Oh China… oh how you gave me an ulcer.
Let’s start from the beginning and by beginning, I mean when we tried to leave Tokyo…
I booked all of our flights via Expedia.com as I usually do, because I have come to have a preference for their website and most of the time they have the best deals on flights. I am a double checking, organized and responsible human because I am in constant fear of something unexpected deterring my travels. When it came time to travel to China, we were stopped dead in our tracks at the check out counter. They told us we could not go to China because we did not have a Chinese visa. Well, you CAN go to China without visa if you are there less than 72 hours and continuing on to a third party country. Which we were. Turns out, because our layover was in Shanghai, that loop hole was invalid. For it to be valid, we would need to have our continuing flight out of Shanghai and not Beijing. This made no sense to me because we were flying into Beijing, just through Shanghai.
I kept my tears at bay and we ended up having to buy a second ticket through Busan, South Korea and on to Beijing. We then had to grab our luggage and take a shuttle to the other end of Tokyo and a different airport.
So, after the longest day of traveling we finally make it Beijing the next morning with enough time to salvage some of the day’s schedule.
We picked a hotel near the Forbidden city in hopes we could walk. The hotel was very nice and clean, however the front desk staff was most unhelpful. Most people in China are most unhelpful. No speaks English, which is fine. But they also yell and point and shoo you away. We were on our own.
After settling into our hotel, we had two things to take care of. Booking our Great wall tour for the next day and reserving a table for dinner at Da Dong Roast Duck for Christmas Night. (I’ll go into more details on Day 2)
With the tours and restaurant booked, we were starving! We found a restaurant that I have not the slightest clue of its name, but was tucked into a small plaza off the main street. They had an English menu and the best egg rolls I have ever eaten! So Crispy, so perfect. We also ordered steam fried broccoli, pork fried noodles and short ribs. Real authentic Chinese food to die for.
After filling up, we walked towards the Imperial Palace, also known as the Forbidden City. The tickets were just under $10 each and we took about two hours wandering the grounds.
The grounds were gorgeous and the architecture was stunning. Beware of the pushy people, I got many elbows to the face. There is no sense of personal space, line queuing or manners in general. Breathe and stay calm.
There are panhandlers, tricksters and people trying to sell you things every few feet. Move quickly along and don’t make eye contact.
The grounds lead us out the north exit which positioned us right in front of Jingshen Park. Pay the less than a $1 entrance price and take a short walk up the path to enjoy an inspiring 360 degree view of Beijing. Don’t breathe too deeply, the pollution is as bad as they say. Our throats were killing us within a few hours.
The sun was beginning to set by this time and we hoped to make it to Tiananmen Square before the night was finished. Apparently there is a flag ceremony ever single day around 5:00 PM that closes the entire square, you cannot go in and you cannot cross for miles on each side. With the sun setting quickly and no way of getting across to where our hotel was, we walked as far we could and tried to desperately hail a taxi. I had read that under no circumstances should you get into a unmetered taxi. However, we were desperate, cold and tired and this was the only taxi that would stop.
Big Mistake. This taxi drove like a crazy person! He was driving on the sidewalks, screaming at us in Chinese, swerving in and out of oncoming traffic, cutting across four lanes of traffic in the opposite direction. This was the most terrifying experience of my life! He didn’t even take us to the hotel. He didn’t speak a word of English, but I gathered from his hand gestures that there was too much traffic and he dropped us off at the subway station. We still had to pay him the $15 we originally negotiated. We got played. Lesson Learned. We walked for twenty minutes and made it back to our hotel.
We were headed to the Great Wall! Our lovely driver picked us up in our hotel right on time to head to the Great Wall. There are a few different sections you can see from Beijing, but the top three would be Badaling, Mutianyu and Jingshaling. Off a friends recommendation, we opted for Jinshanling, a two hour drive from Beijing.
A couple of notes on the three spots:
Badaling – the most tourist coveted spot. Easy to get to, lots of tourists and the most visited part of the wall.
Mutianyu – Revered as one of the most beautiful sections, it has two chairlifts to take you to the top and is only an hour and half from Beijing. This spot is also not as busy as Badaling.
Jinshanling – This trail is the most steep and has rough terrain, but has the most original sections still in tact. The trail was about a 30 minute walk to the top and most of the wall is large steps and steep inclines. This part was not crowded at all, we found it be beautiful and serene.
Our driver didn’t speak any English, so the drive up was a silent one. He parked in the nearest lot, while we climbed around the wall for 3 hours. We then met him back in the parking lot and headed back to our hotel.
To book this tour, we first asked our hotel. They were completely unhelpful. They told us to go to a travel agency down the street. That travel agency said they only booked tours for Chinese nationals and sent us along to another tour company. This tour company was very helpful. They were able to book us a car and driver for the day for 1100 yuan ($170). There are other ways to get to the wall such as the bus and an actual tour, but we enjoy the freedom of choice and our own pace.
We ended the evening at Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant. This was the best roast duck I had ever had! The restaurant was beautiful, modern, and they spoke some English and also provided us with an English menu. We ordered a whole roast suckling duck, a Caesar salad, peas, two glasses of wine, and dessert. The bill was under $100. Our hotel was able to make the reservation for us and it is highly recommended you do so.
This was by far the best day we had in Beijing!
We spent the morning repacking our bags because of silly Airasia rules, (checked bags have to be 44 lbs.) This was dubbed the Great Purge of 2015.
Then we headed to the Beijing Zoo to see the Giant pandas. We took a metered taxi that only cost us $8 and he wasn’t as terrifying.
Upon entering the zoo, I was immediately distraught. The zoo is completely run down and the animals seem miserable. I am not a zoo hater, I actually love going to the zoo, as long as its well kept and the animals are taken care of. That was not the case at this zoo. After seeing the Pandas, we saw the polar bears and walked through the shabby and very dark nocturnal animals sections. With signs on every case that say no tapping, no knocking, no flash, etc. Basically respectful rules to abide by for the sake of the animals, but apparently the people of China don’t have the same respect. They were banging on the glass and had their flashlights turned on, shining them in the eyes of sleeping animals. I began to get so irritated that I was pointing to the signs every time someone broke the rules. Not to mention we got to the polar bear section and the bears had no pool to swim in and they were so dirty they almost resembled brown bears. It was quite a depressing day at the zoo.
Since we were not able to get into Tiananmen Square the first day, I was determined to get in this day. We took a taxi back over there from the zoo and it was about 2:00 PM in the afternoon. THEY WERE CLOSING THE SQUARE AGAIN FOR THE FLAG CEREMONY. We were barely able to make it through one of their many security checks before they completely closed it off, swiftly walked through and came out on the other side.
It was very important to me that I get in because I’m stubborn and I hate being in a place with so many restrictions. China has kept what happened in that square a secret from their people and I wanted to stand in it. I wanted to stand in that square knowing what they did. AND it felt great.
After feeling exhausted from our time in Beijing we had a late lunch and then waited at our hotel for the airport pick up. I was done, I was ready to leave.
Side note – once we got through customs at the airport, the security check was insane! They made us take every single thing out of our bags. Cords, chargers, electronics, battery packs, cameras, cases and they even had to open some birthday gifts I had wrapped for my boyfriend. All because there was a magnet on the new wallet I had bought him. Needless to say, my fuse had blown and my voice got high, before I was carted off by the boyfriend for making a very small scene. We left and safely landed in our next destination.
Would I return? Most Unlikely.
While traveling to most countries, their internet does not allow you access many sites that you normally would. This is an easy fix. By downloading an app called tunnelbear on your computer it allows you to privately browse from the US. Genius. Netflix and Chill. Facebook. Gmail. You can’t stop me China!