Friday, 16 May 2008


More catching up. After Tokyo, we spent a week in Beijing. I haven’t found Chinese cities to be very pleasant places and Beijing is fine example of an ugly city. It’s  built on a flat featureless plain and smothered by air pollution. The worse air pollution I’ve ever seen. It’s hazy just two blocks away! Beijing has massive multilane roads clogged with traffic and is not at all pedestrian friendly.

Luckily, the buses and subway work well and taxi’s are plentiful and cheap. It wasn’t hard to get around. We dropped the idea of riding bikes as it would put K* in too much danger. It’s bad enough just being a pedestrian.

We stayed at the Days Inn Forbidden City. It’s new, modern and clean. Price was reasonable. Rooms are small but adequate. The location is very convenient. Beijing has plenty of tourist attractions and we got around to many of them.

The first day we caught a public bus and made it down to the Temple of Heaven. It looks just like the pictures. More interesting is that it’s a major place to just hang out for elderly people chatting and doing exercises. Jenny was particularly taken by rouli chu or rotary ball.

From the Temple of Heaven we walked and walked and walked until we finally found our way to the Museum of Ancient Architecture. It’s a small museum off the beaten track but I thought it was very educational. They have lots of models showing how ancient buildings were constructed.

Fed up with walking, we took a taxi to the Liulichang Culture Street. It’s very touristy but a pleasant area to explore. We were going explore the backstreets but then discovered we could catch an acrobat show nearby so we went to the show instead. It was entertaining but not particularly outstanding.

TempleofHeavenLiulichang Culture StreetAcrobatic Show

The second day, we explored some of the parks. We started at Jingshan Park provides a superb view over the Forbidden City. Too bad the haze of air pollution spoils it. We then walked east to Bei Hai Park wandering around Qiónghuá Island and spent a lazy hour playing with an electric boat on the lake.

View of Forbidden City from Jingshan Park

From there we walked north up to Hou Hai Lake and got talked into taking a Hutong Tour in a couple of bicycle rickshaws. What wasn’t clear is that you have to pay an entrance fee at each and every hutong you want to see. Still is was good poking around a few of them. There’s a huge range of bars and restaurants around Hou Hai Lake so we had dinner there.

Kids driving our electric boat at Be Hai ParkHoutong Tour

On our third day, we joined a tour by the Chinese Cultural Center of Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. The guide was excellent but there’s too much to cover. At the end of the tour, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the Forbidden City and Palace Museum. I was disappointed that the Hall of Supreme Harmony was under renovation work.

Forbidden City

With some “culture” under our belt, we spent our fourth day shopping. Wangfujing Street is rather ho hum. The Silk Market was fun and sharpens your bargaining skills. I picked up a Mao watch. The dirt market at Panjiayuan was excellent. Ton’s of bric a brac.

Dirt Market at Panjiayuan

It is a downright pain that the airline baggage limit is only 20kg. That said, we did send a box home by China Post and it arrived just fine.

After the market, we took a taxi to the Factory 798 district to have a gander at Chinese modern art. Unfortunately, we had left it a bit late and didn’t have enough time. I much prefer the modern art to the traditional fare.  Very interesting place. It’s in a more suburban district of Beijing and dinner there was much cheaper than around the center.

Exhibition at Factory798 Art District

As an aside, another place any visitor must go is the Donghuamen Night Market which basically puts anything that’s chewable on a stick and serves it you. Centipedes, snakes, starfish, whatever.

The fifth day was a write off. Pouring rain. We wandered around a mall and went to a large Decathalon outdoor shop to pick up some rain gear for the following day.

Day six was our trip to the Great Wall. We had previously arranged with a travel agency to take us on a 12km hike starting on a section of the wild wall and ending at Mutianyu. However, after the heavy rain, the wild wall section would be dangerous to hike. At least the rain had stopped.

We drove out to Mutianyu taking a short detour to see the Olympic site and the Birds Nest. It was great getting out of Beijing and eventually the air pollution receded and we were driving through pleasant countryside.

Jenny at Mutianyu

Mutianyu was excellent and there weren’t that many visitors. We took the cable car to the wall and huffed and puffed our way along it. The steep bit at the western part of the section was a struggle. The kids, of course, were running all over the place and we barely saw them.

Walking the wall at Mutianyu

We took the go kart track down from the wall to the parking lot. Really good fun.

Kart descent at Mutianyu

Since we didn’t get to hike the wild wall section, we negotiated with the agency to replace it with a tour of the Summer Palace so that’s where we went on our way back. It’s a nice park but the clouds were grey and threatening to rain.

So while there’s lots to do and see in Bejing, it’s not a city I enjoyed and wouldn’t want to visit again.

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