Charlotte and I recently travelled to Beijing for a 5 day sight-seeing trip. We had grand plans but as with all travel plans they often go awry.
Overall we saw pretty much all me wanted to see: we got to walk the Great Wall of China, marvel at the Forbidden City and gawp at Mao’s wax-like corpse. But we missed out on the Olympic Stadium.
We planned to spend 220 Yuan per day (£22); I overspent by a mere 250 Yuan (£25). Chuffed.
Plans of Mice and Men
Monday’s Plan: Arrive at 8am, take the subway and get to the hostel by 10.30am. Wonder around the Houhai lakes and enjoy the popular cuisine of the Hakka minority group at Han Cang restaurant on the Shichahai East Bank.
What Actually Happened: All was going well until a well-intentioned local took us on a 2 and a half hour detour in the sweltering heat. A shower and a rest later and we explored Hoihai but couldn’t find the Han Cang restaurant. We ended up in a nice looking restaurant on the bank of the lake but the service and food was awful.
Prices: Airport express train, 25 Yuan; restaurant, 70 Yuan; 2 Yuan (all subway tickets are 2 Yuan) subway. Bottled water in the hostel was 2 Yuan but it can be 4 Yuan and even as high as 10 Yuan in big tourist places. In the heat we drank a lot of water.
Tuesday’s Plan: Go to Beihai Park early in the morning to see the older generation sing revolutionary songs and practice Tai Chi. Then on to Mao’s Mausoleum, moving onto explore the Forbidden City and finally winding our way up to the Drum Tower. Then go to the Dali Courtyard restaurant.
What Actually Happened: We decided to walk to Beihai Park but the distance was longer than we thought and the heat more oppressive than we expected. We took a taxi aiming to get to Tianamen Square but got out too early and ended up in Zhongshantang Park, meaning it was too late to visit Mao’s embalmed body.
We did make it to the Forbidden City (AKA Palace Museum) but after walking through its enormous interior in the sweltering heat we had to make a pit stop back at the hostel for a cold shower. The Palaces were great to see although a little monotonous and there aren’t many artefacts to view. A Taiwanese friend told us Chiang Kai Shek managed to grab all the good stuff before fleeing to Taiwan.
We did see a man throw a bunch of leaflets into the air, causing half of the tourists around us to suddenly turn into undercover police. They raced over to him, handcuffed him and gathered up all the leaflets. Then they melted back into the crowed.
That night we found the restaurant, Dali Courtyard. We found the sign to the street but it was a little ally and after the scam attempt we were wary. But we could see the restaurant. We walked down and the restaurant was busy and its interior beautiful. There were many tourists and Chinese businessmen. There isn’t a menu; they use whatever they have bought, caught or have available. We ordered “two” and they brought: tofu skin and salad, steamed fish seasoned with paprika, chicken in a sauce, barbecued prawns, rice and noodles. Plus we ordered two large bottles of local beer. The food and setting made it one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. I highly recommend it. I’d also recommend you make a reservation.
Prices: Palace Museum through ticket, 60 Yuan; Dali Courtyard, 30o Yuan for two people with two bottles of Chinese beer; Scammed, 3 Yuan; Zhongshantang Park, 5 Yuan.
Wednesday’s Plan: Take a trip to the Great Wall of China.
What Actually Happened: We took a trip to the Great Wall of China! We booked through the hostel to go the Mutianyu section of the wall because we wanted to toboggan down. The trip cost 260 Yuan. We were picked up by mini bus and we were in a group of 9 but met up with a larger group of around 20 later. We were taken to the cable car, which we had no idea about, and we had to pay 60 Yuan to go one way or 80 Yuan return. We took the one way ticket because we planned to take the toboggan back down.
We walked along the Wall, it was really amazing to experience and to try and imagine how it was built along the tops of the mountains. We queued for the toboggan after buying the ticket for 60 Yuan. Unfortunately some Chinese bloke decided to jump the entire line, which happened a lot whilst we were there, and went before me. To my dismay he decided to ruin my experience by travelling at approximately 1 MPH. He further spoilt it for the 10 people behind us, who were shouting to go faster. We stopped at times to allow enough time so we could travel at speed but it was never long enough. It was infuriating. Thanks to that guy, you massive ********.
We then were taken to a nearby restaurant and the food was great. There were different dishes including sweat and sour chicken, so I was made up.
Prices: Half day trip to Muntiyu, 260 Yuan; Cable car, 60 Yuan; Toboggan, 60 Yuan; water on the Great Wall, 10 Yuan.
Thursday’s Plan: Go down to the Temple of Heaven, then, travelling up Subway Line 5 to Wangfujing Snack Street and the Lama Temple. For dinner: Da Dong Duck Restaurant.
What Actually Happened: Firstly, we went to Tienanmen Square to see Mao’s Mausoleum. We saw some stories about appropriate clothing but we saw people going inside with flip flops on and uncovered shoulders. We did need our passport and we needed to put our bags in the locker which cost 50 Yuan! Rip off merchants. Even thought we shuffled past Mao in about 10 seconds it was an experience I’m glad I got to do.
We got to the Temple of Heaven. I enjoyed this more than the Forbidden City and Summer Palace, well worth visiting. Wangfujing Snack Street was an experience too. You could get anything from wriggling scorpions on a stick to barbecued lamb joints. We didn’t make it to the Lama Temple however. Nor did we find Da Dong Duck Restaurant but there are loads of duck places in that area so we picked one. Decent prices and the duck was delicious.
Prices: Lockers in Mao’s Mausoleum, 50 Yuan; Temple of Heaven through ticket, 35 Yuan; Duck restaurant, 70 Yuan for half or 100 Yuan for a whole duck.
Friday’s Plan: Head north to the Summer Palace, then to the Silk Road Market and, finally, a night time visit to the Olympic Stadium to snap the Birds Nest and Water Cube. For dinner we planned to go to Hua’s Restaurant.
What Actually Happened: I got where the Summer Palace was on my map wrong and led us on a hellish two hour walk in the heat in the opposite direction. What a nightmare. We finally got to the Summer Palace and the pollution was so bad you could hardly see the other side of the lake! We bought a through ticket but there wasn’t really much to see in the extras you paid for.
The extra time we spend on our leisurely stroll meant we were behind schedule. We got to the Silk Road Market but a faux pas in bargaining (Charlotte offered 6% of the original price) meant we decided to leave early with our tails between our legs and return the next day.
Not surprisingly (for us), we didn’t find the restaurant and ate the great food in the hostel. We found out the subway was closing earlier than we expected. After our experience with the tricycle scam man and having had to walk an hour at midnight the previous day because the subway closed a stop before we got to the one near our hostel, we decided to give the Olympic Stadium a miss.
Saturday’s Plan: Go to Beijing Antique Market. Then to the airport.
What Actually Happened: Well he had to go back to the Silk Road Market. An couple of hours and two snide Mulberry bags later we headed out to the Antique Market. It was huge! Loads of stuff too look at and a photographers paradise.
We stayed at the Beijing Heyuan International Youth Hostel, part of the Youth Hostel group. It was fantastic; the interior and exterior were great. Our room was clean, our shower powerful and the aircon cold. The food was also really good. A decent breakfast such as an omelet was 30 Yuan, for lunch there was beef noodles etc for between 10 and 15 Yuan and for dinner they had quiet a few things for 25 Yuan. Plus they had pizza but I can’t remember the price. Overall good quality food at a decent price.
Here is a Google map I made before we went. Lots of info: