Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Travel Advice in China: Beijing

I was talking to someone recently about places I'd traveled when I lived in China in 2010, and she wanted some advice on where to go and what to do there; and since I often have some down-time at work, I decided to write a list of places I went, and a little bit of advice about each; as usual, I got a little carried away.  Anyhow, over the next few weeks I'll be posting my rambling about several places I enjoyed; since it's the most popular, I'll start with Beijing:

Of course, everyone tries to go to Beijing.  There’s plenty of the most famous Chinese sights there: the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the hutong neighborhoods, etc.  If you’re at the Summer Palace on a hot summer day, they have green pea popsicles for sale.  It sounds awful, but they don’t really taste like peas; they’re very refreshing, actually.  There’s often a really long line to get into the Forbidden City, but once I got inside, the courtyards were so big that it didn’t feel too crowded.  I’d still probably try to go on a weekday, though, to avoid the worst crowds.  It really is ridiculously huge, so don’t feel bad if you skip some parts.  One tip about Beijing: the maps only show the major roads.  It’s easy to look at the map and think, “Oh, it’s only four blocks! It shouldn’t take too long to walk!” Yeah, um…that’s four major roads, with four or five smaller roads in between, so it’s really 20 blocks instead of four…  

The other great reason for going to Beijing is that it’s a convenient departure point for trips to the Great Wall.  There are several sections that are accessible; the most common to visit are Badaling, Mutianyu, and Jinshanling. Badaling is the closest to Beijing, if you don’t have much time.  However, it is also the most touristy and crowded.  I went to Jinshanling, which is a four-hour bus ride from Beijing.  However, it’s worth the drive—it’s much less crowded, and there are unrestored parts of the wall so you can see original parts.  This section of the wall  was completed in 1570.  You can buy a ticket for a charter bus out at any hostel in Beijing; many of them even come with a free sausage biscuit from McDonald’s on the way.  The wall at that point is out in the hills, with the wall running along the ridges; you can see for a long ways without any sign of civilization.  There is a cable car, slightly expensive, that will take you most of the way up the hill.  It was worth it to me, because it gave me more time on the wall rather than spending a significant part of my time hiking up the hill.  They give you a few hours to explore on the wall, and then the bus takes you back to your hostel in Beijing.

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