As much as I would like to convince you that everywhere you go will be sweet serenity, Beijing is not one of these places. It’s a little “in-your-face”, a little out there, a little bit of everything. And know this: it is anything but little. The vast expanse of Beijing is full of hidden gems like boutique hostels, night markets, and of course: its proximity with the Great Wall. Who could forget? I spent a few days wandering Beijing in stages of both shock and awe, fascinated by the new -found culture of a country I had never visited.
I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to see something for the first time, as I’d began the backpacking trip through Seoul, a city I know and love.
But before you purchase your plane ticket and jet-set off to Beijing (and the rest of mainland China), let me give you a scare and a half. (Before I put you back together again with the good stuff, I promise!)
It’s smoggy. And not just in the “little haze in the distance” sense. I’m talking thick air that smells like exhaust at times. I developed a cough that lasted weeks, despite wearing a mask I thought would help protect me. Check the air quality when you visit. Here’s a website to do so: AQICN.org.
Also, you might want to invest in a M3 quality mask, rather than a flimsy one. If the locals are wearing masks, you probably should be too. Don’t pull a Cassy and cough up unspeakable things for weeks.
Beijing has the misfortune of being physically located just south of giant deserts. So not only does it experience air pollution coming in from the manufacturing industries, but also deals with dust from the north as well.
Beijing, and other parts of mainland China are completely different than western cities. It’s packed, it’s loud, and it’s different. Prepare yourself. You might see things that you are not used to. You might see people eating things that you wouldn’t dare. People might take pictures of you, with or without your permission.
If you walk down some market streets, you might see large kiddie-pools filled with sea creatures, including turtles, octopuses and other live animals. Nearby there might be cages with other things that will be used for food, including ducks, chickens, small mammals such as beavers and rabbits, and even dogs and cats. I found it very sad, however I think it’s important to remember that even westerners eat animals that other cultures regard highly (Such as cows in India).
You might see children around the age of 3 or so wearing peculiar pants. These chap-like get-ups have exposed butts so that the young children are able to relieve themselves without soiling their clothing. Which means you might see children using streets as toilets. This brings me to my next topic:
Avoiding “T” Subjects
It’s taboo to talk about toilets, things that happened in Tiananmen Square, Tibet and Taiwan. I’m sure you can put a few things together to discover why. Don’t make comments about smelly toilets. Tour guides often speak English, and are not afraid to call you out about this, as they consider eastern-style bathrooms a very sore subject.
Ah, I almost forgot!!! Bring tissues with you where ever you go. Public restrooms are hard to come by in Beijing, and are almost always BYOTP (Bring Your Own T.P.)
Your Little Guide to Loving Beijing
Now that I’ve prepared you for the absolute worst, let me tell you a little about the best parts of Beijing!
Forbidden City. Summer Palace. Tiananmen Square. Temple of Heaven. Yonghe Temple. Beijing Botanical Garden
The list can go on and on! There is simply so much to see in Beijing. Everything here is ancient, and awesome.
My personal recommendation for Beijing include:
It’s huge! Make sure you buy tickets online or go early if you are traveling on a weekend or holiday in Beijing. It has a capacity maximum of 80,000 people per day and does sell out at times.
The largest wooden statue of Buddha in the world resides inside this infamous Tibetan Buddhist Temple. I found this place to be a welcome sanctuary from the craziness of Beijing. It had a quiet power in the calmness of the people visiting the temple that day.
The Imperial Garden
Located adjacent to the Forbidden City, it’s the perfect place to pack a lunch and eat away from the crowds. It smells lovely and the flowers are gorgeous and plentiful. There is fantastic architecture here, and a greenhouse full of beautiful tulips. How romantic!
Because obviously, any trip to Beijing wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Great Wall.
You must try Peking Duck while you are there. It’s a little pricey, but worth it! Some of the night markets have wonderful options as well, including stinky tofu, mango sticks, and almond brittle.
Try your taste buds on a delicious hot-pot meal while you are at it as well. You can’t go wrong in the capital city.
That’s all folks! I hope I prepared you well for the awesome erratic city that is Beijing. It’s a doozy, but worth your time.
Have you visited there? What are your thoughts?