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krisek Beijing - A travel report by Krys
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Beijing,  China - flag China -  Beijing
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krisek's travel reports

China's capital - increasingly modern and polluted

  8 votes
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Beijing is growing modern and increasingly modern. There is plenty to do and see in this huge city. A week at a slow pace, would probably be sufficient. The historical spots connected with the imperial dynasties are large and take up time.


Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square
I was thinking hard how to write this report objectively, and which episodes I should include. But this is a travel REPORT, so I guess I ought to make sure all events that had a significant impact on me during my stay in China's capital are represented.

It started spectacularly with the impressive terminal building of the Beijing Capital Airport. Probably the most awesome airport I have ever travelled through. Then, there was this modern city with wide boulevards, plenty of space, exceptional architecture and relative ease to navigate around it. From there, however, things started to slip steadily. First, there was the smog. Then there was weather, and then, there were the crowds. I can hardly blame the nation for the latter two, however. But the terrorising racist attack on my final night in China was not what I wanted from my visit.

I spent five nights and five days in Beijing. It was not enough to see everything properly in the city. However, I would disagree with statements that one would need half a day to visit the Forbidden City or the Summer Palace. It certainly depends on one's pace, but in my opinion there was not that much to see there. I lasted about 2 hours in both the Palace Museum and about the same in the Summer Palace park, where I just took time to walk around the lake.

Beijing was vast. Even walking from one end of the Olympic Park to other took time. Beijing Subway, how it was called in an American way, helped a lot. It was very easy to navigate, was mega clean, and announcements were given in both Chinese and English. I was just slightly disappointed with the coverage and frequency of the service. For a city with 11 million people the underground transport system felt too small. It was very crowded and the lack of courtesy of the local passengers, who use their elbows, push their way in, step on feet, never use words as excuse me or I'm sorry, and just would not let passengers off the trains first before boarding was shocking to me.

Favourite spots:
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven (¥35) made the greatest impression on me. I thought it would be just a single building. I didn’t expect the surrounding park to contain so many other halls and palaces. It was a large and beautiful spot surrounded by a solid, circular wall. More than just a venue for tourists. Many Chinese frequented the park to exercise, play instruments, sing, dance, play cards and other games, chat, relax, and of course sell many strange items, like kites, fake medals. I couldn’t imagine those people buying these things. They insisted I bought them. Explaining that 'cheap price' didn’t matter to me, since I wasn’t spending money on items I didn’t need, helped only a little.

The round temple in the centre of the park was truly magnificent. The proportions and the balance of the structure were exquisite! The emperor required a perfect temple to pray for good harvest. It was a serious business. When the temple burnt down after being struck by lightning, the emperor killed himself.

What's really great:
What would you try?
What would you try?
This huge city was actually very pleasant. The American-style wide boulevards and the take on modern, gravity defying architecture made it look airy and spacious. Wandering about Beijing was great. The pavements were often wide and separated from the main traffic by trees and bicycle/motorbike lanes. And yet, the hutons with tight, simple household architecture gave it a different perspective. The green parks, complete with lakes, another. And the great historical spots with temples and palaces, yet another. Hyper modern shopping centres offering luxury silk, impossibly expensive watches and clothes colliding with narrow side lanes selling deep fried starfish, insect cocoons, grass hoppers, seahorses, and scorpions just could not be beaten for diversity. I would have tried the scorpions, if they had not moved on the stick! The multi-face character of China's capital was fascinating. Beijing took diversity to another level, giving 'extreme' a new definition.

Sights:
In the Forbidden City
In the Forbidden City
Obviously, the Forbidden City (¥60) was Beijing's main sight. And it was visited by masses, vast majority were Chinese travellers. It was so crowded that it was almost impossible to enjoy. Sections  of the city were closed for visitors and parts of the gates were covered in green mesh for renovations. This was really disappointing as the tickets cost exactly the same as when all parts of the city would be open. I am not sure if there is a time if day when it would be best to see the complex to avoid the crowds. I went at noon, hoping the heat of the mid-day would have deterred many visitors. I did not last very long  in the Forbidden City, also as most things looked much alike. I would not dispute it was a special and unique (to the extent, as there were other 'forbidden cities' in the world, for example in Hue, Vietnam) complex. And I am sure it would look more lovely in nice weather. When I visited (end July, beginning of August 2009), ¥10 was €1.

Accommodations:
Beihai Park
Beihai Park
The 9 Dragon House was great. It accepted credit cards with no surcharge. It had more of a feel for a hotel with many ensuite rooms, supplied with towels, toiletries, condoms (not yet sure about the size...;)), and a curious ancient Chinese medicinal lotion extending sexual pleasures, which came in two pouches, one exclusively for women, and one for men, and it clearly stated on the pouches that these should not be mixed up! My room (#312, ¥180) was air-conditioned, had a phone, and a satellite TV. The bed was large and nicely firm. The shower/loo was clean and good size. The only disadvantage of the room was a lack of closet to hang clothes. I was staying at the place for six nights, and found it inconvenient. The restaurant was one of the common areas.

On the last night, a group of racists attacked a few tourists outside the hostel, and then stormed inside, beating us and the personnel, screaming 'bloody foreigners'. They nearly killed the hostel manager, who was taken to hospital.

Nightlife:
The Swing Club
The Swing Club
Cafe & Bar Berry, at 42 Sanlitun Street, the one with many bars and clubs, had Erdinger hefe weizen beer, both the light and dark versions (¥60, credit cards accepted) and had a good selection of okay wines and spirits. It was small and probably least sleazy than many of the bars/clubs in this area known for the many embassies. Just at the beginning of the street, by the Yaxiu Shopping Centre, Nigerian guys could secure a supply of any kind of stulating substances one would desire. They were really friendly and took refusal with grace and dignity, as well.

The street's bars-cum-clubs employed bands and singing groups to give 'live' performance to (doubtfully) pleasure the customers. Well, some of them were only slightly below average Idol's and X-Factor quality, whereas others just counted on their girl's attractiveness to do the trick. And it often worked!

Swing Club was also very decent and closed their doors last, attracting clubbers with great music and bottled beers for ¥10.

Hangouts:
The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace
The famous Summer Palace was not only a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site, and a place swarmed with tourists, it was also a park, where locals went to relax. The vastness of it guaranteed plenty of paths for walking, and the proximity of the lake had a cooling effect. One could simply sit on a bench, eat green pea or red bean ice-cream, and watch people, or take a boat and cruise the Kumming Lake. A platoon of young Chinese soldiers seemed to be enjoying the park, too. They took loads of photographs from the large bridge. Individual ones, in small groups, and the entire platoon.

There were a number of interesting structures to visit, too (¥30-¥60). They had been a late addition to the city landscape (18th century), but had been built in a traditional style to match the much older imperial venues of Beijing.

Low air quality prevented clear views of the temples around the lake, yet some might say that the smog, which looked like a grey mist.

Restaurants:
Jian Guo Gate Restaurant, the chef cutting the duck
Jian Guo Gate Restaurant, the chef cutting the duck
I ate at many different places in Beijing, including my hostel, KFC, and small Chinese eateries that I would not know how to find again, somewhere between the Silk Market, Tiananmen Square, and a number of Hutongs north of them. While browsing through shops at the Pearl Market, across from the Temple of Heaven, I found this simple Chinese eatery opposite the market's north door. I tried diced chicken with peanuts and chilli and it was fabulous. And on my last day, I went to Wangfujing Dajie. On the sixth floor of the Beijing apm Centre was this Thai inspired restaurant called Yummy Yummy. I tried their expensive chicken curry (¥45). It was yummy! Spiced to perfection, gently sweet and very large. Worth every penny!

The main mission however, was to get the Peking Duck. I went to Jian Guo Gate Restaurant at 24 Jianguomenwai, in the Chaoyang District. The whole duck was ¥168. The chef came with the duck on a trolley and cut it at the table.

Other recommendations:
Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China
Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China
The Airport Beijing City (ABC) Express (¥25) ran between the airport and central Beijing, stopping few miles short of the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It had two stops at the Beijing Capital Airport, at Terminal 3 (Star Alliance Airlines, incl. Air China), and Terminals 1 & 2. In the city, it also had two stops, one at Sanyuanqiao for transfers to metro line 10, and at Dongzhimen for transfers to metro lines 2 and 13. From terminal 3 to the city, it often ran via terminals 1 & 2, and took 30 minutes to the city's first and 33 minutes to the second station, including 8 minutes between the terminals.

The Great Wall in Badaling could now be reached by train, much faster than by road. Few Chinese people seemed to know about the rail service, insisting the road was the only option. The train times were:

North Station - Badaling (¥23) - 0726; 0933; 1108; 1319; 1501; 1932

Badaling - Beijing North Station (¥23) - 0925; 1142; 1310; 1522; 1708;  1940

Published on Wednesday September 9th, 2009


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Fri, Sep 11 2009 - 12:29 PM rating by marianne

Excellent 9as ever) and a joy to read. So much useful info presented int a pleasent way

Wed, Sep 09 2009 - 04:10 PM rating by deverdevo

very good report, sorry to hear of attack on manager, good insight and guide, for those wishing to visit. great you put alot of prices for entrace fees, thanks george

Wed, Sep 09 2009 - 04:09 PM rating by horourke

I can never quite understand how you can deliver such comprehensive reports so quickly. The fine details of sights, environment and current exciting news items makes this a great work of journalism

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