Beijing Trip Report
Replies: 9 - Last Post: Oct 14, 2012 7:42 PM Last Post By: Juliechen
Aug 5, 2012 6:39 AM
Beijing Trip ReportI found it to be very helpful to me to read about other people's experiences in their trip reports, so I wanted to add mine to the collection. We spent 3.5 days in Beijing area. 4 -5 would have been perfect, but we had enough time to see the main things I wanted to in our 3.5 days (but unless you do a Great Wall trip like ours - more on that below - I think you should plan 4 full days). We really enjoyed our time in Beijing.
We arrived in Beijing late at night (after midnight) so had decided to arrange a pick-up from our hotel. We stayed at Maoer Courtyard B&B (aka Maoer Hutong 28), which was excellent. It's run by two ladies (Angela and Julia) who are very helpful and friendly, and Angela speaks English (Julia speaks a bit, but not much). Prior to arrival I had sent an email to Angela to ask her if she thought I'd be able to buy a cheap mobile phone around the hotel area, and she offered to purchase one for me and sent me a link to a Chinese website showing a basic Nokia for 149 yuan. She had it waiting for me and set it up in English when I arrived (and didn't charge anything beyond the 149). Julia went out with me into the hutong area near the hotel and helped me buy a sim card and load money on the phone. That was quite helpful.
We visited typical Beijing sights (Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven park, Lama Temple, Confucious Temple). A few thoughts on our time in Beijing...
I highly recommend visiting Jingshan Park after you go to the Forbidden City since it's so easy to get to from there, the view over the Forbidden City is fantastic, and after the crowds of the Forbidden City it seemed relatively peaceful (there were other people there of course, but it wasn't too busy when we went).
The Lama Temple is really interesting. I may have enjoyed it more than the Forbidden City. It was crowded, but this is a place where the crowds seemed to enhance the experience since many people were actively praying in addition to sightseeing. We arrived at 8:30am and it was not open yet (opens at 9), so we went down a side road just a short distance to the Confucious Temple and found it to be very quiet. Other than just a few other people, we were the only ones there. It was a nice contrast to the busy scene we found at the Lama Temple.
For us, the park area at the Temple of Heaven was by far the most interesting part of that destination (rather than the actual temple building). We planned to get there very early to see the action, but it was the day after we did strenuous hiking at the Great Wall so we ended up having an easy morning and getting there later than planned (maybe 9:30). It's still worth going even if you miss the very-early morning since it was still teeming with older people playing games, dancing, singing, and (I think) displaying information for match-making purposes (they were sitting beside plastic-covered sheets of paper with details such as gender, birthday, etc. and some had photos - I can read some characters but not many). I think you could have a great time people-watching there without needing the full ("through") ticket that lets you in to the area with the temple for good harvests. It looks just like the pictures and you can't go into the building, so if you don't feel the need to personally take a photo, I'm not sure it's worth it. It is a beautiful building, though, so others ay disagree.
Our visit to the Great Wall is my biggest planned splurge for our entire 4 weeks in China. I decided to take a tour with the Great Wall Adventure Club. It's expensive. I was a bit unsure of whether I'd made the right decision to spend so much at first because of that, but I have no regrets. A few things attracted me to them, and they lived up to the great reviews I read. They have a lot of good reviews online, so I thought that was a good start. They had a tour that hiked up to Jiankou and then onward to Mutianyu, which allowed us to see both unrestored and the restored sections (I had been interested in Jiankou but a bit nervous about going without a guide after reading about it). The tour had both a regular and a "sunset" version, and the sunset one appealed to me since it began at noon rather than early morning, allowing me time in the morning to do some other sightseeing and also having us at the wall during times when most other people had left. It also had the side benefit of us being able to see the sunset while sitting on one of the Mutianyu towers without another soul in sight. Some of the reviews said they had not seen other people while they were there, and I figured that must be an exaggeration, but it was actually (just about) true. Our entire time at the Jiankou section we didn't see another person other than our guide and fellow hiker. At Mutianyu, the hike was timed such that we arrived when most people were already gone. Our guide pointed out a few spots where vendors usually are positioned and had left a few items behind, but they were already gone. We saw one vendor who had packed up already and was walking toward the stairs. She offered us water for sale (but she didn't follow us or bug us at all when we declined - she actually just smiled and said that I speak Chinese well, which is of course not at all true since all I said was bu yao). It was a fantastic day.
We were joined by 1 other hiker and I thought both sections of the wall that we saw were absolutely marvelous. I took way more pictures than is probably necessary, but every time I made a turn I felt like I had to capture how great the scene was (and amazingly devoid of other people aside from us hikers and our guide). It was quite a strenuous 1-hour hike up to the Jiankou tower to start, but we stopped a few times along the way to catch our breath. Once up there it wasn't that hard. If you do visit Jiankou, bring lots of water (The driver gave me an extra bottle on my way out of the van, and I thought I wouldn't need it since I'd packed 2 already, but I was thankful to have it). If you happen to go on this particular tour, you can also request a Chinese dinner instead of Subway (our was very good and had waaaay more food than needed with a lot of variety - our guide kept asking us what kinds of things we wanted to try and just ordered based on that and her own likes). Just as a note, our guide did say that on the weekend, even Jiankou would be crowded, so if at all possible I'd say to visit the wall on a weekday (no matter which section you choose).
A few notes about food...
We wanted to try Peking duck while in Beijing and went to Dadong. I thought the experience, rather than the food itself, was the highlight, although it was still tasty. We went at around 2:30pm, and the place was rather empty. Although it doesn't list a half portion on the menu as an option, they asked us if we wanted a whole duck or a half duck. We got the half, and it was enough for 2 people and was half the cost of a full duck. You still get to see the duck-prep guy come out to the table and slice it up in front of you. I think we inadvertently ordered a set menu since things just showed up at our table while we were eating... some kind of persimmon jelly stuff in a wine glass and lychees (presented over dry ice which made them look pretty neat), as well as a condiment tray, were part of the meal.
We really enjoyed food at Mr. Shi's Dumplings in North Dongcheng. They have a clear English menu, although the staff and Mr. Shi don't speak English. There were other foreigners there, though, so if that turns you off, I suppose you've been warned (we don't care but it seems some LP frequenters are put off by places that have other foreigners). When I read about it online, one person commented that a nearby hotel (The Orchid) sends patrons there. I found this handy map on the website for The Orchid which helped us find Mr. Shi's:
Their fried dumplings and the green beans with bits of dried chili in them were really good (and I usually don't like things that are too spicy - these caused my mouth to tingle but not burn
Aug 5, 2012 1:29 PM
Thanks for the detailed report! On my upcoming trip to Beijing in June, I have narrowed down two possible accommodation options - and one of them is Maoer 28. A couple of questions since it is not clear from reviewing their website:
1. Is there a subway station within walking distance to the hostel?
2. How far are they from the central train station in Beijing?
Aug 5, 2012 5:56 PM
2I find it better to go to Jingshan Park in the morning first, then walk through the forbidden city from north to south. Then you see Jingshan Park in the early morning, when more locals are there hanging/working out. You get a nice birds' eye view of the forbidden city before you enter it to tour the place. You start at the north end by Jingshan park in the morning, while all the crowds are starting from the south end, giving you lots of space at some of the cool "extra" parts (Qianlong Garden, hall of jewles or whatever) of the forbidden city which are mainly on the north side of the complex.
Aug 5, 2012 6:24 PM
Aug 5, 2012 6:34 PM
I don't know how far it is to the train station since I never went there (I left town by bus). As for the subway stops, there are 3 of them that are all about a 20 minute walk. There is a new subway stop under construction really close to the B&B, and once it is open it will only be about a 3 minute walk to the subway... I think it's due to be completed this year, but I am not sure when. We used the bus for a lot of things since you only need to walk 2-4 minutes from the B&B to get to a bus stop to take you wherever it is you want to go. Angela can tell you which bus number to take and mark on a map where the stop is nearest to the B&B, and they are easy to find since they have a tall sign displaying the route numbers and stop name, plus a rain shelter, so you'll see them. She can also write the stop name you need for where you want to go in both Chinese and English. I was a bit nervous about riding since I thought I may miss the stop, but there is a display at the front of the bus that shows the stop name that is approaching in Chinese and then English, and the announcements from the speakers also go in both Chinese and English, so it was easy to use. Plus it's only 1 yuan per ride.
Aug 6, 2012 1:28 AM
I loved Jingshan Park and The Temple of Heaven too.
Sep 10, 2012 7:36 PM
6Great Wall hiking is exciting, well night life in Houhai of Beijing is amazing.
Sep 10, 2012 8:42 PM
Sep 17, 2012 8:16 PM
Oct 14, 2012 7:42 PM
9I live in Beijing now.
There are many place to visit in Beijing, not only the Great Wall and Forbidden City.
If you got several days time to visit the city of Beijing, you also can go some representatives Beijing local place.
Such as :
Hutong is Beijing local people living place
Fragrant Hills also is a good place to visit in Beijing, My neighbors often in the OCT. to viste Fragrant Hills.
Beijing Capital Museum
Capital Museum also is good place to know more about the city
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