After changing our plans in China, we ended up spending almost five days in Beijing. In some cities, five days might get a bit boring – but not Beijing. There was more to see and do there than you could possibly exhaust in two weeks – let alone a mere five days. Here’s how we spent our time:
Seeing Tianamen Square
Tianamen Square is apparently the largest open square in the world – almost three time’s bigger than Moscow’s Red Square. If I had to say something about Tianamen Sqaure, I would agree…it is large. Sadly, it’s not much else. Despite its historical significance, the place it basically just a huge, hot, jammed packed, high security paving stone desert.
But, its the central place to see most of the other sites and it offers a nice location to get your portrait next to Mao’s portrait – plus it’s free – so it’s worth checking out.
Exploring the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is, if for not other reason, impressive due to it’s overwhelming size. Put on some good walking shoes, prepare to elbow your fellow tourists for a good photo and set aside at least half a day to tour this gigantic complex. It’s true when they say that the temple’s all start looking the same after you’ve seen a few – so it’s worth checking this one out first so you get the full amazing effect.
Visiting Mao’s Mausoleum
I’ll file this one under the “free so worth seeing” category. It’s only open in the morning, so get there early and leave your camera and other valuable at home (otherwise you have to check them). The visit itself entails walking silently through a dark room where you can pay your respects to a creepily well preserved Mao. You can also purchase flowers and other bizarre Mao paraphernalia (Mao toe nail clippers anyone?) to honor the departed leader.
You may have guessed based on my many posts about the subject, but I loved eating in China. For some reason I thought I would loose weight during my visit and instead I spent every waking moment eating or planning my next meal. I actually sometimes had anxiety about eating things because I worried I would fill up and miss out on something delicious. Moral of the story – China’s food is awesome.
Relaxing at the Summer Palace
The summer palace is a great place to go to escape some of the hustle and crowds of Beijing. Located about 20km outside the city center, its a hike, but it really is a beautiful spot. We managed to time it so we caught the sunset over the water past the pagodas and even got a sunset boat ride across the lake. There is also the option to rent a paddle boat if you want to float away the afternoon.
Wandering the Hutongs
Hutongs are small, traditional alley ways that can be found dotted around the city. Also, they are amazing. FIlled with amazing and sometimes crazy food (please see bugs on a stick above) as well as a glimpse at some of the few remaining scenes of classic Chinese life, the Hutongs are a Beijing highlight that you shouldn’t miss.
Day Tripping to the Great Wall
As I mentioned in this post, we spent two days exploring the unrestored sections o the great wall. I wasn’t so thrilled about the tour, but the experience itself was one of the best we had in China. If you find yourself in Beijing, set aside at least two days and skip the tourist bus to the restored, over packed section.
Hopping between Temples
Beijing is fill of temples- so many that it can get tedious at times. In my opinion, its best to pick a few and spend time just enjoying them. You can’t see everything, but its worth it to grab a seat on a stairway and watch the locals come to worship. My favorites were the Temple of Heaven and the Llama Temple – but ask others in my group and you would probably get different answers.
Admiring the Olympic Village
I’m a huge fan of the olympics (as you may remember from my Visa posts), so of course I was super pumped to see the sight of the 2008 olympics. We got to see the Bird’s Nest and even more exciting we got to go into the water cube. I really wanted to bring my swim suit and pretend to be Phelps but Shannon talked me out of it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do it in the bathtub later – my butterfly is epic.