashed soon after check-in to get some sleep before a busy day.
Day 1: I hired a full day car from the front desk (expensive!) because I wasn’t too sure about the public transport. The weather was perfect- 9 deg, chill in the air, some sunshine and gorgeously clear day! I was so glad my first impression wasn’t correct.
My first stop for the day was the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage City was a former imperial palace complex of Chinese royalty. At that time, the king decided who can come into the palace and go out hence ‘Forbidden’. I was struck by how massive the palace is! Also, the structures at the gardens on the rear are beautiful. There are numerous palaces and touring all of them can take the entire day. It is always crowded so be prepared to navigate through throngs of people. I will highly recommend the audio guide– good information and GPS enabled.
Next I went to Jingshan Park which is right across the street from the exit. There is a small hill which gives lovely views of the city as well as the palace. It’s a good vantage point to get a glimpse of the enormity of the palace. As per local rules, no building within a few km radius of the palace can be taller that which means the hill gives unobstructed views of the old city centre.
Next, I went to Lama temple but it had just closed for the day– a lot of attractions close by early evening so make sure you check the timings. I spent some time explore the hutongs (narrow lanes with old style houses) near Lama temple. My last stop for the day was the Huohai lake. Beautiful lake lined with bars, local food and souvenir shops– perfect for chilling after a day of sightseeing.
Day 2: Today was reserved for the sole reason I came to Beijing- the Great Wall of China. I booked a a small group hike tour with this company and it was probably the best decision ever! I was a bit apprehensive as I was using the subway to reach at the meeting point but it was smooth. I wish I had used the train yesterday as well and saved some money!!
I met some lovely people on the trip and we hiked together from Jinshanling to Simatai West. It was an exhilarating experience to say the least. Not only was the hike enjoyable in that weather but the sheer size and scale of the wall is unbelievable. How could such an architectural marvel be built in those times without any sophisticated tools and machinery? There are various towers which give sweeping views of the hills around and on a clear day all the way to the sea. The Chinese kings built this wall as a protecting fortress against Mongolian invaders (who still managed to attack!).
Choosing the right section of the wall to explore is very important. Badaling is closest to Beijing and most crowded while Mutianyu is very well preserved. Jinshanling (125 km from Beijing) is beautiful, raw and there are hardly any tourists around. The hike itself is difficult–required a bit of crawling and some parts have loose stones so you need to be careful but it was totally worth it. When we reached the area where we were supposed to turn back and descend (going ahead was dangerous and few hikers died last year), we just sat there looking at the wall in front of us and soaking in the enormity of what was transpiring– we were at the greatest man-made building on earth and just hiked a teeny weeny portion of this enormous thing! That moment was just amazing- all of us just staring at what lay in front of us, many emotions, no words!
We ended the day with a lovely meal of Peking duck at Siji Minfu. You can’t leave Beijing without having the most famous dish aka Peking duck. Siji Minfu’s Peking duck is amazing and in fact I loved everything we ordered– Noodles, prawns, kung pao chicken.
Day 3: I visited the Tiananmen Square and Temple of Heaven before heading back to the airport. Tiananmen Square is huge with Mao Zedong’s museum on one end and his famous portrait across the road (in front of Forbidden city) at the other end. Honestly, I didn’t find Tiananmen Square that impressive. Temple of Heaven, a religious complex used by the royal family for praying to the heaven for good harvest, was nicer– beautiful structures and lovely grounds.
My trip to Beijing was short, sweet and probably much nicer than expected. Absolutely loved the weather and my favourite was definitely the Great Wall.