It was my third trip to China but the first time to Beijing, obviously excited since the day I started planning this trip 6 months ago.
My Air China flight from Bangkok landed at Beijing Capital airport at 6:30 am, to avoid the Beijing rush hour decided to take the Airport Express from Terminal 3 to Dongzhimen station (city center). It was easy to find my way to the Airport Express train. Bought the smart card ( like NYC Metro Card) from the ticket counter and headed towards the city. It took about 30 minutes to cover the 17 miles (28 km). Took a taxi to cover the last leg of the journey from the Subway station to the Redwall hotel (about 2 miles).
I found it most troublesome to flag down a taxi in Beijing, first, they are reluctant to use the taxi meter second you will find it difficult to get a taxi driver that really want to go to the direction you wanted to go.
For the next few days I was exploring by the excellent easily accessible Beijing Metro, As elsewhere in China I really loved the metro – it’s easy to use and quite cheap per journey and can use the Smart Card without any hassle.
Top places I have visited during my stay in Beijing.
The worldwide fame of Tiananmen square came after pro-democracy student protests in 1989. Undoubtedly anyone traveling to Beijing this place must be on their must-see list. The biggest square in the world is right in front of the Forbidden City, Mao Ze-dong built this as a sign of the strength of Communism and the banner of this post is an example of it’s still going strong. His preserved body is in a mausoleum in the south of the square. There are grand museums, parliament buildings and viewing halls surround the square, all of which demonstrate some pretty cool communist style architecture. Easy to get here by well connected Beijing Subway and public bus.
Yong He Gong Lama Temple:
It was a very interesting temple, in fact, one of my favorite temple in Beijing. The complex was magnificent and if you are a travel photographer like me then it is definitely for you.
Uniquely, the Lima Temple complex, in fact, holds a Guinness World Record! In one of the temples, there is an extremely tall white sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha, which was carved from a single tree. And it’s the tallest in the world according to the Guinness World Record. Oh well interesting but my interest was somewhat different so I move on.
It was interesting watching different states inside and also dozens of Buddhas and monks walking around while some of the visitors praying.
The Temple of Heaven:
I think the best way to get to the Temple of Heaven is by Subway as it is located in the Chongwen District of Beijing. I took Subway line 5 and got off at Tiantan Dongmen Station, followed Exit A and found the east gate of the temple. Depending on the time of the day may be very difficult to flag down a Taxi, moreover, they will treat you like a tourist and try to exercise extra money making tactics.
Originally, this was the place where emperors of Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) held the Heaven Worship ceremony. A masterpiece should be visited by any means.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is about 50 km (31 miles) northwest of Beijing can be accessed by Subway line 13 to Huilongguan Station, follow Exit A and from the street, I just took a taxi (not so expensive), it takes less than 10 minutes and cost no more than 20 Yuan.
With the Tianshou Mountain on the horizon this location is very scenic, where lie the mausoleums of thirteen emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). There are various toms but not all are open to the public, only Changling Tomb, Zhaoling and Dingling Tomb was open for me to visit. Each tomb in the area is the burial place of one of the Ming dynasty emperors. Among all Dingling tomb was the most interesting to me. It’s nice half a day trip for me, really enjoyed the trip.
A Stroll Through Hutongs:
Beijing trip is incomplete without strolling through the Hutongs. I have visited few Hutong neighborhoods around the Forbidden City. There were areas where upper-class people lives also areas for the common people.
It was an experience I wouldn’t miss for the world where you could feel the pulse of the local people in Beijing. It’s like traveling back in time to ancient Beijing – alleys those are narrow, houses with courtyards, bicycles, rickshaw the traditional mode of transportation, aromatic tea all makes you think like you are in a different world. I like the area near the Qianmen metro station and near to the Lama Temple
Sitting infant of the TV and watching the opening ceremony of Summer Olympic who would have thought that one day I would be one of those lucky ones to be able to visit the same park. Even though some of the buildings are still in use, but the entire Olympic park looked deserted to me.
The famous architecture of the Bird’s Nest (National Stadium) and Water Cube are still looking good. The park is well accessed by metro. It was great to spend some time here in the evening, a beautiful stroll or even a boat ride in the lake. Very peaceful place and a great escape from the busy Beijing life.
The Summer Palace:
Summer Palace is actually not just a royal palace where once Princes Dowager Cixi and the emperor lived and handled court affairs, received foreign diplomats etc but also it also epitomizes classical Chinese architecture, in terms of both garden design and constructions. The beautiful Kunming Lake where you can either stroll around or take a dragon boat to the other side towards the Seventeen Arches Bridge or just keep exploring the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha climbing up Longevity Hill or even keep wondering walking through the Loan corridor and enjoyed the beautiful artwork on the beams.
Normally it takes about 3 – 4 hours to walk around Summer Palace in addition to the time you need to make your nice shots, relax, boat ride etc may add up more. So for some, it could be a day trip and for some, it’s only a half a day trip.
The Forbidden City:
One of the most visited sites in the whole world, thanks to the hordes of Chinese tourists pouring in daily, the Forbidden City gets packed, especially on weekends so try to avoid going on a Saturday or Sunday.
Also, the gates open at 8.30, so queue up around 8.15am and you’ll have an almost empty Forbidden City to talk pics of. Much better. It closes at 5 pm.
The place is massive so make sure your camera is charged, and wear decent footwear, it’s a long walk! Give yourself at least 2 or 3 hours to get around.
Beijing Street Food
There is a great deal of delicious Beijing food to be found in Dongcheng district, around Quanmen Street and Wangfujing Street.
You could find a lot of authentic Beijing snacks in this area, including Rolling Donkey, a kind of sticky-rice cake with red pea filling. Some of the streets give you a feel of old Beijing’s Hutong neighborhoods. When Walking to the central area, you may feel like you have traveled abroad.