Beijing: What I loved most

I’ve basically written off most of large cities of China (except for my beloved Chengdu). I’m probably not going to go to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou (what is even there?) or many of the other major cities of China. Not because I don’t think they’re worth seeing, but because I don’t have infinite time and there are so many other things in China I’d rather see (Like all of Yunnan province and anywhere Tibetan).

But since the day I signed the contract to come to China, I knew I’d go to Beijing. Its kind of a big deal, in both history and in the modern world. There is SO much to see there from a historical and cultural perspective, food to eat, a wall to climb, and not to mention a lot of western elements that I don’t see around Nanchong too often.

This is a list of my favorite things. I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily “the best”, just what I enjoyed the most. Some of these places I didn’t go into with particularly high expectations but was pleasantly surprised.

1. The Great Wall

I knew I would love the Great Wall. I didn’t realize how amazing the scenery would be. We were able to have the wall mostly to ourselves for the first 2-3 hours which made it pretty awesome. Just seeing such an ancient wall trailing over the mountains made me get lost in my imagination trying to imagine the world that it was built for. It wasn’t just a highlight of Beijing, but one of my favorite travel experiences in my life.

great wall

The great wall

2. The Temple of Heaven

I didn’t realize until I got to Beijing that this is not an actual temple, but a site where the emperor would make sacrifices to heaven . It was beautiful and the surrounding park was full of dancing, tai chi, chess games, and Chinese people enjoying a lovely day. Despite a rather bizarre bathroom experience,  I really enjoyed our time there.

temple of heaven

chinese park calligraphy

3. The Hutongs

The hutongs are the neighborhoods of narrow alley ways formed by the traditional courtyard homes. They are rapidly disappearing from Beijing but there are still enough to wander around and get lost in. They were distinctly Chinese in that they were very communal (shared bathrooms). We actually stayed in a hutong and walked through one that was a shocking mix of touristy things and locals playing games, drying vegetables, spitting and eating. I loved the mix of modern and ancient china.

Beijing hutong

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4. Beihai park

We seriously almost did not go here, and it was by far one  the most enjoyable places to walk around. It used to be an Imperial Garden and now is a public park (you still pay to get in). There is a lake in the center of the park and in the center of the lake is an island with a temple and stupa to climb too. There were temples, relief carving, and many other lovely sites. It seemed to capture the best of Chinese gardens and one of the few places that actually felt peaceful.

Beihai park

Beihai park

5. The Summer Palace

The summer palace was like a castle from a Chinese fairy tale. It was a bit crowded but it was amazingly beautiful and massive. It was hard to wrap your head around the size of it. Around every turn was something new and amazing to see.

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6. Wudaoying Hutong

This was a hutong very close to where we stayed, across the street from the Lama temple. I called it “Hipster Street” because it was filed with coffee shops, craft beer breweries, boutique shops and very cool bike shop. I’m not the least bit ashamed of being a hipster and I loved hanging out on this street.

Panda Brew

wudaoying hutong

I actually enjoyed Beijing so much it did make me want to visit the other large cities, but I suppose that’s the travelers dilemma, so many places to see and only one lifetime to see them all. I wasn’t sure what to expect of Beijing, if it would feel like China or like a westernized city. What I’m beginning to learn is that Chinese culture is so strong and pervasive that its pretty hard to dilute it or change it. Beijing was certainly a modern city, but it was still quite Chinese. Of course my perspective was just that of someone just passing through, but I quite enjoyed my time there.

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17 responses to “Beijing: What I loved most

  1. Beijing sounds fantastic. And I’m really excited to hear that the Great Wall exceeded your expectations. Sometimes places you’ve dreamed of visiting forever can be a let down once you get there. Not that I think the Great Wall would ever be a letdown. But it’s wonderful to hear that it’s one of your best travel experiences and now I really feel like I need to get there ASAP!

    • I know! I get a bit wary of big tourist sites bc I’m sure it won’t live up to its hype, but the great wall was awesome. You should totally come to China!!

  2. I really like the sounds of the narrow alley ways formed by the traditional courtyard homes and I hope they won’t disappear completely one day. The one full of cafes sounds even cooler 🙂

    • I think you guys would LOVE the hutongs. Its amazing in terms of design. I think foreigners love of them will help preserve them for a good while.

  3. You’re making me miss Beijing so much. My mom’s side of the family lives there so I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times over my lifetime (and stay with my grandparents). I’ve been to all of these places a few times. But I was young then so I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it. I may be going to Beijing again next May so I can’t wait to revisit these places through the eyes of a traveler!

    • seeing things as a child is definitely different, but that’s pretty awesome you’ve gotten to see the city so much. I’ll be excited to read about it if you do come. You’ll have a unique perspective.

    • I’m excited to read your blog! I love reading china things. I definitely loved that hutong, I don’t get enough hipsterness in Nanchong (or really any). I’m glad I’m not alone in being blown away by the wall. I can’t imagine living in Beijing, it was a bit intense but I definitely liked it 🙂

  4. I see why you picked Beijing over Shanghai and Hong Kong, I definitely would too! I’d love to visit one day, you got some really great pictures!

  5. I was so excited to visit Beijing, but it ultimately wound up being a place I did not like very much at all, unfortunately. Some places like the Great Wall and Temple of Heaven were even better than I had imagined and far exceeded by expectations, but in the end, I could not get over how gray and smelly Beijing was, and I was SO disappointed by the poor restoration work done over at the Forbidden City. I did have the best Peking duck of my life in Beijing, but overall, it’s a city I did not love and can’t imagine ever revisiting. I definitely preferred visiting places like Xi’an and Guilin, and don’t even get me started on Hong Kong! That’s one of my favorite cities in the world! 😀

    • there were a lot of parts I didn’t adore about Beijing and I felt the forbidden city was a let down. I had very nearly taken a teaching position in Beijing, but I think I’m glad I chose to go to middle-of-nowhere-Sichuan. I’ve heard amazing things about Guilin, really tempting things 🙂

  6. Pingback: Xiahe: Exploring a Tibetan Monastary | Mountains and Passports·

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