Beijing-China is one of those destinations that we had a preconceived idea about.
Well, to be honest, we had a preconceived idea about what all of China would be like really and we’d been proven totally wrong by our experiences in Southern China before heading North.
Our time in Yangshuo had turned out to be just amazing with very friendly locals always saying hello to us, lots of colour and brightness around and not the dull, opposed, authoritarian idea we had foolishly imagined.
So as we rode the bullet train from Guilin to Beijing and entered a thick smog we wondered what the city would have in store for us.
Our Bullet Train From Guilin To Beijing
The smog that we had entered halfway along our journey to Beijing hadn’t lifted by the time we reached the city and made our way by metro to the area our hostel was in.
It was a quieter area of the city and as the evening drew in and it turned dark we tried to find our hostel amongst the back lanes.
We entered a rather dodgy feeling area and was just about to turn around when a guy on a moped approached us and asked where we were looking for.
He indicated that he knew where we wanted to go and directed me to ride on the back of his motorcycle.
I wasn’t about to leave Sue and Annabel on their own so I told him we would just follow him.
We continued down the dimly lit lanes and he stopped and pointed to a building to our left and sure enough, it was our hostel.
With a breath of relief that we weren’t being led to a nasty death, we checked in to our hostel and was shown to our room.
Things didn’t start well and our room was a very damp rather dull affair with no daylight whatsoever.
It would only be for a few days though and just a bed to sleep in at night.
We awoke the following morning to the same smog-filled sky that we’d experienced the day before as we made our way to probably the most famous of all Beijing sites, The Forbidden City.
The Latest Police High-Speed Pursuit Vehicle
After a short metro ride, we found ourselves facing the huge Tiananmen Square.
The scale of the place is pretty impressive even with the visibility being limited, in the smog.
We made our way across the Square to the entrance of the Forbidden City, joining the many tourists lining up to go in.
The Forbidden City was deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987 and covers a staggering 180 acres and consists of 980 buildings.
It’s a staggering place to be as you enter and see the expanse of the huge squares and buildings stretched out in front of you.
The Forbidden City was the former Chinese Imperial Palace from the Ming Dynasty in 1420 until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.
It’s one huge site to cover so we decided to just wander rather than take a planned route.
There are so many hidden away areas down narrow alleyways to explore as well as the main areas.
It’s very impressive but to be honest much of it looks very similar and after some time we got a bit bored.
Basically, you work your way from one end to the other exploring what you want as you go.
At the far end and across the road we climbed a hill which overlooks the whole of the Forbidden City.
The smog was actually so thick and the Forbidden City so huge that we couldn’t see the far end of it from the hill.
A Guard Outside The Forbidden City, Beijing
Inside The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City Through The Smog
On our way back to our hostel room we discovered a great restaurant nearby that served nice, inexpensive food and was one of the only places where no smoking was allowed inside, and that they enforced the policy.
We ate big bowls of hearty soup with noodles, vegetables and meat.
This was really the only place we ate beside a large typical Chinese restaurant nearby that had good food but allowed smoking which was not so good.
A Hearty Bowl Of Noodle Soup
Chinese cuisine includes many things that in Western culture would be thought of as unusual, to say the least.
The night market is a really interesting place to wander around and see some Chinese delicacies, which include scorpions and spiders cooked on a stick and all types of assorted insects.
You generally pick what you want as it wriggles around on the stick and then it gets cooked for you.
We didn’t partake but did have some delicious glazed strawberries on a stick.
Annabel Enjoying A Strawberry Kebab
On our second day in Beijing, we decided to go to the Summer Palace in the North of the city.
It’s built on Longevity Hill and overlooks Kunming Lake.
Interestingly the hill is made out of all of the excavated soil that was left over from the construction of the lake.
The Palace itself dates back to 1153 and includes Gardens, Pavillions, temples, bridges and halls.
The view out over the lake is beautiful from the top of the hill near to the temple area.
Even though there are lots of tourists the whole area feels peaceful and away from the bustle of the city.
We explored the Palace grounds then walked by the lake where lots of Chinese families eat picnics and rent boats to go out on the lake.
There’s a lovely bridge that crosses over to a small island with a temple on.
As the evening approaches, many people fly kites from the bridge, and we don’t mean small children kites but more elaborate kites that go so high you can hardly see them.
As we rode the metro on the way back into the city we decided to go and take a look at the Beijing Olympics area.
At night time the Olympic buildings such as the swim centre, the Birds Nest Stadium and other facilities are all lit up and its fun to walk the promenade that links the entire site.
The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace
The Birds Nest Olympic Stadium
One of the things we definitely wanted to do while in Beijing was head out of the city to visit the Great Wall of China.
Our hostel was advertising some trips out to the Wall and one of them went to the exact area we wanted to go to.
There are several areas of the Wall you can visit from Beijing, but the area we had in mind was one that had fewer tourists and was less renovated than some areas.
So we booked for the trip the following day and hoped it would match our expectations.
We rose early for our trip to the Great Wall and much to our amazement the sky was bright blue and crystal clear.
It was the first time that we had actually seen the sky in Beijing without any smog.
We joined the bus taking us to the Wall near our hostel and started out on our journey to the Wall.
You can read all about our amazing experience of visiting and walking the Great Wall of China here but just to say it was by far the most stunning thing we did in our time in Beijing.
Amazing Views Of the Great Wall Of China
Nothing could top our experience of the Great Wall so it was fitting that we left Beijing and China the very next day in, you guessed it, thick smog.
Our aircraft was delayed and we got a chance to chat with the pilots of our aircraft and they said that Beijing is one of the few airports that have zero visibility landing equipment because of the smog.
We were so pleased that we had got to see the Great Wall and all of the stunning mountain landscapes that day.
We have mixed feelings about Beijing.
On one hand, it’s full of pollution, smog and all the Chinese seem to smoke all the time so the air outside actually smells of cigarette smoke permanently.
Smoking is a pet hate of ours so it’s not the ideal destination for us as most of the restaurants allow it.
Another thing you have to get used to is the constant sound of people ( men and women ) clearing their throats quite enthusiastically and disposing of the contents on the path or wherever they are at the time.
Beijing was not our favourite destination and there are much nicer places to visit within China but the experience we had on the Great Wall is something we will never forget and has to rank high on the things we’ve experienced while travelling.
The Nitty Gritty
How to get there
We travelled overland to Beijing by train from Guilin.
The fast bullet trains have a vast network and link up to many destinations all over China.
Getting to Beijing by train is pretty easy and fairly quick.
Of course, flying in from other destination within Asia or China is easy with many airlines serving the city.
We found the metro system great for getting around and was easy to understand but of course, there are cabs or walking is great to get between sites that are pretty close to one another.
What to do
There is so much to do in Beijing but only having a few days we had to pick and choose what was most important to us.
The Forbidden City is amazing to see just for its sheer size but we did get a little bored after we’d seen a chunk of it.
Much of it feels the same but it is astounding.
The Summer Palace was beautiful and a nice quiet place to get out of the centre of the city for a pleasant afternoon.
Of course, a trip to the Great Wall is an absolute must do, but research which part of the Wall you would like to visit as there are parts that are very crowded and modernised with cable cars and we’ve heard, even toboggans that take you down.
We wanted as authentic experience as we could and we did get that with hardly anyone on the section we visited.
The Olympic site is fun to take a look at and in the evening the different venues are all lit up.
It has it’s own metro station so it’s really easy to get to.
Where to stay
There are endless possibilities of places to stay.
Like any city, there are budget and top end choices.
We stayed at the Lucky Family Hostel and although the staff were nice and the trip to the Great Wall that they advertised was fantastic, but we wouldn’t stay there again as we had a rather dim and damp room below ground level so there was no natural light but again it’s a city so sometimes it’s hard to find good budget accommodation.
What to eat
So many choices from the typical Chinese noodle soups to insects and burgers.
We would say experiment but within reason of course 🙂
Night Time At The Forbidden City