As I’ve spent a few weeks spending some time in Japan, Korea, and China, over the next few posts, I’ll be outlining my itinerary with explanations of what exactly I experienced and thought of the cultural exposure in each of these countries. You can read what I’ve posted already by clicking on the link below:
- Uji and Nara
- Hiroshima and Miyajima Island
- Fukuoka and Beppu
- Korea, Part 1
- Korea, Part 2
The last stop in my Asian adventure was Beijing which is a short two hour flight from Seoul. It was a very interesting cultural experience with very little access to wifi outside of the hotel.
The hotel we stayed at, Novotel, was somewhat centrally located and was a good walking distance from Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and a couple other tourist highlights. We were hoping to do a Hop-on Hop-Off bus but this service isn’t currently available in Beijing.
I’ve listed the sites we visited over the few day stay:
Since we were arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon, we walked over to Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen Square is the fourth largest city square in the world and was named after the Gate of Heavenly Peace located in the northern part of the square. The gate separates the square from the Forbidden City. Surrounding the square, there is the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. The square is open to the public but is under heavy security where before entry, visitors and their belongings are search. This is common at most tourist sites in Beijing as well as using public transportation.
Although the square was walkable from our hotel, it was accessible by public transportation. Public transportation has security check points upon entering and is cheaper compared to using public transport in North American cities.
On our way back to the hotel, we followed on the walks found in our guide book. It was a nice walk through some of the side streets. Some of these streets were lined with beautiful trees which made the walk pleasant.
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty (1420 – 1912). It has been a World Heritage Site since 1987 and is listed by UNESCO as the largets collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
The complex is centrally located with great Chinese architecture which was has influenced palatial architecture in other parts of East Asia.
Although it was a rainy day when we visited, it was still impressive and busy. With the ticket we purchased, we rented the audio guide as well. We followed the audio guide and tried to push our way around to peek into areas the audio guide was referencing. We could have gone with an organized tour group but I’m not sure that would have been a better option and this will be explained later in the post.
Temple of Heaven
This temple is a complex of religious buildings and was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to heaven for good harvest. Again, the day was rainy when we visited but still the temple was impressive and so beautiful. The surrounding parkland was so pretty to walk through to get to the temple.
Drum and Bell Towers
These towers were quite a walk from the subway stop we got off at. We managed to find our way there and passed several Hutongs which will be explained below.
The Drum Tower was originally built in 1272 but has been at it’s current location since 1800 as a reconstruction. The Bell Tower is across the square was built around 1700 and can be seen from the Forbidden City. These towers were originally used to play music but then it was used to tell time. When we arrived there was a little market happening and we read that there was supposed to be a performance happening.
The downside of the walk up and around the towers, there are a number of people trying to get you to do a Hutong tour. Just be prepared to be hassled by many people offering a hutong tour.
Hutongs are a type of narrow streets/alleys prominently found in Beijing. Some look beautiful while others looked quite poor and dirty. Both kinds were very interesting.
As is typical with other Asian cities, night markets are popular in Beijing as well. We visited a couple different markets, the main one being Donghuamen Night Market near Wangfujing. Donghuamen Night Market was super busy and was where you could see the weirdest things to eat. Whatever bugs you imagine being eaten in China, this market is where you’ll find it. I had intentions on trying scorpions but couldn’t once I saw that they were still alive on a stick before being barbecued.
Great Wall of China
We signed up for a tour of the Great Wall of China. The portion of the wall we visited was the most well maintained portion and was so impressive! The views were so amazing both from the bottom and the climb up. The weather was perfect – not too hot but sunny.
The tour itself could have been a whole lot better. Our tour guide didn’t tell anything and compared to other tourists we spoke to, it seems that they all had better tours. We could have signed up for a day tour of Beijing as well but we were thankful we didn’t. Even on the drive in and out of the city, our tour guide didn’t point out any of the important sites like the Forbidden City or the Olympic City unless we asked. If you can do some research beforehand to find reviews of a tour, that would be better or you can easily do the wall on your own in half a day. The tour we chose took us to some other places for us to buy things like jade at a jade factory and experience Chinese medicine to purchase their “herbal” remedies.