China: 4 days in Beijing

Bejing, the capital of the world’s most populous country. We had high hopes for this place and were pretty excited to visit. We originally booked a flight to arrive at 1am but it was delayed by a few hours so we ended up arriving into China at 6am – the perfect time to hit rush hour!

At arrivals we made a quick bathroom stop to freshen up before catching the subway into the city centre. The journey wasn’t very scenic with lots of high-rise flats and skyscrapers, most still under constructions. We changed metro lines twice on our way to the hostel and as we travelled further into the city the trains got busier and busier.

The platform where we caught our final train from was so crowded and there didn’t seem to be any rules about queuing and waiting. We stood to the side for a while and watched as people getting off the trains were fighting through the ones trying to get on. Security staff were running up and down the platform trying to gain some kind of control of the situation, yelling for people to stop boarding as they continued to squeeze onto the already full carriages. It was all a bit crazy and definitely wasn’t the ideal place for two tired backpackers. After a few minutes we decided to brave the crowds and squeezed into the compact carriage.

We were so happy to finally make it to our hostel and to our delight we were able to check in early! Our room was located in the outhouse, a couple of meters from the main building. Saying it required some TLC would be an understatement. It was a damp, mosquito pit. We really wanted to rest but our long-desired nap time was spent killing the mosquitoes with flipflops, adding to the already bug squashed walls.

So after an interesting introduction to our time in Beijing here’s what we got up to during our 4 days in this hectic, overcrowded city:

Day 1: Tian’Anmen Square, Zhongshan Park and Jingshan Park

Tian’Anmen Square and the Forbidden City are located near each other so we caught the subway to Tian’Anmen West. We thought the journey would take 20 minutes but actually took nearly 40. The subway stations themselves are huge, with very long platforms. Walking from one subway line to another took at least 10 minutes.

Tian’Anmen Square is basically a huge square. As we approached there were lots of police clearing the area and barriers had been put up to stop people passing. We tried to find out what was going on but had no luck so headed over to the Forbidden City… which was closed. Third attempt at sightseeing led us to Zhongshan Park. We were unimpressed by the park. We thought the park would allow views over the Forbidden City but when we realised we were in the wrong park quickly left and headed over to the next park; Jingshan Park.

Jingshan Park has one of only three hills in the entire of Beijing. We walked up to the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring, also known as Wanchun-ting which looked down into the Forbidden City. 

Pavilion of Everlasting Spring
View over the Forbidden City

Day 2: Summer Palace & Peking Duck

We forgot that most websites are blocked in China so we spent some time over breakfast looking for a free VPN to download which would allow us to access the blocked sites. We found a VPN offering a 30 day free trial. It was quite slow but did the job!

We spent our second day in Beijing exploring the Summer Palace. The food inside the Summer Palace is quite expensive but outside the food was really cheap so we stopped for some Pho before making our way inside.

The Summer Palace is a UNESCO world heritage site and is China’s largest and best-preserved imperial garden. It was rebuilt in 1912 after being invaded twice during 1860 and 1900. At the entrance there is a bridge which overlooks some traditional shops below.  It’s possible to take a boat around the moat for an additional cost.

The Palace is absolutely massive, we easily walked 12km that day! We didn’t manage to cover all of it but we feel we saw enough. The buildings are really pretty and we loved the colourful glazed tiles which have been used to decorate the various buildings and courtyards.

Views from the Summer Palace
Inside the Summer Palace

Whilst we were walking around we realised how bad the pollution in Beijing really is. A thick layer of grey haze sat in the sky making it difficult to see far into the distance, but also meant we could look directly at the sun without being blinded. I have never experienced anything like it before.

The smog settling over the Summer Palace
Struggling to make out parts of the Summer Palace through the smog

We decided that night we would have some Peking Duck, and headed over to a recommended restaurant: Dadong’s. The restaurant is a little funny – trying to be fancy with tablecloths and beautifully dressed windows, but then having a large light-up inflatable bunny and plastic life-size horses in the garden.

Life-sized horses to the entrance of the restaurant
The lights came on once it got dark
The giant light up bunny

Apart from the confused decor, we really enjoyed the food… which we carefully selected from the unnecessarily overly sized menu!

Award for the biggest menu in the world surely goes to Dadong’s?!

The chef came over to carve our duck which was a nice touch. We were even asked if we wanted our duck pancakes wrapped for us! We decided not to take them up on the offer. I much prefer doing that bit myself!

The chef preparing our food

We enjoyed cocktails and duck pancakes all night. The waitress recommended to dip the duck skin in sugar which is something I have never tried before but it actually tasted quite nice!

Day 3: The Great Wall of China

We couldn’t come all the way to Beijing and not visit the Great Wall. It was high up on my list of things I wanted to visit and it really was incredible. So much so I think it deserves a separate blog post! We decided to go without a tour group, which personally was more enjoyable as we had the Great Wall mostly to ourselves.

The Great Wall of China

Day 4: Hutongs & Moon Cakes

During our final day in Beijing I witnessed someone defecating on the floor of the subway. Of all the things we had seen during the last few days I think this topped the most horrific.

We spent our final day wandering through the mazes of Hutong’s and stuffing our faces with Moon cakes. The traditional Chinese cakes, are eaten to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. The pastry is thick and crumbly and the inside filling is something sweet, ours was filled with dates.

We tried to visit the Forbidden City again but due to the Chinese holidays the queues were so long we knew we wouldn’t have enough time.

Queues waiting to enter the Forbidden City

Something for us to see if we ever come back, but to be honest I’m not sure we would choose to.

Maybe Japan had already set the bar with their high levels of sanitation and incredible customer service, but I was disappointed by Beijing. I found it dirty and the people were quite rude. This was only the start of an entire month and we literally had no idea what else was in store for us!


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