January was surely not a month to holiday in Beijing with below 0 degree temperatures but what does one do when you have an entire day to yourself in the Chinese capital. You don’t miss the chance to visit the Great Wall of China!
So, my flight was to take off at 8 p.m which meant I had to reach the airport by 5:30 p.m. This made it impossible for me to take the half day bus tours to the Great wall which typically ended at 6 or 7 p.m. These tours cost about USD 50-60 per head and are definitely the cheaper option but not when you are running against time. So I took the next best, albeit expensive, option which was to take a private car tour with a driver and a guide. This tour cost me USD 250 but was better than missing the experience. If you are travelling in a bigger group a private car or van tour can cost up to USD 75 per person and be a more optimal way given the flexibility to pace your travel as per your preferences.
The private tour was extremely safe for a solo woman traveler and I was pretty glad to have an English-speaking guide given the struggle otherwise to communicate in Beijing if you don’t know the local language. He took very good care of me knowing that I wasn’t familiar with local customs and language. We made the best of the 8 hours I had to experience the most of Chinese culture in the least time.
- Tiananmen Square – As the name suggests, this is a square like a city center point used as a massive meeting place and political events. In better weather, you can get down and roam around a bit admiring the buildings on either side of the square. However, a drive around the square is also sufficient if you don’t want to brave extreme heat or cold! The picture of Mao Zedong cannot be missed whichever direction your drive around the square.
- The Imperial Palace / Forbidden City – With nearly 1000 rooms/houses, the Imperial Palace (also known as the Forbidden City) is worth a visit. Being winters, the crowds were much lesser. Otherwise I was told, I would need to walk through “mountains and seas of people”. My guide told me that each room had animals sculpted at the corner of its room and the number of animals indicated the level and stature of the person whose room it was. The palace houses a museum which has a beautiful collection of Chinese artefacts. However, the stories around the various houses in the palace were more interesting than the artefacts. The sheer size of the Forbidden City beats any of the forts or palaces I have seen across countries. No wonder it is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
Tea Tasting – A complete desi chai person, the exposure to various forms of Chinese tea was eye-opening for me. I didn’t know that there was tea made of rice and flowers as well! Its worth a lesson in tea-making if you are in China.
Silk Making – Apart from tea, since Chinese silk is also famous in the world, I did do a stopover at a silk factory to watch silk making. It was fascinating the way the silk yarn was stretched from a small ball to a full double bed size quilt in front of my eyes. Well if you want to buy some silk quilts, they are pretty light and these factories pack them as per the amount of weight you want to carry!
Great Wall at Badaling – Finally, the biggest charm of the location. The Great Wall of China! There are many sections the wall that can be visited. It is said that Mutianyu has beautiful views. Badaling is more touristy due to its proximity to Beijing. Given my tight schedule, I decided to visit Badaling. The car dropped me about 0.5 miles from the main venue. That walk during the January cold was killing but otherwise, it seemed a pleasant area with shops on both sides. The area where one can climb the wall is clearly marked out. You need to buy tickets to climb the wall. The wall is pretty broad and people actually trek up a long way. I trekked a little bit. Despite all odds, it was my lucky day that the smoggy Beijing sky was clear that day to see the far ends of the Great Wall. One can spend the entire day trekking to and fro on the wall or just visit a small section and return as they wish.
So while the above as what one can do in one day in Beijing, here are some other tips as you visit the Chinese capital whether for business or leisure.
- Language – English is not widely spoken and language can definitely become a huge constraint. Carry a visiting card of your hotel to show to your cab or bus driver. It’s better to take pictures of critical places you make ask directions for like a toilet, market, food items , sign board of touristy destinations etc. If you land at the airport post-midnight, my recommendation would be to book a cab through your hotel instead of venturing out on your own.
Peking Duck– If you a non-vegetarian, do try this famous dish. No, you wouldn’t have a duck sitting at your table . The way the peking duck is served is also quite an art. The chef would typically come and carve it next to your table and it is served in 3 stages.
- Vegetarian food– Unlike what most of us experience with the Indian version of Chinese that has very few vegetarian options, there are many green vegetables in the Chinese cuisine so vegetarians can really enjoy the food too.
Silk Market – This is a name of a huge shopping center is Beijing where you can find all kinds of brands at very cheap prices. It’s a bargainers paradise. However, if you don’t want to buy the fake stuff, pick up some Chinese silk wall hangings or pottery from here. It is walking distance from the China World Trade center.
- China World Trade Center Mall – The China World Trade Center has a massive underground mall with all kinds of high end brands. If you are not into the Silk Market kind of shopping, you can check out the big brands in this mall. The Shangrila hotel is located in the China World Trade Center so if you are staying there, you practically do not need to step out for anything.
- Indian restaurants – This for my Indian travel readers who like me do start longing for a bit of desi flavor after braving the destination country’s cuisine for a few days. There are quite a few Indian restaurants near the China World Trade Center. My favorite was the Taj Pavilion. No it is not the Taj! It is a mid range Indian restaurant. The food is authentic Indian and so is the ambience of the restaurant. If you are staying at the Shangrila hotel, they also deliver there to your room!
Well, that was my quick peak into Peking. Would like to do more of the less traversed cities of China in future sometime.