Going for gold in Beijing

by stuburgoine

Beijing, Olympic city and much more


Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games was a triumph. Now a year on (and after the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the communist People's Republic in 1949), the city shows no sign of an Olympic hangover, but is sprint-finishing its way to becoming a world-class metropolis. Read on to discover its pedigree…

So besides the Olympics, what is there to do?

The biggest public square in the world is Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and it forms the focal point of the city. It’s a place which resonates with the grand ideals of communism, represented by the huge portrait of Chairman Mao which adorns the entrance to the Forbidden City. Beijing’s ancient imperial palace and the home of emperors gone by, the Forbidden City is an elaborate and opulent piece of architecture. It houses stunning temples, decorative statues and vast courtyards. It is a fabulous example of the Oriental style.

A visit to the Summer Palace is one thing that shouldn’t be missed. What was once the Emperor’s retreat is now a sublime getaway for the public on the outskirts of the city. Its huge lake is encircled by temples, pagodas and hump-back bridges. Boats chug up and down the water and people wander around the grounds. This is the dynastic China we conjure in our imagination. It is both architecturally and naturally beautiful, and oozes tranquility. 30Y entrance fee.

If you want to break from the traditional, the city’s CBD offers a nice contrast. There is the geometrically amazing CCTV Headquarters to see and many skyscrapers. The Olympic site is close by and showcases Beijing’s other modern marvels, the Birds Nest’ stadium and the ‘Cube’ swimming arena. The surrounding boulevards and parkland create a lovely space. This is also a good spot to see Beijing’s residents exercising, barn dancing or playing keepy-upy. The sheer number of participants forms quite a spectacle.

The Great Wall of China makes an easy day trip from the city and it’s something every visitor to Beijing must do! There are several stretches you can visit but I would recommend the 8km trek from Jinshanling to Simitai as the authentic experience. Terrific value at 480Y. Unlike other spots it is not overwhelmed with tourists. It is set in a spectacular mountain range. It can get steep in points but the views and the experience far outweigh the exertion. Jinshanling Great Wall zig-zags its way through thirty towers and is simply a bewildering feat of construction which will blow your mind. It is a great privilege to walk it.

So where do I sleep?

The standard of hostels is very high throughout China and they make an excellent alternative to hotels. Peking International Hostel is perhaps the best one. Located just 800m from the action at Tiananmen Square (meaning Usain Bolt could get there in just 77.52 seconds!) it has superb facilities such as air-conditioned dorms with en-suite, internet and wifi access, private rooms, laundry, and your own locker complete with complimentary flip-flops! It also has a comfy lounge, a beautiful courtyard, tour desk and bike hire. It is utterly charming and will set you back just 100Y per night.

Tian An Men Sunrise Hostel and Kelly’s Courtyard are also excellent choices. There are many hotels to choose from, most of the big chains are here. Redwall Hotel and Prime Hotel are good value.

What do I eat?

Beijing offers many culinary delights. Food-lovers should make a beeline to Wangfujing Snack Street in the central shopping area for an array of tasty treats. You can get noodles, spring rolls, lamb skewers, noodle soup and sumptuous steamed buns which just melt in the mouth. More adventurous foodies can even try a taste of fried scorpion! Each of these costs just 10Y. Similar set-ups can also be found on Donganmen Street and Donghuamen Night Market.

Peking Duck is a gift to all visitors. Accompanied by all sorts of side dishes, sauces and washed down with zesty Tsingtao beer, this is one meal you won’t forget. The aptly named Peking Duck Restaurant serves some of the best for about 140Y per person. Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant is well-renowned.

How do I get around?

Get on your bike! Beijing is a city made for cyclists. It’s as flat as a pancake, has dedicated bike lanes and the sheer number of cyclists in the city gives you a degree of power on the roads.

Beijing’s underground system is extensive, efficient, and easy to navigate. Information and announcements come in English. If you don’t wish to cycle this is certainly the way to go!

Taxis are cheap and reliable and the drivers always use the meter so you can rest assured you aren’t being taken for a ride!

Buses are a little more confusing and are very overcrowded. With patience they can be useful but I would use them as a last resort.