WHAT to see in BEIJING
As the capital of the People's Republic of China, Beijing has been the heart and soul of politics and culture throughout its long history and consequently there is an unparalleled wealth of discovery to delight and intrigue as you explore this mysterious ancient city and enjoy its exciting modern development. Beijing is located near the western coast of China on the Pacific Ocean and stands at the northern tip of the North China Plain. Greater Beijing has an area of 16,808 sq km with a population of 14 million.
The city is well known for its flatness and regular construction, making it comfortable for walking and cycling, there is only one hill to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of the famous Forbidden City). Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis.
Beijing literally means "Northern Capital", a role it has played many times in China's long history. While various small towns and warlord capitals have been traced back as far as the 1st millennium BC, Beijing first served as the capital of a (more or less) united China in 1264 when Kublai Khan's victorious Mongol forces set up what they named the Great Capital (Dadu) to rule their new empire, from a northern location closer to the Mongol homelands.
After the fall of the Mongol Yuan dynasty in 1368, the capital was moved back to Nanjing ("Southern Capital"), but in 1403, the 3rd Ming emperor Zhu Di moved it to Beijing again and also gave the city its present name. This was Beijing's golden era: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and many other Beijing landmarks were built at this time. Beijing remained the capital into the Qing era and into the revolution of the early 1900s, but in the chaos following the abdication of the last Emperor, Beijing was beset by fighting warlords. The capital was moved to Nanjing again in 1928, renaming Beijing as Beiping ("Northern Peace") to emphasize that it was no longer a capital. However, Beijing was proclaimed capital of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
If Beijing is your city of entry into China and your first stop from a long flight, the best way to deal with jet lag is to try and stay awake during the day and try to get as much sleep at night time. We often arrange to have a leisure stroll in the Summer Palace on arrival - it is very relaxing and keeps you awake. A good night's rest will ensure that you will have the energy to enjoy exploring Beijing on the next day.
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
The Great Wall is definitely one of China’s most legendary and breathtaking sights. It was built mainly to protect the Chinese Empire from the Mongolians and other invaders. Though successive Chinese dynasties all had a hand in repairing, re-building, lengthening, modifying and preserving the Great Wall, Qinshi Huang is the emperor who is credited for linking them all up and unifying China. The Great Wall twists and winds along hill crests, gorges, and rivers. Its length extends over 6,000 km westward: from the China Sea town of Shanhaiguan to Jiayuguan in the Gobi Desert. Ancient records reported that at least one million slaves and prisoners of war were used to build this wall. Many labourers died from exhaustion and starvation while working on this colossal task. Their bodies were added to the rubble and masonry as the quickest means of disposal. For centuries, the Wall was known as "the longest cemetery in the world."
Wear comfortable footwear for walking. Some parts of the Great Wall are very steep and could be slippery. Climb as far as you like but please remember that you’ll have to walk back to where you started. Tired? Have a highly enjoyable and relaxing foot as the locals do at a spa complex.
THE FORBIDDEN CITY
Also known as the Palace Museum, it is the largest and best-preserved ancient architectural complex in the world and center of power of China for over 500 years. It was the imperial palace to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Forbidden City had a total of 9,999.5 rooms which the Emperor, Empresses, their eunuch servants and concubines used as living quarters.
Recognized as one of the most important five palaces in the world (the other four being the Palace of Versailles in France, the Buckingham Palace in the UK, the White House in the US and the Kremlin in Russia), it was nominated as a world cultural heritage site by the UNESCO in 1987.
If you want to walk through the vast and spectacular courtyards in relative peace, get there early, the gates open around 8:30am,but it's closed on Mondays. Despite the transformation of Beijing, the Forbidden City remains mercifully untouched. Here you can truly appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
At the center of Beijing, Tian’anmen Square is the world's largest city square. At 440,000-square-metres, it is large enough to hold 1 million people standing. The square is surrounded by Soviet-style monuments and government buildings, and houses Mao's mausoleum at the end opposite the entrance to the Forbidden City. It is an astounding place and a spot to linger and see visitors from all over China, many visiting their capital for the first time. At sunrises and sunsets national flag hoisting and lowering ceremonies are performed by a troop of soldiers drilled to march at precisely 108 paces per minute, 75cm per pace! It is observed solemnly and thousands of people come to the Square
TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
The Temple of Heaven is the most holy of Beijing's imperial temples. The temple was where the Emperor came every winter solstice to worship heaven and to solemnly pray for a good harvest and seek divine clearance. UNESCO endorsed Temple of Heaven as a world cultural heritage site in December 1998. Experience the morning life of Beijing citizens at the Temple of Heaven. One can watch and join older people practicing the slow and flowing movements of Tai Chi to music, or the younger generation's vigorous karate-like punches and kicks, or aerobics. One group might be learning the ancient martial art of sword-fighting, while another might be practicing a traditional dance, ballroom dance and ground-calligraphy. It is well worth visiting this park early morning to watch such events take place and even join in if you wish.
The heart of Beijing lies behind its modern facade, after seeing how the royal family lived, experience the life of the common man in the tranquil hutongs: narrow alleys that have been the hub of the city’s street life for 700 years. A hutong is a unique form of community that exists only in China. They are a wonderful glimpse of the city as it used to be. All hutongs crisscross with each other with tiny workshops and shops dimly lit by a single bare bulb, street vendors selling steamed Baozi, children playing, old men carrying their songbirds and crickets in bamboo cages, gathering around tables to play boardgames, beware the bicycles and scooters. As Beijing continues to modernize, the hutong lifestyle is under threat. Nearly two-thirds of the 1,330 hutong that existed in Beijing in the mid-1950s have been demolished to make way for skyscrapers and malls. Experience the life style and traditional hutong culture before it disappears. To further enhance the experience, we can arrange rickshaws to take you to an authentic home to enjoy a hutong home meal together with the family.
The Summer Palace dates back 800 years ago. It is the best preserved imperial garden in the world and the largest of its kind that still in existence in China today. The beautiful imperial garden is set off by a multitude of highly decorated buildings, halls, pavilions, bridges, towers, pagodas, isles, and courtyards. Housed in these buildings are an immense collection of treasures and cultural artifacts. The harmonious layout of the garden is a Chinese architectural masterpiece that combines both the gorgeous landscape and the treasure of the traditional Chinese gardening art. It was endorsed by the UNESCO in 1998 as a world cultural heritage site.
EAT AND DRINK
Peking roasted duck
Peking duck is a famous delicacy that one simply must try when in Beijing. A special kind of duck is roasted to perfection and sliced by a chef in front of you. Enjoy the succulent duck slices wrapped in a thin pancake with green onion, sweet soybean paste, fresh cucumber and garlic paste. You can’t say you’ve tasted Beijing without sampling this mouthwatering dish.
Beijing is also known for its hotpot, which originally came from the Manchu people and emphasizes lamb over other meats. Like variations of hotpot from elsewhere in China and Japan, lamb hotpot is a cook-it-yourself affair in a steaming pot in the center of the table. Unlike Sichuan hotpot, lamb hotpot features a savory, non-spicy broth. If that's not exciting enough for you, you can also request a spicy broth (be aware that this is flaming red, filled with peppers and not for the faint-hearted). To play it safe and satisfy everyone, you can request a pot divided down the middle, with spicy broth on one side and regular broth on the other.
Raw ingredients are purchased by the plate. In addition to lamb, beef, and seafood, this also includes a wide variety of vegetables, mushrooms, noodles, and tofu, so it's also perfectly possible to have vegetarian hotpot. A dipping sauce, usually sesame, is served as well; you can add chilis, garlic, cilantro, etc, to customize your own sauce. While "raw" sounds dangerous, boiling the meat yourself is the best way to ensure that more risky meats like pork are fully cooked and free of germs.
AND IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME..
The Ming Tombs
These imperial cemeteries covering an area of 120 square kilometers are the best preserved Chinese imperial tombs and have been nominated by the UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site. The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Fengshui (geomancy) belief and is enclosed by mountains in three sides. Built in 1409 AD, it is the burial place for emperors for the next 200 years, with 13 Ming emperors, 23 empresses and a number of concubines, princes and princesses buried there, and thus called 13 Mausoleums..
The Sacred Road
The Emperors of Ming Dynasty use this divine road to get to the Ming Tombs, This Divine Road ‘ leading to heaven’ is guarded on both sides by 36 huge stone sculptures of human and animals. Every year, the emperor enters the tomb zone to hold a memorial ceremony for the ancestors. When he dies, he is also carried through the Sacred Way to his tomb - guarded on both sides by 36 stone sculptures, 24 stone animals and 12 human figures. The stone sculptures are huge; some exceeds 30 cubic meters in volume. In the ancient times, without modern machinery, these heavy sculptures were transported here all entirely by manpower. The Sacred Road and the Ming Tombs are near Badaling and Ju Yong Guan, sections of the Great Wall. If time is limited, plan and see them together in a full day excursion instead of separating to visit on different days.
Beijing Opera or Kung-Fu show
The Beijing Opera is an iconic, true cultural reflection and a national treasure of China. If you prefer you can see an exciting Kung-Fu show a theatrical performance with song, dance, martial arts and an excellent story line.