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Beijing, Great Wall of China and Forbidden City
Beijing, China and The Great Wall
Beijing in China is a large modern vibrant city mixed with a huge amount of historic and cultural activities to keep any tourist busy for several days. It has become o favourite place for shopping, with many modern shopping malls and expensive western-style hotels, but it still has a lot to offer if you want a very different, very chinese experience: The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and of course The Great Wall.
For the full article about the rest of China and many more photos please click here...
Map of Beijing, China - Where is Beijing?
The Great Wall of China
Getting to Beijing
There are many international flight to Beijing from all over the world, and this is perhaps the best place to start when touring China.
The flight-time from London Heathrow to Beijing with British Airways is about ten hours; a fairly long flight, but bearable and direct. Taxis are readily available at the airport, but pre-arranging a car makes the arrival less traumatic.
Traditional Chinese Boats in Beijing
Guidebooks for China
Where to Stay in Beijing
Where to Stay in Beijing
I stayed at the Peace Hotel which is hardly luxurious but comfortable, and inexpensive, probably costing about Â£60 ($100) per night for a double room including breakfast. It is in an extremely good location near many of Beijing's major attractions, with the Forbidden City visible from outside the hotel. There are several new, expensive, luxury hotels near Tiananmen Square which would also act as an ideal base while in Beijing and offer rather more style and luxury albeit at far more expensive "international" prices. We explored a few of them.
The Peace Hotel had little excitement to offer on our first evening so we took a short taxi ride to Raffles Hotel near Tiananmen Square, costing just Â£0.70. Raffles, while not having the history and character of the original Raffles Hotel in Singapore, did provide a touch of oriental luxury after our long flight, at quite un-Chinese prices, with a "Singapore Sling" costing Â£5.00 and the smallest Sherry in the world costing Â£4. Afterwards we walked towards Tiananmen Square and took a rickshaw ride round the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, initially haggling the driver down to Â£3.50, but ended up foolishly paying Â£14 because he did a far bigger tour and took us to Beijing Hotel for dinner. The Beijing Hotel is another very new hotel next to Raffles offering a range of restaurants and bars, which, although very luxurious, expensive and pleasant, is really just another international hotel similar to so many around the world, but with a slightly Chinese flavour. The inexpensive Peace Hotel was, for me, a good choice because the posh hotels did have an air of shopping mall about them and I disapprove of paying to go into a shopping mall. Our dinner at the Beijing Hotel was, however, very good. We chose the most oriental looking restaurant there and ordered Peking Duck, which was good, but certainly not the best I had ever had and extremely expensive.
Beijing has a modern, disappointingly western atmosphere about it, with many of the same shops, cafes and restaurant chains as everywhere else and terrible traffic problems. We tried to find local restaurants or bars, but the ones my partner would contemplate eating in were generally quite expensive. We decided to try to find a good bar for an aperitif and after some research and recommendations in out guidebook we took a long and expensive taxi-ride (just one mile away, but we sat in traffic for 45 minutes) to Capone's Italian bar. It turned out to be in yet another modern characterless shopping mall, and the bar was O.K. but distinctly American in style. We did however find a chain of Duck restaurants with huge plastic ducks outside which did produce some extremely good Peking Duck, which was carved in front of us and served by hand in hygienic plastic gloves.
The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is a short walk from the Peace Hotel, but our first attempt to visit was thwarted by the presence of a huge new shopping centre on the way which apparently was more enticing to the other member of my party than ancient Chinese treasures, so we ended up back at the hotel with little cultural enlightenment achieved in the first day. We headed back there the following day, once my other half had her finished her shopping. The Forbidden City was home to emperors from the Ming and Qing Dynasties and was closed to the majority of the population for over 500 years. It covers a huge area filled with architecturally fascinating buildings in bright colours. It gets busy with many foreign visitors, and even more Chinese tourists with their umbrellas permanently up to protect them from the sun.
Guidebooks for Beijing
Tiananmen Square, now rather infamous for the pro democracy protests of 1989, is a huge square designed to accommodate up to a million people, while not the most attractive is one of the many points of interest on any tourist's itinerary and is the heart of modern Beijing. The Forbidden City is on the northern side of the square behind the famous, huge portrait of Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao's mausoleum is also located in Tiananmen Square (incidentally David Baddiel's cat is called Chairman Meow) but was closed for renovation while we were there, but should have reopened by now.
Postcards and Souvenirs from China
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China - The best place near Beijing: Simatai to Jinshanling
We spent a full day exploring part of the Great Wall. We had already arranged a private excursion with vehicle, driver and guide, although apparently it would have been possible to arrange a trip once we arrived at the hotel or even take a taxi to part of the wall nearer the centre of Beijing. This full day excursion was fantastic and had the advantage of being a stretch of the wall that receives far fewer tourists. We left early for the two and a half hour drive on deserted, brand new roads for the walk between Simatai and Jinshanling. The full walk is about 10km along the top of a Ming dynasty section of the wall, but we only managed about half of the distance because it was extremely hot in mid-July. The views were stunning, exactly as expected, but still incredible, especially with almost no tourists in sight. The other advantage of this section of the wall is the air-quality is far batter being a long way from the city. We took a cable car back down, and then set back for the2.5 hour drive to hotel.
The Bell Tower and Hutongs
There is plenty to see in Beijing and it is certainly worth spending a few days there exploring what remains of the wonderful architecture, and some rather less attractive modern architecture. The Temple of Heaven is another fascinating, beautiful place to explore Chinese history and religion. It is set in 267 hectares of parkland. For an insight into everyday life in Beijing it is possible to hire a rickshaw and explore the hutongs, the old narrow back streets in the Changiao area of the Western District. We did this, starting at the old Bell Tower for a view over the hutongs, then spending a couple of hours weaving between them. We even stopped off to visit some inhabitants. The houses are tiny and have shared toilets for each small street. Apparently the rent was REM 200 per month rent (Â£14). The house had a nicer kitchen than mine and a 42" plasma TV. I wonder if they are all that posh inside or if this was some kind of propaganda? After the tour we found ourselves diverted into a "Tea Ceremony". It was of course a touristy shop where they gave us many types of tea to sample, then tried to flog it to us. A bit sneaky but quite enjoyable.