Unfortunately this voyage was a hand luggage only trip so I couldn’t take a laptop to write. I wish I had because the countries are all blurring into each other and it’s hard to not compare each one to the next. But that’s why I take so many photos. Hoping that it jogs my mind and keeps all the memories fresh.
Over the next few weeks I want to write a few different posts about the things we got up to but today I thought I’d write about our first stop. Beijing.
Neither Lee nor I have ever been to China so we were stupidly excited to get on the plane. In Korea you used to need 6 months on your alien visa to entry China (in case you sneak in and stay) I think this has recently changed but please check.We had our visa’s ready, our small bags packed and after a bump in the road at the airport which required us to pay 50 dollars each to add our middle name to our plane tickets* we were on our way.
My first impressions of Beijing international airport were that of utter shock. I naively thought that brand names wouldn’t be a big feature in China and that things would be quite plain. I thought that the political rules in the country would prevent brands, lots of advertising and lots of design elements but the first thing we saw was a Starbucks, Pizza hut and Mcd’s as well as the extremely grand airport. The airport was huge, clean and boiling! We whizzed though immigration with ease and before we knew it we were at our hotel. There was a definite lack of English compared to even Korea which we struggled with at times but all signs and subways have English so we could always get around.
Once we threw our bags down we ventured out into the city. The first thing we stumbled upon was a bizarre old Chinese town. It seemed like a recreation with modern shops and markets. There was lovely old trams running up and down the street and lots of happy Chinese tourists taking pictures. It felt as if we walked for hours. After walking around a corner we realised we were about to see the Forbidden City. Being the weirdos that we are we didn’t want to see the forbidden city until the next day when we were fresh and ready so we made sure to look the opposite way while we ran past. To anyone else we looked like crazy people but we scuttled past and made our way to the food markets.
The food markets were incredible. It was called the Donghuamen and everyone should go there. It was very busy but the smells and tastes were delightful. I wanted to try everything, minus the stinky tofu and the scorpions. We sampled spring rolls and vowed to come back for lunch the next day. We had to drag our bellies away since we had promised ourselves that this day was set aside for – Duck!
Peking duck (Peking being the old name of Beijing) is a specialty and it did not disappoint. We headed to a restaurant we had heard was good but it was unfortunately packed to the rafters, the kind man who runs the restaurant had lots of time for us and drew us a little map of how to get to their sister restaurant. We tracked it down and enjoyed a delicious dinner and our first Chinese beer. It was some of the best duck we’d both ever tasted.
We have always loved Chinese food. It is my favourite food in the world and I could eat it every day but we’d always heard that British Chinese isn’t actual Chinese food. I partly expected to get off the plane and be handed Kimchi but luckily the Chinese we were accustomed to was authentic Chinese and my stomach and taste buds had a very happy holiday.
The next day we rised early and headed to the famous Forbidden City. To get to it we needed to pass though a subway station. If you aren’t aware, Beijing is a heavily militarised city. When you want to enter a subway your bags must be checked for weapons. Police and guards are everywhere. I lost count how many I saw. Random spot checks are also in place so if you do visit make sure to carry your passport. I don’t imagine there is much crime in China since they’d probably make it a few steps before being taken down. We saw bomb disposal units and soldiers with huge assault riffles at every turn and it was extremely terrifying, especially since they didn’t look like they were happy to see to westerners in their capital. Please don’t let this put you off though, Beijing is an incredible city full of history and things to see. IT was impressive to us and we live in Korea so had experienced similar art and culture since China has a big place in Korea history. If you have never been to Asia then you should jump on a plane this second to experience it.
A good example of how normal the military is here is that the locals didn’t seem to mind their presence at all and carried on with their days, sometimes even mocking the soldiers loud chants as they walked passed. Once we finally pushed our way through the crowds we arrived in Tiananman Square only to find that the Mausoleum was closed. It normally closes at 12pm but due to the heat it closed at 10am. I think that we’d have had to be queuing from about 6:30am to get in. So unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go into the tomb and see Mau but we weren’t too disappointed since it seems a little creepy to look at an embalmed body, especially since he requested to be cremated. It’s odd from all sides. We headed to the city itself and wandered the parks. We’d heard the parks and lakes were stunning so when we paid and entered to find a small muddy patch of water we were a little under whelmed. There wasn’t much order to the park and we didn’t really know where to go.…it was only after we gave up and left the area to get a drink that we realised the pond was actually just a moat around the forbidden city and not the lakes at all. We were being extremely stupid. The Forbidden City is actually called the museum of the Forbidden City so unless you buy a ticket for that you won’t actually see the place. Doh!
We wanted to head back in but the day had been long and the sun was high and we wanted to explore some markets so we set the plan aside for later in the week. It’s also important to note that our trip took place in August which was boiling! There were no clouds and the sun was relentless. We hoped from shade to shade the entire holiday. It was beautiful but if you are thinking of going then avoiding this time may be a good idea. You can always embrace the Asian way and use a parasol if you are a lady or do like the Chinese men do and raise their shirts up over their bellies. It was always cute to see little Chinese men walking around with Buddha bellies on display.
My favourite part of day was a trip to The Empire hotel where we drank cocktails and looked out at the rooftops of this ancient land. (This was when we realised our mistake that we’d missed the city altogether.) It was while I was sat on the roof drinking a lychee martini that I realised like a slap in the face. Wow we are in China.
*This seems to be a rule for just one man in Daegu airport who refused to let us on without our full names being added. We weren’t asked to add them when we ordered our tickets so it was a little annoying. I would have understood but my first name is so long that only two letters of my middle name made the ticket. Paying 50 dollars for the letter ‘LO’ was slightly annoying. We didn’t have this problem in any other airport.
Have you been to Beijing? What did you love seeing? Did you notice the military presence? What did you love or hate about the place? Or are you planning a trip. What are you planning to see and do? Let us know your thoughts.