Continuing my oriental adventure, my next stop was China's capital city, Beijing. I feel at this point I ought to inform you of my bias, favouring Beijing over Hong Kong, and admit that much of this may have been due to my having recovered from the mystery illness.
In stark contrast the compact and crowded Hong Kong, Beijing is a big open city. I understand that much of it'd current cleanliness comes as a result of the clean up for the 2008 Olympic games, nevertheless it really was a surprisingly clean city, with far less pollution than Hong Kong.
It is very obvious in Beijing that China is a communist state. I was never sure whether I felt more or less safe with all the police and soldiers/guard about.
The city area is very large (6,487 square miles), so you are not quite as aware of just how many people actually live there as you might be, as the metropolitan area has a population of almost 12 million. As for the nine million bicycles? I certainly saw a fair few, but I had more important things to be doing than counting them. I'm not convinced though.
Bizarrely, as I had always understood Beijing to be extremely polluted, the air condition in Beijing was pretty good. The sky was clear almost every day which I'm sure helped this. The only hint of pollution was an occasional odd taste in your mouth, the people I was travelling with didn't seem to notice so perhaps it was just me, but this was definitely worse on the few cloudy days.
There are many things to do and sights to see in and around Beijing. I think that during our stay we covered most of them, despite only being there 8 days. It was a very busy trip! We visited; Tian'amen square, the Forbidden City, the Silk Market, the Honqauio Pearl Market, the Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, the Olympic site, the Great wall, the Ming Tombs, a Jade carving factory, and saw traditional oriental pottery making. Also, as I was with a couple of theme park fanatical friends, I visited the Beijing Happy Valley theme park.
All these touristy things to do were pretty good; I particularly enjoyed visiting Tian'amen square and the Temple of Heaven which is situated in a large public park. However, visiting at a cooler time of year is a good idea as most of these areas are very exposed and you could frazzle in a minute if you are not used to the heat. I couldn't count the number of bottles of water I went through in my time there.
Transport in Beijing is alright, but certainly not as developed or reliable as in Hong Kong. I used the subway regularly in my time there, unlike in Hong Kong there was no pass you could purchase to simply swipe and go, you had to buy a ticket every time. The underground is a bit disjointed and not every stop is in English as well as Mandarin as we had come to expect from our time in Hong Kong so it is certainly worth finding yourself an up to date English copy of the underground route. Be aware that most tourist guides available in the UK currently have an out of date copy.
On the plus side Beijing taxis were much cheaper than Hong Kong taxis, however they also tended not to take you if it was a "short" journey, much to our dismay after a long day's outing where we then had to trek to find the nearest metro station.
As Beijing is such a large area it does take more time to do all the touristy things you may like to, so it is a good idea to plan in advance a rough itinerary for your trip.
Useful things to have for your trip to Beijing include; a basic Mandarin phrase book which also tells you how to pronounce the words phonetically, strong insect repellent if you plan on visiting the Great wall, sun-cream(!!) and an up to date city map. Also wise to have a body wallet for your passport and credit card as pick pocketing is common in touristy areas. I always wore mine and had a cheap bag with some cash and bits n bobs in it so that if someone did try to rob me they would think they had everything if I gave them that bag. Perhaps I'm simply paranoid.
Best times to visit Beijing temperature wise: March, April, October, November, May and September. I went in late June... Very hot!
Overall Beijing was a great city to visit, with lots to enjoy and plenty to do. There really is something for everyone in this exciting city.
I recently returned from a trip to Beijing, which was the destination of our month long trip by train from Latvia. I loved every minute of my time there, it is a truly amazing city. There is so much to see and do, highly recommended are Tiananmen Square, Beihai Park on a Sunday, the Hutongs and the Temple of Heaven. However, my favourite part about Beijing was just wandering around, getting lost in back streets, watching what people were doing, and eating lots and lots of good Chinese food.
The Hutongs were awesome, however my favourite time to go for a wander was at around 7pm, which is when people are going out, eating at home, or even welding. A favourite hobby of mine was going to a restaurant without an english menu or even pictures, and just pointing at a few dishes then seeing what comes to the table! Most main meals were around £1 a dish, meaning that between a couple of people you could have a few dishes and no worry about spending too much or picking not enough dishes. Beer is very cheap at around 30p for a large 600ml bottle.
It was very easy to get around in Beijing, the subway was cheap, fast, clean and modern. It cost 25p for a single ticket to anywhere in the city, a right bargain!
Beijing is the capital of China, and has a population of around 13 million people. It takes abut 10 hours to get there from London and return tickets start from about £400.
My advice for anyone going to Beijing would be - take a good guidebook (the Lonely Planet Encounters guide to Beijing was ideal), comfy shoes and a good camera - Chinese tourists love having their photos taken with westerners, at least this was what we found! And most importantly, don't be afraid to wander off the beaten track, some of my favourite memories involved getting hideously lost...
I visited Beijing for the first time fairly recently, during the month of June. On arrival at Beijing International Airport everyone on the flight from Heathrow, including myself were subjected to Swine Flu checks. It involved four government officials boarding the plain, sporting rubber gloves and face masks of whom were armed with temperature scanners, which reminded me of Ray Guns! I did not have a high temperature fortunately, although one passenger was not so lucky, i later found out they spent the following week in a detention center. Sounds delightful, doesn't it?
I was supremely impressed by Beijing Airport, it was modern and well run. The sheer scale of it was, at first daunting but thankfully the signs are translated into English! There are regular busses running to and from the airport almost any bus that will take you the 27 km into the center of the city will be do, i would advise you take the one stopping at the Train Station though because it is a central location. There is also the newly built Airport Line Light-Railway link which cost 25 yuan and travels directly to Dongzhimen underground station. From there you can use the comprehensive subway system to find your accommodation. Alternatively you can take a taxi, of which there are plentiful numbers which offer competitive prices.
The time of your visit is particularly important, during the summer months the temperature is extremley hot, peaking near to 40 degrees centigrade, which can be unbearable during a full days sightseeing! The winter months are a complete contrast, the temperature frequently venture below zero degrees! The best time to visit, in my opinion is around September/October because temperatures are comfortable and the likelihood of rain is far lower when compared to the summer months.
The accommodation options are plentiful in Beijing, ranging from 5 star hotels to budget youth hostels. I have no experience of the latter, having been on a strict backpacks budget throughout my stay! I opted for Leo Hostel, which is recommended by the most recent edition of the Lonely Planet guide to China. It is located in a excellent location, just a 5 minute walk away from Tiananmen square and the forbidden City. The staff are extremely friendly and always try their best to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. The best thing about this hostel is the atmosphere, it is always busy and everyone, on the whole are friendly like minded travelers who want to have fun! The rooms are simple and clean whilst prices are competitive, my place in a 4 bed dorm with ensuite cost 80 yuan per night.
My first full day was spent on the Great Wall, i opted to take a tour Leo Hostel offer called 'The Secret Great Wall Tour'. I was somewhat skeptical after reading the title just how 'secret' it really was, but i decided to go for it after hearing positives reviews. We set off at 8 am after a quick breakfast of pork dumplings. The group consisted of 10 people, who came from all over the world! The journey took over 3 hours, we passed all of the popular, commercialised sections of the Wall which have been updated and are littered with lifts and toboggan runs not to mention the hundreds of fellow tourists! We soon stopped on a dirt road in the middle of no where and were then ordered to evacuate the van. We the walked for an hour, until the wall finally came into sight. It was better than i ever imagined, the sheer scale of the structure is mind blowing! We trekked along the wall itself for over 3 hours and saw no other person! On arrival in a small village at the end of the trek we were treated to lunh, which included traditional dishes ranging from Egg Plant to Chicken Feet! I would advise taking plenty of water if you choose to go on this trip as the exercise if fairly demanding!
The following day i visited the Forbidden City, as soon as you enter the walls you really get a sense of the history and legacy contained within. It is undoubtably a must see sight in Beijing, it is however extremely busy which can sour the experience. The cost of entering used to be execution, however 60 yuan will now suffice. Chairman Mao's Mausoleum was next on the agenda, it is only open during specific times, two separate time frames, one in the mourning and one in the afternoon. The que, at first looks rather daunting, it is actually fairly quick and pain free. Admission is free, although you only get a limited time frame once in the building to see the body itself, a fleeting glance is all you are allowed as you are ushered through the corridor! This is understandable because of the sheer numbers of visitors. At night time i visited the Silk Market which is a huge, six story building crammed with cheap stalls selling anything from fake watches to tailored suits!
The next day was relaxing compared to yesterday, i awoke early to visit the Temple of heaven. The Temple itself is located in the center of a large park which is beautiful, extremely enjoyable to stroll around at a sedate pace! There are two tickets available, 15 yuan will gain you admission but only allows for access to 3 of the 5 sights, the full ticket costs 30 yuan and is well worth the extra money.
On day 5 i took a 90 minute bus journey (Bus number 331) which winds 12 km away from the centre of the city, heading to the Summer Palace. This was one of the highlights of the trip, it is a beautiful building set beside a huge lake amid beautiful mountains. Admission will set you back 50 yuan for the full ticket which gains you entry to all sites within.
Day six was a full day, i chose to head to the Lama Tempe early to avoid the crowds. This was a good decision as it is a ever popular location for residents and tourists alike. Admission will set you back just 25 yuan, which is brilliant value considering the size and quality of the site. I then took the subway to the Olympic park area and visited both the birds nest and the Water Cube. The Birds nest was simply stunning, you are allowed onto the track itself which enables you to get a real feel of the sheer scale of the structure! The Water Cube was not so good, costing 30 yuan, which basically allows you to look at a swimming pool, it's definitely fair to say the building is more impressive from the outside, especially at night time when the lights are on!
The food in Beijing is brilliant, you are spoilt by the endless opportunities to try interesting and new dishes. Your taste buds are frequently challenged as you are rewarded for trying dishes which are urrrrm.... interesting. Peking Duck is the famous dish and there are many restaurants to choose from, ranging from the cheap to downright diabolical considering you can feed 7 people for under 100 yuan! The street food is my favorite, dumplings are the most common often filled with pork. Wangfujing night market is famous for it's street food, mainly because of the odd food on offer, such as Scorpion and Star Fish!
As far as vegetarian option go there are quite a few restaurants which cater specifically for non meat eaters, just ask the staff at you hotel or hostel and they will point you in the right direction.
The shopping opportunities range from the up market stores around Wangfujing which offer the likes of Gucci, Prada and Armani to the street venders selling souvenirs. You must haggle when buying off the street, they will always come in with a high price, never take it!
Nightlife in Beijing is a relatively new occurrence, in the last 20 years bars and clubs have appeared and are currently more popular than ever! Bar street is where most people congregate, drinks are expensive (40 yuan for a bottle of beer) but it provides a fin evening and continues into the early hours. Hostel also provide a great night scene, with beer costing a more respectable 5 yuan each. The clientele are usually tourist which means meeting people is easy.
Getting around Beijing is easy, the subway system comprehensively covers the whole of the city and costs just 2 yuan per journey! Pick up a map at any hostel or Tourist information centre, they are realy easy to follow and all signs are in English. Taxis are another option, they are an expensive method of traveling around the city but offer an easy and more comfortable alternative to taking the subway.
Scam artists are, unfortunately ever present in Beijing, they tend to target locations such as the Forbidden City and Tiananmen square because of the amount of tourists. They typically offer art work or a tea house experience and then subsequently charge outrageous prices for the privilege. It is not something to be worried about, just be vigilant at all times!
To conclude, Beijing is a fun, vibrant city full of history, it provides endless sights to visit and activities to suit every personality. i would advise visiting during Autumn so you can really make the most of your time and ensure the weather is ideal for sightseeing. I hope to return soon as i believe there are so many sights to witness, i just couldn't fit them all into seven days!
I arrived into Beijing by train from Mongolia via the trans Siberian express, sadly we arrived just after the Olympics had finished last summer, but the weekend we arrived was a national holiday - therefore there was lots going on. The train station we arrived was located in the middle of the city and was swarmed with thousands of people at the exit for international arrivals similar to that of a major airport and gave our first impression of the city.
However this crowded mad city impression was forgotten after we arrived at our hotel near the lama temple was soon forgotten as the hotel was very nice and this was budget accommodation, but we had one of the best rooms we had around on our trip around the world. One thing that struck me instantly was that the smog that seems to plague the city was not as bad as I thought it would be, but then many measures were taken during the Olympics to improve this, and it seems to have benefitted the city.
On our first evening our group sat down to decide where and how we wanted to take in the many of the cities impressive sites. Whilst deciding we were presented with some free passes to go to the Olympic site and village. After a short, cramped bus journey we arrived to find thousands of Chinese people wanting to take pictures of us because we looked different to them - we actually felt like film stars. The birds nest is impressive to say the least as is the swimming pool. However the friendly nature of the people we met that night symbolises to me the Chinese. The people were advised to learn English by the government for the games and many people can hold down strong conversations, whilst taking our few words spoken in Mandarin with such gratitude. This is an attraction that you should visit at night as the arenas look better at night.
Our second day started earlier then expected as our phones didn't adapt to been on Chinese time as we woke an hour early for our early trip to the Great Wall of China. Our guide had asked which part we wanted to visit, our options were
1) The busiest part
2) The closest part
3) The most scenic part, but its further away.
We all choose option 3, as this is something that is not going to happen to you frequently. We hired a mini bus and driver for about £8 a person and the journey took about 90minutes.
The Great wall itself was my personal highlight of the trip. We choose to do things the hard way and walk up the many steps to the top of the tall landscape that the Great Wall is perched on. The views when at the top were simply amazing as the wall stretched over many rolling hills, and seemed to vanish in and out of the fog that was present that day. We chose to walk the wall for about 1hour, while many charming Chinese people had races along the wall. Each section of the wall is a couple of hundred metres and has a watch tower to separate the wall as the wall snakes itself magically over the rugged landscape. . After electing to walk to the top instead of taking the cable car, we had saved a treat with a terrific toboggan ride to the bottom. After taking what seemed to be an hour to reach the top, we arrived at the bottom in minutes. This was well worth the visit. The price of our visit was 40yen to visit the wall and an extra 8yen for the toboggan ride. The cable car would have added an extra 2yen to the price, but would have taken away a sense of achievement of reaching the top by foot.
After navigating our way through the market at the bottom of the entrance to the wall - we headed back to Beijing and visited the Forbidden City which is located in the middle of the city and entrance to this was once again 40yen. This was another amazing place to visit as you navigated round the extensive site with it tightly packed alley ways. My only criticism of this was that it was far to busy when we arrived, and this somewhat spoilt the visit. When leaving this site you enter opposite to Tiananmen Square and is a great opportunity to take this in as well.
The next day saw us take things at a far simpler pace as we visited the Temple of Heaven. This is housed in the middle of a large park in the middle of the city and comprises many different temples. We strolled gently around while visiting Echo wall (a wall in a U shape that you shout and it echoes around) and of course the picture perfect temple. This site went through a large investment of cash to improve its appearance for visitors for the Olympics and it certainly seems a clean environment to spend many an hour. The site also has many long corridors which are covered alleys to walk around the park. This was slightly cheaper then the other attractions, costing 28yen to visit all parts of 20 to be able to visit 3 of the 5 areas.
The next day we took quite a long bus journey to the outskirts of the city to visit the summer palace. This was surprisingly easy and yet again many Chinese people made sure we were going where we wanted to be. Upon arrival this place is simply impressive as we climbed up the Longevity Hill to find yet another amazing temple. We also followed the lake around to see the many bridges spanning the lake. Again there is many long corridors to walk along. This was a picture perfect setting to see many parts of traditional Beijing settings. Again these area has been cleaned up for the Olympics. We spent many, many hours walking around this site and my advise this, that this adventure will take a day out of your holiday, but it is a day well worth the adventure. Again this was set at a cheap price, with the cost been 40yen or 45yen depending on which parts of the site you wanted to visit. It is well worth paying a little extra.
Everyone seems to love Chinese food in the UK and this was again a real highlight of our trip. We were in Beijing for a week and each and every restaurant we visited were extremely cheap, but also delicious. As we were in a group of 8 we decided to all order a main meal and share each meal between everyone there, this was accompanied by large portions of rice and washed down by a couple of beers a time. Each time we did this the cost was only a couple of quid each. The food flavours was impressive to say the least.
We also ate at a variety of street vendors, ranging from eating a large sweet potato, which was cooked like a jacket potato, A man who cooked chicken pieces and smothered chilli flakes over them, to small bakeries savouring large doughnuts. We visited one of the famous night markets, which was a food market with a difference as you can purchase deep fried Scorpions, Insects and a whole range of things I not sure are! We opted for the baby Scorpions which were simply just crunchy, but the experience of eating them was something in itself.
Everyone knows that Cycling is a big thing in china and this is surprisgly easy to navigate the streets as many of them do have a cycle lane to the side of them. Most hotel's have a cycle hire service, ours had a steep deposit scheme but the actual hire was very cheap.
Public transport was also extremely easy. The underground ticket machines had an option to display everything in English. The route maps, even on the trains, had the stations displayed in English. The trains and stations themselves were spotless. These were never overly busy and are probably the easiest way to get around the city.
We also did a couple of journeys via the bus network in the city. This was also easier then I initially thought it would be. Simply hand over money to the driver when you board and ask the driver if you are on the bus going the right direction. These busues do however become crowded and is not as easy to travel on. However you do get the advantage of seeing the city.
Population - 17.4 million
Warmest month - July, Average 22 degrees.
Coldest month - January - Average 1degree
Time difference - +8GMT hours
Currency - £1 = 10.5Y
Also published on Ciao.co.uk
On part of my trip to Beijing I visited the Temple of Heaven or Tian Tan. The temple is located in South Beijing and as one of the main sights, pretty easy to get to.
Tian Tan was built at the same time as the Forbidden City, and completed in 1420 by Emperor Yongle. The temple was built for the Emperor to pray and make sacrifices to Heaven at the winter solstice.
The first section I saw was the Temple of Heaven (or Qinian Dian), it is a beautiful building. The building is round, and built of wood - apparently without any nails! The building is round to symbolise Heaven, and the actual park around it is square to represent the Earth. The building is set on marble, which has ots of carvings, including dragons.
As I climbed the marble steps, I felt quite in awe of the temple, the building walls are red, and these are built of 4 main wooden columns which symbolise Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, and the roof is coloured blue to represent Heaven.
Although you cannot go inside, try to look through the door and sneak a peak inside, it is beautifully decorated and you will also be able to see the 4 wooden columns which supports the building.
Next, I made my way through the park, as there are several other sights to see. The park itself is lovely, and you will see locals playing cards, singing, or practising martials arts, this is nice to watch and there is usually a little crowd gathered round to watch!
Another main sight in the complex is the Imperial vault of Heaven, this is smaller than Qinian Dian, but just as beautifully decorated with dragons and phoenixes. This building is surrounded by the Echo Wall, the wall is also round, and if you stand at one end and whisper, someone at the other end should be able to hear you clearly! It was too noisy to say if this is true though, as lots of people were shouting to be heard!!
The other main sight is the Round Altar, the altar is round and paved with grey marble slabs, this is where the Emperor would speak, and perform the sacrifice. I'm not sure why, but in the middle of the altar there is a circle marble slab, and everyone jumped on it twice!
When I visited in October, the weather was beautiful and the sky was a perfect blue, I could easily have spent an entire day! I would say if you were visiting to spend at least half a day to soak up a little of the park atmosphere.
Having lived in Beijing for ten years until recently, first as a student, then working, I wanted to give a more personal view of the city all too many people go to Beijing with the wrong expectations and come home disappointed. I hope that this will help to guide anyone that is planning to visit Beijing in the near future. If you are planning to go, then the first thing that you should do is buy a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to China - I think there is even one that concentrates on Beijing - this provides invaluable information on places to visit, how to get around the city and has a language guide for emergencies.
A number of airlines fly to Beijing. I recommend Air China, which is cheap, clean and direct. BA is frankly over-priced and Virgin Atlantic flies only to Shanghai. Shop around, prices can vary enormously from travel agent to travel agent.
I hear so many people come back from China complaining about the food. The trouble is that most people visit Beijing as part of a tour and therefore have to rely on their guides for food. Certain restaurants are targeted for tourists and unfortunately tend to provide banquet-style food as a mark of respect. Banquet-style food usually includes unusual dishes that don't really suit the western palate, such as chicken's feet and pig's trotters. Everyday Chinese food though is fantastic. There are many types of Chinese cuisine, probably the most famous of which is spicy Sichuan food, and all can be found in Beijing, but the most common type of restaurant is what in Chinese is called home style cooking. This includes a bit of all cuisines. I recommend to anyone going to Beijing - dump the guide, walk into any restaurant that takes your fancy, and order by either pointing at dishes on other tables or use the food guide in the Lonely Planet. It will be worth it. Don't worry too much about levels of hygiene - they are no longer that bad and the worst that will happen to you is an upset stomach. If you really can't stand Chinese food, then there are many western restaurants, especially in the Sanlitun and Houhai areas. There is even a fish and chip shop run by three Chinese men with English wives. Don't tip - the service charge is included in the price.
There are a number of four and five star hotels in Beijing, all at international levels and prices. If you need to book your own hotel, then the Kerry Centre Hotel, the China World, the Wangfu Hotel and the Shangrila Hotel are all excellent, although the last is rather too far away from most attractions. For those looking for cheaper accommodation, the Lonely Planet has a long list. There is a youth hostel in the Sanlitu area, which is cheap and clean.
Things to do
There is plenty to do in Beijing. Most tours will arrange trips to the main attractions; but if you are not on a tour, then you should particularly aim for the Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, the Lama Temple, the hutongs (alleyways) in the Houhai area and of course the Great Wall. Try to get to the Simatai section of the Great Wall, rather tha the Badaling Section - the views are absolutely stunning from the top. There is quite a climb, so not for the unfit or elderly. All of the places except the Great Wall are within the city proper - you'll need at least an hour and a half to two hours to reach the Great Wall. Peking Opera is also worth seeing if you get the chance, although it is not easy on the ears.
There is an active nightlife in Beijing. Foreigners and many Chinese flock to Sanlitun and Houhai. Any hotel will be able to point you in the right direction.
For shopping head for Qianmen and Wangfujing. There is also a pearl market near the east gate to the Temple of Heaven, made famous in the UK by Cherie Blair, who apparently didnt pay tax on the pearls she bought.
Try not to worry too much about getting around if you are not on a tour. If you cant find the name of the place that you want in your guide book, hotel staff will be able to write down the name of the place you want in Chinese this should be adequate to get you where you want. There are unscrupulous taxi drivers who will take you the long way round, but on the whole, they are an honest lot.
The best time of year to visit is September. The summer months are too hot (up to 40 degrees), the winter months are too cold (well below zero). If you can't make September or the first part of October, try April and May. By June, the heat is overwhelming, although air conditioning is widely available. It is also very humid, which makes for great discomfort. The winter months tend to be very dry.
Despite common opinion, Chinese is actually not that difficult to learn to speak (writing is another story). A few basic phrases will go a long way to good will. Few Chinese people speak good English, so if you decide to go off on your own, best to take the Lonely Planet or a phrasebook with you.
The Chinese renminbi (literally the People's money) or yuan is a soft currency and as such, you'll need to wait until arriving in China to change money. There are currently approximately 15 renminbi to the pound. There are very few coins, most of the money is notes, the most expensive of which is a 100 renminbi note.The cost of living is still relatively low, although as a tourist, you will probably be charged top prices.
Transportation is easy, provided that you have where you want to go written down. Taxis are probably the best bet, they are very cheap, but note that few drivers speak English, although many are now forced to learn in the run-up to the Olympic Games in 2008. Buses and the underground are even cheaper to use, but can be difficult without knowledge of Chinese and bus conductors arent always as helpful as they could be. Hiring bicycles is another good way of getting around although expect to get filthy Beijing can get very dusty.
This is excellent, although can be expensive. There are hospitals and clinics especially for foreigners, where English is the common language; some Chinese hospitals also have departments for foreigners. Chinese hospitals are fine, just a little basic and over-crowded.
Dangers and annoyances
1) Spitting. The Chinese, many of whom smoke, spit all the time. This can take some getting used to.
2) Staring. If you are non-Asian in appearance, like me, you will get stared at. This can be uncomfortable, but don't take it as an insult - it is just curiosity. The Chinese love children and may try to touch your child, particularly if blonde.
3) Pick-pockets. Not as common as in the west, but foreigners are presumed to be rich and may be targeted.
4) Beggars. There are a number of gangs running scams. This usually involves women and children, none of whom actually get the money, but the gang leaders become very rich. Don't make them even richer.
5) Pollution. Levels are very high, although the authorities are working to control it for the Olympic Games.
Living in China
If you are planning to live in China, the experience can be very rewarding. I think it is all the more rewarding if you learn to speak the language, so you can more than get by. One important thing to note is that if you go out to look for a job, you will have to get a tourist visa, which needs to be renewed every few months. This means that you are not legally entitled to stay anywhere but a hotel, which can be expensive. It is far better to find the job before going out your work organisation should then be able to provide you with a working visa.
On a personal note, I loved my time in Beijing. I first went out to study the language, fell in love with it and stayed until two years ago, when I returned to the UK for family reasons. The changes over the past few years have been phenomenal during my first year in Beijing in 1990, it still very much had a Communist feel about it people were dressed in green or blue, only senior politicians had cars and most locals were reticent about liaising with foreigners. There were few nightclubs and bars and it was difficult to buy foreign goods. Over the years, things have changed enormously and generally for the better. People are now much freer (although not completely it is still a Communist country) to express their opinions, the quality of life has improved and there is less obvious poverty.
Beijing is a fascinating place with friendly people, an absorbing history and lots of charm. It is also a great base from which to explore the country further. I recommend that anyone visiting will read up about Beijing before they go to get a feel for what it will be like - of course it is not perfect, where is?, and it can be very daunting for people on their first visit because of the language difficulties, but it is generally a very safe, unthreatening place that is full of opportunities for the curious tourist.
A short summary
This is a travelogue about the trip that my wife, Nikki, and I took to China (Beijing, Xian and Hong Kong) in the period from March 15th to March 29th 2003. We first spent 7 days in Beijing and we got to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and so on. From Beijing we took an overnight train to Xian and our main goal there was to see the Terra-Cotta Warriors but we also got to see a few other things. And from Xian we flew to the city of Shenzhen and from there we took the boat to Hong Kong (HK), where we stayed for about 5 days. In HK we visited Ocean Park, Victoria Peak, the Space Museum and so on. This review is only for Beijing. If you would like to see some pictures from the trip feel free to visit my homepage http://gardkarlsen.com
A couple of years back we thought about going to China and as luck would have it we ended up in Florida instead :-). Well, this time around we were more determined and we wanted to go to China before the preparations for the Olympics in 2008 ruin the city of Beijing. We also wanted to see the Terra-Cotta Warriors in Xian and we have also always wanted to see Hong Kong and that is how we came up with our travel plan.
The tickets for the trip were bought through Kinareiser in Norway which included the flight (to Beijing and back from Hong Kong) and 6 nights at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Beijing. Apart from this it was up to us. We paid about 7500 Norwegian Kroner pr. person for the tickets (about 960, 1=7.8 Kroner).
We planned the trip by firstly buying a couple of books: CADOGAN book about Beijing written by Peter Neville-Hadley and Lonely Planets guide to Hong Kong & Macau. Mr. Neville-Hadley seems to be quite an authority of sorts when it comes to China because his name pops up on newsgroups and different internet forums. And his book is very detailed when it comes to many aspects of Beijing. The Lonely Planet guide is quite boring but I guess that is because Im used to the Eyewitness guides. And we did of course get some information from the internet.
The trip begins
We wanted to fly SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) this time but they didnt have the option of flying to Beijing and back from Hong Kong so we ended up on KLM. As I have said before, I think that KLM has gone down in quality in the last few years. When we boarded the plane it was pretty full and one lady didnt know where to place her hand baggage and she asked one of the air stewardesses if she could help her out. And the KLM stewardess just said No. Not much service to be found there. But hey, KLM do have a great home airport at least. Schiphol has become a really nice airport and you can do a lot of shopping there
When we were waiting to board the plane we hoped that there would be some empty seats but for the first time I got to experience an over-booked flight. They started offering people 350 to go via Seoul instead and arrive in Beijing 6 hours later than first scheduled. It was tempting but we stuck to the original flight.
Arriving in Beijing
Having left Stavanger on Saturday and flown via Amsterdam, we landed at Beijing airport at about 9 am on Sunday morning. I was hoping that we would get a view of the city but it was so misty that we didnt see anything until 5 seconds prior to landing. The airport itself looked nice and well kept and getting through immigration was pretty effective. The first thing I noticed when I picked up my suitcase (on its maiden voyage by the way) was that it was damaged as if someone had taken a crowbar to its side. I went to the luggage centre to report it and was refunded 400 RMB. RMB is the local currency and it is known as Renminbi (people's money) and is often abbreviated as RMB .the unit of Renminbi is a yuan by the way.
On the money topic: once again we travelled without any money. The only thing we had was our VISA and MasterCard. And as we had read on the net there are ATMs once you get out of customs.
I didnt really know what to expect from Beijing. Sure, I knew about the great wall and the Forbidden City but what would the city itself be like? And going from the airport to the hotel I got a bit sceptical. It was misty, raining and everything looked greyish and boring (just like it does here in Norway in the winter time). And the taxi was driving really slowly on the highway - as if the driver was trying to save petrol or something. But the drive didnt take long and it only cost us about 50 RMB.
The Radisson SAS Hotel was nice but not centrally located. Getting around was not a big problem because there were always taxis available. If you would like further details about the hotel you can check out my review of the hotel here.
Our plan was to start the sight-seeing right away but the long flight had worn us out. We ended up taking a short nap before getting started. The first place that we could think of was Tiananmen Square :-) 15 minutes in a taxi and 30 RMB later we got to Tiananmen Square. The Square is HUGE and it is quite impressive. Our late arrival to the Square meant that we, together with lots of other Chinese people, were able to witness the daily ceremony of the lowering the Chinese flag. It can be pretty cold in Beijing in March by the way. On most days it would be freezing in the morning and the evening and in the middle of the day we would have about 10-12 degrees Celsius. So I was glad that I had brought my fleece and Gore-Tex jacket :-)
While at the square we got in touch with some locals - a brother and a sister, and the girl spoke pretty good English. We conversed with them for a while, whilst waiting to see the flag lowering. Having seen that we continued to walk and talk with the two we had met. We ended up being guided through some hútòngs. Hútòng is the Mandarin word for an alley and describes the small alleyways of the traditional living quarters in Chinese cities. According to our guides the hútòngs south of the Square are in danger of being demolished as a part of the preparations for the Olympics in 2008. We walked around in this area and ate at a small restaurant. I understand that there are quite a lot of old buildings in Beijing that dont have any toilets and public toilets are the solution. So when I needed to go to the toilet, the restaurant only had a public toilet that I could use. I went into a dark hall with only a single light bulb illuminating the place. The toilets were at the end of a hall where I discovered that there were not even squatting toilets, just holes in the floor. The lack of doors made privacy impossible. So one can say that it is quite different to what Im used to back home :-)
The Forbidden City
The next day we were ready to check out one of the attractions that I was most looking forward to: The Forbidden City (Imperial Palace). This is located north of Tiananmen Square and the Palace Museum takes up quite a big space the outer walls are about 1 km by 0.75 km in size and this was once the home of the emperor, the empress, concubines, eunuchs and so on. We bought tickets to the museum for 40 RMB (about 5) and for another 40 RMB and my drivers licence as a deposit, we rented audio-guides that helped us with information throughout the museum. It was kinda funny to listen to the audio-guide because the information was being narrated by James Bond .eh I mean Roger Moore :-) It was certainly handy as not all the signs went into as much historical detail. We were lucky enough to have great weather this day - the blue skies made the yellow roof tiles looked even more majestic. The Forbidden City was overwhelming in size and historical facts which I could bombard you with but I think that I will summarise by saying that it was a great experience In my opinion, this place can be compared to other magnificent buildings such as Versailles. And with names like Gate of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Protective Harmony and Hall of Heavenly Peace you know that this was a place fit for an emperor.
The only negative thing about the Forbidden City, that I can think of, was that on a few occasions we were approached by Chinese Art students claiming that they would have an exhibition in Norway soon and they wanted us to come along to look at their paintings to get feedback and new ideas. We never did go along to see what it was all about so I cant really comment on it :-) I was also surprised to see that a majority of the Forbidden Citys visitors were of Chinese tour groups either following a flag holding tour leader, or browsing about in matching hats.
Temple of Heaven
Still in high spirits, we made our way across Tiananmen Square in the direction of the Temple of Heaven (know as Tiãn Tán Gõngyuán). For 30 RMB you can get into this park and check out Hall of the prayer for good harvests, Imperial vault of heaven and Circular mound. We entered the park from the west and it took us quite a long time just to walk to the centre of the park where we could check out the buildings. The Hall of the prayer for good harvests is a circular temple painted in blue, green, gold and red and it was striking to see this temple against the blue sky background. From this temple we walked south to get to Imperial vault of heaven. According to our guide book this has a perfect circular wall and just like the Whispering gallery at St. Pauls in London one can stand on one side and talk to people on the other side. Our guide book also mentioned that trying this out may be tricky as we could expect quite a few loud Chinese trying it too*grin* Fortunately, it was not crowded that day. Nikki and I went to a side each and all of a sudden I hear Nikkis voice saying G, can you hear me?. I was quite surprised and said Yes and I think Nikki was even more surprised than me because all she could say was Really??.
It is quite hard to comprehend how big the Forbidden City is and we had read that if we wanted a nice view of the palace we could go to the Jingshan Park which is located north of the Forbidden City. The park is actually a little peak made up from all the material that were left over when construction the moat around the Forbidden City. Unfortunately, we went into the park on a misty day and it was actually hard to see the south gate of the Forbidden City - it was a nice walk though.
The Great Wall of Simatai
The next day it was time to check out another great attraction: The Great Wall. We bought a day tour (lunch included) for RMB 380 each in the hotel lobby with a company called Dragon bus tours. We had read quite a bit about the wall and we had hoped to walk from Jinshanling to Simatai but our tour only included a 2 hour walk along Simatai. Most tourists seem to go to the part of the wall called Badaling but we were hoping to avoid the crowds and any queues. We were picked up at the hotel at 9 am and apart from our driver and our guide Judy we were accompanied by a couple of American girls. The drive to the Simatai section takes about 2 hours each way. The long drive gave us a chance to look out the windows and see how people live, people working along the road and so on. Once again we were very lucky with the weather and when we reached the wall the skies were blue. Getting to the wall is really a great moment. All of a sudden you can see the wall on the mountain tops stretching as far as you can see, like a never-ending snake. As it was so early in the season the cable car that usually takes people up to the wall wasnt running so we all had to walk up and that was OK with me. It took us about 20 minutes just to reach the wall but all of a sudden we had our feet on a part of world history. At Simatai you can choose if you want to go to the left (I guess this takes you to Jinshanling) or to the right where you have 15/16 watch towers before you reach the end and it rise up about 1000 meters above sea level. We chose to walk on the right part of the wall. As it was still only early spring, we saw bits of snow left on the wall and in the landscape itself. The wall was really steep in some places and sometimes the steps were narrow. To start with we had some locals following us and they wanted to sell us different stuff, but they eventually stopped tagging along. Time constraints meant that I only got as far as tower 11, but the view just got better and better the higher I got, and I got trigger happy with our camera. The combination of a great view and the scarcity of other tourists made it a truly special experience. On the one hand it is amazing to have walked on something that I have read so much about and see so many pictures of. On the other hand it is hard not to think about all the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into building this wall (in fact it is not one wall but many walls that has been built in different dynasties). Our guide told us that lots of people died in the process of building it and many people were actually buried in the wall itself.
After walking on the wall we went down to the parking lot again. Here youll find lots of little shops and restaurant and we had lunch at one place. We just sat down and they brought out lots of food. Whilst eating lunch, we were quite surprised when all of a sudden a guy came running out of the restaurant and dumped a live fish on the paved walkway not far from us. Soon after a woman came out from the restaurant with a big knife and beheaded and de-scaled the fish :-)
On the way out guide Judy asked if we wanted to go to the pearl market because it was on the way. It turned out that the market wasnt really on the way and it was not the market that we thought it was. It was a shop that only sold things made from pearls. When we got there we were more or less the only guests in the store but about 15 clerks that were just waiting to sell us stuff. So we walked around for like 5 minutes before we left. I guess Dragon Bus tours get some money from the store by bringing people over like this and we have experienced the same in guided tours in Thailand. But it makes us feel a bit uncomfortable.
Chairman Maos memorial hall
If you want to see the remains of Chairman Mao you can go to his Memorial hall located on the southern end of Tiananmen Square. We got in line together with hundreds of Chinese people one morning. We soon found out that we had to get out of the line due to our backpack. But after this was handed in (on the other side of the main road of course) we got back in line and we started walking in. Once we got into the memorial hall we were told to be quiet (yes, I was chatting away :-) and we were asked to show respect by removing our hats. You dont really get a very good look at Mao in his glass coffin because people are rushed through the room so that the next group of people can come in. Visiting the memorial hall is free and it was a bit of a strange experience :-)
We also wanted to check out the Museum of the Revolution and maybe the Great Hall of the People (the parliament). The parliament just had a gathering, and the new President had recently been announced, so it was basically closed all the time. But we decided to try out the Museum of the Revolution. It seems like this has been changed a bit since the guide book was written. It has now been spilt up into different small museums and we went into two of them: one contains pieces that showed a bit of Chinas long history and another museum focusing on Chinas World heritage. It was not really easy to find out where to buy tickets to the museums because they were selling them on both sides of the entrance. This, combined with the fact that Chinese art students kept on bugging us to come along to look at their work, made it a bit confusing.
What to eat?
So what can you eat in Beijing? Well, there is of course one dish that is famous and that is the Beijing (Peking) duck. We decided to try out this dish at a place that was recommended by Kinareiser. We tried to stick to the places that were recommended because there is a communication problem if you walk into a restaurant where they dont speak English and where the menu is only in Chinese :-). King Roast Duck Restaurant served a pretty good roasted duck and we paid about 200 RMB ( 25) for a meal for the 2 of us.
We also had lunch in a food court at a shopping mall. The Chinese dishes were pretty cheap and we paid like 15 RMB for one dish. But we also went to western restaurants in the Wangfujing area (the main tourist area) and here we experienced that the prices was more or less like back home. It is also possible to get stuff like KFC and McDonalds in different locations around Beijing. It is always great fun to try to eat with chopsticks by the way :-) we did manage it somehow in the end but I guess it is due to previous training in Singapore.
I mentioned the Wangfujing area where youll find some nice big hotels, big shopping malls and so on. The streets around here are very clean, well lit and look as if the Chinese are trying to appeal mainly to tourists. But you dont have to go very far away from the main streets to find out that there is a different reality.
Transportation around Beijing
The best way to get around Beijing, in our opinion, is to take a taxi. The majority of meter taxis are red with a little sticker on the side with 1.20, 1.60, 2.00 and so on. This sticker indicates the kilometre rate, and I guess (in theory at least) the better the car, the more expensive the ride. The only challenge with the taxi drivers is that most of them dont speak English so just getting back to the hotel can be a challenge :-) The best way to beat this challenge was to have the hotels name and address on a business card to show to the taxi driver.Another way to get around is taking the subway for 3 RMB. At the moment there are 3 lines: Line 1, Line 13 and the loop line. It was even possible to take the subway from the Radisson SAS hotel but it took about 15 minutes to walk to the nearest station (Liufang station on line 13). But the connection between the different lines was not all that great and you have to buy another ticket when you switch from one line to the other.
It is fascinating to see how traffic varies from country to country around the world. Im sure that it is possible to write an entire book on the subject of driving patterns in different countries :-) China was certainly different than other countries that we have been to. Not only do you have to keep an eye out for other cars you also need to keep an eye on all the pedestrians and cyclists. And let me assure you: there are quite a lot of bicycles in Beijing :-) The motorists and cyclists seem to have achieved some form of harmony because the cyclists seemed impartial to the somewhat dubious drivers next to them.
The Beijing drivers seem to think that the mirrors in the car are not for practical use. Cars change lanes without any hesitation (or indication) and it seems to be the car behind that needs to keep an eye out for this. Another fascinating thing is the use of the horn. After many rides in taxis I have reached a conclusion that there are at least three reasons for using the horn: the reactive horn use (you pulled out right in front of me and you are blocking me); the preventive horn use (dont try to pull out in front of me Im coming with great speed and there is no room for you); lastly general horn use (there is so much traffic and I cant change lanes or overtake any cars).
We bought tickets in the hotel lobby at 120 RMB (about 15) each for the acrobatics show. The show was located close to the hotel and it started at about 7.30 PM. I havent been to a show like this in years and it reminded me a bit about stuff that you see in the circus. I was pretty impressed with the show itself. Some of the stuff that was performed was quite amazing. The show lasted for about 1-1 ½ hours and if you get thirsty or hungry you can buy snacks there during the interval. We also thought about going to the Beijing opera but we never really got around to that maybe next time :-)
The art of spitting
We soon discovered that coughing up great wads of spit is a natural part of the everyday life in Beijing. Im not sure if people cough and spit because of the air pollution or because they have a lot of dust being blown in from the deserts in the north. It seems like there is quite a lot of downfall in Beijing. I read somewhere that an average big city gets about 8 tons of downfall pr square kilometre but Beijing gets about 18 tons. Well, I can tell you that it is noticeable some days when I blew my nose the tissue ended up kinda dirty I shall not go into more details :-)
Im not sure how common it is to see western tourists in Beijing. In the Forbidden City, a guy came over to me and said something about taking a picture. I thought he wanted me to take a picture of him and his friend but it turned out that he wanted to take a picture of me and his friend. Another day while I was walking in a shopping mall I saw two girls and one of them had a camera. All of a sudden I was in the background of the picture and I tried to hurry up because I didnt want to ruin their picture. But then all of a sudden the girls shifted position and once again I was in the background of the picture. So I went over to them and asked them if they wanted a picture of me and they said yes. So I ended up taking a picture with both of them :-) But the question is: are western tourists still so rare that Chinese wants to take pictures of them?
Another attraction that is recommended is the Summer Palace. Since the hotel could only offer a guided tour which included 3 other attractions in addition to the Summer Palace, we went there on our own. The taxi ride took us less than half an hour and cost about 50 RMB. Once we got out of the taxi we were bombarded by people that were selling stuff but we managed to get to the ticket counter and got entrance tickets for 40 RMB each. I do wish that we had gone for some sort of guiding here because we walked around more or less clueless. There is some information at some of the buildings but most of them just kept on repeating that the buildings had been burnt down by the Anglo-French army in the 1860s. We also found some information in the guidebook but it didnt seem like enough. We walked around quite a lot and we got to see the long corridor where about 1000 beams contain unique paintings. We got to see the Tower of Buddhist Fragrance which towered over the lake itself. The steps leading up to this building are steep but the view from the top is quite nice. We also got to see the Marble Boat of Purity and Ease Empress Dowager Cixis way of honouring the navy (paid for with naval funds). Many of the buildings in the complex are not open to the public. One can peer through the dusty windows to see the objects within such as the Empress Dowager Cixis birthday gifts in her birthday room.
One day Nikki had a business appointment so I wandered of by myself to find the Lama temple. It was not really difficult to find: you just take the Beijing subway to Yonghe Gong on the loop line and there it is :-) This used to be an imperial palace but it was turned into a lamasery at one point. Today it is both a lamasery, a place of worship and a tourist attraction. There are quite a lot of Buddha images in this place and people are praying and lighting their incense. I always feel a bit uncomfortable walking around amongst people praying because I feel like Im disturbing them in their religious act but they didnt seem to mind. The most impressive part of the Lama temple is the Pavilion of the ten thousand fortunes which contains a 26 meter Buddha image supposedly carved out of one single tree. The Buddha image was enormous and there was even a little brass certificate on the outside that this was in the Guinness book of records.
But I have to say that it is hard to get impressed by Buddhist temples after visiting some of the temples that you can find in Bangkok :-)
Before I went to China I had heard rumours that you could get pretty cheap copies of different stuff. So like most tourist we went to something called the Xuishui Silk Market. The name is not very accurate by the way there are not much silk for sale but you can get North Face Gore-Tex jackets, copies of watches, gloves well, you name it. It is pretty easy to get there by the way because this street is located right by the subway station Yonganlin (if Im not mistaken). Already before we entered the market we were offered fake watches (two Rolex watches for 50 RMB). Once we got into the market there were little shops everywhere. Nikki looked at some pants and in the end she wanted to buy 2 of them. The woman selling it pointed at the price which was about 600 RMB per pants. In other words quite ridiculous because that is the price of a pair of pants here in Norway. So we just walked off but the woman came after us and dragged us back and asked how much we wanted to give for the pants. So I punched in 300 RMB for both pants on her calculator and she was acting away and saying that it was too cheap and it was killing her. After a lot of bargaining we walked off again because she did not seem to want to go low enough but then she came after us, gave us the bag and took her 300 RMB and she did not look very happy. So the price went down from 1200 to 300 RMB and Im quite convinced that we still got ripped off :-)
As I mentioned Gore-Tex jackets are being sold at this market. I doubt that they are real and hence it is hard to say anything about the quality. I came across Gore-Tex jackets of the Norwegian brand Norrøna. And I was wearing my own Norrøna jacket so it was easy to compare them. The jacket had been copied down to the last details and even the washing instructions were in Norwegian. So I have to say that Im impressed but I could spot some differences.
If you want to buy fake watches this is also the place to go. Here you can find fake watches like Tag Heuer, Breitling, IWC, Lange & Söhne, Omega, Rolex and so on and some of them actually contain automatic movements so it is more or less real fake watches as one of my colleagues once said. But the price of some of these watches started quite high. I looked at a Lange & Söhne watch and the seller wanted 750 RMB for it.
We also went to some of the malls that are located in the Wangfujing area. But we felt that there really was no point in going shopping there. The prices were more or less on the same price level as back home and they didnt really have a great selection.
Time went fast in Beijing and all of a sudden we had reached Saturday March 22nd. It was time to go to Xi'an by train.
I didnt really have any expectations for Beijing and I have to admit that I was surprised in a positive way. Beijing has quite a lot to offer when it comes to sights, history and attractions. So if you are able to ignore the traffic, the pollution and the people that are trying to sell you all sorts of stuff everywhere Beijing deserves to by visited for quite a few days. Do not miss going to the Great Wall! Be sure to go there on a nice clear day so that you can enjoy the amazing view. And if possible: try to go to a part of the wall that is not visited by everyone else (read Badaling). Another attraction that should not be missed is of course the Palace museum / Forbidden City. Be sure to get a guide or rent the audio guide so you can get some information on the different buildings.
The Temple of Extreme Moisture
In China the people say they will eat anything with four legs except a chair and anything with two wings except an airplane. Thus we were well prepared for our first evening in the capital of China, Beijing, as our local Chinese guide Jackie took fourteen exhausted UK Voyagers Jules Verne travellers through the open air street market in this remarkable city. Three hundred and sixty five days a year from 6.00 am until midnight and in all the extreme weathers these fast-food stalls line the street by the hundred preparing and cooking food for the hungry passers-by.
But what food; Skewers crammed with plucked sparrows; skinned frogs; wriggling scorpions; silk worm cocoons and water rat; all ready to be stir fried and grilled, served and eaten on the go. Snake-burger anyone? Delicious steamed dumplings seemed to be normal fare on this bustling food street and we weren't really shocked at the skewers of scorpions after all we eat prawns don't we?
So what was our itinery for the sixteen night visit to China? Our holiday was booked with Voyagers Jules Verne and charmingly named 'The Original Yangtze Cruise' as eight nights of our sixteen were to be spent sailing up the vast Yangtze River to include the new Three Gorges Dam and the Three Gorges as they are now before the dam is completed in 2009 and drowns another eighty metres of the mountains that make this part of the Yangtze River so recognisable. The remaining eight nights were to be spent in five star hotels in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian with internal flights between Beijing and Shanghai and after our river cruise a flight from the river port of Chongqing in the Western provinces to Xian to visit the Terracotta Army and then flying back to Beijing for an overnight stay and then the ten hour return flight on China Airways to Heathrow.
Five airplane journeys in sixteen days; A warning disclaimer at the end of our booking confirmation from our travel company Voyagers Jules Verne told us that this trip was strenuous and should not be undertaken by anybody with walking difficulties or health problems. Tired yet?
First impressions of China were vivid and will remain with me always. Beijing has a population of over thirteen million people and covers a land area larger than Belgium, a very flat area indeed. It certainly is a city of the old and the new with cyclists braving the heavy traffic that clogs up the roads for most of the day, plus risking the fumes. China is under construction bring a hard hat with you as essential travel wear. The people of Beijing are beautiful, both male and female. They are small boned, slim, high-cheek bones, clear complexions and sculptured features, beautifully dressed in 'Designer' clothes and always on the move. Our local guide told us that although China has a communist government everyone is a mini-capitalist holding down three jobs at a time.
We visited a local park that was like an outside gymnasium. The majority of the people using the basic equipment were well past retirement age and were supple and able to manoeuvre their bodies into positions that a thirty year old would envy. Music played under the trees as elderly couples danced together. Groups of people practiced Tai Chi together, played ball-games, gambled, sang, played musical instruments and made the most of this free amenity provided by the government to keep a fit body and mind. I somehow couldn't imagine our retired population in the UK making use of walking machines, benches and even a cobbled path that people were walking around and around barefooted.
Another significant impact was how polite and non-aggressive the huge city of Beijing felt. Usually in any big city there can be a feeling of threat and menace but we didn't experience this sensation at all in China. We felt completely safe.
Another huge impact was that after the scruffy, dirty and worn out atmosphere of London Heathrow and the obvious discontentment of the people who have to work there, and then Beijing International Airport was indeed a sharp contrast. Spotlessly clean with polite smiling staff and a very modern, streamlined appearance putting Heathrow to shame at the first impression that it must surely give to our visiting tourists.
Another lingering thought was the absence of wild birds and dogs and cats in Beijing as the only birds we saw were in cages and I pushed the thought of sparrows on a skewer being stir fried right out of my mind. I didn't want to know!
Our group of seven couples with ages ranging from thirty two up to seventy eight got to know each other during dinner on our first night in the revolving restaurant at the top of the extremely comfortable five stars Xixuan Hotel in Beijing. Eating a delicious Chinese buffet meal and gazing over the dramatic skyline of tower scrapers and congested newly built road system choc-a-bloc with gleaming new cars we noticed the descending smog that began to obliterate the tops of the high rise hotels, apartments and office blocks. We wondered was the smog a warning of things to come?
Beijing has promised to clean up their pollution problem in preparation for the Olympics in 2008. This is a difficult task as people are buying cars by the dozen. The factories are being relocated to areas outside of the city so this should help. The traffic is a huge problem with all the new cars as the Chinese are consuming and manufacturing at a tremendous pace. A journey through the city at night would take twenty minutes but sometimes the same journey would take two hours during the day. We were told that during the Olympic fortnight people will be told not to use their cars to commute but use the train leaving the roads freed up for the tourists.
Being part of a group has its pros and cons. The independent traveller would choose to stop mid-morning while sight-seeing for a coffee or glass of green tea but we knew from prior travel experiences that the host country and their tourist board wants the visitor to see as much of their country as possible. On the other hand, the independent traveller would need more than sixteen days to see everything that we saw probably more of a gap-year? In one day alone in Beijing we visited the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square with lunch in a local restaurant en route; dinner at a local restaurant followed by an evening at a Beijing Opera performance; all this without returning to our hotel.
Tiananmen Square is vaster than any news footage can reveal as it covers 98 acres and of course images of the student demonstration in 1989 flash before your eyes. I considered our group of fourteen were pretty intelligent people but we still found ourselves lined up and saying 'Cheese' for a group photo taken with an immense portrait of Chairman Mao as a backdrop. I blame jet-lag!
The Forbidden City will be familiar to many as the setting for the excellent film 'The Last Emperor' The Forbidden City was out of bounds to ordinary people for over five hundred years as it was the home of the Ming Emperors. The last Emperor only left the city after the 1911 revolution but not till 1924 when this, the 24th emperor was expelled by military troops. Considering there are allegedly 9999 rooms all contained in 800 stunning buildings with yellow tiled roofs and surrounded by a moat and high walls it isn't surprising there was a revolution. Translation from Chinese to English was aptly named as 'Chinglish' by our guide as exotically named temples were translated as 'The Temple of Excessive Moisture' and 'The Hall of Preserved Elegance'
The Summer Palace covers twelve square miles three quarters of which is a man-made lake but this was built by an Empress using money that was intended for a naval fleet again bring on the revolution? However, the landscaping was tranquil consisting of classic Chinese gardens featuring water, rocks, bridges, willows, bamboo, jasmine and traditional buildings showing the balanced Yin and Yang of nature.
At this stage of our trip we had realised that whichever tourist wonder we visited there would be a souvenir shop at the end of it - or a silk factory, or a jade factory, or a pearl factory, or a Chinese traditional landscape painting shop, or a porcelain shop, or an enamel shop, or a silk carpet shop, or a Buddha factory, or a calligraphy shop, or a name-seal shop, or a Chinese tea shop, or a hand-painted snuff bottle shop, or a kite shop; it was endless. On the other hand bargaining with the Chinese was a fun business all undertaken with good nature and a result that pleased both the vendor and the buyer. We had been warned about the 'Hello People' that congregates around any recognised tourist site. 'Hello People' because they called out 'Hello', banged drums, whistled, clapped and shouted to attract attention to their merchandise. But, they were nowhere near as invasive as their equivalents in the Middle East, taking 'No' for an answer with fine humour, even after punching in an inflated price into their large hand-held calculators let the haggling begin!
A bit about eating out in Beijing and indeed all of China; we were already 'Lazy-Susanned' out! The dishes at both lunch and dinner kept coming one after another on to the spinning wheel, albeit totally delicious but impossible for our group to eat everything. We all felt guilty as we left the table with enough food remaining to feed another group perhaps it did? A tureen of clear soup, a bowl of rice and a pot of green tea would arrive first, rapidly followed dishes of pork, ribs, chicken, prawns, beef, vegetables and sometimes a whole steamed fish on the bone (picked from a tank of live fish) Then watermelon and pomegranates; Spinning the Lazy Susan was an art form and for kack-handed people like me chopsticks made for awkward and sloppy eating. Although I did like only having small bowl rather than a large dinner plate as this prevented that mass pile up of food on a plate that is the inevitable end-result of a Chinese Take-Away at home. Oh! And don't drink the tap water. All the hotels supplied us with two fresh and unopened bottles of mineral water every day.
Morty had to be my food taster in the more Western provinces to protect my mouth from being fire-bombed as they cook with red-hot chilli peppers or lip-numbing wild peppers as in a hot and sour soup. Sadly, whilst in Beijing I mistook a dish of fresh green vegetables as green beans instead of wild green peppers with attention grabbing consequences and an inability to speak for twenty minutes.
Part of our evening city tour in Beijing was a visit to the Opera, a condensed version especially for tourists. Before we entered the Opera theatre we were able to watch the performers applying their make-up and costumes as they got into character. Chinese opera is unique. The facial make-up and costumes identify the characters as good or bad, evil, brave or honest. Everything is very vivid and colourful and the singers 'sing' in a shrieking falsetto and the music sounds like a band tuning up. But the dance and the acrobatics and sense of drama were enthralling made all the more amusing for the Chinglish sub-titles displayed on a screen either side of the stage. The opera visit lasted around one hour and we were all relieved to get back to our comfortable hotel lobby and listen to the excellent female pianist and base player playing tuneful Western classical music as we sipped a few glasses of cold Chinese white wine before bed.
I gather there is some debate as to whether The Great Wall is the only man-made structure that can be seen from space. It stretches for over three and a half thousand miles from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert. It was begun in the 5th Century BC built in small stretches then linked together at the end of the 3rd Century BC unifying the whole of China. As I climbed the steep worn steps on this hot day determined to reach the fourth tower on this minute restored section at Badaling Pass forty-four miles north of Beijing I thought about the forced labour of millions of people who were conscripted to build this wall as a defensive protection against the people of the North.
This section of the Great Wall is the most crowded and surrounded by souvenir stalls run by the 'Hello People' and there are many restaurants. There are quieter places to visit the Wall where the traveller is able to climb in comparative solitude away from the tour groups. The views as I climbed higher up this restored section became more dramatic scanning a wild and rugged landscape with just the sight of the unrestored Wall disappearing into the distance.
Our afternoon was a welcome contrast to The Great Wall and the throngs of people. The Ming Tombs were a relaxing experience. The third Ming Emperor Yongle chose the Shisanling Valley, twenty five miles north-west of Beijing, as the burial place for himself and eventually eleven of his successors. We strolled in the afternoon sunshine through huge marble gates that marked the beginning of The Sacred Way leading to the tombs. As we approached a triple arched gate we were all superstitious enough not to walk through the central arch as this was only used when an Emperor's body was brought through for internment. Rather than face more crowds our guide recommended we enjoyed the peace and tranquillity by following the half mile long Sacred Way route past the eleven unrestored and unopened tombs. Ah! Bliss! The beautiful formal Chinese gardens and huge statues of men and animals carved out of granite gave us a feeling of calm. The fully excavated tomb of Emperor Yongle took thirty thousand people six years to build. It is difficult not to appreciate these labours as I strolled through courtyards, marble terraces and palatial buildings all centred onto The Hall of Eminent Favours one of the largest wooden buildings in China.
As if this wasn't enough for one day our last night in Beijing was to enjoy a meal of Beijing (Peking) Duck in the Quanjude Restaurant, the largest duck restaurant in the World. This 'Duck Palace' has over forty dining rooms and can serve five thousand meals a day. Needless to say, the gang were a bit travel weary by this time and dissolved into laughter when the expert chef arrived at our table to carve our duck wearing a mask. Some bad taste SARS comments bounced around the group but I put this down to the bottles of very strong Chinese fruit wine that were spinning around the Lazy Susan. I have never been inside such a large and busy restaurant and as we left to return to our hotel at 9.00pm there were hundreds of people, mainly Chinese, queuing to have a meal.
The afternoon of day five we were to fly from Beijing to Shanghai on an internal flight for the next stage of our holiday but on the way to the airport that morning there was one more stop en route to The Temple of Heaven where emperors held their religious ceremonies. But again we were 'Minged' out as we felt culturally drained and all agreed that we were looking forward to our overnight stay in Shanghai and then boarding our river boat, The Victoria Rose, at Yuhan for a relaxing eight night cruise up the River Yangtze. Oh how we were to recall those words 'relaxing' in the days to come!
Visiting China is a totally 'foreign' experience and by day two I had forgotten what England was like. Beijing is a vibrant, warm and friendly city and I envy anybody who is planning to go there for the Olympics. They will have an amazing time. Perhaps all the new roads and building will be finished by then?
The best time to go is September and October as it can rain with a fury during the summer months and is very cold in the winter. During our stay in Beijing in September/October the days were lovely with a steady mid-seventies temperature and most importantly a dry heat and no rain at all. We were to discover that in the Western provinces humidity can reach 95% - unimaginable - although it was true as we were to discover.
Be warned if you are advised that a visit to China is strenuous because this is true. There is a lot of walking and many of the temples and monuments can have several hundred steps to reach them. One of our group members was suffering from the permanent effects of a mini-stroke and at times struggled to reach her goal. Because of the heavy building schedules some roads are still being constructed but being used at the same time. A two hour coach ride with spines being jarred and heads hitting the roof of the coach as we rode over the unfinished surface can be distressing for those with back problems! It was distressing for those with no back-problems.
Credit cards are accepted in hotels and restaurants and most of the tourist shops - otherwise they will take any currency including their own Yuen.
Tour prices for China vary enormously. This was our sixth holiday with Voyagers Jules Verne as they appear to be in the mid-price range and have always been completely reliable and efficient and always ensure their clients have comfortable and often luxurious accommodation, particularly on more strenuous touring holidays such as this. A Tour Manager is always supplied and they employ professional English speaking and knowledgeable local guides wherever required. The second part of our visit to China will focus on the Yangtze River Cruise, the Three Gorges and the new Dam, the Terracotta Warriors and our exciting trip in a cable car to the top of the Yellow Mountain; plus of course some personal observations including the fog.
Beijing today is a living museum of the Chinese cultural legacy. Its most famous sites ? the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall and Temple of Heaven ? have captured the imaginations of travelers ever since the time of Marco Polo. I visited Beijing on a business trip and found it to be an enjoyable trip. Beijing is a modern Socialist city that clings to its imperial legacy and conveys a certain kind of magic. It echoes in its palatial courts, cries out from its megaliths and monuments and whispers down the grand boulevards. Traditional Chinese conceived the world as a square, a gigantic chessboard with the emperor at its very center. A city was meant to follow this cosmic order, laid out according to the principles of Feng shui, which strives for a harmonious relationship between humans and nature. Everything is balanced in a traditional Chinese city. Beijing, therefore, lies on a plain that faces south, considered the sphere of warmth and generosity. In this modern socialist metropolis, the most popular store ? and the only place where the locals queue ? is McDonald?s hamburgers on Wangfuing. The streets crawl with Mercedes limos, portable phones ring constantly, and cadres swagger by in sharply cut suits. But then in the midst of all this dizzying change stands Tiananmen Square, the world?s largest public plaza (it?s said to hold 500,000 people, one for every checkerboard Square) geographic heart of Beijing and scene of many milestones in the history of the People?s Republic. A place of profound political undertones, Tiananmen is the beginning of a journey back through time, starting with the creation of the Republic itself. Atop the Tiananmen Gate, where a giant portrait of Chairman Mao hangs, the Communist Party leader declared that ??the Chinese people have stood up.?? If Mao?s prominent airbrushed visage is not enough to convince you of his significance, his waxy remains lie under crystal
in a nearby mausoleum. Art from throughout the Chinese ages is kept on impressive display in the Museum of Chinese History, flanking the square. To the west is the Great Hall of the people, where the cogs of the Chinese universe turn ? this was the place where we had the conference. Tiananmen Gate also leads to the Forbidden City, one of the architectural wonders of the world. In imperial times only the emperor could walk through the central gate. The Forbidden City, now called Palace Museum, is located in the center of Beijing. On the wall of the city are four gates with towers above them: Wumen in the south, Shenwumen in the north, Donghuamen in the east and Xihuamen in the west. On the four corners of the wall stand four turret towers, each with three roofs and 72 roof ridges. They are masterpieces of ancient Chinese architecture. Almost everything in the Forbidden City has some symbolic meaning and reflects Chinese culture in one way or another. Inside the Forbidden City today are more than ten museums. They are respectively for ancient Chinese arts, arts and crafts, painings, curios of the Qing court, bronze articles, pottery and porcelains, clocks and watches, treasures, carvings, and furniture of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Their combined collection amounts to about one million pieces, part of which are found nowhere else. To the northwest and north of Beijing, a huge, serrated wall zigzags it?s way to the east and west along the undulating mountains. This is the Great Wall, which is said to be the only tourist attraction visible from the moon.!!! The section of the Great Wall near Beijing runs for 629 kilometers with 71 passes and 827 wall towers. The Wall is so well preserved that it is as imposing as ever. ??He Who Has Not Climbed the Great Wall Is Not a Real Man?? - This is a popular saying in China. The Wall extends for a good 3000 miles from its origin at the seaside in
Shanhaiguan (the Old Dragon Head), all the way to Jiayu Pass in Gansu Province. The most imposing sections of the Great Wall which have remained to the present day are those at Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling. The section of the Wall at Badaling looms high above the Juyongguan Pass. It is admired for its majestic view. That at Mutianyu snakes along the mountain ridges. The wall is punctuated by fortresses and people like it for its architectural feat. The setion at Jinshanling, sprawling over mountain peaks, is known for its aweinspiring look. About two kilometers southeast of the Forbidden City towers is Tian Tan, or the Temple of Heaven, where dynastic rulers in China used to worship the heaven. The Round Alter is where visitors can amuse themselves by listening to echoes of whatever they pronounce. If a visitor standing at the center of the altar, where three stone slabs lie, gives out a shout, he or she can hear loud and deep echoes, which seem to come from deep in the ground or from above. The slabs are, therefore, called Three Echo Stones. Yi He yuan, or the Summer Palace, is the best kept existing royal garden in Beijing. With a concentration of the best of ancient buildings as well as garden styles, it is a virtual museum of traditional Chinese gardens. One of the most interesting features of the garden is the Long Corridor, a covered way of 728 meters with painted beams bearing more than 4,000 pictures of landscapes as well as historical and fictional stories. It is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the ??longest painted corridor in the world??.
I was recently asked by two Canadian workmates for advice about Beijing. In light of a holiday I took there last year I was able to tell them two key points: firstly, never take the first price when you're approached by street vendors hawking goods. At any tourist site there are literally dozens of these people eager to sell you the usual tacky souvenirs, stamp collections(the Chinese are keen philatelists) and the little red Mao book. Like most people eager to cash in on Western tourists in Asia, they'll badger you with seemingly unlimited amounts of deafness to your lack of interest. The key, if indeed you want to make a purchase, is to keep them walking until you spot another vendor approaching at which point the price will miraculously tumble. My second piece of advice was to avoid the 50km drive to the Ming Tombs at all costs. The official tourist literature raves on about the Tombs. At first they seem quite enticing: built between 1409 and 1644 they hold the final resting places of 13 Emperors from the Ming Dynasty I was actually looking forward to seeing them as some of the Royal Tombs I'd seen in Korea were spectacular. The first warning signs came from the Lonely Planet's guide to China which rated the Tombs as being more hype than substance and stated that most visitors left decidedly underwhelmed. As for my experience at the Tombs, well, the main entrance was quite nice but by the time we'd descended down a staircase that would have been more at home in a multi-story car park I was pretty much resigned to my fate. Nothing,however,could have prepared me for the mind-numbing boredom of being ushered through a dimly-lit concrete bunker that was remarkable only for the number of other poor saps and the lack of anything of interest to see. What little remained of the original contents of the Tombs-a few ornate looking chairs surrounded by dirty perspex glass as far as I could see-were lost in the blur of ha
ving to keep moving around as various other tour groups jostled and harried those in front. The main point of interest was the large amounts of money thrown over the perspex screens(for luck I was told). In all, we spent about an hour inside the Tombs and,like a really bad film, I was just thinking that something good really must happen soon when we reached the end. To be honest, by the time we got back on the coach my anger at having wasted a morning(I was on a package tour so I didn't have any choice about opting out)was tempered by my relief at finally escaping the place. My only saving grace was that, as two friends and I had gone with a Korean tour party, I was at least spared the tour guide's lecture(some was translated by a Korean-American gentleman but only served to confirm the essential nothingness of the place). I'd recommend a trip to Beijing to anybody-the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the adjacent Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, Tiantan Park, Peking Duck et al are wonderful. However, to use a little Geordie vernacular, the Ming Tombs are truly minging. To echo the title of the 1980's Grange Hill classic, if you see the Ming Tombs on your tour itinerary "Just Say No".
'One of the world's greatest holiday experiences' ("Welcome to China, 1998, China National Tourist Office) - I couldn't agree more, although, I only visited Beijing for a few days on my way home from a trip to South Korea. For almost 30 years, China isolated itself from the rest of the world, free from foreign influences and developing soley on self-reliance and socialism. However, China is slowly emmerging from behing her 'Bamboo Curtain' and since the late 1970s, hundreds of tourists have visited China. The Middle Kingdom of China is amazing, steeped in mystique and fascination. Beijing is now a thriving modern city with 12million inhabitants (1998). Despite the devastation of the Cultural Revolution, many building and monuments were saved as show-pieces of National Pride. However, the modern metropolis has sprung up around these historical sites - there is a 4-lane highway separating Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City! The Forbidden City is spectacular. It was built in 1420 by over 200,000 labourers for Emporer Yongle. It was designed to overawe the visitor, and it certainly achieves this! But you'll need to allow plenty of time to wonder around - the detail of the buildings is superb and the stories associated are wonderful. Across the road, stands Tiananmen Square surrounded by the Museum of China's History, the Museum of China's Revolution and the Great Hall of the People. In the centre there is the monument to the People's Heroes and Chairman Mao's Memorial Hall in which Mao's body lies. I found this area of the city quite strange. The architecture is fantastic but the memories of headlines from 1989 when hundreds of students were massacred, haunted my visit. I had also learned of the attrocities the Chinese people suffered under Mao's leadership at school. However, the Sqaure itself is unbelievable - it is the largest public space in the world and
the photos do it no justice. Early one morning, my mum, sister and I jogged around the sqaure - i bet there are very few of you could say you've done that!! At sunrise and sunset, they have an elaborate raising and lowering of the Communist flags and rather like the changing of the guards in London, this tradition draws huge crowds. However, when we went one night, I think we were attracting more attention. A school party of 17 year old girls was there at the same time and they had never seen a Westener in the flesh before. To add to their excitement, I am 6 foot tall and yet I was the same age as they were! This celebrity status followed us (especially me) throughout our visit! Part of the Great Wall of China is situated near Beijing at Badaling and of course, it is a 'must see'. However, I have to say I was very disappointed! Only a very short section of the Wall is open for walking on and the area was overrun with tourist stalls and generally rather tacky! You could see the rest of the Wall stretching into the distance which was pretty impressive but if you do visit the Wall, don't expect too much! Our hotel, The Beijing Hotel, was situated about 400m from Tiananmen Square and was superb - think of the most posh and expensive hotel in the world and triple that...that's the Beijing Hotel! And yet it was only a few pounds a night! One last comment - Chinese food is so different then the UK's attempt. Peking Duck is the best dish I have ever tasted in the world...nothing else comes close! Although, the Ox testicles didn't really appeal! Overall, my few days in Beijing were amazing and an experience I shall never forget. I strongly recommend anyone to visit but you'll need weeks! I have read about other places such as Shanghai and Xian (they sound fantastic) and I can't wait for my next opportunity to see the rest of the country. You must visit China - but before the 2008 Olympi
cs spoil the magical mystery of this country.
I was strangely pleased with the results of the Olympic bidding that placed Beijing in pole position....I am not Chinese but have recently returned from a tour of China including Beijing. Memories include sitting in Tienamen Square in 40 degrees of fierce heat without shelter, speaking with a young Chinese man who spoke excellent English and wanted me to paint verbal pictures about England. Commercial activity is surprisingly very strong in Beijing.....lots of small shops have sprung up in what appear to be rows of lock up garages...in fact they are inexpensive and adequate retail outlets. China has a massive internal population to feed and clothe even before exports are considered so shops like these are always in demand. Although generally, tourists do not get to visit these outlets, if you escape from the constraints of a guided tour and take a taxi down town, using your best sign language and a bit of English can net you some real bargains .... we needed a new suitacase after one of ours was destroyed by over keen handlers....an excellent hard case wheeled suitcase replacement was obtained for the huge sum of .... £8 ! China has the potential to become one of the next world powers in commercial terms... They are having to modernise their agriculture, improve quality, and health and safety in factories. China will need to produce goods that the world market needs (as they do with footwear and computers) rather than producing cheap goods that no-one wants (eg. toys). Having to open up the city to international athletes and their entourages will set up many challenges for the Chinese authorities. We see newscasts of roads being improved, but there needs to be clean drinking water and effective toilets and sewage removal for example. Western Hotels in Beijing present a typical bathroom for example, but you cannot drink the tap water and the sewage from the loo ends up in the canals and streams that pass through the city. I fe
el that the Olympics will add a spurt to the commercialisation of Beijing and other cities. No doubt some individuals will suffer as their slums are pulled down and they are relocated... Although people are China's biggest commodity, some officials do tend to treat their own people with little regard for their rights and feelings. It's almost as if the Spock / Vulcan philosophy applies..the needs of the many far outweigh the needs of the few....
**2nd Time Updation** This is updated from the comments I have received. Seems like I have quite a bit of disagreement there that Beijing is fit for hosting the Olympics. I won't go on to the political side as everyone has different belief and I respect that; let's just talk about beijing itself and it's "human rights problem". I agree that Olympics is universal and it is a resemblance of peace - and it may link to political and economical terms - and that is exactly what should be considered. China, being such a big country, should it be excluded from the universal game, especially that it's actual sport achievement was so great (3rd place in the total amount of gold earned in the sydney olympics). One viewer said the 'poor citizens'. I ask why is that? Have u experienced the unrightness or is it purely from the view of some anti-com media? If u read more ops on China u will find that a lot of western ppl have commented on how different their views on china have been before and after they actually visited it! Somehow the media managed to stay reporting the periods China was in 10, 20, even 50 yrs ago! I wrote this op to urge ppl to really go to china and listen to different ops and have a look for themselves the difference - and I am sure u won't be disappointed. **End of Updation** **UPDATED** This is proved!!! After all the sweats and worries from the campaigns about human rights and a whole load of politics stuff which is nothing to do with Olympics and sports, Beijing still proved its own strength to be fit for the 2008 Olympics!!! Voting in Moscow on Fri., 13th July 2001 has been in favour of Beijing to be the city of Olympics in the year of 2008!!! CELEBRATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ***END OF UPDATING*** The last time I was in Peking was back in 98 but even then it was a very appealing plac
e. It certainly is a strong candidate for the 2008 Olympic - there is the strong culture, the friendly people, the huge space, AND the lovely food! I think I'll start with the culture though. The first thing to do when you are in Peking is to go the Forbidden City, or the Zi Jin Cheng (pronounced Tzi Gin Tzheng - might be handy if you are going there, as not many Chinese people can speak good English - see point later on). It has been the royal palace for over 500 years, lasted two dynasties. It is absolutely HUGE – I’d say at least 10 times of the Buckingham Palace and 20 times of the Palaces of Versailles (if the scale is right). The building is absolutely great and what is different to the western palaces is that it is so colourful (unlike the greyness of western ones – and yes, I am Chinese). I cannot say too much coz you have to come and experience yourself – and don’t wait until 2008, it’s already crowded, and it will be VERY crowded by then. The second place to go is the Great Wall. There is a phrase in China which says ‘If you haven’t been to Great Wall, you haven’t been to China’. It is the only manmade buildings visible on moon and yes, it is great (as the name suggests). It was built in the 200BC, and all its 5000km length with no machinery but just human hands – this is why it is called the GREAT wall. It was originally built to prevent enemies and when someone is invading one of the castles can send up fire and then every castle will send up fire until the other end (if you’ve read ‘Fifth Elephant’ by Pratchett, it’s rather like the watch, only in a more defensive way). Apart from these there are a lot more – there is the summer palace; the Tian’anmen Square with the Chang’an Street which goes from this end of Peking to the other end; the large shopping areas; the restaurants… but I feel what makes it more s
trong for Peking in the 2008 Olympics is its lovely environment and its friendly people. The only pity is that not a lot of the population can speak good English - China has its own history and language for so long - but everyone is trying and they will be quick learners - they are certainly hard-workers – and I still think that Peking stand a big chance of being the 2008 Olympics city!
For some it might be the Maldives, for others a safari in Africa. Personally I always wanted to go to China. My great, great grandfather was Chinese, though I only knew him for a few years, so that makes me an eighth Chinese I suppose. But being in the Army for 14 years meant that I could not travel (easily) to a communist country. So I did it as soon as I left! We got a train from Hong Kong direct to Beijing. We were traveling independently, so this meant going into the Chinese Travel Service booking office and arranging the tickets ourselves. 28 hours in a soft sleeper cabin, covering almost 3000 miles. It was absolutely brilliant! (Incidentally, the tickets cost about £94 each!) You have to be prepared to travel to China I think. Not just in the normal sense of health and provisions, but more in the way of culture. Read as much as you can about the place before you go to avoid disappointment! For instance, if the constant sight of both men and women hawking and spitting (even in restaurants!) will ruin your holiday, don`t even think about going!! If you expect the Chinese to be polite and well mannered, you may also be in for a shock. Try queuing for anything, and you will find you will never get served! Another huge tip is learn as much Mandarin Chinese as you can. The more you speak, the better your holiday will be. I can speak a fair amount (enough to haggle at the market, ask for what I want and say what I don`t want, order beer and English menus, etc) and this always, always broke down barriers with all the people we met. It really was as if they had not met any Westerners before – certainly none who could speak Chinese. There is so much to do in Beijing that our week there was very full. The Forbidden City is just across from Tianamen Square, and these require a full day. The city is absolutely vast – it really is a “must see”. Trips can be organised to the Gre
at Wall, most notably at Badaling. We had a bit of a bad experience here however, as we arranged to go on a minibus instead of the public transport bus. It cost us £12 each instead of the 36p the bus would have cost, but was supposed to encompass 5 other tourist attractions and be a guided tour. As it turned out, we were the only Westerners there, and the guide spoke no English. She spoke Chinese so fast I could only catch the odd word, and I don`t think she really wanted us there. The Great Wall is awe inspiring! It is also another one of those things that is misunderstood. I always envisaged it as a single wall crossing the 2500 miles that it spans. It is not! In several places it comes to a stop, or breaks off into 4 or 5 “fingers” to give added protection to vulnerable regions. At the Wall we were something of an attraction ourselves, and were asked repeatedly to be in photos with Chinese people we had never met. It was quite bizarre. We also decided we were not getting back on the minibus, and wound up paying 50p each on the bus to travel the 50km back to Beijing. The Summer Palace is another “must see”. It is set in a truly vast landscape, overlooking the huge Kunming Lake. This too leads to a further surprise, for apparently it gets so cold in China that even on this huge lake, it is possible to ice skate on it in the winter. After our lesson at the Wall, we got a bus straight here from Tianamen for 38p each – about an hour and a half on the bus. Compared to Hong Kong, eating and drinking in China is so cheap it is almost ridiculous. True, the restaurants up town can be pricey, but go down the side streets and eat with the locals in the cafes, and a meal for 2 with drinks and a tip cost around £5. Buy food such as breads and savouries from a small stall and you can get as much as you could hope to eat for about 20p. Beer is 30p a big bottle. I have traveled to many plac
es, and most were great to visit, but I have always said there is too much to see to go back anywhere. I take that back now. I loved China and I would certainly go back. The people were great, the place was cheap. OK, so you have to speak a fair bit of their language as hardly anyone speaks English (they will have to gear themselves up for the 2008 Olympics) - but that didn`t affect me much anyway. China really is one of the few places I could say that I miss.
About Beijing, is the most beautiful city in China (in my point of view), and it is the Cultural centre of China, lots of places to view, and the GreatWall is passing it, and the Summer Palace, if you want to choose one city of China to travel, Beijing should be your single choice! I have studied in a university on Beijing, and that period of time is just the best in my life so far! Believe me, I m Chinese, so my opinion about Chinese cities must not be too bad!
"Beijing (Chinese: 北京; pinyin: Běijīng), a metropolis in northern China, is the capital of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It was formerly known in English as Peking [English Pronunciation]. Beijing is also one of the four municipalities of the PRC, which are equivalent to provinces in China's administrative structure. Beijing Municipality borders Hebei Province to the north, west, south, and for a small section in the east, and Tianjin Municipality to the southeast. Beijing is China's second largest city in terms of population, after Shanghai. It is a major transportation hub, with dozens of railways, roads and expressways entering and leaving it in all directions. It is also the focal point of many international flights to China. Beijing is recognized as the political, educational, and cultural center of the People's Republic of China, while Shanghai and Hong Kong predominate in economic fields. Beijing is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. It will host the 2008 Summer Olympics."