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Beijing – From the Tiananmen Square to the Great Wall of China
Beijing is a city with many faces. There is something for every taste. I must say it fascinates me how the old traditional so easily mixes with the new and modern.
Even though Beijing has so much to offer I’m only listing nine things here. Nine things you according to me absolutely shouldn’t miss if you are in Beijing. Remember that this is just like a drop in the ocean and that there is way more to explore.
– Stay in one of Beijings many hutong areas. In the narrow alleys (hutongs) the smell of food is always present. It doesn’t necessarily smell good and many times you have no clue of what it is. All you can do is point and cross your fingers. It’s so cheap that you can always try something new if you got unlucky.
Some of the oldest residential blocks that are still being used were built as early as in the 14th century. If you stay in the hutongs you’ll get closer to the locals than you will if you stay at one of the bigger hotels on the nicer and fancier streets (Here I want to emphasize that nice is a very subjective word, and according to me the hutongs are the nicest of the nicest, just saying).
– Try Beijings famous Peking Duck. There are ceveral restaurants to choose from. An advice is to stay away from Lonely Planet or any other guide book. Rather ask someone on the street if they can recommend a place where the Chinese themselves go. You will probably find a restaurant where it’s both tastier and cheaper and you don’t have to share the place with all the other tourists.
When you have ordered you Peking Duck this is what is gonna be put in front of you on the table: duck, cucumber, scallions, a sweet plum sauce and small super thin bread that looks like mini pancakes. Roll all the ingredients in the bread. Don’t forget the sauce, it’s the finishing touch. Open your mouth. Chew. Swallow. It’s good, really good. I promise.
– Have cocktails in the Houhai bar district. Houhai is located next to the Shichahai lake. It’s really nice, especially in the evenings. The colorful lights from all the signs and rice lamps reflects in the water in an effectful way. More than 120 bars are located here, together with restaurants, coffee shops and tea houses. My favorite place is a small cozy bar with a Chinese band playing reagge music. They serve tasty cocktails for 2 dollars. Exactly where to find it I’m going to keep to myself.
–Take a walk to Tiananmen Square. The square itself is impressive but for a few extra yuan you can take a look at Mao lying there stiff and cold looking like a creepy wax figure. Once at the Tiananmen square it’s almost a must to walk through Tiananmen into the Forbidden City. All I have to say about the city is: It’s breathtaking!
–Visit the Summer Palace (and tons of other big parks, Beijing is full of them). Beijings parks are really pretty. It is winter when I’m here, but I’m sure it is wonderful to be here during spring when everything blooms.
– Head to the bazaar district, which with its narrow alleys filled with small shops and food stalls is like a big lively market. You can bargain a lot here. You can easily get the price down to around ten percent of the starting price. Go shopping!
– Try different types of street food. A lot of the food is tasty. Dumplings in different shapes and flavors are my favorites. But I promise you that you will find many strange things as well, and some of them smell extremely disgusting. In many places they sell insects, snakes and even starfish.
– Take the subway. It is surprisingly easy and only costs 20 cents no matter how far you are going.
– Last but not least, go for a ten kilometer long walk on the Great Wall. You can walk all the way from Jinshanling to Simatai. This is something which I strongly recommend. It is absolutely amazing!
You are going to walk on parts of the wall that has been renovated but also on parts that has been left the way they are for 500 years. I repeat . 500 years! Some parts are extremely steep and you have to hold on with both your hands to climb up and down. The view is stunning. If you do this off season (like I do) you are going to have the whole wall to yourself, which makes everything even better.
The cheapest way to do it is to organize everything yourself. Get to Jinshanling by taxi or by hitchhiking. You can also do it with an organized tour, very convenient but then it obviously costs more.
– Bonus: a little think-twice-before-you-do-this Finally I want to share a little think-twice-before-you-do-this. Trains are in many ways good. A big plus is that they are better for the environment than for example airplanes. But. If you have thought of taking the train from Beijing to, lets say Xian, and it turns out that there are only standing room left. Then. And listen carefully now! Then, it might be worth to find another alternative.
From Beijing to Xian with a train takes about twelve hours (if you don’t catch the fast train) Sure, you can probably find a spot on the floor where you can squeeze yourself down. But then, unfortunately, I have to inform you that the floor probably will be pretty dirty and disgusting. Some Chinese people have a nasty habit of clearing their throats and then spitting anywhere they are. Everywhere on the ground there are piles of slimy spit lying around. Each one travels the way each one wants. But don’t come and tell me that I didn’t warn you.
Over and out