I’ve been back for a few days now and am still pretty tired from the rather intense holidays I had and (probably) still slightly jet lagged.
For those who didn’t know, as I did not really write about it on the blog, I went to visit one of my very best friends who is currently living in Shanghai. Since I had to fly for 11 hours to go there and 12h40 to go back, I thought I might as well visit a few places while on the other side of the world and picked Beijing and Tokyo.
Travelling alone was a wonderful experience in China, as you tend to be an attraction when you don’t look asian and people keep on talking to you in a very natural manner. All in all, I actually felt most at ease with the Chinese folk, as they don’t care much about conventions and seemed overall rather chilled. Yes, they do talk loudly and yes they spit (which is well… eww) BUT they are also warm and laugh easily and always help even if they don’t know how to speak english.
Quite obviously, who says Beijing, says Forbidden City, so this was one of the few things that I had on my absolutely-have-to-see-list.
My hotel was in the hutongs, so I walked to Tian’Anmen Square and entered the forbidden city on that side. I was told to start there and it is indeed the common way of circulation.
On a side note, if you ever go to China, try to choose the usual way of circulation, as mass movements in China are planned as to be fluid and slow paced, if you go through the other way, it’s annoying to say the least.
You will also need your passport for some museums, so take it with you. I belong to those tourists who always have their passports on them so it wasn’t much on an issue for me, but I know some people keep it in a safe at the hotel.
SO! The forbidden city!
The word “city” is not an understatement, it is absolutely gigantic. It covers 72 ha and is basically a closed district. You have to buy tickets as you go as there’s not one ticket that covers everything.
The first front gate is something you need to pay for and be aware that you are not allowed to take your bags up with you.
Once you are up you have the best view of Tiananmen square and also realize the hugeness of it.
You then proceed to walk in a straight line from the south to the north through many gates. It’s easy, all people walk that line, so you can’t really miss it.
However there’s so much more to see in the forbidden city and for me the gems were on the sides.
For one, because there’s virtual nobody there so it’s nice and calm, but also because there are many exhibitions in the halls and you get to see the beautiful inner and outer wooden work of the buildings.
At the end of the city, you can (and should!) climb up on Jingsham hill, where you have a stunning view of the vast complex.
I then also went in Beihai Park and up to the white Dagoba, where I finished my day looking at the lake and pondering about life and what to eat that night.
Another Unesco world heritage, the Summer Palace is another vast complex of halls, temples, gardens and lake that should not be missed., I almost didn’t went because I had other plans, but changed my mind last minute. Good thing I did, it is a magnificent park and complex.
I arrived through the north gate by subway Beigongmen. Which isn’t the typical route, but seemed to be less exhausting that the common entry in the East.
The most beautiful building is the Tower of Buddhist Incense and eight-storey pagoda that overlooks the lake.
But the park is big and there are many other temples, halls and gardens to see.
One that I found especially interesting was the Dehe Garden with the Great Opera Hall. All around the hall where alcoves of about 5 seats where high dignitaries could sit, eat and enjoy the show.
The Garden of Harmonious Pleasures, which was beautiful and peaceful.
And lastly I did Zuzhou Street, which is a Venice-like Shopping street that offers beautiful views.
ART DISTRICT 798
On the same day I did the Summer Palace, I went to an art district that was recommended to me. If you are an artist, interested in art or just love industrial areas, this is something that you should love.
I followed the instructions found in a lonely planet of my friend and it was easy enough, so here you go :
“From Exit C of Dongzhimen Subway Station, take Bus 909 (2yuan) for about 6km northeast to Dashanzi Lukou Nan, where you’ll see the big red 798 sign. Buses run until 8h30.”
This place was the most exciting of all for me, because there was so much to see and so many old crumbling industrial buildings. It’s also filled with cafés, restaurants, designer shops and art galleries, so you can’t get bored.
I think 1 day would be more suited to enjoy it, but even if you just have a few hours to spare, go for it, absolutely worth it if you’re into that kind of artsy district.
Also quite a surprise for me, as I thought the contemporary art scene was not that huge and realized it is very much alive in China.
THE GREAT WALL
Close to Beijing are many possibilities to sight see the Great Wall. I had friends who went to visit it on the most touristic spots and were rather disappointed, so I checked for small guided tours and found one that beat all expectations.
It wasn’t cheap, but China is overall so cheap that you can indulge in one good tour.
You might find other tours but when I checked it was the one that appealed the most to me.
THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
On my last day in Beijing, which I left in the afternoon, I went to visit another temple that was recommended to me, the temple of Heaven.
Also in a huge (beautiful) park, this temple is cylindric and very blue, so it could only please my eye.
And that’s it! I arrived there on Monday afternoon and left on Friday afternoon but managed to see quite a lot, which involved an enormous amount of walking and photo shooting.
I loved Beijing and feel that I could have stayed a few days more to see even more.
The only “regret” I have it the pollution haze that never left. If you can go there in spring or early summer, the view should be a lot clearer and maybe the sky blue. But those are details, the building are always magnificent, no matter what the weather looks like.