Beijing or bust.

Written in late March 2007.

So I knew that China was big, but I was still shocked by the size when I began to look into traveling around the country.  The first distant place that two of my American friends and I decided to go to was Beijing, which is a three hour flight from Shenzhen.

Beijing is the capital of China and home to many famous attractions.  While there, we saw Tien’anman’s Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Great Wall, to name a few of the big ones.  The architecture is amazing and the city  is, overall, more “foreigner friendly” than Shenzhen.  There were many foreigners everywhere we went and, best of all, a lot of Western style restaurants and food.  We did not venture outside the box yet when it came to food, eating at TGIFridays two nights we were there and the Sizzler Steakhouse the other two nights.  It was magical.

When we arrived in Beijing late the night of the 4th, I called the friend of a friend who had made us reservations at a “budget” hotel.  Lesson number one:  budget is kind of scary when there are language barriers.  It seemed to be an iffy part of town, and we didn’t feel entirely safe.  Because it was so late, we decided to stick it out that night.  There were two twin beds in the room, so the guy claimed one and the other Amy and I got to spend the night closer to each other than either of us had ever planned or wanted to be.  The next morning, we moved to a Howard Johnson.

Hotel first night

Night one accommodations.

That was also the coldest day ever in China.  Okay, not really, but it was certainly the coldest day that Amy has experienced in China.  Our first touristy activity was to go shopping in Da Shi La, where we bought fun stuff like knock off North Face jackets, gloves, and hats.  The basic necessities.  Da Shi La was very similar to our own Lao Hu, where we bargain and negotiate prices down.

We spent the next day exploring around the inner city, beginning at the Forbidden City.  It is basically a 172 acre fortress that housed emperors back in the day.  Five hundred years ago, ordinary people were forbidden to go there, hence the name.  Many of the buildings are under construction, which is not scheduled to be finished until 2020.  Now that is some serious construction….

Amy Amy JT Forbidden City

From there we climbed to the top of Jingshan Park, where we were able to take some good view pictures of Beijing. Tian’anmen’s Square is famous for being the site of past demonstrations and violence but is now often used for city festivals.  It is 100 acres.

Tian'anmen's Square

Olympic countdown

The next day we went to the zoo and the SummerPalace.  Hands down the best part of the zoo was the bears.  There were pandas (which are my personal favorite), black bears, and brown bears.  We also saw zebras, giraffes, lions, tigers (and bears, oh my…), and a variety of monkeys and birds.

Black bear

The Summer Palace is set next to a manmade lake and is absolutely beautiful.  The grounds are about 700 acres and it was freezing cold so we just snapped some pics and left pretty quickly.

Summer Palace

The Ba Da Ling section of the Great Wall is about 50 miles north of Beijing.  It is the most visited part of the wall and the first section that was restored for tourists.  We had planned to take a bus to the Wall, but that proved hard to do since we couldn’t FIND the bus.  So we took a taxi, which was a terrifying and expensive decision. After arguing with the driver, who had to call the hotel so that the Concierge could mediate the conversation, we ventured to the cable car ticket office.  In the mountains, there was a lot of snow on the ground and it was even colder than it was in Beijing.  The view when we got off the cable car was amazing, but we soon realized that climbing the Great Wall is no easy feat.  It is hard to climb even when it is not icy and snow packed.  The steps vary in height and are really steep. The Wall winds and twists over the mountains.  It is absolutely amazing to me that people built that all those years ago.  I could not even climb very much of it!  Amy and I climbed to the first landing from where we started and then decided that we were done.

Great Wall

Luckily we had brought a guy along to keep climbing and take pictures from the watch towers above.  So while our personal photographer braved the icy conditions, we appreciated the view from that first landing and talked to other tourists as they made the treacherous climb.

At Great Wall

I came to the conclusion that I am definitely a weakling because there were people who were much older than me climbing much further then I did. There were even people with canes! We took the bus back to Beijing and that was delightfully less expensive.

We flew back to Shenzhen the next day and it was back to the same old routine.  Beijing was a lot of fun and I am really glad that I went.  It was great spending time with the other two kids.  But I think we were all happy to have our own individual rooms and personal space back!


6 thoughts on “Beijing or bust.

  1. Beijing is such a fun city! Every time someone came to visit us while we were living in China, we would always hop on the train up to Beijing and show off all the fun sites to our visiting friends. I didn’t know the city as well as my own Wuhan, but I did get to know it pretty well. I always loved seeing all the foreigners. My parents would laugh at my sister and I because we would walk around wide eyed for the first day saying talking about all the “laowai” everywhere. My parents would have to remind us that we too were technically laowai. ;)

  2. This looks like such a wonderful trip. I would love to go to China some day. Your sketchy hotel situation is something I can relate to…it really is hard to know what you are getting into when you book them in places you are totally unfamiliar with. I didn’t realize you had the Great Wall was that far out of the city! It totally blows my mind that it is so…ancient!

  3. The Summer Palace is gorgeous and the Great Wall photo is one of the best i’ve seen? I’m actually not sure i’ve ever seen one that didn’t have a ton of people waving in the front, so perhaps it’s point of view? Either way, you’re making me want to take a trip – even if just to see the pandas :)

  4. I’m SO LATE responding on this post, but I love seeing all of your pictures! I haven’t really seen the Great Wall covered in snow like that…I bet it was a treacherous climb! It was difficult enough to climb it when I visited in October (it was hot and I was all sweaty). I was also surprised like you were about the old grandmas and grandpas cruising past me on their way up the wall…and of course, fancy ladies wearing high heels (WHAT?!).

    I stayed in my fair share of yucky hotels and hostels, and one of the worst I stayed in was Beijing. We met up with my husband’s friend Joel when we went to visit (he was another foreigner having an extended stay in China…we knew him from Florida). He booked our hostel, and I think he must have gone for the cheapest price he could find. We had a private room (me, my husband, and Joel in three little twin beds), but it was very bare-bones. Joel didn’t tell us that we’d need to bring our own bath towels, so I ended up drying off from my shower by using a t-shirt (which doesn’t work nearly as well as a towel, as it turns out). We also kept having issues with our door. We were trying to unlock it one night, and the doorknob completely fell off! We told the manager, and he just kind of jimmied it back in, but it wasn’t very secure. Of course, I was the one sleeping closest to the door, constantly waking up all night, worried that someone was going to slip into our room. But I guess that hostel was better than the hotel we stayed at in Dong Yang where we were woken up by knocking on the door and propositioned (I’m pretty sure, though it was in Chinese) by prostitutes at 2 AM….

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