Category Archives: China
Beijing Is Not Beautiful! Or Maybe It Is…
The smog was the first thing to notice upon our arrival in Beijing. While landing in the airplane we couldn’t see the ground until about 5 minutes before we touched down. It was kind of disappointing because I love to see a new city from the sky! We arrived in the afternoon and took the train into the city. It was actually very simple and much cheaper than a taxi. After checking in at the hotel we got lunch at Din Tai Fung in a nearby mall. We purposefully went to Din Tai Fung for the soup dumplings, which were absolutely delicious. We also had chocolate dessert dumplings that were like warm chocolate pudding inside a dumpling and therefore pretty life changing.
By this time it was only early afternoon and we had lots of exploring to do. Beijing is not very tourist friendly, transportations is very hard to come by. The subway stations are VERY far apart and unfortunately the stations aren’t very close to the major tourist attractions either. There are very few taxis and if you do get one to stop the drivers are quite rude and often wont take you where you want anyways. The buses are packed to the brim but as long as you aren’t claustrophobic I would imagine they are the best option. For all the above reasons we ended up walking a very long way the first day.
How To Get Scammed in China
We were trying to get to Tiananmen Square and after walking for about 30 minutes we got caught in a tourist tuk-tuk scam. We did not realize that tuk-tuks are actually illegal in Beijing so we asked for a ride and hopped in after agreeing upon the price of 30CNY (about $4.30). The ride was quite nice after having walked for so long. Red flag #1 was when the driver dropped us off in a sketchy apartment parking lot and told us to walk straight and cross the street to get to our destination. He then asked for his 300CNY ($43) which was NOT the agreed upon price.
Here is the best way ever to get out of a tourist scam. What they are doing is illegal anyways so I just created a scene which the driver did not want since he was doing sketchy stuff. So I told him loudly that I would pay him the 30 or nothing…. those were his choices. He argued for a second but as soon as I started yelling he shut it down pretty quickly and we walked away. Turns out the price should have been more like 3CNY than 30CNY anyways but hey, you do what you can!
Finally we were at Tiananmen Square! Everything is completely blocked off, there are fences along the roads so you can’t cross the street or stop your car. There is really only one way in and out and you have to go through security before entering the area. We passed the mausoleum that holds Mao’s body but were unable to go in which left us with the square. Now listen, I understand that this place has huge historical importance but if we are being totally honest, there is not really that much to LOOK at. The area itself if huge and there were some military formations walking through which was interesting. There is a huge police/military presence in the area and somber armed guards are standing all around.
Peking Duck Is Delicious
We made the LONG walk back to the hotel and had them give us directions to a famous Peking duck restaurant nearby. The restaurant was packed and we had to wait for a table. The decor was very fancy and the menu was huge. They carved the duck tableside and it was so delicious, see a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY6MSehlk5Q
Want to see a recap video of our China adventures? Check it out here: https://youtu.be/KF7oCvpTvok
A Private Great Wall Tour Because We Are Fancy and Can’t Play Nice With Others
Today was a very exciting day! We had a private tour scheduled to see the Jinshanling section of The Great Wall with Catherine Lu Tours. I specifically researched and chose this portion of the wall because I wanted a crowd-free area. I am normally not a guided tour type of person but because Jinshanling is a 2.5-hour drive from the city it was a huge relief to have the details taken care of by someone else.
We got an early start to the day with a private driver and our guide picking us up from the hotel. We were in a nice car and the driver let me control the music, which was a big plus. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and we learned a lot about China, Beijing and The Great Wall on the way.
The Great Wall Is Incredible
We arrived and parked in a small parking area and then walked about 30 minutes up to the wall. It is so much bigger and taller than I imagined it would be and makes for an impressive approach. We walked along the wall for 2-2.5 hours and saw only a handful of other people. Exactly what we wanted! The coolest part was the beautiful views of the mountains and the wall snaking along for as far as the eye can see. It was also great to see that the air was clearer so far from Beijing, so we could actually see off into the distance.
Not For The Faint Of Heart
The hike along the wall was much harder than we were expecting. It gets incredibly steep at a lot of points and there are A LOT of stairs! We were also at altitude for the first time in months so it is safe to say that we were quite winded. I cannot believe that there is a Great Wall Marathon where people run the section of the wall that we walked! That must be the hardest run of all time! Not only is it steep but the ground is uneven and crumbling in places. This portion of the wall has only been refurbished occasionally so it is falling apart more than popular sections closer to Beijing. I actually like the fact that is was a little more rundown. I felt like we were getting to see the REAL thing instead of the fake façade put on for tourists.
See more about my final thought on The Wall here.
Street Food And A Hot Pot
Back in Beijing we checked out Wanfujing Food Street for a pre-dinner snack! This is the place to go for Chinese street food and other strange things. We tried several things but most importantly we ate scorpions. They are cooked to a crisp so they honestly just taste like any other overcooked meat. The street food was actually pretty disappointing. Usually eating local food, especially random street food, is my favorite part of traveling. Unfortunately in Beijing the street food is incredibly bland. It looks like it is going to be so delicious but then it just tastes like nothing… We actually threw a lot of what we bought out.
Thank goodness we had a reservation at a local hot pot restaurant for dinner! The food here was absolutely delicious! We paid extra for a special “noodle dance”, check out the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec1saZlIpnk
The Forbidden City
Our last day in China and we still had several must-see items to get to in Beijing. The Forbidden City was up first and it was within walking distance. In true Chinese fashion it was overcrowded with school groups, tour groups and just way too many people. We had no idea what we were getting into with this place, it was huge! You couldn’t get too close to the buildings anyways because of the tour groups so we walked through at a good pace. Even so, it still took us 45-60 minutes to walk through the entire thing. The palaces are pretty similar to others we have seen in Korea and elsewhere. There are multiple buildings all decorated in the same ornate style. This palace did have significantly less garden areas than most others but I think it is just a China thing.
The Temple of Heaven
You can only walk through the Forbidden City in one direction so everyone got spit out the other side. Conveniently there were no subway stops anywhere near this exit so we started walking. A long 45 minutes brought us to a subway station, which we could then take to the Temple Of Heaven. This temple was a little unique because it is perfectly round! It is also a lot larger than it looks in the pictures making it pretty impressive! It was surrounded on all sides by HUGE gardens that took about 10 minutes to walk through.
Beijing Olympic Complex
Lunch and a small break were spent at the hotel since we had already walked so much that day. Once it got dark we took a very packed bus for about 30 minutes to the Beijing Olympic Complex! We got to see the bird’s nest and the water cube all lit up! We pad extra to go inside the water cube but there wasn’t really anything to see. Just a regular swim class taking place where the Olympics used to be haha!
How I Feel About Beijing
Overall China and Beijing was a strange experience. China was never at the top of my list of places to visit. In fact, it was pretty far down on the list. The Great Wall was something we wanted to see and felt like we should see while living so close. The Great Wall of China was absolutely incredible and something that everyone should try to see once in his or her life. It truly is breathtaking to see the wall winding through the steep mountains. You can read more about our day at The Great Wall here. I would say that using the 72-hour Chinese visa to see the wall is absolutely worth it! And if you are able to go further out of Beijing to a less crowded part of the wall you will not regret it!
Unfortunately, the rest of Beijing leaves a lot to be desired in my opinion. The street food was the worst I have ever had. The transportation is nearly impossible unless arranged in advance with a tour group. And frankly, the vibe of the city is a little sad. Maybe it’s the smog in the air but it just seems a little depressing and the people seem unhappy and cranky. Most places we travel I am surprised by how helpful locals are to help us whenever we have questions but in Beijing I felt like no one wanted to talk to us. Since the city doesn’t seem set up for foreign tourism it would have been nice to have friendly locals to ask for directions. I guess the main point is that 72 hours felt like more than enough time to spend in Beijing.
Please note that these opinions are simply based on my own experiences and are not intended to say anything negative about the Chinese culture or people. If you have also been to China please tell me how you felt about it in the comments! I would love to hear other experiences!