Beijing with its Great Wall of China
Once we landed in the airport, we changed some euros to yuan money (rmb). The rate change is best in the city than in the airport so don't change all your money. To go to our hotel Howard Johnson Paragon (18 jianguomen nei avenue), we took the airport train until the dongzhimen station then to the beijing railway station (metro L2 - exit B).
This exit leads to a mall, go to the third floor and pay attention, in few steps, you will see an indication panel showing the entrance of the hotel, you may be confused because it is also the entrance of a shop, in fact, it is the souvenir shop of the hotel.
Located in the downtown, near to the tiananmen square, it is a nice hotel with employees who speak English. They can change the money, this is something very practical since we didn’t need to look for an exchange agency.
The first place, that we visited, is the Summer Palace (頤和園, 19 xin jian gong men lu - metro L4 beigongmen, exit D). The palace was built during the 18th century during the reign of the emperor Qianlong to celebrate the 60th birthday of his mother, the empress Dowager Chongqing but the first work of the area dated back from the 12th century.
It has been destroyed and reconstructed many times and currently, the whole complex is a big park with 3 big lakes. We entered by the north where can be found the suzhou street, it goes along the water with shops and eating places.
The good point is that we were on the top of the Longevity Hill so we walked down instead to walk up but unfortunately, the day was grey and it started to rain. Down the hill, there is the Kunming lake, although the rain stopped when we reached it, boats were parked but I can imagine that during a sunny day, none should be free.
We decided to not go toward the tower of Buddhist Incense but to the Nanhu island. The long corridor is a nice structure containing in some sections, some interesting paintings picturing some mythologies and folktales.
We took time to visit the different buildings and gardens on the east side like Behe, Zhichunting, and others. Most of them, it is not possible to enter and some have the doors open allowing to glance inside. Crossing the shiqikongqiao bridge, we arrived to the island where we took a little break because at the time we arrived, there were few people so very quiet.
Staying at the entrance of the Hanxu building, we faced directly to the Buddhist Incense where we can take some nice pictures, in spite of the weather. Personally, I will recommend to discover the place during a sunny day, it will gain more points and you will appreciate it much more.
The next day, we wanted to visit the Forbidden City but arriving around 12h, all tickets have been sold out so we decided to visit the hutong (衚衕) streets including the Drum and Bell Towers. Hutong is a word to define the old and narrow streets of Beijing and not a specific area. I said that because there are a lot of hutong areas, the one, we picked up, is located close to the towers.
We get off to the nanluoguxiang metro station (line L6, exit E), from here, our starting point. We decided to avoid the main street, full of people so adventuring into the adjacent ones. Our choice was not based only of the proximity of the towers but in this area, there is the old house (37 maoer hutong street) of Wan Rong, the wife of Henri Puyi, the last emperor of China.
Unfortunately, when we were in front of it, there is a paper saying “no visit allowed” but it was an interesting walk, seeing original entrances, discovering charming narrow streets but if you like shops, I will suggest you to stay on the main streets.
We arrived to the Drum Tower (鼓楼), also known as Gulou, around 18h so it was closed so we didn’t get in. It has been constructed in 1272 and the Bell Tower (钟楼), known also as Zhonglou, it is located just behind it. At this time, the square between the 2 towers, it is very quiet, with few tourists like us and some local people enjoying a nice cool breeze of the late afternoon.
To end the day, we went to the National Centre for the Performing Arts (國家大劇院, 2 w changan ave) and we took advantage to see the tiananmen square. Getting off at the tiananmen west metro station (line L1, exit C), the centre is at few steps and a very popular place, a lot of local people come here to run, to walk, to dance and to meet friends. The building is quite nice and meanwhile that the sun is going down, some dot lights appear on it like stars. The square is closed during the night time so we just could see it from the street side.
The Forbidden City (紫禁城, 4 jing shan qian jie – metro L1 tiananmen east, exit B) was our visit of the 3rd day. This time, we arrived early in the morning around 9h to have a chance to buy 2 tickets, not like the day before. You may ask why we don’t buy tickets online ? Well, if you go to the official website, there is an option to do it but it is totally in Chinese, may be in the future, there will have an English version !!!
Currently, the city is most known as Gugong (故宫) or Palace Museum (故宫博物院). Built between 1406 and 1420, it was used by the Ming dynasty through the Qing dynasty whose the last emperor lived here until 1924 at the age of 18.
The city is very huge, we walked and we walked and we kept walking, we spent the day visiting it. The architecture of the pavilions is interesting but very repetitive, and at the end, boring. The nine dragons wall is nice to see but it is located at the east side and to go there, we had to pay the entrance because it is not included in the ticket price.
The Imperial Garden is the area to take a charming break surrounding by flowers and trees, it was the last place we visited since the north exit of the Forbidden City is here too. Particularly, I will recommend you to take a look on the ceiling of one of the 2 twin towers. I didn’t rent the audio guide but my girlfriend did and according to her feedback, the one, she got, didn’t work well. The audio guide owns a GPS system allowing to trigger automatically the explanation based on your location but not all places have an audio description. Also, there is no way to pause, to rewind or to listen again.
For the last 2 days before to go to Xian, we decided to change the hotel so we booked a room at the hotel Ming Courtyard (34 xintaicang alley - metro L5 beixinqiao, exit C). The place is located into an hutong area and although it is surrounded by many popular food streets, we were not disturbed by the noise, only early in the morning by the neighborhood. We got a good room and the hotel has a charming courtyard to enjoy. Also they have a laundry service billed by kilos than by pieces.
The Lama Temple, also known as Yonghe Temple (雍和宫, 12 yonghegong street) is just at 15 minutes by walk from the hotel. The temple is a mix of Han Chinese and Tibetan architectures dating from 1694, although there were many people, the place transmits a kind of pleasant atmosphere.
Deeper we went, more impressive are the statues so after crossing different pavilions, we reach the second to last one called Falun Hall (known also as Hall of the Wheel of the Law) which houses a nice statue of Je Tsongkhapa, a famous teacher and the founder of Gelug school teaching the Tibetan Buddhism.
But the most impressive one, it is the one of the Wanfu Hall, also known as Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses. We were impressed by the interior design and more particularly of the colossal statue of Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of white sandalwood, a wood which has the particularity to retain its fragrance for decades.
After that, we decided to visit again the Tiananmen Square (天安門廣場) but this time, during the day time. There are different access points with security control and the exit is through those access points. The monuments and buildings on the square are surrounded by safety barriers and if you plan to pay tribute to Mao Zedong, his mausoleum is open only in the morning. In fact, it is just a very big crowdy square and there is nothing special.
And to the end the day, we went to see the CCTV building (中央电视台总部大楼, 32 east 3rd ring road middle - metro L10 jintaixizhao, exit C). Unfortunately, we don’t work in the building so getting closer was impossible but from where we were, we could see that the building owns a particular architecture, it should be a very challenge to create it, looking like they assembled the letter Z in different way connecting them to form the infinity.
For our last day before to go to Xian, we walked about 30 minutes from our hotel to the dongzhimen station (if you take the metro, once off the train, take the exit B) in order to take the bus which would bring us to the Great Wall (長城). The bus station is located in the big building just at few steps from the exit. In fact, it is not a direct bus so if you plan to go to the section called Mutianyu (慕田峪长城), take the bus 916 Express to Huairou Beidajie (怀柔北大街). We paid the ticket once in the bus and hopefully, we had the exact money because the driver doesn’t make change, if not, we would have paid more.
We read in the internet that Huairou Beidajie is the last stop but once in the bus, we looked the stop map and it is the 6th station before the last one so we decided to get off as indicated by counting the stops (it is the one just after the big traffic circle). Of course, before to get off the bus, ask the driver as us to be sure that it is the good one.
At the other side of the street, there is a bus stop, so we went there to wait for the local bus H23 or H24 (those numbers are not displaying on the bus stop and it is here that you will have to take back the 916 bus to go back to Beijing). After waiting few minutes, the bus H24 was coming and we got in, asking again the driver if it is the good one.
In the bus, there is a ticket inspector so we paid our ticket to her and no need to have the exact change this time, it was her who told us where to get down. If you don’t want to ask, once the bus starts to climb, pay attention to your right, when you see “home of the great wall” against a green background, it is where you have to get down. In case if you miss it, the bus will pass in front of the Mutianyu Great Wall entrance so just get down to the next stop.
Taking the public transport, it is the cheaper way but not the easy one. If you don’t want to have a headache, pay a taxi or a private bus but it is very simple the way we did.
To go to the wall, there are 3 options:
- walk and it is a long walk up
- take the cable car to go up and down
- or take the chair lift to go up and the slideway to go down
We took the 2nd option, the cable car. No matter which option you will take, you will have to pay the bus that will bring you to the area where you will allow to reach the wall by yourself.
Built in 1368, this section connects the Gubeikou Great Wall in the east and the Juyongguan Great Wall in the west and it was the capital’s major military defense. Mutianyu is described to have a unique landscape but due to a thick cloud/pollution, it was quite hard to enjoy the view. Personally, I was disappointed because of the weather expecting to see something stunning, of course, we would appreciate it more if the sky was blue.
To go back to Peking, it was a little complicated because we didn’t take the easier solution. First, we went back where we left the H24 bus (it was simple, take note that there is no a bus stop, we just waited by the roadside and we raised our hand when we saw it). Meanwhile the bus went down, it started to rain very strongly so instead to get down where we picked it up, we decided to stay because we read on the internet that if we want to seat, we have to go to the last stop of H24 because it is the central bus station and from there, to take the 916 bus.
Well, the ticket inspector told us in mandarin to get down, since we don’t understand, we don’t know if she was saying that H24 doesn’t go there or that we would miss the last 916 bus leaving at 19h. Hopefully, for us, there was a woman who speaks a little English so she helped us to take another bus to go to the central bus station, just in time to get the last one.
The advantage, there are plenty of free seats because when we arrived to the stop, there were few free seats and some people should stand, 2 hours on feet from Huairou Beidajie to Peking, it is not funny particularly when it rains and you are totally wet.
Next day, we took a high speed train to go to Xian with its Terracotta Warriors of China.