China is a country rich in ancient history and its capitol, Beijing, is one of the most fascinating cities to visit. I've been there four times and I still find it fascinating. Hailing from a very young country, it is mind-boggling to walk in places where people lived, thrived, and practice culture thousands of years before you stepped foot there!
Beijing is becoming increasingly Westernized, but the city has preserved many of it's ancient landmarks and traditions. Here are, in my opinion, the top 10 things to do when you visit Beijing (and you must!). I am splitting this into two parts, so that this blog entry won't be ridiculously long.
Here are the top 5:
There is a saying in China that "a man doesn't become a man until he climbs the Great Wall." The Great Wall is actually wall segments that were built over several Chinese dynasties to protect China's Northern Border, starting in 210 BC with the Qin Dynasty. It is the longest man-made structure in the world and and is referred to as "the longest cemetery on earth" because of the one million people who died while building the wall.
It is simply magnificent!
Here is the information you need to travel to the Mutianyu section of the wall.
Oh and a tip: Don't buy any of the junk people are selling outside the Great Wall! If you do, make sure you buy it at 10 percent the price they are asking!
Built in 1420, the Temple of Heaven was used in Ancient China for annual ceremonies and prayer to Heaven for good harvest. Some regard it as a Taoist temple, but history shows us that Chinese Heaven worship pre-dates Taoism.
Tourists can now visit the altars and halls where ancient worship once took place, and where commoners were not allowed to enter.
A highlight is the Echo Wall, where one person can speak from one side of the hall in a whisper and a person on the other side can clearly hear.
I also love the fact that many old Chinese people hang outside of the temple, playing traditional games, singing, dancing and writing characters on the sidewalk with water.
You never know what will happen. I met the Prime Minister of Romania while visiting the Temple of Heaven once.
A tour of the temple takes about an hour and a half and only costs 10-15 RMB (about $2).
Built during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), the Summer Palace is most famous for it's archetypal Chinese Garden. It was added to by several emperors and became a luxurious summer get-away for Chinese royal families.
The garden is beautiful, but the architecture is also breath-taking with about 3,000 structures including towers, pavilions and bridges.
You can reach it by taxi or bus and it costs about 20-30 RMB (about $4-6).
Not only is it one of China's national foods (and oldest), it is DELICIOUS!
They roast the duck until it is crispy and serve it to you like this (left). You wrap the duck in the tortilla-like thing with duck sauce and greens and it is divine!
If it's prepared correctly, it will arrive to your table with the duck head! I had a fabulous picture of this, but alas! I cannot find it.
I recommend the hotel restaurant Quanjude for eating roast duck.
This famous Beijing square hold the nation's government buildings. Just don't EVER mention that little incident in 1989.
But, it was a terrible incident and though the Chinese refuse to acknowledge that the massacre ever happened, I recommend you don't. Google the pictures. It's appalling. I like to visit the square and silently remember the several hundred people who were needlessly killed by their government for simply and peacefully protesting for change and the end of corruption.
You can also visit Mao Zedong in Tienanmen. Well, you can visit his preserved body. Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao) was the man who brought Communism to China-the Father of Modern China. The Forbidden City also lies next to Tienanmen, but I will write about that tomorrow.
Funny Tienanmen story to close. You should probably never cause a commotion in Tienanmen Square, but while I was visiting in the summer of 2000, I was there with a fun group. One guy, the clown of the group, was standing off by himself. I came up with the brilliant idea that we should run up to him and act excited, like he was an American celebrity, while flashing cameras. So we did. While Clint stood there like, "What the heck is going on?" a BUNCH of Chinese people rushed over and started taking pictures. They didn't know who he was, but they wanted his picture. After that, Clint played along. Hilarious.
Your Delightful Traveler,