China trip part 1 – Beijing and the Great Wall

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Beijing and The Great Wall

On the wall
On the wall

Beijing is a huge city!  I thought after living in a large Asian city for 8 years I’d be used to it, but as still quite overwhelming.


We stayed in a lovely hotel near the Forbidden City and had a good wonder around the streets there.  And it was there we first noticed the dreaded…



Smoggy view from my hotel

It was pretty bad!  Everyday was hazy and my allergies were acting up.  There’s hardly any wind in Beijing this time of year so the smog just settles for ages.  Our guide and others did say though things were improving – and I hope they’re right. I couldn’t imagine living there as it is!


First day


On the first day of the tour we were taken to the Temple of Heaven.  There was some beautiful architecture and a lovely sunset. One interesting thing to mention is the “roof-corner animals”.  

IMG_0035On many old buildings the corner of each roof layer is decorated by a parade of mythical animals, dragons, phoenixes, sea monsters and some guy riding a chicken (!) The more animals in the parade the more important the building is.  


There was also the sad reminder that as a Brit travelling the world you sometimes bump into embarrassing moments of history…

The British Army destroyed part of the Temple during the Opium War

That night we went to a famous Peking Duck restaurant

Peking Duck Restaurant

…and I then found some odd snacks in a local convenience store.


And in the street markets, there were other interesting snacks.

We also visited an antiques market where I picked up a couple of scrolls and saw these lovely painted snuff bottles.

… and some not so lovely ones.



Day 2

The next day we set off early to Tienanmen Square and on the bus the tour guide asked us not to talk about “that event” while at the square. I was actually quite surprised generally about how open about things our tour guides were – it was great to see.  It’s a huge space! And if you like communist architecture then it’s got loads. At the southern end is Mao’s mausoleum and the queue to enter it stretched round and round and round. Our guide said people line up for 3 hours + just to see him.


From the north side of the square you can enter the Forbidden City itself.    And again the places is huge! I’ve been in many Japanese Castles and I thought they were big… but they have nothing on this, it really is a city!  It’s vast with many different buildings and sections for the emperor, ceremonies, wife, concubines, emperor’s mother all surrounded by thick, high walls.


And check out these roof animals!  10 – the most of any building in China!  


Although what stuck me when walking around the Forbidden City was the lack of nature or gardens.  There was one small garden at the back, but it seemed to be mostly composed of pretty rocks and mini pagodas.

A typical Japanese palace is much smaller but surrounded by greenery.  Rooms are placed to provide optimal views of the garden – I wonder if this is perhaps because Beijing winters are much colder than Japanese ones.

The Great Wall

The next day we had to get up early to go to the great wall.  There are several sections you can easily visit from Beijing, but the one we visited, Jinshanling, has just been renovated, and most importantly has a cable car!  The views are amazing and as we got there early there were hardly any other people. Part of the wall were pretty steep and crumbly but it’s not too hard a hike.

That afternoon we visited a tea shop and the silk market (more about that in another post)


The Summer Palace

We saw this in the morning before leaving Beijing.  The Summer Palace is to the north of the city and contains 3 large lakes and many beautiful buildings … (and some more embarrassing moments of British history…) As we were there in the afternoon this was a little more crowded with large groups of school children running around.  There are boats across the lake that give the best views…


…. Anyway that was three days in Beijing.  Next up Xian!


1 comments on “China trip part 1 – Beijing and the Great Wall”

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