There are pro’s and con’s of travelling to Beijing in December. The big downside are the bittercold winds streaming through China’s capital lowering zero degress to feeled minus 15 degress celsius. But I’m totally preferring arctic temperatures to having a hot, sweaty, burning hot summer in midst of millions of tourists. I heard that visiting the Forbidden City in the high summer season costs you between 1-3 hours waiting time to enter. That’s insane. A couple days ago it took me two minutes. Sweater, Jacket, Audio guide on and off we go. Not all parts of the Forbidden City are open to public, but it is still very impressive and a interesting history lesson.
After the exit on the other side is a park that has a temple on a hill. The hike up is short and the hill offers fantastic views over Beijing. I recommend going up there there during sunset, when the view over the Forbidden City and Beijing is most beautiful.
Getting around in Beijing is a pain. They have a huge, rapidly expanding, metro system, with about ten lines. Nobody really walks in Beijing to get somewhere, because the city is really wide and streets are long. The next metro station to the Forbidden City, which is Beijing’s central point, is 1,2 km away. That should give you an idea. But good luck catching a taxi. I had the feeling taxi drivers are scared of me. Scared of the interaction, scared of the language barrier. Despite the very few people, that work with international tourists, nobody speaks english. One time a taxi driver yelled at me the whole time in mandarin, while driving around and instead of taking me to my destination, he tried to stop every other taxi we encountered, to transfer me to them. At some point we got close to where I initially wanted to go, he then sighed, gave up and drove to where I wanted him to bring me. Btw, always take the hostel or hotel adress written in chinese letters with you, as literally no one understands it any other way.
No visit to China or Beijing should end without visiting one of the new world wonders. The Great Wall of China can be visited in a lot of different ways. It depends on your preferred level of comfort and money you want to spend. Renting a taxi or doing a daytrip with a local tour operator or hotel can be costly. The cheapest way to visit the wall is to go early to the North Railway station. And by early I mean really early. Before-sunrise-early. A one way train ticket costs 6 RMB, which is close to 1 euro. A 50 minutes train ride later you arrive at Badaling. The entrance fee is about 35 RMB (for students about 17.5 RMB). So for my trip to the Great Wall I paid about 4 euros. Now that’s a deal! I read some horror stories about Badaling, with millions of tourists, shops and cable cars around the Wall area. But if you arrive early enough and enter the wall at the main entrance, you will notice that basically 95 percent of the visitors move to the right. Just walk for a couple minutes to the left and you will be entirely by your own. This is probably one of the pro’s of visiting Beijing in winter, as there are less tourists, plus if you have a sunny day and around 5 degrees celsius it is very nice up there. The Great Wall definitely deserves the world wonder status.
Really open minded eaters will be in culinary heaven (or hell) at one of the food markets in Wangfujing (central district of Beijing). Snakes, scorpions, seahorses, intestines and a lot of animals I was not able to identify are waiting for you on a BBQ stick. It has a charming athmosphere walking around the stands, getting yelled at to try all sorts of food and looking at brave people eating a snake curled around a stick as easy as it was a delicious meatball sub.
Another thing worth mentioning is the Great Firewall of China. You are able to connect to wifi, but pages and apps like Facebook, Instagram and most western websites won’t work. My friend Konsti, who is currently studying in Chengdu, told me to get a VPN (Virtual Private Network). With a VPN you use a server from Hong Kong, Japan or somewhere else and it seems like you are not trying to access these sites from inside China. Therefore you are able to surf freely. Log on to wifi and download a VPN from your appstore- I used Global VPN, VPN Asia and VPN shield. I used different ones, because they were free VPN’s and were not working entirely perfect. It’s a real pain in the ass, but there is nothing you can do about it. This should help you make life a bit easier in China.
In a nutshell Beijing can be a difficult city to visit in terms of getting around and communication, but it has amazing things to offer, that would take weeks to explore all and probably a hundred more pages to write about and some real open minded guts to live up the culinary life of china’s capital. I’m now at Dubai International Airport after a comfortable flight on Emirates’ A380 and have 4 more hours of lurking around left, before my connecting flight to Vienna. Check back soon as I’m travelling to the two remaining countries in Western Europe I haven’t been to yet.
PS: My New Year’s resolution is to travel to Australia. What’s yours?