Every Tuesday i’ll be talking to you about different places around the world that i’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Being a traveling addict, i’ve been on 4 of the 5 continents, and plan on touching all of them by next year. I’m also an amateur photographer and half of the fun of traveling is capturing the images of the different countries i visit. I’ll post some of my personal favorite pictures and hope i can fly you to those places. First off i’ll set my eyes on Asia, one of my favorite cities in the world: Beijing, China.
Major Ethnic Group: Han
Mayor: Guo Jinlong
Main Turist Sites: Forbidden City, Summer Palace
Traveling to a country this different is one of the most challenging trips you can make. The language barrier has never been so steep. When i arrived at the airport i found myself struggling to call my friend whom i was supposed to meet there. My phone didn’t have any battery and couldn’t call her on the chinese airport phones which were all in Mandarin with Kanji sings. I finally got a hold of someone who could speak some english, and got to call her. It was really frustrating not knowing what to do, people aren’t all that familiarized with the occidental way of communicating, they have their own ways and don’t really care weather you get where your going or not.
Once i got in to my traveling shoes, i started walking the city and noticing how different China is to what you hear over here. It’s very clean, modern and neat. Chinese people have a distinct smell that we may not be accustomed to, but you get used to it fast. There are many things you notice in the way people handle themselves on the street. Most of them are spitting all the time, even women. It’s strange, but it’s very normal over there. The amount of bikes you see on the streets is sometimes overwhelming. They have their own lane on the street and their own traffic light.
It was back in 2008 when i made the trip, and the summer olympics have just ended. All the city was travel friendly and still you couldn’t get people to understand you. This is surely a city that needs a travel guide to fully appreciate it and sometimes for mere survival.
Most of the neighborhoods surrounding the Bird’s Nest, and the Olympic Complex where completely renovated, with very nice architecture and complex structures that resemble what i would call an oriental capitalist modern city. Even though they are communist, you could never tell. You see BMW’s, Mercedes Benz, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Rolex, and all the typical western brands that are synonymous with capitalism.
The top attractions for me in order of importance would be: The Summer Palace, Forbidden City, The Great Wall, Temple of The Sun, Tiananmen Square Plaza, Wan Fu Jin Street and the Lama Temple. I would highly recommend taking whole days for The Summer Palace, Forbidden City and The Great Wall, as they really take a toll on your body. There is a lot of walking to do because of the size, and in the case of The Forbidden City, not only is it big, it also has some really cool exhibitions inside.
The Great Wall is one of the most disappointing yet satisfying monuments in the world. First of all, you learn that the great wall can’t be seen from the moon, it’s only a mere 4 yards wide, not wider than any given street in the world. So why would this be visible from the moon and not 5th Avenue or Champs Elise? The other thing is that its not one continues 3000 km structure. It was never constructed this way. So once you get there you get to know some of the biggest misconceptions ever. There are various sections of the wall you can visit from Beijing, Badaling, which is a 40 minute ride, Mutianyu which is 3 hours away and Simatai that may take almost 6 hours to get there. All three are great experiences but different from one another.
If you want the touristic experience, go to Badaling which used to feature a Starbucks at the bottom. Mutianyu is more of a Chinese locals tourist place, a little bit less western oriented and more authentic. Both of these sections are renovated and are very nice places to visit and get a feel of the wall. I would recommend Mutianyu because of the sheer beauty of the landscape. In Autumn you get to see some beautiful sights. Simatai is a more extreme section with no renovation whatsoever. This is the way explorers found The Great Wall, and it’s also a sight worth visiting for the more adventurous type.
The Summer Palace is a marvel to look at. It’s fabulous how the emperor had a lake made for him just for pleasure and leisure. Now this is what i call royalty. Once you get to walk the premises of the Palace, you’ll get a feel of what it was to stroll the lake as an emperor. It’s a really stunning sight!
The Forbidden City doesn’t disappoint. It’s big, it’s historic, it’s beautifully conserved. It’s always renovating and it’s always crowded. A guided tour could be useful, but you can always use the audio guide for some extra yuan and walk it yourself at your own rhythm. Bring good shoes, i didn’t and suffered for it, loosing a whole day in recuperation. If you’ve ever seen “The last emperor of China” this place will give you the chills. Knowing history always makes the experience richer. When you finish your visit to The Forbidden City you can always take a walk to Beihai Park and enjoy a nice scenery.
Tiananmen Square is another site that is worth checking out. It’s just in front of the Forbidden City and can be visited on the same day. Try to make it to the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, so you can check out the remains of the Great Helmsman.
Finally i would strongly recommend visiting the Olympic Site. It’s a marvel to look at and there are tours available to visit the Water Cube and the Bird’s Nest. The metro line is also very modern and clean. This place gives you a look at modern China, strongly suggesting what the future brings to this emerging country.
Beijing is one of my favorite cities because of the sheer variety of things you can do. I didn’t have the pleasure of staying in one of their five star hotels, but did get to visit them on a government meeting in one of their fine (and expensive) restaurants. They offer world class hospitality and accommodations as you would expect in any country in the world. Food and Drinks are everywhere. You can eat in various local restaurants that offer excellent food, and there are a wide assortment of bar’s and clubs. I would definitely recommend traveling to Beijing, and experience one of the oldest countries in the world.