After about a week of taking a break from travel writing, I am finally back! For the last travel post of which I left off, check it out here.
This upcoming week (as well as today) will be a different segment on my “Throwback Travels” series. After breezing through places such as Europe (Scandinavia) and the U.S. (West Coast, in particular), we’re finally heading to China!
For the next seven or eight days on this blog, I’ll be recounting my travels to the motherland (I am of Chinese descent). The thing is, I’d made two trips to China before, the first in 2009 and the second in 2011; I will be sharing both. From the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai to the more nature-y lands of Guilin and Huangshan, I hope you enjoy this long ride with me through the most populated country in the world. Let’s begin! 😀
First up is Beijing (北京), the capital of the People’s Republic of China (PRC, or just “China” for short. As an individual who identifies with her Taiwanese roots more, this political situation between the mainland and Taiwan is complicated that I don’t know what to think of it. But I digress). I visited there back in August 2009 with my family; it was part of a eight, nine-day tour in which we visited other parts of China, and we basically started in Beijing.
We arrived in Hong Kong after a long, *rather painful* 13-hour flight from Los Angeles, then had to make a connecting flight to Beijing thereafter, which took another 3 hours; you can bet after we landed in the capital, I was a tired mess. Our tour guide received us at the airport and took us to our hotel, the Westin, which to this day remains one of the swankiest hotels that I’ve ever stayed in…period! From the polished, modern black marble staircase in the lobby to the Portuguese bath salt provided in our bathrooms, that hotel was the epitome of classiness. ❤
However, we didn’t have much time to rest up in our wonderful hotel rooms, because we had a packed schedule for that day, in terms of exploring Beijing. We dropped off our luggage and headed out to take a sightseeing bus tour around the capital city. Looking around, I could definitely see that Beijing was a super international city, with bilingual signs (including traditional and simplified Chinese characters) and high-rise business buildings like LA or NYC. At the same time, I could also see that it was very Westernized, as well as having, of course, tons of traffic: cars cutting each other off, pedestrians and cyclists crossing through without attention to safety, and lots of honking. Lots of it. 😛
Our first stop was, funny enough, at a foot massage shop, where we were treated to an hour or so of, well, foot massages; our tour guide reasoned with us that since we’d just came from a long day’s worth of traveling from the States, we deserved something nice that would also prepare us for the strenuous sightseeing in the days to come. Mind you, I ain’t complainin’!
It was the first time that I got a foot massage ever, and I admit, it was really nice! The one who did my foot really did a good job, as he applied pressure to the right places and even somehow managed to rub away this annoying corn blister on my left foot that I’d gotten from running too much in cross country (yeah, I was runner in high school). You can bet that we gave our masseurs a good tip afterwards!
With our wonderfully-massaged feet (seriously, it felt like I was walking on clouds!), we headed over to Tienanmen Square, both the site where Chairman Mao Zedong had declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and where the infamous Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989. The square is incredibly spacious and also has a picture of Mao Zedong’s face prominently displayed at the entrance.
The day was coming to an end, and our tour guide took us to dinner, where we were presented with huge platters of food, including the famous Beijing (or Peking) duck. With an oily, crackling skin and tender, moist meat inside, the duck was super delicious and I was glad to have tried it there for the first time! With full stomachs, we returned to our hotel thereafter, where we turned in for the night, after an exhausting flight and first day of touring.
Wake-up call the next day was 6h30, which was too much bad (I’m a naturally early riser). After a really good breakfast at the hotel (lots of variety, I tell you!), we headed out to visit the Temple of Heaven, a huge religious building (or rather, “buildings”) that were used by emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties for praying. We went through a bunch of gates inside the area, stopping in each plaza to check out the activities going on, from water calligraphy to dance class to even hacky sack!
Afterwards, we visited the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, two building complexes which were used during the 2008 Summer Olympics (the track-and-field stadium and swimming pool, respectively). It was interesting trying to imagine that just a year before, athletes such as Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps competed there- still great athletes today (especially with these past Games in Rio).
We had a lunch of small, local dishes before heading off to the Forbidden City in the afternoon. It’s not a city but rather an imperial palace that had served the emperors for nearly five centuries. It contains almost 1000 buildings inside, so large that you might as well consider it a tiny city within Beijing itself. The palace got its name “Forbidden City” due to the fact that no one could enter or exit the city without first getting permission from the emperor. The Palace Museum today houses plenty of artifacts back in the day and is the most-visited museum in the world (second being the Louvre in Paris).
Our tour guide took us all over the massive palace, walking from south to north and squeezing through the throngs of people as we did so. We stayed for almost two hours before we left. By then, night was falling, and we hit the entertainment district for a hotpot dinner. Being that it was a hot summer’s night with hot food to boot, you can be sure that we were sweating as we were eating (even with AC in the room!).
Afterwards, we returned to our hotel, tired but happy with all of the sightseeing that day. The following day was our last full day in Beijing; we first visited the Summer Palace, which was originally built to be a summer retreat for the emperor but in actuality became the palace of Empress Cixi, the last ruler and only powerful empress of the Chinese dynasties. The palace is along Kunming Lake and is home to plenty of building complexes and gardens.
We had another small lunch of local dishes before taking a 2-hour drive over to, you guessed it, the Great Wall of China. We had opted for the 1200-meter walk along the wall, which we did for the rest of the day. Combined with many irregular-shaped steps (some extremely steep and others super tiny) and the humid, summer heat, it was quite the feat, but we got some really good shots of this so-called “Eighth Wonder of the World” (according to some, that is).
We had our dinner afterwards, and were shown to our rooms in these countryside houses, which were like houses in themselves. Modern and spacious, the only downside was that it couldn’t keep the bugs away; as a result, I got bitten! So annoying…
Anyway, that was my *long* recount of my stay in Beijing. So much happened in those two-and-a-half days, and I got to see a lot of the historical and culturally-significant places in person. Granted, it was tiring exploring from sunrise to sundown, but we still had a few more days of touring in other parts of China to go!
Thanks for reading, folks! Stay tuned for our next destination: Xi’an, China!
— The Finicky Cynic
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