We got off the Trans Siberian all bleary eyed at 5.30am on a Saturday morning. We staggered out of the station trying to get our bearings and to work out where and how to catch the Metro. After a bit of wandering around we found the Metro and we were on our way to our hostel to dump our bags.
We had booked ourselves in to stay in the Hutong area, this is an older area of Beijing with low rise buildings based around hundreds of little alleyways. Our early morning arrival meant we got to see it at its best when no one else was about. It was fabulous to have this opportunity to explore it on our own. Little did we know at that time but our stay happened to coincide with a festival so the next three days the Hutong was rammed full with Chinese tourists. This made our early morning exploration even more special in retrospect.
Our time in Beijing was to be jammed full of unashamedly touristy activities. It was going to be great! In the 5 nights we were there we went to the following places:
Temple of Heaven Park
We staggered here on the first morning before we could check in as an easy option for sightseeing that required little brain effort from us! The park was massive, very well laid out and in each square or clearing within it there were locals partaking in all sorts of activities. We saw Tai Chi, yoga, badminton, martial arts, ballroom dancing and some sort of keepy-uppy game with a giant shuttlecock being conducted.
After Russia, where we had got used to the closed nature of people there, to see people out and visibly enjoying themselves it was a real delight to see. We skipped out on seeing the sights within the park, which may have been a mistake in hindsight as they looked pretty spectacular from the outside.
The Great Wall
Our hostel ran a trip here which we decided to go on rather than faff around with public transport. The bit they took us to was a 6k hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. This walk incorporates some untouched parts of the wall. We had read about other parts where it has all been rebuilt and crazy things like toboggan rides had been added to it. That wasn’t for us!
The walk itself was actually quite challenging due to the amount of ascending and descending involved. The views though were spectacular. We were there on a foggy/polluted day, but even so the views were immense.
Sadly it seems that what little bits on this stretch that are still untouched will not be there for much longer. The builders were in replacing parts of the wall. Soon this will be the same I imagine as other parts where it ends up looking like a brand new wall. That is a recurring theme we are finding in China. It’s not restoration they go in for, but rebuilding.
Fragrant Hills Park
This park is situated on the edge of the city and took a bit of bravery on our part to reach. We knew we had to get the metro and then a bus, but weren’t sure how or where to get the bus. Fortunately the bus was right outside the metro stop and after missing the first few as we observed how to get on and pay we were on our way!
The park itself stretches up a big hill where you get panoramic views of Beijing and you can appreciate just how huge it is. You can walk up the hill, but as it was a beautiful day with no smog we opted for the chair lift up to admire the views in a leisurely manner before walking back down to the bottom.
We went via Tiananmen Square first which involved squeezing through a security bottle neck to get your bags scanned. I had some Granny’s elbow in my kidneys as she desperately tried to shove me forwards to save a few seconds of her day, never mind there was no where for me to go!
Once through (with my fresh bruising) we gave Chairman Mao a miss as the queue was massive and it was turning out to be another beautiful smog free day, we didn’t fancy standing around in the beating heat for hours.
Into the Forbidden City we went. We knew it was big, but had not quite anticipated how big it is. It went on forever with grandiose building after grandiose building running through the centre. This was where the crowds were with the resulting pushing and shoving that this entails. We took a strategic route round the outside on the east side exploring all the small buildings, museums and courtyards. Then we cut across to the west side working our way back towards the entrance. By the time we got to the central section it was quite late in the day so we could enjoy these in more relative peace and quiet.
When we exited the Forbidden City through the North Gate we crossed the road to Jingshan Park and went up the hill in the park. This gave us a birds eye view over the Forbidden City allowing us to appreciate further the sheer scale of the complex.
The Summer Palace
This could quite possibly be our favourite place we went to in Beijing. Again it is set out of the city at the end of the metro line. We were lucky yet again with the weather and had glorious blue skies and beating down heat. This was the perfect place for such a day as the grounds were laid out with trees and walkways giving you plenty of shade. We had a really chilled out day walking around, admiring the views and doing a bit of people watching. This was also the day when I realised my celebrity status in China after a young girl shyly asked for her photo with me before running off giggling afterwards.
This is the biggest Lama Temple outside of Tibet. You get given a bundle of incense sticks on your way in which you can then burn in various points on your way round the temple or donate to one of the various Buddha’s. I gave a few of mine to the medicine Buddha to sort out my tummy ache I had been plagued with since arriving in China while Alan set about working out how best to set light to an incense stick to get the fiercest flame on it… The locals seemed to know better than us what to do in the temple!
Most of the stuff on show here didn’t really appeal to us, we aren’t really bug-on-sticks, snakes-on-sticks, starfish-on-sticks kind of people. Nevertheless it was interesting to see and we did manage to find some more standard food in the form of dumplings and noodles to eat.
That’s right, I managed to find a cat cafe in Beijing. And this was a cat cafe where there are pampered cats living, they are not on the menu! We hung out here for a while, grateful for the good coffee it did and also for getting a feline fix from some incredibly friendly creatures with great names like “snake,” “dog” and “mouse.” That’s right, my name is Helen and I’m still a crazy cat lady!
We really loved our time in Beijing, it is a bustling city with lots to see. The people are friendly and helpful, no one hassles you too much to buy anything and we felt quite safe and happy walking around it. Overall Beijing was a hit in our books.