All posts related to visiting Beijing, Beijing attractions and being a tourist in the city.

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Why Beijing Poses More Questions Than Answers

By Jane & Nigel of The Time of Our Lives

Ever been to a new place, desperate to learn about a fascinating culture, a unique cuisine or an unfamiliar way of life? I guess that’s why most of us travel. If we only wanted to experience a similar vibe to home but with a nice beach and better weather, we’d be holiday-makers. Nothing wrong with that, but in our minds, travel is something different.

In September 2016, we embarked on the biggest travel adventure of our lives … a 57-day, self-planned whizz around the world. Nine countries, packed full of bucket-list experiences, and over 35,000 miles of air, train and ship travel. And one of those countries was China.

As you can imagine, 57 days to do nine countries is nowhere near enough time. But it’s all we had and one of the tips that our flight booking agency gave us was that China waives its rather expensive visa fee if you spend fewer than 72 hours there and you are in transit. So we decided to shoe-horn in a 66-hour visit to Beijing, in between Japan and Vietnam. And we were really excited to see what the capital of the world’s most populous country and one of oldest surviving cultures had in store for us.

First Impressions of China

Beijing Scooter

Our first experience of China was immigration. Despite having special lanes for the 72-hour visa waiver, it appears that Beijing’s border team doesn’t see applicants very often. There were certainly no others in the immigration hall that evening and our case was escalated up to managerial level pretty promptly. Whilst not being rude, the questioning was not exactly what you might describe as welcoming. Ultimately, with all of our fellow passengers long gone, as well as all of the immigration officers except ours, we obtained a couple of passport stamps once we’d conclusively proved that we were planning to leave in 3 days’ time.

After a good night’s sleep in the luxurious, but not overly expensive Prime Hotel Beijing Wangfujing, we were up bright and early to take a look around – with the Forbidden City (a UNESCO world heritage site) being top of the list.

By this stage, we had already noticed that we couldn’t access our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and that Google search results seemed drastically reduced. We all know that China is an authoritarian communist regime, but also that capitalism and entrepreneurship is a mainstay of the country’s huge growth. We were fascinated to see how these two apparent opposites sit alongside each other. And it wasn’t long, walking down Wangfujing Street that we further grappled with this conundrum. Having walked past what can only be described as a shanty town, built out of scrap corrugated iron and cardboard, we came to a major crossroads, where the world’s most premium designer brands – Rolex, Tiffany, Gucci – vied for the newly rich’s attention … and cash.

We walked on a little further, trying to get our heads around this place. And then a young man, spotting Nigel taking candid photos with a long lens, struck up a conversation with him about photography. We were slightly wary by this point and Nigel’s answers were uncharacteristically guarded. After a few minutes, the young man explained that this was where the famous Wangfujing night market had been until June that year. He showed us photos on his phone of the market’s last night. The government had apparently given the shopkeepers 2 months’ notice to vacate the place as it was designated for redevelopment. He said it was a sad day for the area.

Feeling slightly guilty for mistrusting the young man, we parted with hearty handshakes and mutual wishes of ‘all the best’.

Exploring the Major Sights in Beijing

Summer Palace Lake Beijing, CHina

The Forbidden City, built in the 15th century, is a remarkable sight, as much as anything for its vast scale. Our audio guides helped us make sense of it all and distinguish our Mings from our Tangs. It was crowded even in the chilly mid-October drizzle. One of the interesting visitor demographics was smart middle-aged professionals showing their elderly parents, presumably from a rural region, around the place. This juxtaposition, perhaps more than anything, showed the two sides of China … impatient, well-heeled ‘cut-and-thrusters’ and swarthy Maoists, slack-jawed at the majesty of their surroundings.

On a gloomy second day, we explored the Summer Palace, a taxi-ride away to the north-west of the Forbidden City. We ended up doing a boat ride to the palace with a raucous party of Chinese tourists. We appeared to be slightly more fascinating to this group than the gorgeous royal surroundings, which made us slightly self-conscious and bemused. On disembarking, Jane, in particular, was grabbed by the arm to be included in photos. The smiles were warm and friendly, but, once again, we were puzzled by the experience. If anything, we preferred the Summer Palace to the Forbidden City. We took a long walk along the lake in the mist and the palace itself is more self-contained and less crowded.

On our departure day, we had planned in a trip to the Great Wall. Having negotiated with a taxi driver to take us there and then onto the airport afterwards, we set off early. Communicating in China for us non-Mandarin speakers, is generally conducted via a translation app. This ended up in a few hilarious exchanges, but ultimately, we got by.

We went to the length of the Great Wall at Mutianyu. This is not the closest stretch to the centre of Beijing, but, maybe for that reason, it’s known for being less crowded, especially if you get there nice and early (say 8.30am). More by luck than judgement, we took the gondola (not the chair lift) to the top of the wall and got a toboggan back down. Having seen all of the options whilst we were there, we would definitely recommend that combination, unless you are determined to walk. That left us with a 1.5 mile walk along the top which was just about perfect. It’s really something else to say you’ve been there.

So What Did We Make Of Beijing?

Time Of Our Lives Great Wall of China

Well, maybe it was because we had just come from uber-courteous Japan, but we found most of the Chinese people we encountered loud and brash. But then we came across the young man in Wangfujing and the Summer Palace day-trippers – who were warm and full of smiles. Puzzle number one.

Puzzle number two was the capitalist/communist thing. We definitely noticed the touch of an authoritarian hand. And then we saw motorways fully loaded with BMWs, Audis and Mercedes. How these worlds are coexisting happily is not at all obvious.

And puzzle number three is the culture. We tasted food with flavours that were so unfamiliar as to be otherworldly. The folk religion, involving ancestor worship, is as old as civilisation itself. Customs, traditions, language … it’s all so alien to westerners, that it would truly take a lifetime to comprehend.

So we spent 66 hours trying to understand a little bit of this world. But we left with more questions than answers. Which, in a way, is the best excuse for a return trip for the curious traveller.


Time of Our Lives Profile PicJane and Nigel are a travel-blogging couple from the UK, both with two daughters and a passion for people and places. Former BBC journalist, Jane is always looking for a great story and is never happier than when she has a notebook and a travel ticket. Since he was a teenager, Nigel’s ambition has been to travel to 50 countries by the time he was 50. And he’s recently achieved that goal. Follow them at www.thetimeofourlives.net, on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instragram.


 

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Daily Digital – Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Throughout our time in Beijing, we were continually amazed by the sheer size of everything. The expanse of Tiananmen square, the crowded busy maze of the Beijing night markets and the intensity of the city itself. We found so much history and culture from the Great Wall of China to the local neighbourhoods and streets. Our visit to the Temple of Heaven was no exception.

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is actually a complex of several religious buildings, one of which is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This colourful circular building set on a marble base was where the Emperor would pray for good harvests. While it burned down in the late 1800s, it was rebuilt again and made entirely out of wood, without a single nail. Within the complex of walkways and beautiful gardens also stand the Imperial Vault of Heaven, The Circular Mound Altar and the Echo Wall. We spent quite a bit of time exploring the grounds and trying to see these buildings as they would have been when they were at their prime. It ended up being a rainy and overcast day when we visited and while it was still busy, we were able to have a little more space than usual to take photos and look at the various exhibits in the different buildings. A popular attraction for tourists, even on rainy days, The Temple of Heaven is a massive testament to the Chinese traditions of centuries past.

 

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Tiananmen Square & The Royal Gardens of the Forbidden City

With the recent protests in Hong Kong and their call to Beijing supporters to rally at Tiananmen square, we thought it was an appropriate time to write about our recent experience at Tiananmen in Beijing, China.

We started out that day planning to visit the Forbidden City. It was a Monday and as we’ve mentioned in our post about things to know about Beijing, many things are closed on Mondays, especially government run buildings. So, while we knew this, we decided we’d venture that way, see what was open and tour a bit.

Tiananmen Square – Where Things Feel Bigger-Than-Life

 

Tiananment square, beijing museum, beijing government building, beijing parliament

We hadn’t walked that far before being stopped by a female tourist from the US who asked where the museum was. We all pulled out our maps and confirmed she had been walking the wrong way. Since we were going in the same direction, we invited her to join us on our walk. What we thought should have only been a short distance ended up feeling like we had been walking for hours, which we probably were. We weren’t aware that the distances indicated on our map were not proportionate.

All three of us eventually made it to the National Museum where our temporary travel companion was looking to go and we realized it was part of a huge complex of buildings including the Forbidden City, Tiannanmen Square, Mao’s Mausoleum and many other government buildings. The road along this stretch of buildings was, without a lie, a ten-lane road. The area felt massive.

Tiananmen Road, Tiananmen square, traffic in beijing,

Giant towering buildings, the huge expanse of the road, the square ahead of us a wide open space and the large entrance to the Forbidden City had an imposing and intimidating effect. Added to that feeling was the heavy police and military presence on the sidewalks, the barriers to the buildings and on the roads and everywhere we looked there was some form of security check.

We reached a gated area which was covered with police where we inquired about the museum and the Forbidden City and learned that both were in fact closed, but that the royal gardens surrounding the Forbidden City were open and accessible for 2RMB (40 cents CDN).

Forbdden CIty, Imperial Gardens, Mao's portrait, Entrance to the Forbidden City

Our American friend had already been to the royal gardens and told us we should go on in and she would leave and continue exploring the area. We parted ways and went to the police officer allowing people through the gate. Since we noticed everyone was showing ID to get through, we asked if we needed to present ID. He asked for our passports, which we did not have (also in our post on 10 things to know about Beijing), he asked where we were from and after telling him we were Canadian, he took some time to chat with us about the gardens and a good area to grab some food.

He told us to make sure we had our passports with us next time and let us through, “I’m the police.” he simply said  “Of course I can let you in”. So, what at first looked like a very intimidating amount of police and security and an impenetrable gate entrance quickly turned into a friendly conversation and a quick entry into the main area.

Once we entered onto the walkways around the various buildings and Tiananmen, we followed the sidewalk down under the main highway and up onto the other side to reach the royal gardens of the Forbidden City

The Royal Gardens – A Walk Around a Forbidden City

entrance to the forbidden city, Forbidden City Entrance

The crowds were still large, although not close to what we had been used to experiencing thanks to it being a Monday. We stood outside the main gates for a while, looking at the giant portrait of Mao hanging over the entrance and watching the activity on the other side of the street at Tiananmen Square before passing through the gates to get our tickets. It wasn’t long after we stepped in line with our tickets to get into the gardens that we experienced the typical “budding in line” that we had come to know so well in Beijing.

We’re pretty sure at least a half dozen people cut in line before we made it close to the front and we were about three people from the front when we let our guard down. We made a mistake we hadn’t made in days since getting accustomed to the queues – We diverted our attention to putting our camera in our backpack and let a hair-width of space between us and the person in front of us…and we left that space unprotected.

By the time we turned back to face the front, maybe a couple seconds later, we realized something was off. There were several new bodies standing in front of us and a few new ones behind. We thought we were used to it, but for some reason it still took us completely off guard.

imperial gardens walkway, forbidden city gardens, forbidden city

After we got into the gardens, the crowds pretty much dispersed, or at least as dispersed as it gets in Beijing, and we took our time walking down the stone paths, looking at the old trees growing, the flowers, the buildings and architectural designs and the armed soldiers…wait, what? We weren’t too sure why there were so many soldiers lined up either. And a whole army (excuse the pun) of military personnel sitting in a group, fenced off and waiting to do something, or go somewhere.

This was our first real experience with so much military and police presence, first outside the government buildings and Tiananmen, and then again inside the royal gardens. We kept walking, because it seemed like the best thing to do, and continued to explore the very peaceful and serene grounds.

 

We walked around buildings, some part of the Forbidden City, and found some neat trees, gardens and other elements to explore on this large property. While we weren’t able to actually see the Forbidden City, we still had a great time in the gardens and found some interesting things. We saw many guardian figures on the rooftops of the buildings, a relaxing area of stone with a bridge over a stream, a rose garden, and an interesting large stone with a handle carved into it.

imperial gardens beijing, forbidden city, beijing, royal gardens forbidden city,    Beijing Guardian Figures, CHinese Guardian FIgures, temple guardian figures, forbidden city, forbidden city statues on roof   forbidden city bridge, royal gardens beijing bridge, forbidden city, beijing attractions   stone with handle forbidden city, beijing attractions, royal gardens forbidden city

There were several areas for which we had to pass through large red doors. We noticed that many people walking through would touch one of the large golden knobs of the doors as they passed. We made sure to do the same even though we had no idea what it meant but later learned it is custom to do so for good luck and fortune.

Doors to the forbidden city, The Forbidden city,   royal gardens building, forbidden city, beijing attractions

We also happened upon a large court-like area with 7 bridges. Apparently, in days past, the bridge used indicated your level in the hierarchy of power, for example the center bridge was only used by the emperor. Carolann decided to take a walk on the emperor’s bridge as an emperor must have done ages ago.

forbidden city, royal gardens, beijing, emperor's bridge

Tiananmen Square – Remnants of a Volatile Past

Forbidden city, Beijing attractions, tiananmen street

Walking back down and under the busy street to where we started we tried to find the entrance to Tiananmen Square. We hadn’t come this far not to at least walk along this historic site.  Along the gated sidewalk we noticed a guarded crosswalk to the other side of the road and the square.

We crossed and found ourselves at another security checkpoint, this time with x-ray bag scanners. Again, we were asked for our passport, and again we were allowed in on the condition that we make sure we have it with us next time. And so, with ID check and bag scan complete, we entered into Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen is the scene of the 1989 student-led protests and hunger strikes for democracy which ended in bloodshed as the Chinese military advanced on the protesters with assault rifles and tanks.

monument at tiananmen square, tiananmen square, beijing attraction

It is the road at Tiananmen square where the famous photo of the man with the tanks was taken. So while we were clearing security and preparing to walk around the square, we knew the significance and importance of this large space. That didn’t do anything to prepare us for the impact it left.

Looking around at the massive square, it was smoggy and only scattered with people unlike everywhere else we had been. We felt the gravity of the events that had occurred and both stood silently for a while taking it all in.

Flowers at Tiananment square, tiananmen square, tiananment street      tiananmen monument, monument at tiananmen square, tiananmen square

At the one part of the square stand’s Mao’s Mausoleum and several monuments in honour of historical revolutionary struggles. It wasn’t open that day but we’re told that once inside there is no talking as you walk through.

Mao's Mausoleum, Beijing attractions, tiananment square   monumnets at mao's mausoleum, carvings at maos mausoleum, mao's mausoleum, beijing attractions

temple in tiananmen square, tiananmen square, beijing attrations

We took our time, quietly wandering a bit and after a while headed to the exit on the other end of the square and continued on our way.

tiananmen square, beijing attractions,

The day summed up our entire experience in Beijing. Overwhelming. Crowds, pushing, cutting in line, smog, military and police and security checks, massive, bigger than life buildings and attractions, the unexpected, and a truly amazing experience. I don’t think we’ll forget our visit to Tiananmen Square. It really was just a typical square, though massive in size, but it meant so much more and you could feel the weight of history while you there.

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Daily Digital – The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu

 

We often reflect on our short time spent in Beijing. It was a huge culture shock, an incredible story and it provided us with one of the most memorable experiences of both of our lives – visiting The Great Wall of China. For both of us, it was just one of those places we always thought about visiting at the back of our minds, but it never really seemed to be at the forefront of travel plans. That was until Macrae sat down with that Lonely Planet China travel guide and the rest, as they say, is history. It probably would have been a good idea to visit the Wall twice because the first time was so awe-inspiring that neither of us were able to fully comprehend where we were and what we were seeing.

The Mutianyu portion of the great wall lies several hours North of Beijing and is incredibly lush and forested. While there is a cable car to get you to the top, we chose to climb what seemed to be thousands of steep stairs to the top of a 1.4 mile stretch of The Great Wall. Looking at the sign, we saw that there are 22 watch towers along the wall. We managed to walk along and reach about 5 of the watch towers from number 10 to number 6 all still standing strong (although there were some renovations in the 80s).  Standing there, taking in the scenery around us, we both looked at each other in disbelief and smiled. It was one experience neither of us would forget.

If you are planning to see The Great Wall we highly recommend you make Mutianyu one of your stops. It is significantly less crowded and tourist-filled than the more popular Badaling but is in good enough condition to make the stairs up to, and along, the wall a safer bet than some of the less restored areas. Just remember from our experience, if you are not going with a tour, get specific instructions and directions and stick to the route no matter what the bus drivers, taxi drivers and others try to tell you!

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Daily Digital – Jing Jing The Giant Panda

 

Jing Jing the Giant panda, one of the mascots of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, has his own house in the Beijing Zoo.  While we typically don’t visit zoos, we decided to visit the Beijing Zoo one morning as it was one of the only things open at that hour of the day and we thought we should give it a chance.

The Olympic Games Panda House was built near the Asian Games Panda House and is a pretty expansive living space for the panda residing there. He looked like he was living the life of leisure on top of one of the platforms of his intricate looking playground as he drifted off to sleep while we were watching.  Nearby, several smaller pandas roamed the Asian Games Panda House with their own bamboo playground and a variety of toys scattered about. We paid the extra admission to get into the Panda House exhibit as we thought it was a rare opportunity to see Giant pandas and we were glad we did, despite our reservations about seeing animals in captivity.

After the zoo, we headed to the black bamboo forest, a nearby park, and found an incredible off-the-beaten-path destination that became one of our favourite memories of Beijing along with our climb up the Great Wall and our visit to a night market with some pretty interesting snacks!

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Daily Digital – Revolutionary Struggles of Mao’s People

 

At Tiananmen Square in Beijing, a mausoleum was built for the founder of the People’s Republic of China, Mao. Outside of this Mausoleum are four groups of sculptures. One depicts people during the socialist revolution and construction, the other of the period of the New Democratic Revolution and the last two are of workers, peasants, soldiers, children and intellectuals. While we did not get a chance to go into the mausoleum (as it was a Monday and the building was closed to the public) we were able to walk around Tiananmen Square and view these sculptures outside Mao’s mausoleum with a relative lack of crowds and a quick entry through security, including an id check and an x-ray scan of our bags. The feeling we got here was a little different from the feelings we describe during the rest of our travels in Beijing. The square and the buildings were large, significant and incredibly revered by the people of China. Walking into the square after such extensive security measures and military presence and seeing the size of the square, the buildings, the mausoleum and the monuments, gave us goosebumps and we had to pause for a moment to take it all in.

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Daily Digital – Firefighting in the Imperial Gardens

Beijing attractions, Forbidden City, Imperial Gardens, Chinese bronze pot

 

Walking around the Imperial Gardens of The Forbidden City in Beijing, many of these large bronze and copper pots can be found scattered around the enormous property. These were a form of ancient fire fighting. Hundreds of these large containers would collect and hold rain water which could then be used in the event of a fire. During the winter, hot coals, fires and covers for these pots would be used to prevent the water from freezing. The above is a simpler design but there were more elaborate and ornamented vats across the gardens. It’s clear these were essential by the durability of the metals used and the sheer number of them throughout the Forbidden City.  We thought this simpler design made a great contrast to the ornate and colourful buildings behind.

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Daily Digital – Old Beijing Yogurt

 

Walking around Beijing, these small plastic containers (sometimes ceramic) with paper lids and bands keeping them in place, can be seen frequently displayed on store fronts and roadsides. While we weren’t sure at first what these were, we risked it, bought one and tried it out. Discovering it was yogurt was quite the surprise and the fact that they seem to all be served at room temperature was another! Old Beijing yogurt is considered a specialty and yes, it is served at either room temperature or slightly chilled.  It is made using old processes and has more of a liquid consistency than typical Western yogurt. This is definitely something to say you’ve tried and if you are buying one in a ceramic container, be sure to stick around while finishing it to return the jar, or else pay for the jar in advance!

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10 Things to Know About Beijing

The Capital of China – An Experience in Extremes

It’s always hard to describe a place to someone who hasn’t been there, but with Beijing, we don’t believe there could ever be the words, pictures, or videos, to fully explain what it is like. It is a full sensory experience. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile sensations are constant and overwhelming. The combination can be disconcerting and sometimes incredibly frustrating and at the same time fascinating and thrilling, all in one.

Like we mentioned in our post about the Beijing Night Market, it seems as though the unexpected exists around every corner. Every turn presenting a surprise and usually an unbelievable experience. Here we were in a world so incredibly different it was difficult to fully comprehend what was going on at any given moment, and while we were excited for the adventure, we were quickly worn down by the inundation of extremes.

The above video gives a good visual of what you will see and experience, but we’ve also put together a list of 10 things we feel are key to know about visiting Beijing.

From the budding in line to the sound of horking and spitting to the constant pungent smells, if you are planning on visiting Beijing, are interested in what it’s like or if you are already there and just want to know you are not alone in how you feel, the following will help explain exactly what it’s like to visit Beijing.

1. Don’t be afraid to push your way through crowds and lines.

night market crowd, night market beijing, wangfujing street beijing, beijing attractions

You may feel rude but from our experience it is just customary there to do what you have to do, to get where you need to go. There are so many people in Beijing, 19.6 million as reported in 2010, that you have to be assertive and sometimes a little aggressive in order to survive. The concept of “a personal bubble” seems to be a vague and uncommon concept. If you don’t want someone to bud in front of you in line you are going to have to get cozy with the person in front of you.Stand as close as you can to avoid someone sneaking their way in. If there is an opening in a line or crowd, someone will fill it so be prepared to wait if you don’t seize the opportunity yourself.

beijing subway, crowded subway, Beijing subway car,

In the week we were there, we were bumped, budded, and squeezed out of our turn in line. A split second of inattention and a new person would have stepped in front of us. So we adapted and learned fairly fast. There’s no need to be rude, but you definitely need to assert yourself in crowds and in queues. The exception to this rule is the subway. Generally, guided by markings on the floor, people stand to the side in a line and wait for people to exit the train before boarding in an orderly fashion.

2. Don’t be discouraged about asking for help.

It may be hard to find help and you may not get an encouraging response with the first person you ask. Like our experience on our way to The Great Wall, those that will help you will go out of their way. Often times it is just a language barrier so your best bet is with the younger locals as they have probably had more experience and practice speaking English.  If you are looking for directions, or any other kind of help, keep asking until you find the answer you need. There will be someone willing to help.

3. Make use of the subway system.

beijing transit, beijing subway, subway car

As we mentioned before, the subway system is incredibly easy to navigate once you understand how it works. The transfers for each line are visibly marked, numbered and colour coated. All stops and transfers are translated in English, both on the signs and on the announcement system on the subway trains themselves. Don’t be intimidated by the seemingly fast paced crowds and network.

beijing subway map, beijing transit, beijing subway, getting around beijing

This system will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go in and around the city and will save considerable amounts of time and money if you are considering taking a taxi. We paid under 50 cents CDN per ticket with unlimited transfers. One thing to note is that most hours are rush hour, so it can get busy and finding a seat is a rare (and exciting) occasion.

4. You will start getting used to the cultural differences.

beijing 711, asian 711, beijing 7/11

Or at least we feel like we started to become immune to many things by day 5. It is a pretty significant culture shock coming from a Western country. You will experience the following in large doses: the almost constant sounds of horking and spitting; the sounds of honking; the sounds of audio voice recordings broadcast in a loop; the smells of sewage and, in alleys near public washrooms, fecal matter; the smell of stinky tofu; the sights of many dogs and many dogs peeing; the sights of many, many people.

beijing alley, beijing hutong, chinese traditional house

You will also experience, in equally large doses: the sights of little children with rips in their pants, squatting on the sidewalk to pee, or poo; the sights of smog, pretty much all day, everyday; the feel of people walking, on bikes, or scooters brushing past you as you walk, the feel of other people bumping into you in crowded areas and on subway rides. But it is all part of the experience and eventually some of these start to fade into the background of the city.

5. There’s something unbelievable everywhere you go – go out and immerse yourself in the city.

beijing city, beijing city streets, beijing sights, beijing attractions

Whether you are visiting a temple, an historical site, a market or just walking around the streets of Beijing, chances are you will see something unexpected. We found that just wandering the streets or taking the subway to another part of the city had us stumbling upon interesting areas, new sights and some pretty neat things. Just being a part of the city is an experience in itself and it seems like each area has something different to offer.

We found incredible things getting lost while walking the streets, while visiting Tiananmen Square, while walking through parks and while sitting at coffee shops. Beijing is truly a study in extremes and you don’t always have to be visiting a major attraction to see something great.

6. Search online and ask locals for good restaurants.

the brown door beijing, beijing restaurants, best beijing restaurants

We had a hard time finding good food. We’re pretty sure there is lots out there since it seems as though there are thousands of restaurants, but many are without English translations and so we would inevitably ended up going into one of the first restaurants we could find with English or with photos that we could point at to order.

On the last day, we finally went on TripAdvisor.com and found The Brown Door, a restaurant that was recommended. While it was slightly more Westernized Chinese fare, it ended up being delicious and definitely the best meal of our trip. If you want to find good food, look online for reviews or find locals you can ask to point you in the right direction.

7. Plan your sightseeing according to the day of the week and time of day.

Like we mentioned, there are over 20 million people in Beijing and that’s not including the tourists, so if you are looking to cross off certain attractions on your list, plan accordingly. Every day will be busy but weekends will be PACKED, especially when visiting sacred locations such as temples. On weekdays, you will have to navigate between rush hour, and the after work crowds as well as early closing times for many of the sights.

As an example of what we planned, we went to the Beijing Zoo when it first opened on a Friday morning. It started getting busy by mid-day, when we were already ready to leave, so we headed over to the Bamboo park which is more spacious and we ran into few people or crowds. Mondays are a holiday for many attractions. If you are looking to get into a government run building, some of the museums, or most temples, you will be sorely disappointed if you try visiting on a Monday.

Definitely check to make sure you’re planning to visit someplace that is not only open to tourists but has no restricted areas. For example, The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays but you are still able to access the Imperial Gardens and walk around.  Even with many closures, most markets are open on Monday and there are still tons of things to do in the city.

8. Go to the bathroom when and where you can, comfortably.

squat toilet, asian toilet

 

If you can go, go. There are many public bathrooms on the street and in alleys between hutongs but these are not the most pleasant of experiences. There are also many places you may THINK should have a washroom (e.g. McDonald’s) but that’s not always the case. So if you are around a fairly clean and comfortable washroom, try and do your business there.

It’s also always good to keep some tissue to use as toilet paper as many public washrooms do not have any and don’t be surprised to find a squat toilet. Often times, some of the newer washrooms will have one Western toilet, but the majority of the time, if you are using a public washroom, you’re going to have to plant those feet and learn to squat!

9. Learn some basic phrases.

No smoking sign, water buffalo no smoking sign, beijing no smoking

English is not very common in Beijing so it helps to have a few basic words and phrases in your arsenal to communicate with others. There is a surprising amount of English translation on buses, subways and other transit areas and you can usually get by fine in the markets. The communication barrier really exists with interpersonal communication. Knowing key phrases can help when trying to interact in Beijing and you may be able to get by just knowing the basics.

10. It’s important to keep your passport with you at all times.

Security checks are prevalent across Beijing. Every time you enter into the subway station and any major attraction such as temples, etc, you will be asked to run your bags through a scanner. In some areas where military and police presence is high, such as Tiananmen square, you will also be asked to present your passport in order to gain entrance. It’s good practice to keep your passport readily available, and be prepared for bag checks as well having them use metal detectors on the people who pass through the entry ways.

 

Is there a general rule you follow when travelling abroad? If so, comment below and let us know what it is!

 

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Daily Digital – Guardian Figures

Imperial Gardens, The Forbidden City, Beijing – Guardian Figures

 

While walking the Imperial Gardens surrounding The Forbidden City in Beijing, we came across these figures along the sides of the roofs of the buildings. These are known as Guardian Figures. Protectors of sacred buildings, these creatures are displayed in a row with a god-like figure riding the one in front (in this case it looks like a rooster). It is believed that he has superior vision and hearing and can identify evil from afar and can then lead the rest of the animals to fend off the evil spirits. Typically, lions, phoenixes, dragons, and roosters are depicted and the more important, or sacred, the building the more animals added to the row of defenders.

While we were struck by many incredible buildings and important relics around the property, including giant the bronze and copper pots used for fire fighting, the guardian figures are something we noticed throughout our exploration of Beijing. From buildings in the Black Bamboo Park, to walking through and around the Beijing Night Market, we saw these figures on important buildings and decided to learn more about them to really appreciated their significance. While they aren’t listed in our 10 things to know about Beijing, we still think they are an important cultural and historical symbol to understand as you’ll most certainly see them perched atop many buildings… probably more so now that we’ve pointed them out!