My first visit to Beijing was in 2008. My grandfather was 75 years old then and he had never been to Beijing despite living in China his entire life. It was a dream of his so I took him there along with my mother and my Uncle Jian. I never expected my grandfather to have so much energy. We woke up at 6am every morning and came back at 10pm every night for 5 days straight. My mom was sick with a terrible cough for almost a month after this trip, but my grandfather and uncle were fine.
From left to right: my mom, my grandfather, my uncle Jian. And no my grandfather’s hair is not dyed. It is naturally that black! The four of us boarded the overnight soft sleeper train from Shanghai to Beijing. Trains are a very comfortable way to travel in China especially if you book a soft sleeper. Much more comfortable than an economy seat in an airplane. Pricing wise a soft sleeper bunk is about the same price as an economy plane ticket about $300USD roundtrip from Shanghai to Beijing.
Tiananmen Square where I was surprised by how tall and handsome the policemen of Beijing were. This was right after the 2008 Olympics and I had heard rumors that only the tallest, fittest, and best looking policeman were transferred to Beijing. It was a treat for the eyes. =)
Look how blue the sky was! During our 5 day Beijing Trip. It was like this every day. My grandfather even commented on how Shanghai’s sky was never this blue. Very crowded even though we visited at the tail end of the tourist season.
Forbidden Palace roof decor. The Forbidden Palace was not as big as I imagined. Rather small compared with say Temple of Heaven. I visited the replica of the Forbidden Palace in Hengdian World Studios and actually preferred the replica as the replica was set among mountains, and the original was surrounded by tall city apartments.
Of course we paid a visit to the Great Wall of China and of course we had to climb the wall for THREE HOURS STRAIGHT because my 75 year old grandfather insisted. It was like doing the stairmaster the entire time. I think this was the cause of my mother getting a horrible cold that lasted for a month because she was so worn out from this hike. My grandfather though was fine. As a life long smoker and alcoholic, this didn’t slow him down at all.
Summer Palace Beijing. This is where the royals of the Qing Dynasty came to enjoy themselves. Kinda like a Hamptons getaway for New Yorkers. Very serene and vast. Lots of walking. Wear comfortable shoes.
More Summer Palace. The weather and skies were very nice that day. Probably the best of our entire trip. Summer Palace is accessible by the subway and then a taxi transfer from city center Beijing.
This is the infamous marble boat that the Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled money from the royal treasury to turn into her playground. She was cursed by the common people for this as the embezzled money was earmarked to build a royal navy so that China could prepare themselves against foreign invasion.
I loved the Temple of Heaven. We spent 2 hours walking in one direction and didn’t even reach the other end of the park. That is the vastness of the place, much much much bigger than the Forbidden City. Also filled with Beijing Natives singing Beijing Opera, exercising, and playing sports. Beijing’s senior citizens are extremely active.
A visit to the 2008 Olympic Park was in order as I wanted to see the Bird Nest Stadium in person. Very very impressive. Water Cube, not so much. And did I mention the entire complex was ginormous? As everything else in Beijing, super-sized.
Overall Impressions of Beijing:
(1) Beijing is a city designed to impress and more importantly intimidate. Streets are incredibly long and wide. The block that my hotel was located on…it took me 24 minutes to just circle the entire block.
(2) People were nice to me. Seriously this is probably the first time that the people were nice to me in China. Everyone who I asked for directions, helped me. And I even got offered a seat in the subway several times.
(3) Forget taxis, it was hard to locate an empty one. Stick with subways, busses, or hire a private car for the day. Less than a $100USD for the entire day, especially worth it since we had 4 people.
(4) Food was very tasty if one stayed away from the touristy places. My recommendations here.
(5) I was astounded by the amount of domestic tourists visiting Beijing. When we visited Gong Wang Fu, I was shocked by the long line of domestic tourists all with various caps waiting to touch this stone tablet for good luck. Of course when my grandfather saw this, he was like I have to touch it too. End of line to front of line to touch a rock for less than 10 seconds. 1 hour and 9 minutes. Imagine wasting that much time standing in line to touch a rock.