Beijing | A Lucky Escape!
On my G Adventures tour, my first stop was Beijing. I arrived late morning after an airport transfer dropped me off at my pre-booked hotel in the City. The room was a twin – my room mate was also on the tour and joined me later that day. After unpacking some of my stuff and taking a shower, I decided it would be a good idea to go for a wander! I took a hotel card from reception on the way out (which would later come in extremely handy) and headed into the bustling street. After walking around aimlessly for about half an hour, I suddenly realised I was exhausted and a nap was definitely in order. I started to walk back and soon realised I was completely lost! I was approached soon after by a young Chinese lady who spoke immaculate English and informed me she would like to ”practice her English”. She also told me about an art exhibition that her school was putting on and asked if I would like to come and have a look. A combination of jet-lag and naivety meant, before I knew it, I had agreed. It took all of 10 steps for me to snap out of it and realise this was not a particularly smart move! I faked a phone call and profusely apologised to the kind lady before making a swift exit. I went in to the next large shop I passed and flashed the hotel’s card, shrugging my shoulders up and point left and right – the global sign for ‘I’m lost!’. They successfully pointed me in the right direction and 15 minutes later I was curled up in bed, taking a well deserved nap! I learnt from my tour guide later that evening that I had almost fallen for a popular scam. The chances are I would have been locked in a room and forced to buy a ‘work of art’ or simply asked to hand over any cash/ valuables. These scams are common in big cities and are worth being aware of; I had a lucky escape this time around!
A chilly morning on The Great Wall
Having packed for my own visions of Asia (never-ending sunshine and pristine beaches…), my rucksack was bursting at the seams with shorts, t-shirts and bikinis… None of which were suitable for the -1 degree morning that greeted me on my first day in Beijing! I dug out a thin cardigan and some hiking trousers and we all boarded a mini bus to the Wall at 6.30am. The Great Wall is one of the 7 Wonders of the World and is the longest man-made structure ever constructed, snaking through 4,000 miles across the mountains of northern China – it’s pretty impressive in real life too!
Once we had arrived, our guide let us know the plans for the day, whilst I shivered uncontrollably and tried to keep the teeth chattering to a minimum as I gazed at the snow that had settled on the Wall behind us. By the end, the guide had spotted me and with a small screech in horror at the sight of me and the blue tinge to my lips, dashed back to the minibus where he retrieved a large warm winter coat which became mine for the next two weeks!
We spent 4 hours on the Wall, walking around and exploring little nooks and crannies (mostly involving very steep staircases like in the photo above!). There are various areas of the wall you can cover (taken from here):
- Badaling section: as the part of the Great Wall closest to the center of Beijing, it has it’s pros and cons. It is generally an easier climb, less steep and less rough than the other parts of the wall. However, Badaling is extremely busy during the peak season, and is largely renovated.
- Mutianyu section: usually recommended for those with children but unwilling to go to the busier Badaling, Mutianyu is accessible by cable cars (both up and down), and is a very pleasant hike, but can still be a challenge depending on how far you want to climb.
- Simatai section:more rugged and only for those with older children or who are comfortable hiking with their very little ones strapped to their backs. This section only reopened in January 2014, and stretches across 34 beacons with more rough terrain than Mutianyu and Badaling.
We ended our trek in the Mutianyu section, which has an area where you can hop in to a toboggan and ride all the way back down! Although slightly terrifying, each toboggan comes with brakes so you can control the speed at which you cruise back down to the ground. I highly recommend it!
The Forbidden City
It was extremely interesting to learn all about Chinese history from our local guide. The Forbidden City is the best-preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world. In 1987, it was nominated as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO and is recognised as one of the most important five palaces in the world. Read more here!
Fun Fact: The Palace got the name of Forbidden City due to being absolutely forbidden to ordinary people. Originally called Zijin Cheng (‘Purple Forbidden City’), in China now it is usually called Gugong, the ‘Former/Old Palace’.
For security, the Forbidden City is enclosed by a 10 metre high wall and at each corner there stands a magnificent watchtower, which would have been heavily guarded in the past. Around the city there is a moat as the first line of defense. The Forbidden City covers an area of about 178 acres and consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms!! See a map of the grounds here!
South of The Forbidden City and North of the Temple of Heaven, you will find Tian’anmen Square, the largest city square in the world, holding up to one million people for public gatherings.
Things to do: In the square you can climb the Tian’anmen Rostrum, attend the national flag raising ceremony every morning at sunrise, visit the National Museum of China, and go to the Mausoleum to see the body of Mao Zedong. Tian’anmen Square holds the Monument of the National Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is supposedly the best preserved imperial garden in the world, and the largest of its kind still in existence in China. It’s only a short drive (15 km) from Beijing City Centre but really does feel like another world! The Summer Palace was built in 1750 and covers an area of 70 thousand square meters, holding over 3000 houses. Not all the buildings are open to the public but there are arched bridges, pretty promenades, decorated corridors, and ‘breezeways’ – a hallway that allows the passage of a breeze between structures.
There is the option to take a 10 minute boat-ride to see an island temple, sit and watch a traditional Chinese performance in the restored theatre or explore recreated traditional shops by the river. I loved wondering around and taking photos, as well as enjoying the views over the City from view points on the hill. We were lucky and had a lovely sunny day when we were there, which definitely added to the occasion!
Beijing Olympic Stadium
Not too much to say on this except it’s a pretty cool structure and worth a visit!