I am excited! I will be able to see my homeland, China. Don’t get me wrong, I do get the chance to see my people, temples, old traditions and practices, Chinese trinkets and food while living and travelling in Asia. But the fact that I will be stepping in China’s soil is something different. It is the place where the one of the greatest history was made. I will definitely be humbled by the experience. Plus, it has been a while since I went on a trip (yes, I feel spoiled since it was only 7 months since my last trip)
We were ready to conquer Beijing, China on Sep 4. I got my visa 2 weeks before our trip. I paid SGD$75 for a 9 day one entry visa and got it after 3 days. My friend, Eiwa, was not so fortunate as she couldn’t get a visa if she is not employed in SG. That leaves me and Jason to take on the Beijing mission. Here is the website for more information on getting a China visa: http://www.visaforchina.org/SGP_EN/.
We are flying Jetstar Airlines. It costed SGD$450 for round trip. Not bad for a soon-to-be peak season. The weather forecast is good with cool temperature so I am excited to experience some cold weather. I did a web-check in since our flight is at 6:30pm and I will be coming straight from the office. What luck we have that even with the seat reservation, the airline ran out of seats. How is that possible? Well, they bumped us up to business class because of it. My 1st business class flight! The plus side of it is we got to have bigger seats and leg room. If you actually buy the business class ticket, you get to have champagne on boarding, watch movies, listen to songs or read magazines on iPad, blanket and pillow, and a hot meal. Sadly, we only got to experience the extra seat allowance. Next time though, when I save enough to upgrade for a long haul trip.
1 SGD = 5.05 RM (RENMINB YEN). It is better to change your money in Singapore as the rate is higher.
We arrive past 1 am and our hotel’s driver was waiting for us outside. Airport transfer is at RM390, good for 4 person (if we had 2 more people to share). We arrived less than an hour to our hotel, Novotel. It has a good location with only short distance to most tourist attractions and malls. The train station is just at the entrance of the hotel. The room was decent and the bathroom had western toilet (yes, it is a must as most places in Beijing are not; Ladies, please be prepared). The only thing I could complain is that the bed is hard to sleep on but I am sure I would be asleep considering our itinerary will involve a lot of walking. Total cost for 5 nights was SGD$560, good for 2-3 people.
Before you go anywhere outside your hotel and if you are doing free and easy travel, always have a map and address in Chinese characters. Not many people will understand English, let alone speak. It is best to get a tour package but if you like to take your own sweet time and save cost, please have the necessary information before heading out. Here is the website I used to plan our itinerary:
Expect your bags to be scanned in the train stations if you plan on taking the public transportation. I didn’t try the buses since I am not familiar with the street names. We got lost a couple of times but we manage to find our way eventually. People here can be, at times, rude, so make sure to stand on your ground. However, there are helpful people, once you find connections. Menus are usually in Chinese. You will be lucky to have pictures or English translation. Be sure to have a dictionary nearby if you want to find the food you like.
On the 1st day, we head to Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City, also called Imperial Palace. Entrance to the Forbidden City is RMB60. If you want to know more about the history, get an audio tour guide at RMB40 in the entrance if you don’t have one. Although there are english introduction on each attractions, the guide will give you some interesting facts about function and history. The inner city is big. It is like the Russian doll or onion, everything seems to be an entrance to a smaller chamber. No trees were planted inside. It is a man-made wonder alright.
After that, we strolled on Wangfujing , the shopping heaven of the city. Here, we also side tracked to the Night Market nearby, where the “interesting” street food are sold. For those dare-devil, try their deep-fried scorpion, centipede or spider on a stick. I would not dare eat any of those.
Day 2, we took the hotel’s tour package of the Great Wall since the location is outside the city and we need the transportation. The package was RM450. We took the cable car for RM80 to reach the middle point of the Badaling Wall, one of the Great Wall sections. From there, we trek up to the top along with hundreds of Chinese tourist. I hate to imagine what it would be like on a peak season. We did manage to find a deserted spot for quick photo snaps. The view was amazing. You can see the wall stretched out till the horizon. Mountains and fog covered the landscape. It is just like from the beautiful paintings I have seen, only this time, I can see it in my own eyes. I wasn’t able to try the sliding car heading down since it will take me to the other side of the wall. I had to stick to our guide.
Next stop was the Ming tombs, where the Emperors were buried. Our home cemetery looks puny compared to hectares of land for just 1 emperor. Jade Factory showcased the jade collection and I bought 2 pendants for keeps. At least, I can be assured of the authenticity of the product. They also taught us how to tell which ones are fake. The Silk Factory showed us how silk is made from the silk worms. Silk is so amazing; it is soft and smooth to touch, cool to the skin. I didn’t buy any of the products as it ranges from RMB400 up (out of my budget). I figured I could get some from the market at a bargain (I was right!). The tour was worth it, we had a good tour guide and she gave us interesting information about Beijing’s history. I don’t have the website for the Jade and Silk factory. I am sure they are part in most tour packages
On the 3rd day, we went free style again and head to Temple of Heaven. The entrance is RMB35 if you include the inner entrance to the major attractions. I must say, this place is very pretty and lively. Residents come over to relax, play and meet their friends for some fun. Elderly people dance, knit, play games to pass time. It was wonderful to see them so active. Music from instruments and people singing were heard everywhere. It is a good place to relax and enjoy good company. Next place to visit was the Pearl Market right next to the east exit of the Temple of Heaven. It is a mall of 5 stories filled with items for sale and bargain. I tried my best to get the best price and managed to get my precious silk and few other things. I am very happy with my purchases 🙂
Night fall, we took a cab to head to Happy Valley. Strangely, not many taxi drivers know this area, even with the Chinese address. We had to let the hotel valet explain to the driver where to go. The place was recommended by my friend to watch their Golden Mask Dynasty show. Minimum price is at RMB200. The show was ok. The stage was elaborate, always moving, transforming, even to the point of becoming a waterfall (real gushing water flowing from the stage). I was not that impress with the story and dance though. Maybe I had my expectation from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Western stage performance. I would not be able to compare it to the Acrobat or the Kung Fu show as I wasn’t able to watch either one. The plus side of this purchase was that it gives free entrance to the theme park, Happy Valley . It is China’s version of Disneyland. We didn’t know that park existed beforehand plus, we reached the place a bit too late as the major rides closes after the show ended. I wasn’t able to ride at the huge roller coaster but I manage to try out the swing, surfer ride and drop off. Pity. I am a thriller ride fan.
Day 4, we headed to try out the Peking duck in Quanjude, one of the famous restaurants, located in Qianmen Street. Qianmen street is a fusion with European and Chinese buildings. It is quite unreal, in a different world yet not quite there yet. It looks pretty to the point of being fake. Still, it was an interesting sight to see amidst the usual buildings in Beijing. The restaurant is packed. You would need to have a waiting number or come really early. The duck was quite good. Crispy and taste good, a bit oily though. I would say that maybe we got into the hype of having the best, and I do believe, we could get same or better meal at less crowded or cheaper place. Still, it was a different experience to see the chef coming with the roasted duck and slice the meat in front of you. Aside from that, the food in Beijing is not much to comment about
Next, we headed to Summer Palace, the recreational place of the royal family. Did I tell you that Forbidden City is huge? Well, this place is even bigger and with hundred of trees. It has a big lake where people can rent a boat for a leisure ride. The main attraction is the Tower of the Buddhist Incense. It is the biggest and tallest structure in the area and you would need to climb the steps to reach to the top. The top view is amazing. You see the lake, the surrounding temples, the whole park or “palace” and city at the farther left side.
Once evening came, we headed to the National Stadium and Water Cube, the 2 unique Olympic buildings. It was said the night is better for picture taking with the lights lit up. I only got to take few shots before the night set in as I had to rush to a Toastmaster meeting in a university. I was curious on how their meetings are held. To know more about Toastmaster, please visit this website: http://www.toastmasters.org/ or better yet, email me. I am a proud member.
Bird’s Nest (National Stadium)
On the last day, we just strolled around the malls near our hotel. We wanted to check the Kung Fu show but we got lost and missed the show time. I managed to get my usual travel massage for RMB200, both foot and body care. After that, we took the taxi to the airport. Even when the driver was using the meter (RMB85), he charged us with RMB150 for the trip upon arrival. Jason was too generous and paid him without an argument. I wanted to dispute the charge but I was busy taking care of the luggage. Warning to those who are taking the taxi, always insist on paying per meter. We weren’t so lucky at our returning flight. Our 2am flight got delayed for almost an hour. I need to gain as much sleep as possible since I will be going straight to the office afterwards. Fortunately, the economy seat’s arm rests are adjustable and the 4 seats can be converted to a makeshift bed. Overall, I am amazed by the country, even though I only been to one city.