Exactly one month ago today I stepped off a plane at Beijing Capital Airport and tried to wrap my head around the fact that day one of my five month adventure had finally arrived. After months of scheming, shots and spending to prepare, it was really here.
We breezed through customs, grabbed our packs and hopped on the Airport Express, destination Happy Dragon Hostel. An hour and a half, three metro transfers and a short walk later we reached the place that we’d call home for the next week. The staff at this hostel were amazing and after a quick check-in we set off with directions to get some good Chinese eats. Great food, great beer and a great first evening followed. Here’s what we’ve gotten up to since night one…
A typical day in Beijing started out with breakfast at our hostel’s on-site restaurant- we quickly figured out that the Swiss breakfast (eggs, cheese, toast and muesli with fruit and yogurt) was the way to go. Energized for the day ahead, we would usually decide on an itinerary and head out to Dong Si, our local metro station. The train system in Beijing was absolutely amazing- for only 2 yuan a trip (approx. 30 cents) we were able to get to every site on our list of must-sees in air conditioned, efficient comfort.
Speaking of sights, it goes without saying that we visited the Great Wall (more on that later) and Forbidden City, but we also managed to see the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Confucius’ Temple, Jingshan Park, Tian An Men Square, the Tower of Buddhist Incense and the Olympic Pavilion including the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest. Personal favorite was definitely the Summer Palace, where the emperor and his empress would retreat in the summer months (shocking, I know). The palace itself resides on a hill overlooking a massive lake, all of which is surrounded by gardens, paths and amazing bridges. We spent the good part of 4 hours exploring the palace and wandering around the lake and easily could have spent more time doing so had we arrived earlier in the day. The Bird’s Nest was also very cool, the architecture and design of that building is extremely impressive and seeing it in person made it all the more so. Next time I’d probably skip Confucius’ Temple and the Temple of Heaven, once you’ve seen the Summer Palace not much else comes close.
However, if there was one thing that I enjoyed more than the SP in Beijing, it would definitely be our visit to the Great Wall of China. We chose to travel out to the Mutianyu portion, which has 3 km of both restored and unrestored portions. Towers line the wall every couple 100 meters or so and provide amazing views; looking out over the Great Wall from the top of one is an experience that words just can’t do justice. Pictures have a hard time of it too, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get snap-happy during our tour. After trekking along for around 2 hours we took a chair lift down and settled in for an epic 8-course meal before boarding the bus back to the city.
Two more highlights that can’t go without mentioning occurred on our second last night in Beijing. We decided that we just couldn’t leave China without trying some world-famous Peking duck, so with a little help from the girls at the front desk of our hostel we managed to find a reasonably priced restaurant to do just that. It was hands down the best meal I had in Beijing- the duck meat was rich, the skin crispy and the whole experience amazing. If you’re ever in Beijing, you gotta do it. After our meal we wandered down to the night market for a dessert of fried scorpions! The market sells all kinds of odd food, from roasted pigeons and king spiders to sheep penis and centipedes. We played it rather safe in comparison to some of the other items available. Surprisingly, I actually really enjoyed the scorpion- it tasted like an extra crispy potato chip, seasoned to perfection.
Needless to say, we left Beijing on a high note.