Beijing – Entranced in the Capital of China
My travels across China finally brought me to truly amazing megacity of Beijing, the last stop of my one month journey across China, before the Trans-Siberian Railway to Europe.
In all its grandeur, Beijing lives up to its name as one of the greatest ancient capitals in the world. Despite all the the city has gone through in the past century (or maybe because of it?), Beijing is a bustling and spellbinding city with an illustrious and well preserved past, as well as an optimistic and energetic outlook. Honestly didn’t have much expectations coming in, but really glad in the end to have made the decision to stop by.
Before Beijing, I was in Chengdu, a little exhausted after a hike in the edge of the Himalayas and a botched attempt to make a quick getaway from Yunnan to Sichuan. At that point, I had already spent about 3 weeks on the road and so took the opportunity to slow down the pace a little for 2 days in Chengdu, pretty much just chilling in the city. My penchant for bad decisions returned just as I was to leave Chengdu for Beijing, when I opted for a hard seat instead of a sleeper for a 30 hour train ride. This was the scene not long after:
Nonetheless, I tried to enjoy the rest of my first (and hopefully last) time in such a communal experience. It got worse as the journey progressed, and soon people were lying all over the floor and the toilet was overflowing with rubbish. The 30 hour ride was definitely an eye opening experience, though I was all too eager to get off at the end of it.
Day 1: Great Wall of China/ Nanluoguxiang/ Houhai
The train arrived in Beijing early in the morning, with all my rest in Chengdu undone by the exhausting train ride. Still, I was determined to make the most of out my first day here and set off for the hostel I booked earlier purposefully.
Upon reaching the hostel, I found out from the receptionist that there was to be a group leaving for the Great Wall in less than an hour. Usually, I don’t like to follow organised tour groups, but at this stage, a little weary from the travelling, I thought this might be a good option, given that the Great Wall was out of the city and a little less accessible.
So within a hours of arriving in Beijing, I was on top of the Great Wall of China, one of the greatest wonders of the world.
It was great that the section we visited wasn’t too crowded with tourists, though it did cost a bit for me to join the tour organised by the hostel. I heard from locals that it is common for private ‘tour operators’ to offer really cheap packages to attractions such as the Great Wall, but end up dragging tourists to certain shops and got really worked up if any of those in their tour group did not purchase any of the overpriced items at the stores.
About late in the afternoon by the time the bus took us back to the city. I managed to grab a breather before heading to meet a local friend who offered to show me around some of the trendier districts in town. Really awesome to have awesome friends around the world, and I’m really thankful for all my friends, both in Singapore and around the world.
I met my friend at Nanluoguxiang, a preserved section of the city that has been around for a few hundred years. While the architecture and feel of the area is kept, the streets looked refreshed and revitalised, with trendy shops alongside traditional ones, and lots of young people seem to enjoy strolling the ancient streets here.
We bought some snacks as we walked.
We had dinner at an traditional looking restaurant (印巷小馆) serving interesting food, mostly stuff I hadn’t seen anywhere before.
It was a satisfying dinner, but not as awesome as the company I had. After dinner, we made a short walk over to another cool and hip district, Houhai (后海).
It was getting late, so we bade farewell and left. Not sure when we’ll meet again but grateful for the memories.
Day 2: Qianmen Avenue/ Temple of Heaven/ Yonghe Lamasery/ Quanjude Peking Roast Duck
It was to be a packed day ahead, with the visit to the heavens being highlights, getting close to heaven at the Temple of Heaven, and being in heaven, at Quanjude Peking Roast Duck. But first, a simple but hearty breakfast to start the day.
After a short walk from the end of Qianmen Street, the Temple of Heaven (Y35 entry, Y10 for audio guide in English), prayer/ ritual grounds for Emperors of the Ming/Qing Dynasty.
The temple was a huge compound encompassing many different halls each serving different purposes in an elaborate ancient ritual.
The halls/ pagodas were constructed beautifully, and the interlocking wood designs from the inside were mesmerising as the elegance of the halls from the outside. Didn’t get a good shot of the inside though, but the carvings are vividly engraved in my mind.
Spent about 3 hours on the huge grounds of the Temple of Heaven then headed to collect my tickets for the Trans Siberian Railway in the CITS building.
I had a little more time before I was supposed to meet another good friend for dinner in the evening, so after a little rushed lunch I checked in to the Yonghe Temple, also known as the Lama Temple.
The temple was the residence of Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty before he ascended the throne, and was converted to a Tibetan Lamasery after he became emperor.
The unique architectural style combines Han and Tibetan styles (copied from Wikipedia), and the temple also has a great collection of religious/ cultural and historic artefacts.
Off to meet an old friend, a good friend living in Beijing, for dinner at the heavenly Quanjude Peking Roast Duck,
Not sure what to make of this movie poster.
Grabbed some yogurt that many of the street side stalls were peddling.
So happy to meet my friend for the first time in a few years. But maybe happier about the food.
Few places could boast to have hosted such illustrious clientele.
Day 3: Tiananmen Square/ Forbidden City/ Olympic Green
With one more day to go in one of the most amazing megacities on Earth, I could not miss the Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City. Probably among the most well known attractions in China, they indeed live up to their hype, and are unmissable icons in this iconic city.
My hostel, not far from Qianmen, was a short walk away from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, so I had a leisurely morning stroll over to the square. As I passed Qianmen, two huge, looming sculptures coming into view, seemingly guarding Mao’s Mausoleum which stood grandly behind the sculptures.
There was a long queue waiting to enter the mausoleum, and as I was a little tight on time for the day, I decided to give it a miss, although it was free. Behind the mausoleum, a couple of even larger stuff.
Finally in the Forbidden City (Y20/40? for entrance, Y20 for audio guide in English).
Spent a good half of the day walking the enormous grounds of the Forbidden City, and not quite completing it. There were a couple of side palaces with exhibitions going on that required separate tickets. I was in awe for much of the exploration, but in by the time I was done, I had quite enough of ancient palaces for the day, and set off to find something more contemporary. After a subway ride across the city (or rather, under it), I found myself at the Olympic park, site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The event venues looked a little space age, much like the modern central business district, and a nice contrast to the well preserved historical side of the city. Together, they give Beijing a really unique flavour.
Final stop of the day was a supermarket, to grab some supplies for the 3 day long Trans-Siberian train ride to Siberia the next day. How apt it was, to end my month long visit to China at Carrefour, also one of the first stops I made when I first arrived a month back, in Kunming (from Singapore by bus). Deliberated over the food, snacks and utensils to bring along with me, then walked back to my hostels, cutting through some back alleys, or hutongs. I had planned out the walk through as it looked like the shortest path back, but pleasantly surprised by the experience. Tourists seldom venture this far into non-touristy areas, and so here, right in the middle of some of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, was a pocket which seemed to have been somewhat stuck in time, and had retained a really local feel to it. I’ve almost always enjoyed visiting local markets/ districts, because those are the experiences which seldom get documented, and can’t be experienced anywhere else on earth. Every local market feels different.
Dinner for the previous two days was really awesome with great company, and one the last day, though different without the company, food was great. Had Beijing Zha Jiang Mian at a stall near the hostel, recommended by the hostel. Local recommendations seldom go wrong.
Day 4: Onward from Beijing towards Moscow via the Trans-Siberian
And with that, completed four memorable weeks in China, but definitely not done with China. Next, a journey I had been dreaming of for a couple of years, finally turning it into reality, crossing Russia via the Trans Siberian Railway!
Beijing in Numbers
Actual travel dates: 7 June 2015 – 10 June 2015 (~3 days)
Accommodation: ¥165(3 nights)
Attractions: ¥370 (¥260 for Great Wall tour from hostel, kinda pricey)
Food: ¥178 (excludes Quanjude Peking Roast Duck)
Transport (within Beijing): ¥39 (~¥3/4 per ride on the metro/subway)
Total: ¥749(~S$165/ US$127)