Tiananmen Square is probably best known for the infamous massacre of students demonstrating against communism but there is a lot more to the location than that.
At one end is The Forbidden City, home of the Chinese Emporers. at the other the tomb of Chairman Mao. One of the most famous leaders in history.
The size of the square has to be seen to be appreciated. It is huge and you can just imagine huge rallies taking place there, or indeed how many people would have fitted in there for the infamous demonstrations.
Stand in the middle of the square and you get fantastic views of the Forbidden City from the outside. Definitely worth taking a photo or two.
In Tiananmen Square there are flag poles for the communist government and there is twice daily flag raising (at sunrise) and flag lowering (at sunset) ceremony. I am afraid to say that we did not get up for the flag raising ceremony as it was so cold when we were there but we did witness the flag lowering ceremony. It was freezing cold but was a very special experience. Soldiers march across the square in formation carrying huge weapons and arrive at the flags. These are lowered as bugles are played and then off they march. The chinese anthem is also sung by the crowd. When we were there the crowd was mainly Chinese so it was a very special experience and the anthem was sung loudly.
Other than the flags and the tomb and the view of the Forbidden City there are also a number of fantastic and beautiful statues. These mainly commemorate communism and communist issues. But they are imposing and worth a look.
We visited Tiananmen Square several times and thought it was fantastic every time. It can be a little imposing as there are armed police and soldiers everywhere and I would not dare drop litter or swear loudly. The Chinese were incredibly friendly though, anyone who spoke English would talk to us and make us feel very welcome there.
On our second visit we visted the tomb of Mao - even queueing for this is an experience as it is full of again, mainly Chinese tourists who desperately want to see the great leaders. An interesting experience.
Overall if you are in Beijing do not miss TIananmen Square, it is a very impressive place. You can pay your respects to those that gave their lives for freedom while viewing a place of huge historical significance.
Wow, Beijing, where to start. Ok, the place is massive. Pack your walking shoes, and a rucksack to carry all the water you'll need to drink. There are attractions galore in Beijing, and unless you're some kind of martyr, accept that you can try and cram too much into a day.
Some sights, like Tiananmen Square (free) can be "done" relatively quickly, however if you want to see Chairman Mao's body (also free), then add an hour or so on for queuing. Then there's the Forbidden City, ancient home of the emperors and government. This costs £6 to get into the main complex, and you could wander round here for hours, though 2 hours were enough for me and my chum. We did these sights on a Saturday, and they were heaving with Chinese tourists. Going midweek, or out of season may be better.
My personal highlights however weren't seeing the main sights and attractions of Bejing, but wandering around the hutongs, the backstreets, picking food off menus we couldn't understand (a fun, cheap, but potentially hazardous game).
From Beijing it is very easy to get to the Great Wall. Tour companies will try and sell you this trip for about £40, but we went to Mutianyu independently for less than £15 each. We caught a bus to Huairou, then got a taxi to drive the three of us to the wall, and the driver waited for us for about 2-3 hours. This section of the wall was pretty quiet, as it was a Monday morning, I've heard that Simatai is quieter still, but trickier to get to.
Another couple of sights we really enjoyed were Beihai park, which has got some beautiful corners and architecture, admission £1. It's next to a big lake, which was a nice space after the business of the Forbidden City. Also recommended is the Temple of Heaven. The building itself is pretty busy, but the surrounding park was lovely, and had locals doing some odd hobbies, includng karaoke, and horsehead fiddle playing....
FInally, the public transport system in Beijing is very good - cheap and clean. Catch the subways, but check which stations have been completed - some are still being completed!
Walking to the gate in Heathrow's shiny new Terminal 5, I decided to test out the rumour that all airline staff get emotional when you tell them it's your Honeymoon, go all gooey, throw away their professional integrity and upgrade you to turn left with the celebrities and politicians grandkids when boarding the plane, not turn right with the cheap seats.
It's a lie.
I asked everyone.
I even ambush-questioned the pilot of our BA flight.
Face to face as he walked past me in the departure lounge.
Apparently approaching pilots isn't fashionable these days, and although somewhat startled, he still said no.
9 ½ hours in Economy it was then, and more comfortable than a police cell at least.
Our destination was Beijing, the first stop on a tour of China that would last 10 days, taking in Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai and Hong Kong before heading for an 8 day stay in the Sabah region of Borneo.
After landing at 6am, doing that bit on the air bridge getting off the plane where you look through the window and state loudly "I'm in China!" just to remind everyone what they already know, we set foot into the shiniest building I've ever seen.
Beijing's new Terminal 3 building was extraordinary. We were distracted somewhat from the shininess by the thermal imaging camera checking us for swine flu, before having our eyes scanned, for reasons that were unclear, but I was in China, so I obliged. I might now be officially a communist, but I'm a healthy one with a body temperature deemed "acceptable" and, visas stamped, we were on a proper Chinese motorway with our guide, Jean Wang, and our driver Mr Wan.
It quickly became apparent that driving in Beijing is not like driving anywhere else I've seen.
It genuinely appears to be entirely voluntary if you want to use any form of signal or obey any form of electrical 3 coloured lighting system.
A four lane highway is wide enough for 6 cars to fit across, so behold, a man in a battered Nissan begins to undertake us on the hard shoulder whilst a 70mph demonstration of the chaos theory in action folds out ahead.
Amazingly, we didn't arrive at our hotel in the back of an ambulance but in one big piece, with a slightly sweatier me and a grinning Mr Wan.
We would be staying in the Beijing Novotel, and our 13th floor room gave us views of the CCTV Tower and a strange linked tower dubbed "The trousers" by witty and imaginative locals.
We were quickly back downstairs to take advantage of our hotels central location, and no sooner had we set out to explore this strange and foreign land, than a young lad approached, speaking carefully pronounced posh-ish English and calling himself "James" asked us to go to his university art exhibition with him.
With wonder of hindsight, it does sound like the start of a story that will also end in ambulances, but follow him we did, and art exhibition there was, with 8 exhibiting artists using rice paper and silk, and we were cheerily informed of the importance of bamboo for males and blossom for women, or koi carp being yin and yang, every picture had a story, and every story was for sale, on offer, as of course it's their last day of the exhibition today. Very good price.
We left empty handed, and mightily wizened on Chinese art, and headed to the pedestrianised central shopping area which is a newly refurbished wide street, lined with much welcomed air-conditioned shopping malls.
By now, it was approaching lunchtime, and we had to find somewhere to eat.
Where do you eat on your first day in the great sprawling Chinese Capital?
McDonalds. That's where.
China has gone all embracing of the creepy clown King of Capitalism Ronald, and my Big Mac meal set me back 22 Yuan, which is about £2.10 in proper Queeny money. A tasty result, and no danger of accidentally ordering a Shih tzu kebab.
I've got no shame in saying we ate fast food, and I felt our choice was fully exonerated later in the evening at the famous Beijing night food market.
First though, we wandered to the bottom the shopping area, asked around a bit, and found ourselves some 10 minutes later standing in the centre of Tiananmen Square.
Known by most as the scene of the massacre on june 4th 1989, Tiananmen Square is the centre of Beijing and has the Forbidden City to its north, Chairman Mao's mausoleum, with a Perma-Queue snaking around outside to the South (They love a bit of Mao here - he's everywhere, literally, watches, murals, cards, on their money - all banknotes), East and West is the Chinese National Museum and Chinese Parliament buildings.
As we stood, trying to get a sense of scale of a square of patio paving that will accommodate 1 million people, it didn't actually feel that large, until you started to walk towards the 'Monument to the People' somewhere near the middle and realise it's massive. Bloody enormous.
I was just coming to terms with where I was, and taking umpteen photos of a portrait of Chairman Mao on the entrance to the Forbidden City when I felt a tap on my elbow.
Looking down, I found a group of extraordinarily excited Koreans who wanted a photo.
Obviously, I obliged, but they didn't want me to take their photo in the square. They wanted to take MY photo with THEM.
As soon as they left, giggling and laughing, but another group of Koreans were politely and quietly waiting to ask for our photograph as well. And then a third.
I was out-Mao-ing Mao in his own square.
We left the square before a queue formed to see us, and returned to our floor hotel room for a jetlag induced power nap.
A short while later, slightly confused, but a needy desire to settle a rumbling of tum, we went back into the shopping zone, to a street market that is set up every night, and is really rather popular.
It is on this market that I could see why there were so many McDonalds's spattered around the city.
Roll up, Roll up; Ladieeeeees and Gentlemen:
Can I tempt you with "Sleeve-Fish Head"? What? No? OK.
Sheep Penis? Still no?
How about Stinking Dou Fu? I understand the name might put you off that one, not the best choice of description, and it appears to be some sort of fried mouldy fruit too. I guess stinking beats mouldy as a description, but no thanks all the same.
SilkWorm? Dog? Lamb?
Are you sure it's Lamb though? Are you actually confident, looking at the list above it, that when it says Lamb, it means Lamb?
I wasn't confident enough, so moved on to the next stall - all of the above were on one menu at one stall on a street that had about 100 stalls - I had my work cut out to find something that sounded palatable.
Ignoring the Cockroaches-on-a-stick, the Seahorses-on-a-stick, the Starfish-on-a-stick, Scorpion-on-a-stick, and the rest of the cast of Disney's The Little Mermaid-on-a-stick, I finally relented and handed over 15Yuan (£1.50) for Snake. Boiled in Sesame Oils, served, that's right, on a stick.
It was Rotten. Utterly utterly vile.
I'd like to go all Bear Grylls or Keith Floyd and describe the taste and textures of snake better for you. But other than being a bit like overcooked octopus, it was more of a:
Chew it twice,
Get overwhelming sense of culinary wrongness,
Hand snake-on-a-stick to a passing local who seemed happy for his unexpected freebie moment.
We did manage a Banana Fritter, albeit seemingly without a banana in, and a chicken kebab, that wasn't chicken.
If it was chicken, it was a sickly one whose meat looked a bit grey.
The following day we woke for breakfast and decided the best course of action would be to gorge ourselves silly on the hotels amazing selection so we would at least have something nourishing at least once a day.
Pancakes, waffles, fruit, jam, Chinglish breakfast (no, really) and we were ready for a day with Jean exploring the cities sights.
We were collected at 8am, fully stuffed with breakfast delight, raring to go.
By 11.30 we were being taken for a lunch that comprised of 7 courses.
They eat early in China.
The whole day itself deserves a review all of its own as we visited Tiananmen Square again, the Forbidden City, both the 9,999 roomed Palace with a guide and the Hutong "Common People" district - with a local man called "Peter" who had some more art he thought we'd like to see.
Don't worry. We're not gullible.
The people of China are so friendly that we'd begun agreeing to go and look at identical art just to be taken to places off the tourist trail and make our excuses before looking at how the locals live.
We also visited the Summer Palace, with included 'Traditional Chinese Street Kare-oke' and the Temple of Heaven in an epic day of information bombardment that was mingled with yet more driving on Beijings roads, of which we'd lost our initial fear and had started looking forward to being in the car as much as we were to be looking at pagodas.
The following morning we again ate well it was a day where we knew we'd need a bit of energy.
We were going to the Mu Tian Yu section of the Great Wall of China.
This section was slightly further out of Beijing, at an hour and a half, but it is much quieter than the Ba Da Ling section which is only 45 Minutes from the centre and therefore overcrowded.
On the way, as well as being driven like we were in some sort of pursuit, we were entertained with information about how the wall began as city walls built as far back as 300bc before being linked and lengthened by every dynasty through until the 17th Century into the 10,000km long Space wrinkle we have today.
For 50Yuan (£5) we rode a cable car up to the wall, to save a 2 hour hike. £5 has barely ever been more worthwhile, and the views of the wall and the surrounding mountains were outstanding.
We had about 2 hours on the wall, walking between the ramparts that are spaced every 200 meters apart and gave welcome relief from both the 35degree heat and taking so many photos it looked like a flicker book on review.
An hour later and we'd walked as far possible, time allowing, energies allowing and big "No Entry" sign allowing, and began back down the 300 final steps we'd only just conquered.
The views from the wall of the surrounding mountain range, where there is no horizon, just a fading layer of green mountains for as far as you can see, even with a 10x digital zoom.
After another 7 course lunch, we headed for our final objective in Beijing.
We asked our driver to drop us at the Olympic Village, site of the 2008 Games.
And, polite as he was, he did.
We walked around the base of the colossal Birds Nest stadium, peaking through gates and down pathways for a glimpse of the running track inside.
We could have paid 50Yuan (£5) for a tour, but as there was nobody running around inside, we declined and went for a better look at the famous "Water Cube" swimming pool which, on TV, looks incredible.
In 'real life', the individual bubbles appear to be made from inflated cling film, and the description of Cube fits very well.
What we were struck down by however, was the sheer size of the Olympic promenade.
It's so big, that when you stand between the Birds Nest and the Water Cube, and look east, you can see a pavement the stretches to the horizon, and it's the same to the west.
You can actually see the curvature of the earth. We'd been informed by our Guide that Tiananmen Square is the largest city square in the world. She needs to come over here, because I think they might just have outdone their own record.
After a photo opportunity with some Tibetan Monks - this time I asked them for a photo, not the other way round - we headed for a cab to take us home to the Hotel.
What our ever so helpful and polite getaway driver hadn't mentioned when he dropped us off was the fact that the Beijing Olympics were staged on the very outskirts of Beijing.
Some 45km from our hotel, which was in central Beijing.
The ensuing hour of taxi-banzai driving through rush hour traffic left us sweating at the potential mortgage sized bill that would surely come at the end.
Not so. Our hour long ride came to a total of 120Yuan (£12) which, when compared to where you could get to for £12 in the UK, we were virtually jumping for joy at the figure, much to the confusion of both our concierge, and the driver.
Beijing has a tremendous amount of places to see, and it has a tremendous amount of people looking at those places, mostly from other parts of IndoChina.
We found it entertaining to be amongst the hoards of local tourists and Koreans as it was to be somewhere quiet, and the general population were all extraordinarily welcoming, even the battalions of army types who would be everywhere, marching through the Square, or on apparent day trips to the various places we went to, would break from their metronomic strides to give us a cheery wave.
What we had noted from our first few days in China was the ground-breaking, earth shattering revelation that not all Chinese people look the same.
Apparently there are 53 different nationalities of Chinese in China, the longer you're there for the easier it gets to see the differences.
'Some people' (I haven't actually done any surveys, but I did lean out of the window at shout a bit) think China is a country behind the west in its development, but in considering this fact, I also thought how perhaps they're generations ahead, and if the concept of Europe was taken to a degree that would make Robert Kilroy Silk weep, and everyone in Europe were kind shaken about a bit it'd be like China, in land mass, population although to get the comparison totally accurate, there would need to be more Europeans selling DVD's in Chinese tea houses. I didn't see any, and I saw a lot of tea shops on that shopping street.
Back in the car, and back to the Turtle-shaped Terminal 3 at Beijing Airport, shaped forr reasons of Feng Shui, meaning their planes won't crash as often ready for our next stop of Xi'an, and the Terracotta Warriors.
The Summer Palace is located in the northwest suburb of Beijing. It was built in 1750 by an Emperor Qianlong to celebrate his mother's birthday. It was originally named Garden of Clear Ripples.
Historically it was burned down twice by foreign invaders and was rebuilt by the governors of Qing dynasty.
In 1924 the Summer Palace was formally opened to public as a park.
In 1998 it was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
What you can see?
The Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake are the two big areas of the Garden.
1. East Palace Gate
It's the front entrance to the Summer Palace. The gate in the middle was for the emperor and empress. Now you can walk along the gateway like an emperor.
2. Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha
The Tower is in the peak point of Longevity Hill. Its height is 41 meters with three storeys. It's the must see site of the park.
3. Long Corridor
The long Corridor is at the foot of the Longevity Hill. It's more than 700 meters long. You will not miss it if you lead to the hill directions. It was built only for imperial family to avoid strong sunshine and rain fall. There are over 10000 painting pictures on its ceiling with some Buddhism stories.
4. Seventeen-arch Bridge
It's a very beautiful bridge, 150 meters long and 8 meters wide, that links the East Dyke and South Lake Island of Kunming Lake. It was built at Qianlong period (in 1736-1795). The shape of the Bridge looks like a new moon.
5. Suzhou Street
Historically the street was made for emperor's female family members who can not go out the Capital to experience the South China Fair. The street is about 300 metres and has over 60 shops there you can shop as well as have a look of ancient business custom. Incidentally the shop staffs all wear clothes in the style of Qing Dynasty. You can also dress like people in Qing Dynasty and take pictures.
Normally the 5 tourist sites are choices by all tourists. Beside these I do definitely recommend you visiting the Beijing Opera show in a garden called Deheyuan. I watched it once and found it very impressive.
The reason I wanted to go to Beijing was I wanted to visit mainland China, but pick somewhere simple and safe for my first lone journey. A must see landmark for me in China was the Great Wall, so this made Beijing the ideal location for a first visit. It is the capital city of the People's Republic of China and you will require a visa to be admitted to the country (which takes about 10 days to get).
Beijing is hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, at which point the price of everything for tourists is set to quadruple (when I went in 2007 everything was very reasonably priced). But if you are heading out for the Olympics then do not fear, as this is going to be one city that is ready for it. The government has already got volunteers trained and prepped on the 2007 summer season to be able to help tourists, and translators via radio to help the taxi drivers who don't speak English. To combat traffic problems they have also trialled a system which rotates which half of the city's cars can be on the road each day to cut congestion during the games.
With 9 million bicycles to 14.5 million inhabitants, this is a popular mode of transport; unfortunately every year the number of cars is doubling. What results is mass confusion between pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers all thinking they have right of way when on the road. Be careful when you are crossing the road, it is mayhem; I generally went for planting myself in the middle of a crowd and crossing my fingers.
This is an expansive city at 6,489 square miles. I am someone who's predominant mode of transport on holiday is my feet. However walking from one place to the next can take an hour or two here, so be stocked up on energy and water. The problem with walking though is as the city is dusty (even more so because of all the pre-Olympic building work), the high pollution level appears even worse and your lungs can start to suffer. In any tourist location it is easy to pick up a very reasonably priced taxi, or a rickshaw (make sure you bargain with them).
Tiananmen Square is the largest open-urban square in the world, at 880m south to north and 500m east to west it covers a total area of 440,000 square meters. Tiananmen Square is the large plaza at the center of Beijing, named after the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) which sits at its north, separating it from the Forbidden City (hanging from which is the world's largest portrait of Mao).
The square is a landmark of great cultural significance as the site of several key events in Chinese history. One of the most recent of which was the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, when hundreds of unarmed democracy-activists where slaughtered by the People's Liberation Army on the orders of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
To be honest it's just a big square, and in itself not that interesting. I simply walked through the square to reach the entrance to the Forbidden City, but there are also museums located to its eastern edge.
At the epicenter of Beijing, the Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty and was the political centre of government. Since 1924, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, with extensive collections of artwork and artifacts from Chinese history. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Built from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 surviving buildings and covers 720,000m.sq. It is a gargantuan and impressive example of traditional Chinese palatial architecture, with its striking red roofs, and gold, blue and green fine detailing.
Walking through its buildings and courtyards is the best way to get a feel for the sheer power of government here. I was lucky when I was here as there was a university art exhibition in one of the buildings, and I had a very kind student talk me through the history of Chinese art.
The Summer Palace is an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, mainly dominated by Longevity Hill (60m high) and the man made Kunming Lake, which covers three quarters of it. It covers three quarters of which is water. In its compact 70,000 square meters of building space, there are a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.
The Summer Palace started out life in 1750 (Reign of Emperor Qianlong). Artisans reproduced the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, from 1888, who diverted 30 million taels of silver into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace. This includes the world's longest outdoor covered passageway (the long corridor) which is 728m in length and houses over 1400 individual paintings. It's an impressive walkway and leads you in shelter from the sun along the edge of the vast lake, where you will see fishermen harvesting pearls (available as jewelry in the near buy Friendship store).
The whole place has a sense of beauty and peace and you can see why it's a popular tourist destination as well as a recreational park, and world heritage site.
***Temple of Heaven***
The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a long wall. The northern part within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens, and is raised higher, and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth, following a traditional Chinese belief. The buildings within follow a central axis from north to south within highly maintained gardens.
The most impressive building is the circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. It stands raised tall at the centre and is intricately detailed. Also, at the south end of the temple gardens you reach the Circular Mound Alter, with three layered terraces of marble. It's an impressive structure and everyone seems desperate to get to its centre and have a photo taken there (I guess on the spot where they would have sacrificed to the gods).
Three Echo Stones outside of the gate of the Imperial Vault of Heaven are an interesting attraction. If you speak facing the Vault while standing on the first stone, you will hear one echo; standing on the second and then the third stone, you will hear two and three echoes respectively. I can't say I tried this myself, but I witnessed lots of children having great fun doing just that.
Open 6am-8pm, costing up to CNY 35 to get in (depending on whether you want to see everything), I would say it's worth a visit. The architecture is beautiful, but having already seen a lot of Chinese architecture by this point it had less impact, as pretty much all great buildings and monuments in Beijing are from the same era and of the same style. To be honest I was most impressed by the Nine-dragon Cypress there with its amazing twisted stump and beautiful leaves.
Situated in the Xicheng District, to the west of Beijing Exhibition Centre, the zoo was the first of its kind to be opened in China, and is a significant tourist attraction. The zoo contains a diverse collection, with some 20,000 animals of 900 different species, sixteen different exhibition areas and halls, and some sites of historical interest.
One of the most popular attractions is the Panda Hall. Built in 1989 and covering an area of around 10,000 square meters, the Panda's have an attractive and spacious area in which to live. The inside of the hall replicates the style of traditional Chinese gardens and outdoors they have a variety of different spaces.
Whilst the zoo in general is pretty decent as zoos go in terms of space and habitat for its animals, the panda areas is particularly good. I recommend not going to any other zoo in the east, which are even worse than normal zoos, but if you do want to see animals close up this is a good place to do so. This is a rare chance for many to see these amazing giant creatures, so worth a stop I think.
***The Great Wall of China***
A trip out of the city centre, the easiest way is by a day trip (Greyline were good for me), is the awe inspiring man made construction that is The Great Wall of China. It is the world's longest human-made structure (and largest in terns of mass), stretching from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia, stretches to over 4,160 miles in total.
The Great Wall is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in China, built, rebuilt, and maintained between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire during the rule of successive dynasties.
Beijing is not only the political centre of China, but it is also the most strategic city in the north. Many dynasties in Chinese history actively built walls in this area. The stretch of wall built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) in Beijing is the most often seen and best preserved part of the Great Wall. It is over 373 miles in length and contains about 827 city wall platforms, 71 passes and vast numbers of towers.
Popular sections of the wall include Jian Kou, where most professional photos are taken from; Badaling, which is constantly packed; as is the Mutianyua section with the optional cable car ride to the top. I went to the Juyongguan Pass (atleast I think that's what it was called) that was much less busy. This meant I could climb the inordinate amounts of steps to the top in relevant peace. If you're stupidly doing this in the middle of the day, make sure you take plenty of water as you'll need it. The views are amazing and once you've got to the top, walking along it is a rewarding experience.
Beijing opera, or Peking opera as it was when it arose in the 18th century, is a form of traditional Chinese theatre which combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. It is most definitely not like western opera. Instead you will be entertained by elaborately costumed performers on a sparse stage, with a variety of scenes incorporating song, movement, acrobatic, and combat movements. Performances are symbolic and exaggerated and in no way realistic. Each scene is accompanied by live music.
The best place to experience this in Beijing is at the Liyuan Theatre, jointly run by the Qianmen Hotel and the Beijing Opera Theatre of Beijing. If you follow the road at the North entrance to the Temple of Heaven west for about a half hour walk you will hit the hotel on your right. Of course more sensible people than I would just hop in a taxi! I was able to pick up tickets for the balcony area an hour before the show and by being one of the first in got excellent, and ridiculously cheep, seats. I found it highly entertaining, if a little strange, and was most impressed by the acrobatic skill and choreography of the combat movement.
These are the main landmarks and attractions of Beijing. There are lots of historic sites to see, such as those above and for another example an underground city that was constructed and realised useless in the event of nuclear attack. Things located around the centre of Beijing are easily doable by your self, either by being an epic walker, or by grabbing a cheep taxi ride. The Great wall is definitely a day trip out, and the Summer Palace and Zoo are a bit further out too.
I used Greyline for these and was part of a minibus of 5 for the great wall and ended up being chauffer driven with a private guide around the Summer Palace, Zoo, and a Buddhist Temple. The guide even took me for a Chinese tea ceremony from a different tour and dropped me of at the Temple of Heaven rather than my hotel. The trips were easy to book on line, well priced, and the service was excellent (including their fluency in English). Just be aware that they, as with all tourist services will greatly increase in price and popularity now we are heading into Olympics year.
As a foreigner there are an endless amount of Friendship stores which are designed specifically for foreign guests to shop, not residents. These vast shops often contain the workshops where crafts are produced within them. The main consumer attractions in Beijing are pearls and jade. If you decide to go on any organised tour or day out I guarantee you will get forced to go into at least one of these, which annoyed me a bit, but I did buy a jade dragon and phoenix sculpture- so I can't complain too much. Otherwise, these are places that you will need a car to get too.
Be prepared that when you walk into any shop anywhere in China that you will be closely followed by a kind shop assistant who will insist upon trying to help you. Accept it: this is part of the culture. But for me this meant I went into shops less and regularly ended up running straight back out as I just can't shop that way.
Beijing is bursting at the seams with history, but it's definitely the Great Wall of China that is the main reason for visiting here. I am not a fan of it as a city.
I am truly glad I have been here and visited these epic historical landmarks, but I don't have any need to go back. To another place in China maybe, but even then I'm not sure. My time in Japan appealed to me far more- now that is a country I want to revisit and explore further.
Place of heavenly peace ... thats the english meaning of Tiananmen. It's kind of ironic that the place, where thousands of peacefull students died in the upset of 1989 has this name. Can we ever forget this pictures? As if I hear the words "Vietnam" or "Korea" I have to think of crying children with burned skin, thanks to US-american napalm, so if I hear "Tiananmen" I have to think of a lonly student in a white shirt, staying in front of 4 tanks. I was in Beijing in february of 1998 and also visited this place. It was a strange feeling. Me, grown up in the communistic part of Germany, faced with one of the greates crimes in communistic history. http://www.christusrex.org/www1/sdc/tiananmen.html But the people here in Beijing, whats about them? They are trying to forget. As US-americans are trying to forget their crueleties in vietnam and Britains are trying to forget the bombing of non-military Dresden on 14th february 1945 (killing some 100,000 civilists) and Germans are trying to forget much things as well. So also the Beijing people just dont want to talk anymore about history, about past. Ok, so back to present. Tianamen is situated right in the citycenter of Beijing, in front of the gate to the forbidden city. So the portrait of the "Great Leader Mao Ze Dong". It is the greates square in Beijing as well as in the world. It is surounded by important Beijing buildings, such as the Tian An Men Gate leading to the Forbidden City, the Grea Hall of the People and the Mao Ze Dong mausoleum. On the place is a big monument, called the People Heros Monument. The whole view is very impressive. The place is really huge and in february, when it rains or fog is around in the city you cant look to the other end of the place. When the dusk falles, all buildings are enlighted, especialy the Gate to the Forbidden City. It looks ... WOW. All great public celebrations are h
olded here, for example the 50th anniversary of the Peoples Republic of China. You can reach the square by the subway stations Tian An Men Xi & Tian An Men Dong or by feet, if your hotel is in the city center. Like this one: http://www.minzuhotel.com/ On http://www.roundtiananmensquare.com/index.html you will find a 360 degrees panorama-view of the square. Have a look! If you're in Beijing its absolutly worth to spend a hour to this square.