I decided to do a 15-day trip through China back in June. My first stop was the capital city of Beijing. I allocated 4 full days to make my way through the main tourist sites:
- The Great Wall of China
- Forbidden City
- Temple of Heaven
- Summer Palace
- Wangfujing Night Market / Snack Market
The Best Tour Ever
I crossed the above must do’s off my of my list, but the one activity I really wish I had experienced was Leo’s Free Walking Tour. I met a fellow traveler who toured with Leo and could not stop raving about his experience — so much that it almost influenced me to change my travel plans and extend my Beijing stay by an extra day. I didn’t, but wish I had.
So what’s so great about this tour?
Well it seems like Leo is an all-around solid guide. He leads you through a handful of sights and parks before stopping the group at a local legend’s house for a home-cooked meal. This is arguably the climax of the tour – spending time with an old geezer named Mr. Liu.
So why is Mr Liu so famous? Well, he’s a retired cricket trainer who made his entire fortune off of cricket-fighting bets. My travel friend recounted story after story of Mr. Liu’s winning tactics and successes: Mr. Liu won a car during one match. When his most-prized fighters pass away, he buries them in special, cricket-sized coffins. He has special tools and gadgets to properly rear and care for his leggy Olympian friends. The guy has scouted some of his most successful cricket-fighters at graveyards and in mountain forests.
Here he is showing off a publication written about his success:
It may sound absurd, but apparently cricket fighting and betting is not all too rare in China. I did not have a chance to experience all this absurd goodness myself, but I found more information about Mr. Liu here and here and reviews of Leo’s Walking Tour on TripAdvisor. It’s the one thing I really wish I had done in Beijing that I didn’t get to do.
So while I missed the Best Tour Ever, here is what I did accomplish…
Visually-speaking, the square is not particularly scenic – it’s a rather boring and crowded place. The reason why this site is so notorious and popular, of course, is because of the cultural and historical significance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. In a nutshell, about a million Chinese locals, mostly students, gathered in Tiananmen Square to denounce the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive regime and protest for democracy. After weeks of protests, the Chinese government sent troops into the square to attack the protestors. Hundreds, maybe thousands of protesters were killed. It was a tragic violation of human rights that shocked not only Chinese nationals but also the entire world. And yet, the Tiananmen Square Massacre is an incredibly taboo topic to mention in China.
It’s part of the so-called 3 T’s – Tiananmen, Tibet and Taiwan. The 3 topics are taboo and are not welcomed for discussion. The irony is despite the unmentionable, unspeakable nature of the square’s history, it’s a site that is visited annually by thousands and thousands of Chinese locals.
I checked out the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City, China Imperial Palace and the Palace Museum are all interchangeable terms and refer to the same location. I did not know this when I first arrived and was very confused with all the mixed signage.
The palace grounds are enormous. I previously blogged about how to enjoy the Great Wall of China without crowds in this post here. A crowd-free visit to the Forbidden City is virtually impossible. Thankfully I learned the key to having a better experience – exploring the palace from the sidelines (anywhere other than the center passageway). There are just so many people in China!
And the Summer Palace
For me, the Summer Palace was more enjoyable than the Forbidden City because it was more nature-y and scenic and less-crowded. Crowds and congestion seem to be a theme in all of my recounts of China. Hmm… The palace is little further out from the epicenter of all of Beijing’s tourist attractions, but I really feel like it’s a must-do if you’re visiting the city.
Fun Fact: The Summer Palace is also China’s largest and most famous imperial garden.
I especially enjoyed Suzhou Market Street, a waterway passage with a bunch of shops on either side.
I swung by the Temple of Heaven
It seems like China has a lot of enchanting, celestial names for their temples. Temple of Heaven. Temple of Bliss. Temple of Happiness. Temple of Wisdom. Temple of Mother Earth. Temple of Moon and Stars. I may be making some of these up right now but I would put money on the fact that somewhere, they are all legitimate names.
And grossed myself out strolling down Snack Street
Wangfujing Night Market was INSANE. The so-called “Snack Street” is filled with vendors selling insects, fetuses and cold-blooded creatures on a stick for your eating pleasure. Not sure if I consider these supposed food-items “snacks.” If you have ever been to Khao San Road and seen the ladies selling scorpions and other friend bugs, Wangfujing Market is kind of like that, but on steroids.
Of course I climbed the Great Wall of China
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Beijing. The air didn’t seem overly polluted and the hustle and bustle of the city was quite interesting. I kept having these surreal moments of complete and utter awe as I grasped the age of some of the city’s infrastructure. This sentiment would only continue as I explored the even-older city of X’ian, home of the Terracotta Warriors and the country’s ancient capital before Beijing.