Upon arrival in Beijing you can immediately notice the differences between the capital and Shanghai. Everything is much older, far less westernised and good or bad, it does feel like you have gone back in time. We were also downgrading from Phil’s luxury apartment to our first hostel of the trip, the Beijing Alley Hostel.
We wanted to take it easy on our first day and as the sun had breached the Beijing smog, we decided to go for a stroll around Beihai Park which is one of the many imperial gardens in Beijing. In the evening we explored the many hustings near to our hostel and shared a tasty Chinese food platter and a few Tsingtao’s.
Well rested, we took on Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. You can’t help but feel the power of the Chinese state whilst walking through the square, and your thoughts are drawn to the student led, pro-democracy massacre that took place here in the late 1980’s. At one end of the square you have the entrance to the Forbidden City and at the other end you have Mao’s mausoleum. Unfortunately, the latter was closed and this was becoming a familiar story for me as when visiting Moscow a few years back Lenin’s mausoleum in Red Square was also closed. My hunt for a semi-preserved former Communist leader goes on.
The Forbidden City is the largest preserved imperial city in the world and has housed numerous Chinese emperors dating back to the Ming dynasty. Being a world heritage site it is a ‘must do’ and it is very impressive. However, I wouldn’t spend too long exploring the hidden streets as it does get a bit repetitive after a while.
Near to Tianamen Square is Quianmen street. The street has a really old feel to it with numerous hutongs (small streets) present nearby for a wander. However, the street is also packed with modern shops and is a really good place to eat and drink which you need after exploring the Forbidden City! Alternatively, you can head to Wangfujing street and try out some of the delicacies on offer there. Starfish, scorpions, bugs – take your pick.
The following day, we had booked a tour with the hostel to the Great Wall of China. The part of the wall we did was well off the beaten track and was one of the best sights we have both experienced. You can read a bit more about our trip in detail here – The Great Wall of China…off the beaten path.
We only had one more day in Beijing and had planned to go to the Summer Palace but Nicole dragged us off the metro a couple of stops early as she had seen signs for Beijing Zoo. Whilst we are both not massive zoo lovers, we felt we had to see a Panda or two whilst in China. Entry to the zoo was a ridiculously cheap £1.50 and if you measure the merits of the zoo purely on the quantity and variety of animals that the zoo has then it is extremely worthwhile. The Panda exhibition was the highlight for us as you can imagine. Their treatment and the facilities the Panda’s have is actually very good and whilst most are just stuffing their faces with bamboo, the two Beijing Olympic Pandas proved to be the most entertaining for us with their attempted acrobatics.
On our last evening we went to Houhai lake. A good friend of mine had suggested this area if we fancied a break from Chinese food. The area was full of lakeside restaurants and bars that were all lit up with lanterns and it is definitely worth a visit. We were serenaded with a harp and cello whilst eating steak and chips. Chin Chin Beijing! You can take a look at our Youtube highlights of Beijing below.