Just over a week ago my mum and I set off on our first Asia Adventure together. We are doing the G Adventures ‘Ancient Empires’ tour which takes us through the key sites and cities of both China and Japan.
Our first week of traveling has been an absolute whirlwind so I am only now getting the opportunity to write about our experience as we are voyaging (and relaxing with our feet up) from Shanghai, China to Osaka, Japan via passenger ferry.
For this trip my blog posts will take a slightly different structure than they have in the past. Rather than recounting each day, I will be taking you through the ‘Peaks, Pits & Top Tips’ for each of the cities we have visited. Having the opportunity to travel will always have peaks, but as in your regular life it’s just as important to recognise and reflect upon some of the pits you encounter along the way. Hopefully some of our tips will also be helpful if you plan on traveling to China, Japan or on a G Adventures tour in the future.
So if you would like to hear about our experiences in Beijing, keep reading!
Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City
Our very first sightseeing venture was to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is one of the world’s largest city squares located in the centre of Beijing, named after the Tiananmen which means “Gate of Heavenly Peace” located to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City.
The square contains the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in the square in 1949 and it is now one of the most important political squares in China.
There were very few foreigners visiting Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City, but there were thousands of Chinese people (which you can see in our photos) who had travelled from all over China to see their countries key political centre. We in the West are most familiar with Tiananmen Square due to the below iconic image from the student-led demonstrations in Beijing in 1989.
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty—the years 1420 to 1912. Walking through the Forbidden City took us a couple of hours and we barely scratched the surface! But the architecture, the detail and the history that we saw was definitely awe-inspiring. We learnt so much about China’s history, far too much for me to write about here, but I have found this great resource if you’re keen to learn more about the Forbidden City.
The Legend of Kungfu Show
We were lucky enough to head to the Red Theatre in Beijing to see an incredible production called The Legend of Kungfu. The story is about a young boy who dreams of becoming a Kung Fu master and attain enlightenment, with a combination of modern theatre and traditional martial arts, we were blown away by this production. I highly recommend you put this on your Beijing bucket list!
Chinese food in China cannot be matched! While we were familiar with the flavours from our Chinese takeaway at home the quality of the food we ate in Beijing was incredible, it was light, fresh and flavourful! Our first night, we went to a popular local restaurant with our tour group and had a family style shared meal (following which all our meals were shared this way). The next day, we enjoyed Peking Duck from another local restaurant. Later in our trip we came to notice the significant differences in the Chinese food available from city to city. And special thanks goes to our wonderful tour guide Icy, for always selecting the most amazing dishes for the group, our food experience in China wouldn’t have been the same without her!
Pollution – Besides the aforementioned historical sites and the 2008 Olympics, I think the next thing Beijing is most well known for is the blanket of smog that coats the city. I personally found stepping outside the hotel each day a bit overwhelming, with the only escape from the polluted air being ‘air-conditioned’ air inside. However heading up the Great Wall, the air was a lot clearer and breathing was much easier.
Squatting toilets – I’m not going to say anything other than be prepared that in China this very common. Maybe do a bit of research of your own if your not sure what I’m talking about. Bonus tip: always have toilet paper, hand soap/sanitiser in your bag; I’d recommend enclosed shoes as well…
Bottled Water Only – This is probably a ‘pit’ specific to me, as I’m someone who drinks upwards of 3-4 litres of water a day but not having access to drinkable running water was a bit of a struggle. This was easily overcome with planning and making sure we always had enough bottled water on hand. However the environmentalist in me has also been cringing at the amount of plastic I’ve had to use over the past week.
Cash is better than card – we used cash for our entire stay in China and we are very happy that we did! Having the local currency on hand in cash is much easier than reaching for your debit or credit card, particularly on a tour where group meals are common, being able to pay your share to your tour guide in cash just makes everything simpler.
Take opportunities to use public transport like buses and trains – in a city of 22 million people, there are a lot of buses and trains available particularly to the common sightseeing locations and it’s a great experience too. If you do take a taxi make sure you allow time for heavy traffic and make sure the driver puts the meter on, if they say no and ask for a flat rate of 150RMB, get out of that taxi and find another (not just in Beijing, but across China).
Get ready to be a celebrity – to our surprise there were very few foreigners in Beijing or any of the other cities we travelled to. Most tourists are Chinese people who have travelled across the country to visit Beijing and the sites that are very significant to them and their cultural identity. Many of whom have never seen ‘non- Asian’ people. We had a very diverse tour group from the blonde Australians, to the red headed Irish, to a tall black American/Jamaican woman, so we often became a tourist attraction of our own. Therefore if your traveling through China and are not of Asian ethnicity, be prepared to star in a lot of selfies, videos and unsuspecting photos taken from afar.
I hope you enjoyed the first instalment of our Asia Adventure! Keep an eye out for our experiences at the Great Wall of China and in Xi’an, China coming very soon.
All photos by me.
This post is not sponsored. All opinions are my own.