Day 65 – Beijing
We were late planning in the end so we opted for a concierge organised mini tour which was probably not that cost effective but never mind, basically us in a car with a guide. We wanted to see the Great Wall and Summer Palace and that was a full day. Tina was not so keen on the amount of time in the car so took a travel sick pill but they make you a bit sleepy which is not so good.
Breakfast is amazing here with almost too much choice. Several Asian styles as well as the usual stuff. Tina has take a fancy to stir fried bok choi from Hong Kong so that might be on the cards tomorrow, but for today as it’s a bit overwhelming we just went for the obvious. How unadventurous we are!
The weather was very overcast, reported as cloud cover 100% so quite dense and humid but at least not too hot. Beijing is massive and with 17 million peeps and who knows how many extra tourists it is rammed everywhere. We met our guide ‘Andy’ which is surely not his real name and he was a nice chap but he has obviously been a guide for many years and it’s starting to show – he reckoned he has been to the Summer Palace maybe 1,000 times…. He was knowledgeable though so we had some Chin and Ming history, Boxer rebellion, farmer revolt and so on. Beijing is so huge everything takes a long time, there are 6 ring roads round the city built roughly on the old administrative boundaries, Emperor in the middle, then nobles, then senior officials, etc until the peasant farmers. The central Forbidden City was only opened up to tourism in the late 70s – including the Chinese as it was forbidden to all – so Beijing has grown from maybe 7 million to nearly 20 million in 30 years.
Anyway, we meandered to the Summer Palace which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times and was basically a massive private garden with lakes, walks, and summer houses for the dowager empress. Nice if you can afford it, I suppose with 1.3 billion people under your control you can. The sign on the door said they had 32,000 visitors yesterday and expected 40,000 today! There were people everywhere! It does make it a little difficult to appreciate as the noise is high and people are milling about everywhere. Nice though, with things like a 700m covered painted walkway to take a stroll, pavilions to take tea when it rains and other such things emperors and empresses can get up to. No-one hassles you though, just some covert stares and pictures. A couple of bolder kids asked for a picture with us so maybe we are famous in a village somewhere – not facebook or youtube as they are still banned.
Next stop was a restaurant with the inevitable jade factory outlet but we resisted and they are not too pushy unlike Egypt. The lunch was specially designed for western tourists but was pretty good, too much to eat but quite tasty. Then off to the Great Wall at Badaling. Another fairly long drive. At the bottom of a steep hill were hundreds of coaches and the local tourists climbed up a 2km road with no path to the Wall, It looked hard. For us softees we took the car up to the entrance of this section. ‘Doing’ the Wall is not exactly correct when it spans 6,000 km but it was quite a sight. Very steep climbs and you could see it curving round the mountains but lost in the cloud cover. It seemed like half Beijing was up there! Still, quite a feat to build and apparently successfully repelled several Mongol invasion back in time.
After a steep climb and equally steep descent we meandered our way back down and into a coffee shop cleverly disguised as a souvenir shop which we also resisted. Then back in the car for the trip back for another hour or so, stopping at a photo op – the birds nest aka Olympic stadium where you can also buy Chinese kites if you like. Also there was a building shaped a bit like a Chinese dragon.
So many people and all chatting endlessly plus driving in the heat made it a tiring day but it was good to see, shame about the clouds.
Back to the hotel to recover and an early night, we are going to wing it in the city and find our own way to the Forbidden City. How hard can it be? We are going to watch carefully for pick pockets pretending to be friendlies and people inviting us ‘for a drink’!
Safe, sound, and sleepy
Mark & Tina