There was so much I loved about China. I loved the old buildings – it’s always magical walking around and being surrounded by buildings that have stood for hundreds of years and have witnessed the changes of time.
I loved the peeping through windows and opened doors and stealing a glance of daily life – children playing, old men singing. I loved the food, oh I loved the food! Perhaps it is because I’m Asian so adapting to food in China, well, there was no need for adaptation at all. But what I really really loved was how people seemed to enjoy the little things in life.
Once we stepped away from the main areas where it was crowded and everyone was rushing, it was almost like a whole new world. People would be in the streets playing Mahjong (I got yelled at by one of the players!), singing and playing music, and just sitting and chatting.
I loved so many things about China, but if I had to narrow it down, out of all the cities we visited, Beijing would always have a very special place in my heart. I only had 3 days in Beijing and wanted to make full use of the time. Here are my 3 favourite touristy things to do whilst in Beijing.
1. The Great Wall of China
There is a Chinese saying that “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man”. Now that I’ve proven my manliness, let’s move on.
You simply can’t go all the way to Beijing and not visit the Great Wall. At 21,195kilometers long, it is the longest man-made structure in the world. And it is massive. It is majestic. It is magnificent. And you can climb it.
And climb, people did. Chinese people of all ages climb it, from the very young to the very old. I am of a reasonable fitness (I think) but some portions were really tough. The only thing that kept me from giving up was the potential loss of face, but the thing that kept me going the most was seeing 80-year old ladies doing the climb as well. Sure, they took a longer time than most, they rested along the way, but step by step, they did it.
Built by soldiers, common folk and criminals from 221BC (during the reign of the Qin dynasty) all the way till 1644 (in the time of the Ming dynasty), this beautiful structure has beacon towers, passes and fortification in an attempt to keep enemies at bay. On average it is about 10 metres wide (I visited Badaling and it was about 5 metres wide throuhgout), dispelling my initial thought that it would just be ‘a wall’, made of a layer of bricks.
Other things I learnt about the Wall: It is not an “it”, but rather, “they” as they are many walls, built in sections and they are not necessarily continuous. There are several sections that are open to the public, having been restored and preserved, making it safe for visitors (and yes there are handrails and sometimes, toilets too, though you shouldn’t expect more than a cubicle – if you’re lucky – and a hole in the ground lined with a garbage bag). The easiest sections to get to from Beijing are Badaling (八达岭) and Mutianyu (慕田峪).
This site is a good one on showing how to get to the Great Wall. There are shops and cafes at the bottom of the Wall (I can only say for Badaling) so either fuel up with yummy noodles before, or treat yourself to some after your climb.
2. Temple of Heaven
This beautiful temple was visited by Emperors annually to give thanks to the Heavens for prayers and ceremonies, particularly praying for good harvests.
It opened to the pubic in 1918 and now there’s a beautiful park surrounding the temple grounds as well with playgrounds and exercise areas. Sometimes there are shows and performances there as well.
There’s a”70-year old door” in the compound (which is 4 times the size of the Forbidden City!) and one of the emperors (Emperor Qianlong) built a door when he was 70 years old, as a shortcut to the main prayer hall. No one else was allowed to use this door apart from him…. and those above 70 years old!
More information on the Temple of Heaven and how to get there, here.
3. The Forbidden City
9,999 rooms! In the olden days, the Emperor was believed to be a son of Heaven, and therefore, his palace on earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace, where God was supposed to live in Heaven. The Imperial Palace served as the home of the Emperor and his household, as well as a a political and ceremonial centre.
Commoners were forbidden to enter, thus, the name of The Forbidden City, and has been recognised among the top five palaces in the world, together with Palace of Versailles (France), Buckingham Palace (UK), the White House (US) and Kremlin (Russia).
The Forbidden City spans across 72 hectres of land, with floor space covering 150,000 square metres. Remember, 9,999 rooms! And what would an Emperor need so many rooms for anyway?
Well, there would be rooms for Imperial examinations, for banquet dinners, as living quarters, for exhibitions, and sections for a concubine or two. I didn’t count how many rooms were open for viewing, but you pretty much can roam around the entire area on your own. Set aside a good 2 hours at least for this beautiful place.
More on The Forbidden City and how to get there, here.
By the way, to the rest of the world, the language spoken in China is known as zhongwen 中文 or huayu 华语 but Within China, they refer to the language as putonghua 普通话 (“common language”), or guoyu 国语 (“national language”). If you are Chinese, like me, but do not speak Mandarin well, I suggest you brush up a little before your visit. You’ll be able to get by, but not without being thrown dirty looks for your poor grasp of your mother tongue.
Where to stay in Beijing?
Aman Summer Palace is simply gorgeous. Located next to the Summer Palace – with its own secret entrance – this is the best hotel to make-belief you’re living in ancient times.
A less lavish choice is quaint little outfit The Orchid. Traditional on the outside, modern on the inside, The Orchid only has 10 guest rooms (with more coming soon) so book early. Check prices here.
Peking Yard Hostel is the cutest little hostel ever! The name itself had me in stitches – Peking Duck is a popular dish, and it is known in Mandarin as or 北京鸭 Beijing ya. What a beautiful play on words! Check prices here
Final tip about Beijing
We found the sleeper trains to be affordable and very comfortable! But just remember to book an upper bunk. Carriages have triple decker beds and since the upper bunks are more inaccessible, the unwritten understanding is that the lowest bunk is ‘public space’ until bed time!
I hope this has helped you if you’re planning a trip to Beijing, China!!
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