Beijing is the capital of China and such an unusual and unique city. The variety from olde-worlde to skyscraper mecca is strong. Street food is a big deal in China and I would definitely recommend giving it a ago. We had a lot of ladies with grill carts on our street at night cooking up delicious skewers of mushrooms, tofu and greens smothered in this really addictive spicy sauce. Communication was tough through our days in Beijing as no-one really speaks English but through the art of hand gestures you can get by. Something that caught me off guard was just how bad the air pollution is. I had a mask and wore it every so often but my little throat couldn’t handle it and I got pretty sick whilst there (and Chinese pharmacies are scary). I would suggest being cautious and wear a hardcore mask if you’re quite sensitive. You might think you look silly but quite a large majority of people wear them there and safety first and all that jazz.
That was a random summary of digression about Beijing hah. I went with my friend Adam (same guy I went to Japan with) and he was a saint of a travel companion. Our first day there was a tourist hit list and all the major sites (which were handily right by our accommodation). My top tip for Tiananmen Square is to get there early! We got there around eleven and the queue to enter the square was massive. You can’t directly walk in as there are security checkpoints with underground passages and the lines get long and manic (Chinese people aren’t the most orderly). Once you’re in the square though it’s so huge you don’t really feel claustrophobic. It is one of the largest squares in the world and has a lot of history to it. The main things to check out would be the Monument to the People’s Heroes aka the tower and Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. Sadly the latter was closed as it was a public holiday but if I could’ve gone I would’ve.
From there we walked to The Forbidden City through the Tiananmen aka Gate of Heavenly Peace and another gate called Meridian. Tickets are to your left as you walk through and then just make your way forward and into the city. This place is absolutely massive so be prepared to spend a few hours walking round here. We got the ‘GPS’ audioguides and they weren’t the best but did an ok job once we waved them around in the air a few times. You will walk through a lot of gates and parts do start getting a bit repetitive. The simple grandeur of the whole place and the architecture is absolutely stunning though and a definite must see. It was a hot one so we grabbed some ice-creams and naturally I went for the weirdest one – pea flavour. I was thinking it might be sweetened but nope it literally tasted like frozen peas so hopefully it counted towards my five a day. A lot of people brought packed lunches inside and were having cute picnic stops so that’s a really smart idea (considering the food options inside were a bit boring and pricey).
Once outside that city, the Beijing city is your oyster as you’re directly in the centre. We decided to head into Jingshan Park which is directly north and separated from the old city by the moat. The park was very green and lovely (slightly weird considering how smoggy the rest of Beijing is). The main thing to do here is climb up the main hill which has five different summits with five pavilions on top. The central one called Wanchun has ridiculous views of Beijing and is perfect for that photo op. You can see straight into the Forbidden City from up here, as well as north and the Drum/Bell Tower (more on those next time). It is quite a climb up to the top but it’ll be a great kickstarter for the many hills you’re about to climb in China.
For food on our first day we wanted to experience family style cuisine! I’ll admit we were definitely out of our debt and picked a place because it had an abundance of people queueing inside. We were given a number and told to wait but had no idea when our number was going to be called as everything was in Chinese. Every ten minutes or so I would just flash the receipt to a waitress and she’d shake her head until eventually I think she felt pity for us and gave us a table right in the back haha. Fortunately the menu (I say menu but really it was big enough to be an encyclopaedia) had English translations and pictures. Some of the translations were a little off like ‘Jew ears’ but through pointing and miming we ordered a feast! Everything was a little over doused with oil but it was a great start to our food journey here and if you ever see exploding green beans on a menu get them as they are perfection!
That was our main hit list for tourist Beijing and luckily (or maybe eerily planned by past Beijingers) everything is within the same area for easy exploring. Everyone in China we encountered was super friendly and although communication can be tricky, they do genuinely want to help you out. If you’re up for the challenge I think getting lost down alleys and coming across random eateries is the best thing to do – although it seemed like Chinese people ate anywhere so don’t judge how good a place is by how many people are inside. One thing we absolutely loved was seeing the English tops people were wearing and the different motivational quotes (you might’ve spotted a few photos of backs in this and yup there are more to come). As I think of more tidbits I’ll spread them through these posts hurrah!