There is just so much to do in Beijing. The list is endless. Our first day in Beijing was so smoggy, we thought it would be our last. But a day of rain and one of wind and we were our on the magnificent great wall tour with beautiful sunny weather and blue sky! We really were the only people on our section of the wall which is incredible to be alone in this city! Hiking on the wall with all its history was really a highlight of our trip.
We have also loved the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, Hutongs, Sanlitun, Bei Hai Park, the pedestrian shopping streets and the incredibly easy to use public transport…2 Yuen for the subway and we have been all over the many different amazing areas of the enormous city.
It was Autumn in China again which meant it was time for another road trip. Last year for the week-long National Day holiday in China, Amy and I rode my 250cc Jincheng motorcycle from Beijing to Qingdao, but this time around we’ll be doubling that distance for our longest trip in China, 1,200 (2400km round trip) from Beijing to Shanghai. I spent almost a week going through all the necessary bike preparation steps to make sure it was ready for the road. We planned on taking about four days to get down to Shanghai. The first day was the longest and most boring, about 425km mostly on the expressway.
For anyone familiar with driving in China or Chinese drivers, this should not come as a surprise. Regulations such as speed limits, no tailgating, and even lane dividers seem to be treated as mere trivialities which drivers can choose to follow or ignore at their convenience. It seemed like every ten minutes I would look in my mirror and find someone only a few meters behind going 120km/h flashing their lights at me to move out-of-the-way. The worst was at one point there were a couple of trucks taking up both lanes with one slowly trying to pass. Meanwhile, there were four cars so eager to pass as quickly as possible that they were lined up all four in a space of about 100-150 meters long, again going 120km/hr. It seems the traffic bureau has gotten wise to this tendency to tailgate as every 5 to 10 minutes there was a new sign saying “Rear End Collision, 'Keep Your Distance' and others enforcing a space of 100-200 meters between each car.
Fun ride, nonetheless.
Hired a taxi for the early morning drive out to the Great Wall. If you leave Beijing early enough, you can get there before the tourist buses and have the entire wall all to yourself. It was incredible. Though there was a cable car at this point along the wall, I decided to make the hike up. When I got up to one of the garrison towers and climbed up onto the actual wall, the sun was just starting to break through the clouds. Surreal!
After spending a couple of hours I got back to the bottom headed back into town. I had the driver drop me off at Tian’anmen Square so I could wander around and visit the Forbidden City nearby for the rest of the afternoon.
I spent the rest of the day exploring downtown Beijing. My first stop was Tian’anmen Square, the world’s largest square. Just across from the square sits the historic Tian’anmen Gate. When China was under imperial rule, the gate formed the entrance to the Forbidden City. At the center of the gate is a large portrait of Chairman Mao, to his left the inscription reads “Long Live the People’s Republic of China” and to his right it reads “Long live the unity of the people of the world.”
My final stop for the day was Beijing’s largest park, Beihai Park.
Walking across Tian'anmen Square, the world’s largest public square and symbolically the center of the Chinese Universe, we passed thousands standing under the scorching sun to see a glimpse of “Pickled Mao” and the historic monument where anti-government student protesters were slaughtered in 1989. Up to a million people have gathered here at one time so no bicycles are allowed, only an occasional tank I guess, and close-circuit television cameras and plain clothed policemen ensure that any fire of dissent is quickly extinguished. The people are still closely monitored by the government but with increasing international exposure things are definitely loosening up. The locals loved us and we didn’t see another westerner in four days. We chose to stay at a small local hotel, near Tian'anmen Square (close to the Far East Hostel) down a hutong, or narrow alleyway, teeming with everyday Chinese life.
The capital city is considered to be the artistic and cultural center of the country with Shanghai playing catch-up. Spread over a mammoth 6,337 sq. mi. of flat land, Beijing or Peking is one of the four great ancient capitals of China.
After spending a day walking on and marveling at the Great Wall, we scour the Night Food Street for some delectable (read- cockroaches, spiders and fried ice-cream) offerings and then wash it all down at the nearest bar-street. The next day, we take on the Tian'anMen Square (world's largest public square) and the mighty Forbidden City with a painfully brief stop at Chairman Mao's Mausoleum. For dinner we try the famous local delicacy- The Beijing Duck.
In the next few days we decide which spots to visit from a multitude of options. Places worth exploring - The Summer Palace, Olympic Site, DaShanZi Art District, the hutongs and the many temples spread across the city.