I didn’t come to China with any preconceptions I hadn’t even originally planned to go. But I’m glad l did. It’s a country so vast that it spans time zones and climates and it’s as varied from the north to the south as its temperature. I barely scratched the surface and yet l feel drawn to this strange country. In Beijing l have seen the most extraordinary shopping centres more modern than anything l have seen in Europe or America it’s gleaming halls oozed wealth and prosperity, and yet just a short train ride away you are surrounded by abject poverty and a level of living that even the street bums in Europe would find degrading. Wealth and Poverty side by side encompassed by rich culture and proud heritage.
I did a whirlwind tour of Beijing and the surrounding areas in the four short days l was there, l felt like a real pro at the subway by the time l left and got to do everything l had planned. The main highlights have to be (in order) the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, Forbidden City and the hohai and sanliton district.
Images by Shawn
I really enjoyed just walking around randomly buying food that looked interesting and taking photos of alleyways and street vendors. I had been worried about feeling lonely but was lucky enough to have an old childhood friend in Beijing who met up with me for a tour of the back alleys. But when on my own l found that l enjoyed my own company, the freedom of deciding when to wake and where to visit was wonderful and l have been revelling in this new sensation.
One thing l will say is that it is worth going to the Great Wall if you are in Beijing, there are several parts you can visit and many tours are available. In fact everyone on the street will try to sell you one. But a word of advice for those on a budget don’t go for a tour. I managed to get to Badaling wall quite easily with local transport and it only set me back 2 USD return trip versus the 50 – 100 euros many tour companies will charge. Sure they will include a meal which would probably cost you 3 euros and some stops at tourist traps along the wall to buy silk or pottery but roughing it is so much better, plus the satisfaction of being the only foreigner on the train is worth it all.
Local food is also something that needs to be experienced and although l got a bit sick the first day my stomach got used to it, and the variety is astonishing! I have never seen so many different types of fruits and vegetables and couldn’t recognise half of them.
Getting around Beijing
After the winter olympics Beijing translated all of the signs in the Subway and it is a very easy and cheap way to get around the city. You can use the subway to see all the major attractions such as Tiananmen square, Forbidden city and Summer Palace. I only used the subway so I am going to use just that in my directions for how to get to my favorite sights.
A one way ticket costs 2 CNY which is equivalent to .30 USD cents
Top Four things to do in Beijing
Image by Shawn
I absolutely loved the summer palace, Its a massive complex with gardens, palaces and temples I easily spent a whole day here and I recommend that you take your time exploring. It’s also equally beautiful in the winter, when the frozen lakes adds a special charm.
April to October – 30 CNY (4.5 USD) November to March – 20 CNY (3 USD)
Get there by Subway:
1. Subway Line 4: get off at Beigongmen, take exit D and walk to the North Palace Gate; or get off at Xiyuan to reach the East Palace Gate from exit C2.
2. Subway Line 16: get off at Xiyuan and leave from exit C2. Walk west to the East Palace Gate.
you can find more info on this website.
Image by Shawn
The Forbidden City is China’s largest and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings, and the largest palace complex in the world. It was called forbidden city because it was off limits for 500 years for any other than the royal family.
April to October: CNY 60 (9 USD)
November to March: CNY 40 (6 USD)
More info on this website
Tiananmen Square is a city square in the centre of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen (“Gate of Heavenly Peace” see picture) located to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City. The square contains the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
It was also the site of the infamous student uprising in 1989.
More info on this website
Image by Shawn
How to get to the Great wall the cheap way
Personally I chose the Badaling wall as it was easy to get to by public transport and I would not need to book with a tour agency. I took the earliest train which was at 06:30 am and took about one hour and was a lovely ride. The trains go roughly every hour until 21:30 and all the info is available on this website : Train info
I recommend going early in the day as the later trains get booked up very fast and you will have more time on the wall by yourself.
These are suburban trains running from Beijing Huangtudian Railway Station to Badaling (Great Wall ) and Yanqing. Train Tickets: CNY 6 ( 1 USD) per ride; if using “Yikatong” Transportation Card, CNY 5 (.80 USD) per ticket. All the S2 train tickets are free seating, so its first come first served! Be prepared to run for a seat!
Once you arrive at Badaling station you need to walk along the road exiting on the left hand side of the station as you face outward. Its really not difficult to navigate as you will see the large crowds of chinese tourists that are also taking the public train to the wall. After about a 20 min walk you will arrive at the ticket office.
Opening Hours of Great wall: 06:40 to 18:30
April to October: CNY 45 (USD 6.5) November to March: CNY 40 (USD 6)