Our first stop in Asia couldn’t have been more different to the party atmosphere and beaches of Rio, where we had just left. We arrived in the capital of China, Beijing, excited to discover some of it’s incredible history. And of course, eager to see one of our most anticipated and one of the world’s most recognisable sites, The Great Wall of China.
Depending on which table you read, Beijing has the third (or fifth, or eight, or..?!) largest population in the entire world, of about 20 million people. And believe me, you feel like you’ve landed right in the middle of them as soon as you get out in the city. One thing about Beijing we came across immediately, and what was going to be the norm in the next few days, was how big it was on security. There were bag checks and scans in every tube station. Military and police officials stationed every few metres along the main Chang’an Avenue. Security was tight in Beijing!
There were people everywhere! People rushing past you on the underground, queues everywhere, trains crammed to the max. It was chaos. But fun nonetheless. We soon managed to navigate our way via the underground from the airport to our hotel, but got absolutely drenched in sweat in the process due to the crazy heat both under and over ground.
We also noticed that buildings were absolutely huge! Everywhere in Beijing there are rows upon rows of enormous buildings, ranging from banks to hotels to government buildings. Nothing was held back when building these things.
We didn’t have a huge deal of time in Beijing, and so we set off to see the sights in Beijing as soon as we got there in the evening. First stop, Wangfujing Street, which is a famous night market in Beijing, but is most famous for it’s street food stalls. However, street food a bit different from what we are used to!
For those of you who are a bit squeamish, I suggest you skip this paragraph, along with the pictures/videos to follow beneath it, because it’s about to get a bit grimy! Now we’re big fans of street food, usually excited to try the local flavours on offer. But at Wangfujing, it was a bit different. Let me explain..
Or actually, let me show you a picture..
So imagine a piece of food on a stick (and by food, I mean it could be anything). You could most probably find this in Wangfujing. Fancy a snake on a stick today? Or a bat? Starfish? What about seahorse? Yep, it was all available here to eat at Wangfujing. It was pretty crazy to see. We walked around in amazement for a bit, because it wasn’t something you saw everyday. But the treats on offer at the stalls were really popular with the crowds.
Karina and I played it safe though, opting for some sugar grapes, crisps, some dumplings and a strange smoky apple-flavoured drink.
Our introduction to Beijing was a crazy one to say the least! It was here also that we first encountered people wanting to take pictures with us! A few Chinese teenagers came up to us to ask us if they could have a picture. This actually happened a few times over the next few days. Even if people wouldn’t ask for pictures, almost everyone wherever we went would turn to take a look or even stare at us for a little while. We weren’t sure why (we thought we looked pretty normal!) but maybe it was because they didn’t see many Indian people there.
So far on our travels, we had been so lucky to have visited two of the New 7 Wonders of the World, in Machu Picchu and Christ the Redeemer. We were now about to see the oldest of the 7, and were very excited.
The Great Wall of China can trace it’s history as far back to 700 BC. Different sections have been built and destroyed since then by the many dynasties that ruled China, but most of the Wall that remains today is from the time of the Ming dynasty, from around 1300-1600 AD.
It’s one of those structures that we’ve read and heard about so much growing up, that we were really looking forward to seeing it. You can visit a few different sections of the Wall from Beijing, and we chose to venture a bit further out than most of the crowds, as sections of the Wall such as Badaling or Mutianyu get pretty crowded. So we decided to hike a section from Jinshanling to Simatai. And the result was we pretty much had this section of the Wall to ourselves!
We’d driven around two hours from Beijing. On first site of the Wall, I got that similar feeling from when I first saw Christ the Redeemer. A structure that I was familiar with, but breathtaking to see it for the first time.
You park about thirty minutes away from the Wall, and hike up to reach it. Being covered in shade, you don’t realise the heat until you actually get onto the Wall itself. It was unbelievably hot! More than what we’d encountered so far on the whole trip. And there was no shade up on the Wall to hide from it either! The next three hours were going to be fun!
To be honest, once you’re up and seeing the views that you get up there, it’s all worth it. The Great Wall of China is actually incredible. It seems to go on forever. The sight of the structure itself was amazing.
The Great Wall was essentially a defence system used to defend China from it’s enemies. And so the Great Wall features many towers at regular intervals along the Wall, which were used to house soldiers, as well as pass signals along to each other in case of enemy attack. And today, they’re used for tourists like us to recover from the heat during the hikes!
The three-hour hike was pretty tough. The Wall would dip and rise constantly, some sections were pretty slippery, and the intense heat pounding down was tough too. Add to that the jet lag we were experiencing, the hike ended up being quite a challenge. But the views of the Wall and it’s surroundings kept us going.
After a challenging but throughly rewarding three hours, we were glad to be out the heat and on our way back down from the Wall. It was a brilliant experience though. The Great Wall of China really is great, and I’d recommend seeing this incredible structure any day.
Our final day in Beijing was a very busy one, as we hadn’t yet seen much of the city, and tried to cram in what we could. The city has so much history, and as such there’s a lot of places to see. We started off by heading to the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City is located smack bang in the middle of Beijing, and was the home of the Chinese Emperors from the 1400s to the early 1900s. The word City in the name of the place isn’t there for fun, as this complex has close to a thousand buildings within it’s grand walls, and once inside, it’s easy to see why it was once a standalone city on itself. To exclude itself further from the outside world, the Forbidden City was and still is surrounded by a large moat.
Walking around this place was fun. It was like going back a thousand years and forgetting everything outside these walls. The buildings were grand and ancient. Cool ancient architecture that we were seeing for the first time. And there was so much detail in every aspect, from the doors to the walls.
Walking within the walls of the city, you get a decent idea of how big it actually is, and get a feeling for how the ancient Emperors must have lived in those times. However, it wasn’t until we exited north of the City and walked up Jingshan Park, that we truly understood how big Forbidden City actually was.
Jingshan Park is directly north of Forbidden City, and the main attraction is a hill from which you get amazing views of not only Forbidden City, but the entire city of Beijing. We made our way up, and were taken aback by what we saw.
The views, especially those of Forbidden City, were definitely amazing. It was easily one of the highlights for us in Beijing.
We next checked out the famous network of Hutongs, which are narrows alleys lined with one-story short traditional residential houses. The network is so vast that it’s easy to get lost within them, and houses some of Beijing’s celebrities and officials. This place felt like walking back in time also due to it’s traditional feel.
To finish up our short stay in Beijing, we ended it at one of the most famous, or infamous, places in Beijing in recent times.
Tiananmen Square lies directly opposite and south of the Forbidden City. It’s one of the largest open squares in the world (able to hold up to one million people within it), and has great importance to the people of China. It’s where Chairman Mao announced the founding of the present-day China in 1949], and the location of monuments such as the National Museum, and the Memorial Hall, where Mao’s body is now housed. It’s also known for the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, where a student-led pro-democracy protest resulted in thousands of deaths of protestors by the country’s military.
The square is so big. We’d got used to the largest buildings but this was one another scale. The open square was something else. We spent a good hour walking around it and taking a look at the monuments.
Beijing had a lot more to offer. There is so much to see and experience but we only ventured there for a short amount of time, mainly to see the Great Wall, so unfortunately didn’t manage to see a lot else that was on offer. We definitely enjoyed our time out there, and it’s left us wanting to come back to this grand city someday to see the rest of what it has to offer.
Our stay in China was a short but very enjoyable one. Now, it was time to move again, this time to a place so close, but yet so different to Beijing.