Thursday, June 12, 2008

Three Days in Beijing - What to See with Three Days in Beijing, Capital of China

Introduction to Beijing and Touring

Beijing Overview:

Beijing is getting a facelift for the 2008 Olympics - you'll be amazed at the amount of construction going on in the city. But in between the jackhammers and cranes, you'll find some of China's most historic and beautiful national treasures. You could spend weeks seeing all there is to see in Beijing, but if you only have a few days, make the most out of them.

Best Way to See Beijing:

I'm a very independent traveler, but the first time I visited Beijing, I booked a few tours. There are pros and cons to this approach, but I find it's a great way to sight-see and glean the history out of a place where the guidebooks leave you short. My recommendation is to combine independent travel with private or group sight-seeing to make the most out of a short trip to Beijing. Booking tours is very easy through your hotel in Beijing. Once you have your reservations, contact your hotel and they will help you set up a group or private tour.

More on Group Tours:

  • A good way to see highlights, quickly (there won't be enough time for you to get "templed out")
  • You'll get the history of the location from an English-speaking guide
  • Between each historic spot on the agenda is usually an unannounced stop at a shopping location - usually overpriced and unwelcome if you're really into seeing the historic attractions
  • Lunch is always part of the day and it's generally bad Westernized-Chinese food. Yuck!

Getting Around Beijing

Taxis are an inexpensive and easy way to get around. However, most drivers don't speak any English so you usually have to show them where you're going, for example, on a Chinese map or with a business card.

Hotels will have "taxi cards" for you to keep with you to get back and they usually provide a little card with the major sights listed in Chinese as well. Be sure to pick a few up for your bag.

There are tourist maps available in the hotels and Beijing is easy to walk around too, although it is very big. The subway is very easy to navigate in Beijing. This is a good option during peak traffic hours and it's also much less expensive than an already inexpensive taxi.

Day One Morning - a Self-Guided Introduction to Tiananmen Square

The following itinerary assumes you have three full days. You can obviously tailor this itinerary down if you have less time.

A good first-impression destination for Beijing, and an infamous one at that, is Tiananmen Square. There's not much to see on the square itself - it's really just a huge plaza. But it gives you an inkling of the sheer size of monuments - even a public plaza - that Beijing offers. Of course, millions of people paraded through the square on occasion under Chairman Mao and the Square became famous in the West in 1989 as the news broadcast the army clashing against pro-democracy demonstrations. Now it's a place for kite flying and strolling - bikes must be walked across the square. The square is surrounded by heavy Communist monuments such as the Chinese Revolution History Museum and the Great Hall of the People.

Worth a stop if you have a vague interest in seeing embalmed Communist leaders, is the Mao Mausoleum. There will be an enormous line to get in so you'll have to wait, and make sure to bring your passport. The line moves fast; people are shuffled quickly past the Chairman's embalmed body.

Lunch Break: It's your first day and if you can't stop sight-seeing to eat, bring along some snacks or a packed lunch from your hotel. There are plenty of spots to stop and rest in the Forbidden City. There aren't a lot of lunch choices once you're inside. Stop in the snack bar or restaurant at the Great Hall of the People before heading off to the Forbidden City.

Day One Afternoon - a Self-Guided Walk to the Forbidden City

From Tiananmen Square, the large portrait of Chairman Mao overlooking the Square from Tiananmen Gate is hard to miss. Make this your next stop as you walk over to the Forbidden City also commonly called the Palace Museum. Upon entering from the south, you'll make your way through the maze of palaces and pavilions that housed Ming and Qing emperors until 1911 when the last emperor, Pu Yi, abdicated. Read the full profile for more history and essentials about visiting the Forbidden City. The exit is on the north side.

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City take a solid morning to early afternoon. If you go to the mausoleum it's probably a whole day. If you get finished with the Forbidden City and feel like seeing more, Beihei park is a few minutes walk from the northern exit of the Forbidden City. It's got a few interesting temples and sights and is easily combined with Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Walking through Beihai Park is a nice way to unwind from the massive historical sights you've just witnessed.

Dinner: It's your first night in Beijing and you're probably pooped out from all the walking and sight-seeing. Don't let this stop you from sampling some traditional Beijing cuisine. Nip back to the hotel for a shower and a quick rest and then go out for some delicious Beijing Duck, it's the specialty in Beijing, after all. If you're really tired, your hotel probably has a restaurant that serves it. Otherwise, ask for a recommendation of somewhere nearby.

Day Two - the Great Wall & Ming Tombs with a Guide

You can certainly see the Great Wall on your own. However, having done it with a tour group and on my own with a private guide, I'd definitely recommend going with a private guide. You'll get to spend as much time as you want on the wall and you'll get to see a less-congested part. I recommend visiting the Mutianyu section. The views are awesome and the wall itself is in great shape. You can walk for miles, though some of it is very steep.

Lunch Break: After your visit to the Mutianyu section, ask your guide to stop at one of the local trout restaurants for lunch. Fresh trout restaurants line the roadway to the Wall and the gimmick is that you catch your own. The food at these restaurants is very inexpensive but quite good.

After the Great Wall, most private and group-tours will head to the Ming tombs. There are thirteen of them and different tours go to different tombs. Most go to Dingling, the tomb of Emperor Wanli (reigned 1537-1619). You'll visit the Sacred Way, a long path leading to the tombs flanked on both sides by mythical and real stone animals as well as the tomb compound itself. The Great Wall and Tombs lie 1-1.5 hours outside Beijing.

Dinner: You most likely had a little nap on the way back from your Great Wall and Ming Tomb adventure, so surely you'll be rested enough to splurge on a fancy dinner at one of Beijing's finest destinations. For a nouveau Chinese dinner that will leave you stunned, try the Green T. House.

Day Three Morning - Self-Guided Sight-Seeing the Temple of Heaven

Get an early start and get to the early. The temple complex is surrounded by a large park and many local Chinese people go and just hang out there. It's fun to see oldies playing cards and singing traditional songs.

The Temple of Heaven was the most important temple for Ming and Qing emperors. Once a year, the emperor came to worship the heavens and pray for a bountiful year. An architectural rendering of heaven (round) and earth (square), the temples are circular with square bases. Key sights are the Round Altar, Echo Wall, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.

Getting there: public transport to the east gate, bus no. 807 or no. 812 from just north of the Chongwen Men metro stop (209, exit B) to Fahua Si. The best approach is from the south gate. Taking a taxi is a good option.

Lunch Break: After your Temple visit, skip over to the Noodle Loft for an adventure in Shanxi cuisine, which is based on, you guessed it, the noodle. Open for lunch between 11-2:30pm (dinner 5:30-10:30pm), the Noodle Loft is a fun diversion in noodle culture as well as a pit stop in itself. Dawang Road #20, tel 010 6774 9950. Getting there: Metro stop - Dawang Lu (123) or taxi.

Day Three Afternoon - Self-Guided Sight-Seeing the Summer Palace

After a nice lunch, grab a cab, it's a bit of a hike to the Summer Palace, an enormous park filled with temples, pavilions, theatres, bridges and walkways. The Palace was originally an escape for the imperial court to cool off in the hot summer months that baked the Forbidden City. Abandoned after a while, Empress Dowager Cixi renovated the buildings starting in 1888. Supposedly her use of funds meant for the imperial navy eventually cost China the palace as well as sovereignty over many of her ports. After the Boxer rebellion, British and French troops destroyed the palace and forced China to concede to opening up for trade. After 1949 renovations again took place and now the place can be seen in much of its original grandeur.

The Summer Palace is lovely to just take your time and stroll. Climbing the hill takes you through vividly painted corridors to the main temple where you will have beautiful views of Kunming Lake. Spend the afternoon people watching and walking through the park.

Dinner: You've had a grand, if whirl-wind, tour of Beijing. Make your last night about northern Chinese cuisine. Made in China at the Grand Hyatt is a splendid way to celebrate your tour. Dinner hours: 5:30-10:00pm. Tel 010 8518 1234 ext. 3608, Grand Hyatt Beijing, 1 East Chang An Avenue.

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1 comment:

Gluttony said...

Parts of china are very pretty, then there are some that are not. But that is like wise with every place you go too.