On our first full day in Beijing we took a tour to the big tourism sites.
We were on a minibus with two other couples and had an English-speaking guide, Merry. She picked us up from our hotel at 7am and was very perky for that time in the morning!
Our first stop was Tiananmen Square, which felt ceremonial and steeped in national pride as well as historical significance. As its been an annual national holiday, following the celebration of China becoming a Communist republic on 1 October 1949, there was a giant flower and fruit display and soldiers minding the national flag pole.
We didn’t visit Mao’s Mausoleum, where the previous Chairman’s body lays but his photo hung as a focal point in the square. Merry gave us a detailed tour and covered key events in the square and country’s history.
We found it surprising that at such a key landmark in the capital, local visitors still found a Western tour group interesting and Rob posed for a few photos with Chinese families!
We then crossed the road to the Forbidden City – where the emperors of the historical dynasties used to live and was therefore forbidden to the public. This was a vast expanse of temples built up on tall defences. It would be an impressive feat of modern engineering, but even more so that it was built between 1406 and 1420 by about 1 million Chinese workers.
In the afternoon we headed out to the Great Wall, which was about 90 mins drive out of the city. We took a cable car to the top and walked along sections of varying steepness. There’s no way you could have done that with any fear of heights! The wall and views were immense, it’s incredible such a structure was built across the unforgiving terrain.
As with everywhere we’ve been to in China, it was very crowded. The quote of the day had to go to an English-speaking guy who said ‘once you’ve seen one bit of wall, you’ve seen them all’ – we really hope he was joking, as each step brought a new wonder and was awesome in the true sense of the word.
Ideally, we would have liked to spend longer on the wall but it was the last day that the cable cars were running before being closed for maintenance so they closed quite early. There were various things like this and ticket-buying times that we wouldn’t have been able to negotiate with our a Chinese guide.
We had lunch at a Jade Gallery and once we returned to the city after the Wall we visited a tea house. These definitely felt like tourist ‘shoppertunities’ that we’d been warned about from guide books and though we were encouraged to buy souvenirs, we didn’t feel too pressured. We enjoyed the ‘Dr Tea’ house, which is the biggest in Beijing. A knowledgeable and sweet woman gave us a demo and we tried 4 teas including the jewel in the crown ‘Puer tea’, which supposedly helps with weight loss!
- Our tour was with National Travel agency, which run trips all over the city. The one we booked was 1 day for 280 yuan (approx £28) each and included a trip to Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City and the Great Wall.