We ended up spending nearly two weeks in Beijing, I don’t think we missed much. Of course we did all the proper tourist things – how could you not, they’re so accessible! We ended up at Tianamen Square nearly every day as we zipped around checking out museums, shopping streets, and food markets. I think I have 100 pics of me n’ Mao.
In a country of contradictions, it felt like Beijing managed to tie everything together. It didn’t seem odd to be staying in an alley where most homes didn’t have indoor plumbing and grab a $5 taxi to check out the designer stores in the super posh Sanlitun shopping street. There was nearly a pattern to the rickshaw vs. Audi battle taking place on the city’s streets (or at least you could run across without being sideswiped by a silent electric scooter).
We loved all of Beijing, but here are our touristy highlights.
In Seoul we checked out the Gyeongbokgung Palace. One of our Korean friends made a point to say, “In Korea we had Kings, In China there were Emperors. Wait to see the Forbidden City.” At the time I thought he was being humble.
The Forbidden City is stunning. Standing at the Gate of Supreme Harmony, you can actually feel how massive and imposing the Chinese empire once was.
When the Qing Emperors were feeling stifled by only having 179 acres in central Beijing, they escaped to their Summer Palace. How Manhattan of them…
The Summer Palace had some really cool stories and reconstructed buildings (most of the grounds were burned by the imperialist forces during Boxer Rebellion. Yes, this includes US troops). My favorite building was the Sea of Wisdom Temple where you could look out across the grounds all the way to downtown Beijing.
Vinnie loved the marble boat built by the famed Dowager Empress Cixi. The story goes that Cixi built the boat with fund re-appropriated from the navy. Because the navy wasn’t able to successfully defeat the foreign powers during the Boxer Rebellion, foreigners were able to gain an even bigger foothold in China. The Qing dynasty collapsed three years later!
The Great Wall
We did our homework and played this one right. Most folks head to the easily accessible Badaling section of the Great Wall. I’m sure that the wall is still great over there, but it was recently restored and raging with tourists. Instead we headed to the less trafficked Jinshanling section built in the 16th century and hiked towards Simatai.
This wasn’t a walk, it was a hike. Up a mountainside. On deteriorating brick stairs. Through crumbling watch towers. We were surrounded by gorgeous mountains, blue sky and that’s about it. Occasionally a vendor would jump out of the wall, “Beer, Water, Tee-shirt?” quickly followed by, “Ok, ok! Later?”
We passed a few tourists, some with our group, others walking the opposite direction, but basically we had the wall to ourselves. It was gorgeous, dare I say, a wonder.
We went to many, many other places and took hundreds of pictures. If you want to check them out, head to our flickr account. Apologies in advance for sideways videos!