China Travel Story - Beijing Was The Best Among Five Capitals of Orient

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Of Five Capitals of Orient, This Was the Best!

We took a Travcoa tour - Capitals of the Orient, which covered Tokyo, Beijing, Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong. This trip was first class all the way, as we were a small group of 5 people being escorted by an overall tour guide, and also met by a local guide in each location. The young man we had in Beijing was outstanding, as he had a great knowledge of all of the key sites that we visited.

We arrived at the Shangri-La Hotel in Beijing. The lobby was large and had a great restaurant that had an unbelievable choices in foods for its buffet, or you could order from the menu. In the lobby bar, there was nice background music from a player on the grand piano. We were quite surprised to see them playing as early as 7:30AM when we went down for breakfast. The service and people were very responsive in this hotel, and the room was large and clean. I cannot say that the air outside was clean. Beijing has a severe smog problem, and a lot of sand blows in from the desert.

Our local guide told us that Beijing has over 10 million bicycles (old style), and they license 1,500 car registrations per day in the city. You get the feeling that all of these bicycles are within your visibility as soon as you start to travel any distance. It is so foreign to see literally hundreds of bicycles lined up under road overpasses, or in front of McDonald's. The roads are overtaxed with the traffic, and the bicycles tend to get mixed into the middle of lanes that have cars crossing their paths. We were surprised to see little in the way of accidents, but the drivers sure live on their horns. I would not recommend driving in Beijing... leave it to them and take a cab or bus.

Tiananmen Square is the largest public gathering place of its kind in the world according to our guide. It can hold up to 1 million people. The crowds that were there were large, with about a 4 hour line up to see Chairman Mao's body lying in state. We passed on this and went into the Forbidden City. The square is awesome and a must just to get a feel for the people and history of 10 years ago. If you stand at the gates to the Forbidden City, and look as far down the square as you can see, you will be amazed to see the Golden Arches (yes McDonalds) in the distance, high up on a pole.

The Forbidden City is a 750 acre site that is on one end of the square. This is the old center of the Chinese universe, where ordinary people were not allowed to even approach the walls of this vast complex palace. It houses many buildings that date back to the 1400's and have tiled roofs.

The Summer Palace was next and was created for a retreat for the Imperial court, and one can see the beauty with the lake, trees, and a replica of the Marco Polo bridge. This was built in 1750 by the Qing dynasty and has been rebuilt in later years.

Driving around Beijing, it is interesting to see the huge number of apartment buildings. Many look old and unkept. These apparently were built from drawings left by the Russians, many years ago.

We went to the Great Wall of China and took a cable car up to a part of it that was in the mountains. For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip. This wall was started in 40 BC and much was done up until 200BC, although it was still continued to be added to for many years later. Our guide explained that 1 million lives were lost building it. It originally ran for 6000 miles through mountains and desert, to keep the Mongolians out. 4000 miles of it still stands today, and it is the only man made structure that can be seen from outer space.

We then went to the Ming Tombs. We decided not to go inside, but enjoyed the spectacular grounds, with their trees, buildings and statues. There was a chance to bargain with the street merchants who has huts that they sold their good from. Be careful how you bargain, as they will often try to change the deal after they have your money. Make sure you have the goods in your hands before you give them your money, and if you are expecting change back, make sure you ask them to see how much change they are going to give you before you pass them your money. I would recommend taking the grounds tour here.

The Temple of Heaven was also spectacular and worth the time to see and photograph. The emperor would go here to ask for blessings for the people three times a year. This is a popular meeting place today, for local people to hang out, dance, exercise and play games such as mahjong.

We asked our guide to take us to a hutong. This is the Beijing version of a subdivision. This was very interesting. The school kids were just coming home to this hutong for lunch as we were walking through it. To us, the homes looked very run down, but this particular hutong was probably not a bad one as the kids were all dressed quite nice. It was great to see them in colorful uniforms, which is probably not what was worn there 10 or 15 years ago.

The people of Beijing are not used to seeing North American's and we were always being stared at, and often being asked if we would pose for a picture with some of the local people. Aside from the stares, I never felt unsafe in Beijing. The history is so incredible and having a local guide was the best way I can imagine to see these sites.

Story Courtesy to Rtaggart

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