I've been thinking about Beijing a lot lately. No real reason, just reminiscing I guess. We incorporated a trip to China as part of our honeymoon, which is something most people are surprised to hear. It's not exactly a top destination for newlyweds. However, we wanted to use our honeymoon as an opportunity to explore parts of the world we never would otherwise. China isn't on the horizon for touring and we were craving a bit of a cultural shock. I've seen enough European H&Ms to last a lifetime and I want to karate kick every Starbucks in the face.
Well, I'd say we got exactly what we asked for. Beijing could not be more different from everywhere else we've been in the world. We encountered zero english speakers (outside of the concierge at our hotel) and had to get comfortable with zero personal space real fast. I'm serious - if you are waiting in line the person behind you will literally put his/her head on your shoulder. They get cozy. The public bathroom situation is a bit horrifying (for someone raised in the U S of A) and the pollution is what nightmares are made of.
All that aside, I seriously loved the place. Here are some tips, tricks, and notes about this curious piece of the planet:
- When you're going to The Great Wall, drive to an entrance that is about and hour and a half away from the city. There is a spot that's only about 30 minutes away, but it's ridiculously crowded. Since it's so big, you're cool starting just about anywhere.
- You can take a tram to the top, but walking the stairs gives you a better idea of how impressive this thing really is. Wear your sneaks and get to hiking!
- Definitely ride the toboggan down when you're done exploring the wall. You heard me - RIDE THE GIANT SLIDE DOWN. Pretty sure they don't have insurance on this thing, so be careful to not fly out.
- Go eat delicious hot pot on Ghost Street. Actually eat anything on Ghost Street. There are tons of options and you really can't go wrong. Plus, with the lack of english menus, it's all a dice roll anyway! Little Sheep is a good go-to. It's actually a chain, but that's ok in this instance.
- Get a REALLY good translator app. For some reason mine (google) would only bring up the Chinese character for hot water whenever I wanted actual water in a glass, so that was less than awesome. The confused looks from the servers over why I was requesting said hot water was actually kind of wonderful though.
- The Forbidden City is amazing. You gotta. The architecture, colors, and history is pretty breathtaking.
- Everything is up for negotiation. Want a scarf? Don't stop until you're at 1/3 of the original asking price. Seriously.
- Walk, walk, walk. For being a big spread out city, a lot of it is pretty walkable. However, you might want to leave some of the hutongs for daylight hours. Hutong's are little alleys that essentially make up the city - in them you'll find little residences and shops (and the occasional restaurant). They're older than all of our Grandpas combined and are a great piece of Chinese history.
- You won't find many New York-esque, dimly lit, cozy restaurants here. Most are loud, bright, and pretty casual. One exception is Duck De Chine - a fabulous Peking duck restaurant with a French flair. They do cater to tourists and have English speaking servers and menus.
- Eat dumplings until you can dumpling no more.
- This last one is the most important - carry toilet paper with you everywhere! That bathroom situation is no joke. Toss in some hand sanitizer for good measure.
Up next on the China list: Chengdu (hometown of Giant Pandas, hello!), Shanghai, and Hangzhou.
PS - the top photo is one of my favorites that I've ever taken. I adore that guy's happy face!