Saturday, September 8, 2012

2009 Trip to Beijing (Part 1)

So, while talking to a friend earlier this week…or maybe last week… I can’t remember. I’m getting old. Anyway, while talking to a friend…recently, I remembered that I had never written or posted anything about a trip to Beijing at the end of 2009. I might as well do that now.

At the end of 2009, I took a trip to Beijing with a friend. I do not recommend going to China in the middle of winter: it is very, very cold, windy, and dry. The desert just to the north of Beijing makes it very dry. Other than freezing my ass off, it was a very nice trip and experience. I booked everything separately (flight, hotel, tour) and did a ton of research planning this trip for us – I think it came out to about $800 each for a week in Beijing at the hotel, the tour package, and the round-trip flight. First a couple of sections in general about the trip.

We ended up staying at the Tiantan Hotel. It wasn’t too bad – we weren’t there a whole lot anyway. Nearly all of the amenities listed, though, cost extra. They do have 2 restaurants on the first floor: one is kind of a general restaurant and the other is a Chinese restaurant. When I asked the desk people about the Chinese restaurant, they seemed pretty reluctant to have foreigners eat there, so we stuck to the other one. The cost of food wasn’t bad and the food itself wasn’t too bad. I’m not sure if the extra cost for stuff is typical of hotels in China, but it was highly annoying. There were drinks and water in the mini-fridge, which cost extra, but were convenient when you got back to the room after a long day with the tour group. The pack of toiletries in the bathroom also cost extra if you use them, and the condoms they provided also cost extra if you use those. I don’t know if I would stay here again, but I did like the location. If was right next to the Red Theater where the Legend of Kung-Fu show is performed and there was an awesome Muslim-Chinese restaurant across the street.

Tour Group
I have to say that I highly recommend our tour group. I booked a 5-day tour package with Beijing Xinhua International Tours. Even though we didn’t book the hotel through them, they still picked us up and took us to our hotel from the airport and picked us up each morning for the tour group. People of the tour each day were different pretty much. I met some awesome people on the tour, like Gaby, Sergio, and Alejandro, and ended up talking more to them than the friend I was traveling with. We also had a different tour guide each day. I wish I would’ve thought to write their names down – all of them were super nice and very knowledgeable about the areas that we toured with them. At the time at least, this was the best priced tour group that I could find for what you got. They were very helpful and prompt to respond to any questions I had via email before the trip. I highly recommend them if you’re planning a trip to China.

Just a couple of general things about the trip to start. Food in China is really cheap and the servings are huge. I really enjoyed the food, but my friend thought it was a little too greasy (she’s Australian, btw). Beijing was really clean and quiet compared to S. Korea – probably because it’s a communist country. Also, since the Olympics had just been held there the previous year, just about everything was also posted in English, so it was very convenient. People were friendly and didn’t stare at me like they do in Korea even though I was wearing my penguin hat. You will encounter lots of beggars at the touristy areas – they can be hard to ignore even though the tour guides try to do so and also look embarrassed since that isn’t the sort of image they want to project to the tourists. I recommend trying to barter if you buy anything by the tourist areas. I had forgotten my scarf, so I bought one from a lady in a truck by the Great Wall. I got down as low as I could, but I still overpaid, of course. But dammit, it was cold and windy and I wanted a scarf for once (I don’t usually like scarves since they make me feel itchy).

Tour Day 1
The first day of the actual tour was very busy. We started out going to the Forbidden City, then had lunch, then went to the Temple of Heaven, then to a traditional Chinese medicine center, then finally to the Summer Palace. For our package, I also added the Legend of Kung-Fu show to the evening.

Forbidden City
The Forbidden City was pretty awesome. It’s called the Forbidden City because only the emperor, his family and consorts, and other nobles were allowed within the walls.
This was the first building we came to on the side that we entered through

An incense burner

You see these lions all over the place in Chinese architecture. The lion playing with the kitten represents the empress.

You see these lions all over the place in Chinese architecture. The lion playing with the ball/globe represents the emperor.

The number of animals on the roof of a building has a significance, too, but I can't recall what at the moment.

We were supposed to walk through Tiananmen Square to go back to the tour van, but some members of the tour group got sick and there was also an elderly couple, so that threw us off schedule a bit. But here's a picture of the outside.

Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is "the largest ancient imperial worship architecture group in the world where the ancient Emperors prayed for peace and harvest." Lots of amazing architecture here to see. It was also nice to see lots of people out enjoying the open areas by dancing, playing music, exercising, and just relaxing with family.

Summer Palace
The Summer Palace was built for the empress if I remember correctly. It is where the imperial garden is located, but in the middle of winter, that's hard to see. There is a huge man=made lake where people can take boats out in the summer. It was frozen over when we were there, though.
The bridge and the island are meant to represent a turtle (I think)

Legend of Kung-Fu Show
The Legend of Kung-Fu show was really good. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the theater, though :(. I did enjoy the show so much that I ended up buying the DVD afterwards. I highly recommend catching this if you can. I believe it also tours around the world, too.

I'll continue this blog in another post since this one is getting kind of long :)

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