A China Travel Guide: Beijing

Saturday, August 29, 2015
If I was going all the way to China, I was pretty adamant about visiting Beijing and seeing one of China's most iconic pieces of architecture, The Great Wall...I just thought, it's like I haven't even been to China if I don't do that! Me and the other summer school students were told that Beijing was completely on the other side of China, expensive and such a long way to travel. We were determined to go despite what others said and so we did! A 5 hour bullet train later on a Friday afternoon and we arrived in Beijing in the late evening. It had the same crazy and busy atmosphere like Shanghai and you felt the buzz of the city all around you!

After getting a bit lost, we found our hostel for the night- The Lucky Family Hostel. It wasn't a luxury trip so we got what we paid for basically, and we were well placed in the city so it was ideal for us. I would recommend it to other students and backpackers as it has everything you need and a nice, friendly atmosphere. They serve evening meals and full English/American/vegetarian breakfasts which fuel you up for busy days of exploring ahead. They also organise trips, can give you tons of advice and help you plan trips round Beijing and the hostel has Wi-Fi, a lounge and bar area.

We set off early that morning to make our way to The Great Wall. We first got a metro to the Beijing railway station where there are buses that leave every 10-15 minutes for about 12 RMB (£1.20) and take you to the foot of the Great Wall in under 2 hours. We then got a taxi from the bus stop for 20 RMB for the 3 of us (we haggled). 

The journey to the Great Wall itself was just stunning. I hadn't seen many green, mountainous areas of China previous to this so it was a lovely change from the usual modern skyscrapers. It was about a 10-15 minute ride and perfect for people watching and seeing the surroundings.

On arrival we headed straight for the ticket office! Also, we chose to visit the Mutianyu section of the wall- considered the most beautiful and least crowded! We decided on a cable car up to the top followed by the toboggan down. It's still pretty recent and it seemed like such a surreal thing to do so we settled on that! I think the ticket was around 90RMB in total.

On your way to the shuttle bus (free, and takes you to the cable car station) the way up is completely lined with gift/souvenir shops and restaurants. It's the perfect place to pick up some gifts for family and friends back home but be aware of the sellers as they can be quite pushy...and don't be afraid to haggle because they will reduce their prices!

These are *some* shots I managed to get on the cable car despite the fact I was paralyzed with fear. I had no idea until then how much I was afraid of heights! Basically I was expecting a closed cable car except, as you can see, they were open cable cars like you find on ski holidays...completely open to everything with only a bar holding you in your seat! It wasn't until I was waiting in the queue that I realised it was like this and before I knew it I was swept up in the cable car seat, bar down and off we went. It was a short (around 5 minute) ride up so luckily I coped and I'm so glad I went for it because the views from above were something else...

Here I am chuffed that I made the cable car up and that I didn't die. 

I don't feel like words can really describe the views that we saw but all I can say is, The Great Wall should be on your bucket list. Though it is considered one of the cliché tourist things to do, it is SO worth it. Not only is it a huge accomplishment to climb to the top (and the most exhausting thing of your life) but reaching the top and then just being able to sit and take in the views is the most rewarding part of it (trying to say this without sounding cheesy as) but looking from the top puts a whole new perspective on things.

Those are our feet after reaching the top and us being completely exhausted...amazing what your body can do eh? My camera died when we were queuing up for the toboggan but it was such a cool experience. It gave you a chance to admire the Great Wall in a totally different, fun vibe.

Not even walking up The Great Wall made us too exhausted to go and explore the nightlife in Beijing. We hunted out Sanlitun, a strip of bars and restaurants that comes to life at night. We explored some clubs which you could all walk into on free entry. There was a club for everyone with R&B, club/dance/house music and other chilled out bars...it was pretty crazy and went onto the very early hours. If you're into clubbing anyway then experiencing it in China is a must- there are similarities but they're also much more cheesy and OTT than we are so it's a cool thing to experience. We eventually called it a night around 4am and got a taxi back to the hostel which was only a 15 minute ride away.

We got up slightly later the next day (understandably!) and made our way to the Forbidden city. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a fail and after 40 minutes waiting in a non-moving queue in 35 or more degree heat, we called it a day and went and got some food. There's only so long before getting hit in the face with umbrellas (they all use them for shade) in 90% humidity that you want to slap someone so we thought it was best that we left. We had some traditional Peking duck pancakes at a restaurant nearby and took a time out before exploring somewhere different. I definitely underestimated how exhausting heat can be...I felt sleepy a lot of the time in China and took naps everyday during the week (very unlike me)...so if you go during the summer, make sure to take breaks and water- all the time!

Yep those are tortoises.

We did some walking round, felt exhausted again and sat in Costa Coffee for a good hour which recharged our batteries to 100% and we were ready to get touristy again! We then decided to visit the nearby Yonghegong Lama Temple. It's under 10RMB entry and you get a free box of incense sticks on arrival where you are advised to burn three then make three wishes, pray and put them in the large metal containers when you've finished.

It was a pretty amazing thing to witness and a very unfamiliar situation to be in for me as I'm not religious. It was amazing to witness everyone do it so seriously and honestly, it was pretty moving actually. We were in the middle of the city, yet this place was so peaceful.

There were some stunning sculptures and statues that unfortunately weren't allowed to be photographed but it was a beautiful space and incredible to experience. We whiled away just under an hour there then headed for the station to head back home...and then...

I ended up stranded in Beijing on my own for a night. How these things happen to me - I do not know. All I can say is don't think you can ever cheat the bullet train, they leave the second they say they will leave, and don't wait for people that have quickly nipped to the shop for food, ahem. Luckily the people in Beijing are super friendly and refunded me a brand new ticket for the next day- all I had to do was find a bed for the night. I found a hotel nearby and communicated with the reception through a translation app for an hour (thank god for technology) and they let me stay in their hotel lobby overnight, since I didn't have enough for a room. So even though I thought I'd end up sleeping on the streets and cried like a baby, I made it back home in one piece! Anyway, it's a story to tell I guess...

Beijing was probably one of my favourite cities to visit as I got to the see rural, countryside of China and the beautiful landscapes at The Great Wall which is not something you get to see everyday. Despite the slight train hiccup, I don't regret the trip one bit! It was a stunning, buzzing city with amazing architecture where even the smallest detail was painted and built perfectly... you won't be bored in Beijing.

Next and final post - seeing more of Suzhou!