My Trip to Beijing
Hello! My name is John Damalas. My wife and I took a 5-day tour of Beijing in September 2012. Even before arriving in Beijing, I received fantastic service from Ms. Vivian Tang - travel advisor from tour-beijing.com. All of my questions regarding the tour or China in general were always promptly answered. My tour guide Stanley, was very nice and spoke English well. He was able to answer my questions during the tour and always had an interesting fact to share with me that made the tour even more memorable.
Day 01: Arrival at BeijingWe arrived in Beijing at 5:30pm by CA986 just in time to see the sunset. Quite a nice welcome to Beijing. Actually, it was daylight flight for most of the time. We left the States in the afternoon and flew against the sun and the entire flight in time to see it set in Beijing. After the smooth Immigration and Customs at the Beijing Capital International Airport, we went out and expected our tour guide in Beijing. But the first things I saw were a Starbucks and a KFC framed in the doorway to the side of the airporthall. Later in our trip in Beijing, we found lots of Starbucks and KFCs. We saw more KFC and Starbucks than any other American chains!
Meeting our tour guide:
We went through the crowds of people and found our tour guide - Stanley Li , holding a little white piece of paper with the sign of Tour-Beijing.com. It was not very visible, but we did found him anyhow. Stanley Li looked very kind and gave us a big smile. He took us to the parking lot. Our driver, Mr. Liu helped us to drop off our luggage and put into the luggage rack of the car. Stanley Li said the black car would accommpany us for the 5-day tour in Beijing. He further explained that it was their national car - Red Flag Car!
18:30 -19:30 Drive to Best Western Premier Royal Phoenix Beijing
It was a peak hour and the traffic was heavy. Mr. Liu did quite a good job and drove us to Best Western Premier Royal Phoenix Beijing faster than we expected. We stood at the frontdesk for registration. We showed our passport and soon we got the room card with key. The bellboy came with us into our room. We tipped him US$ 1. No dinner was provided on the first night and free for rest of the day. Stanley Li made a morning call for us at 7:30am and 9:00am for pick-up time.
Best Western Premier Royal Phoenix Beijing
Best Western Premier Royal Beijing is located at the northern tip of Wangfujing Commercial Street (dubbed as the number one street in China). It is a high class leisure and business hotel built according to the international 5 star hotel's standard. It has seven floors with 200 rooms ranging from standard rooms, luxury roons and suites with elegant decorations. It is located in a hutong (alley) with only 5 minutes walk to the main street - Wangfujing Street. You can walk to Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square if you want. The subway stops are also within a walking distance.
King-sized Room at Best Western Premier Royal Beijing
Looking for snacks and food
No dinner. The hotel offered very good dinner buffet. But we tried to explore a little and left the hotel. The hotel is located in a hutong (alley) with only 5 minutes walk to the main street - Wangfujing Street. There are many shops and restaurants on the main street. After dinner, my wife Mary looked very tired. We went back and had a deep sleep.
Wangfujing Night Snack Street
Day 02: BeijingTemple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and Summer Palace
6:30-8:30 Breakfast at Best Western Premier Royal Phoenix Beijing
The breakfast buffet was delicious. There were plenty of choices and it exceeded my expectations. We ate a lot because we wanted to try a little of everything. Later we soon came to know it was also one of best food we were going to get in Beijing. So each morning we both had a lot for breakfast.
9:00-10:15 Temple of Heaven
We had booked a private tour instead of a large group. The first attraction we visited was Temple of Heaven ( Tiantan ). Temple of Heaven was actually a park, neat and big. There are a lot of locals, retired people who come here in the morning to hang out with friends and do morning exercises. There was a lot of activity everywhere you looked around. Our guide told us about people playing Taichi ball. In the open areas, people also did ribbon dancing, ballroom dancing, playing cards and dominoes. There was music and singing.
The Temple of Heaven was constructed in 1420 AD during the Ming Dynasty as a site for the emperors to offer sacrifices to heaven. Many elements of the temple have symbolic meaning. For example, nine is a good and lucky number in Chinese culture.
Temple of Heaven
10:15-11:00 Tiananmen Square
After we got to the Tiananmen Square, we walked through a lot of people. When we got to the end of the Square nearest the famous Tiananmen gate, our tour guide had a photographer take a picture of our whole group in front of the gate. That evening, he took orders for the picture and a Tianamen Square book for 120 RMB to be delivered the next morning. Afterwards, we got some 10 minutes free time, but that was probably 5 minutes too long.
11:00-12:00 Forbidden City
Looking at the Forbidden City, I felt I was walking into a history textbook with all of the spectacular architecture and statues. The palace was built between 1406 and 1420, but was burnt down, rebuilt, sacked and renovated countless times, so most of the architecture you can see today dates from the 1700’s and on wards. The Forbidden City was the seat of Imperial power for 500 years, and is now a major tourist attraction in China.
Lunch wasn't great. But parts of it were passable. We had 3 dishes and one soup. Later we knew we had the lunch more or less the same. But due to the different restautants, we did find some difference. Because we had most of the dinners on our own or at the hotel, we didn't find meals any problem during our trip to Beijing. One interesting thing you'll see is almost all the restaurants employ hostesses. Some of them were quite pretty! Mainly due to the sufficient labor market, many restautants can easily find very nice employees.
15:40-17:30 Summer Palace
The Summer Palace was a place I had not known of previously. It was nice enough but probably would be the most beautiful during the summertime. The Summer Palace was originally a royal garden and a temporary dwelling palace for emperors of Qing Dynasty, Its predecessor was the Garden of Clear Ripples (Qingyiyuan) started in 1750 and burned down by the British and French allied troops in 1860. In 1886, Empress Dowager Cixi used navy outlays and other funds in the reconstruction and renamed the park as Summer Palace in 1888. The Summer Palace in northwest suburban Beijing is the largest and most complete imperial garden existing in China. Just a note: one can walk or take a dragon boat across Kunming Lake. The boat ride was not included as part of the tour. Stanley told us to pay RMB 10 to have the boat ride. It was all right. The boat ride saved us some time. Actually I had hoped to take the ferry to the island in the middle of the lake!
From the Summer Palace, we drove back to Best Western Premier Royal Beijing. Traffic in Beijing is pretty insane. It took us about 1.5 hours to get to the hotel.
So many bicycles, scooters and luxury cars
Not surprisingly, we saw many bicycles and scooters in Beijing. China is growing incredibly fast. And the gap between the rich and poor is big. Yes, we saw thousands of bicycles and many average income people. But we also saw a huge number of Audis and Mercedes all over the city.
As an metropolitan city, Beijing has a lot of Western influence. You can easily find many of the signs were both in Chinese and English. For the time we were in Beijing, I had a hard time feeling we were in China! To me it just looked like one really huge Chinatown. There was so much English, I almost thought that I could manage it by without understanding any Chinese. With the speed that China is developing at, I may not recognize Beijing the next time I return.
Day 03: Beijing - Ming Tombs and Badaling Great Wall11:00-12:00 Ming Tombs
The Ming Dynasty Tombs are located 50 km north of Beijing. Thirteen Ming Dynasty emperors were buried in this area. The visit to Ming Tombs is generally combined with a visit to the Great Wall. Otherwise known as the “13 Tombs”, this is the burial site of 13 out of 17 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. However, the only one you can et a good look at is the tomb of Emperor Wanli, who reigned from 1537 to 1620. This tomb was unearthed in 1956. One interesting thing was the fruit vendors all the places! They even put the fruit into our car and talked about aggressive marketing.
The dinning hall was on the second floor. The first floor was actually the cloisonne factory.
15:30-17:30 Great Wall at Badaling
The Great Wall is in fact now no longer contiguous. Much of it is in disrepair. Five sections have been rebuilt and repaved for tourist. They are Badaling Great Wall, Juyongguan Great Wall, Mutainyu Great Wall, Jinshanling Great Wall and Simatai Great Wall. We went to the section at Badaling. This part of the wall was contructed during the Ming Dynasty. Badaling was the first part of the wall opened to the public in 1957. We took a cable car up and down. To commemorate, we bought a laminated certificate showing we had climbed the wall. Vendors could be found all along the way to the top. The wall is very steep in parts. It was a pity that it was a litte bit foggy. It was hard to make out the miles and miles of wall that extended off into the misty distance. At least it didn't rain as it looked like it was threatening to when we first arrived. Later we knew that July and August is the raining season in Beijing. We found a Starbucks at the wall! Many tourists took took the cable car up and down the wall. But we insisted on hiking by our feet.
Badaling Great Wall
Day 04: Beijing - Hutong and Lama Temle9:00-10:30 Visit Shichahai bar area and Hutong tour
First drive to Shichahai bar area. Mr. Stanley said that Shichahai Area is a centraly preserved zone showcasing the life of old Beijing. It is comprised of three-lake area: Qian Hai Lake (Front Sea); Hou Hai Lake (Back Sea) and Xi Hai Lake(Western Sea). Lots of bars are clustered in the Shichahai area or along the Shichahai lakeshore. Then we were arranged to take a pedicab to visit Da Jinsi Hutong Tao, the most famous hutongs keeping the original layout. In the course of the hutong tour, we were arranged to visit Mr.Dacheng Bai, a local folk craftsman, famous for making "Zongren Bai", a traditional "Zongren", a kind the figurines of drama characters made from the hair of a pig or a horse, cloth and silk, listed a city-level intangible cultural heritage in Beijing.
A coutyard in Hutong
10:00am - 10:30am
We drop off at the the Silver Ingot Bridge( Yinding Bridge ), a narrow channel joining Qianhai Lake and the Houhai Lake, the hub of Shichhai area with surrounding quiet hutongs. Walking along the Yandai Xiejie( Tobacco Pipe Lean Street ), a quaint 800-year-old hutong located directly north of Yinding Bridge between Qianhai and Houhai and the south of the Drum Tower, used to be well-known for sellers of long-stemmed pipes, hence the name.
10:30am - 11:00am Bell Tower and Drum Tower
Before experiencing the local hutong food lunch, we pass by Beijing's Bell Tower and Drum Tower. They are visibly prominent constructions and represent the symbol of this old city. They were originally built in 1272. You will have outside visits to the two high towers （entrance tickets not included).
11:00 - 14:00 Home-made lunch
We are arranged in a private and traditional Siheyuan (courtyard) and have a home-style lunch prepared by by the hostess Ms Wu.
14:30-17:00 Lama Temple
After lunch, visit Lama Temple, also called the Yonghe Lamasery, or Yonghegong. It is the most handsome and impressive Buddhist temple in the city. Lama Temple was built in the 33 Qing Kangxi year (1694) and it is now the largest and best-preserved Lamasery of Yellwo Sect in Beijing. It was the residence of Emperor Yongzheng before his ascending to the throne. Built initially in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty, this building was the residence of Emperor Yongzheng when he was just a prince. However, in 1744 the Qing Dynasty formally changed the status of the dwelling to that of a lamasery, and so Yonghe Lamasery became the national centre of Lama administration.
18:00-19:00 Peking Duck Dinner at Quanjude Restaurant
I was surprised to see that other dishes were also included with my duck. The duck was juicy and tender and the waiters made sure I was taken care of. But the duck soup was not very good. My wife made a horrible face on the first taste. I looked around and felt the other tourists also showed no interest in having the soup. Oh well, at least I can say I had Beijing Duck in Beijing, two of the must to do things in Beijing and the other is the great wall hiking.
Peking Duck Dinner
19:30-20:45 Beijing Opera
We sit at the rear of the theater - Liyuan Theater nestled on the first floor of Qianmen Hotel. Next time if I came to enjoy Beijing opera, we'd prefer the seats at the front which would cost us around US$ 30 per person. Beijing Opera is a number of stylized action, including singing, dancing, dialogue and acrobatic fighting to tell a story or present different characters and their feelings of happiness, anger, sorrow, surprise, fear and sadness. In Peking opera there are four main types of roles: sheng (male) dan (young female), jing( painted face,male), and chou (clown, male or female). The characters may be loyal or treacherous, beautiful or ugly, good or bad, their images being vividly presented. After the show, we were returned to our hotel.
Day 05: Beijing - Wangjing free shopping and leave BeijingOur Plane CA985 leaving Beijing at 17:00. So we still had lots of time in the morning. Stanley would come to pick us up at our hotel at 14:00. We took a taxi to Wangfujing Street, the capital's well-known shopping street, now it becomes a pedestrian street, a window to show Beijing's modern life. It is worth strolling even if you are not interested in buying anything.
We returned to our hotel at 13:30 and found Stanley were already there waiting for us. Mr. Stanly was very helpful and resourceful. He had made our trip to Beijing quite rewarding. We would take another tour the next time and we are fortunate enough to visit Beijing.
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