Beijing is an incredible city. In one place, you feel the concrete might of the Chinese government next to the towering skyscrapers of modern China, all surrounded by a healthy dose of smog. Our first activity in Beijing was to try and orient ourselves with the Forbidden City. After walking several kilometres, we found the river that outlines the Forbidden City. Thinking that we were being supremely clever and avoiding the crowds, we walked in the back gate expecting to be able to walk through and end up in Tiananmen Square (see below for an artistic rendition of our walk). Turns out, it only allows for one-way traffic flows… guess the crowds flow through from the front for a reason. So we had to backtrack all the way back out and around to the front to see Tiananmen Square. That was A LOT of walking.
To try and give ourselves a dose of local culture and stuff, we had booked in to an Urban Adventures ‘foodie walk’ that night. Apart from the thousand year old eggs and the donkey burger, all of the food was fairly standard Chinese food, similar to what you’d get here in Australia. The donkey burger was… interesting, sort of a cross between veal and beef. Probably wouldn’t eat it again but don’t regret trying it. For the cost, we ate like kings and had to take half the food home (our tour guide was most disappointed, we did explain that we’re not accustomed to five full meals in an hour but I don’t think she really understood…). She also gave us lots of fun facts about Beijing. For example, the traditional ‘hutongs’ that are still inhabited by many residents don’t actually have bathrooms built in to the houses. Residents who live in these alleyways usually share a public bathroom between a street. Luckily our hostel had bathrooms despite being in a hutong!
The next day we had booked in for a Great Wall tour with our hostel. It’s about a two hour drive out to the section of the Wall that we visited, so we had to leave around 7am to get there bright and early. The Wall was spectacular, it looked exactly like all of the photos that you see and it was amazing to walk on something that’s so ancient. It’s built on top of a mountain, which is an aspect you don’t really think about until you get there and realise exactly how high up it is. Tom walked all the way to the end checkpoint which is right at the top of the mountain. He also made friends with a couple of Americans on the way up, and celebrated Thanksgiving at the top of the wall with them – things that would only happen to Tom!
The final day in Beijing we went to see Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Mausoleum and the China Museum. Turns out the museum is all in Chinese so not so great for tourists… but it was a weird and wonderful experience all the same with lots of information about China’s space program and defence capability. Mao’s Mausoleum was quite a strange experience – you’re transported around his preserved body on travelator type things, and it’s a little bit eerie how well preserved he is.
This brings to an end to our adventures in Beijing, now on to the first overnight train and Xi’an!
Where we stayed:
Mutianyu Great Wall Tour (note: we did the hostel tour but this is the section of the wall that we visited)