Thursday, 16 October 2014

Beijing Part 2 + China Tips

My last post on my China trip and my final days in Beijing. Thursday promised good weather so I requested a trip to the zoo - like any good just-turned-27-year-old would. The main draw of Beijing Zoo is obviously the giant pandas. If you're an animal-lover, be warned that Chinese zoos are maybe not as animal-friendly as the ones back home and the zoo visitors are not at all respectful of the animals - the amount of people I saw banging on the glass of the enclosures was infuriating. However, the zoo was not as bad as I had feared it might be and it was pretty cool to see a panda.

Hello, Panda.

After the zoo we hopped back on the metro towards the Forbidden City. Last entry to the Forbidden City is at 4 or 5pm and having spent an hour eating a late lunch there wasn't time to actually go inside but the view from Jingshan Park was amazing and definitely gives an idea of the scale of it (and lunch was so good that I was happy to forgo culture for food). The Forbidden City leads onto Tianamen Square, probably one of the most famous squares in the world a definitely the largest. Tianamen was not at all how I expected (I'm not really sure what I expected...the stage set from ChimericaI?)- it's huge but oddly empty and feels slightly unwelcoming despite the crowds.

People people people everywhere but the park was a nice walk.

Beijing Hot Pot was definitely worth tackling my fears of i) raw meat and ii) cooking for.

Misty misty Forbidden City.
Tianamen Square.
Can't take a blogger anywhere. Wearing clothes which I bought in the Middle East, which were too skimpy to actually wear in the Middle East and then which never saw the light of day in England. Yay.
Friday was my last full day in Beijing, fighting off the end-of-holiday blues and ignoring P's iPhone forecast which showed rain in favour of mine which did not, we headed to the summer palace (after a very late breakfast of bibimbap). The summer palace is beautiful despite the smog and it was nice wandering between the buildings until torrential rain struck! Luckily it didn't last long and the Summer Palace conveniently seemed to be designed to provide a covered walkway almost all the way out. In the afternoon we tried to visit the Drum and Bell Towers but they were closed ahead of a national festival. Still, another guidebook "top sight" ticked off and they are in a lively neighbourhood full of restaurants and cafes on huatong lanes. Beijing's last supper was at a Yunanese restaurant where pineapple was on the menu!

Beef bibimbap.

Summer Palace.

Pineapple love. The summer palace was built by the Empress Cixi - no, I can't remember how that was pronounced.
Glowing lake, pre-downpour.
Tea time.
Pineapple rice.
Chicken, prawns and spicy yum.

China Tips

1. Visa

If you're traveling from the UK you'll definitely need a visa. A tourist visa is pretty easy to apply for - just make sure you apply around a month before your trip and after you have booked flights and accommodation as you'll need to show proof of these. The visa is valid for 90 days once its granted so don't apply too early or it will have expired before you go.

2. Flights

As always, Skyscanner is your friend. Flying with a stopover is cheaper but several airlines fly direct from London airports - prices vary a lot so book early.

3. Trains

I traveled by train from Beijing to Shanghai - so much less hassle than internal flights. Chinese trains are super efficient and high speed. I booked first class tickets which came with free biscuits (a perk I was not aware of when booking). Some journeys are via sleeper train and there are a range of options from very basic to proper beds. I found this website so helpful for advice (and will be booking-marking it for future holidays) and booked my tickets on this website as non-Chinese residents are unable to buy advance tickets. 

4. Guidebooks

Get one! I love Lonely Planet guides for giving a good mix of things to do and practical advice as well as being quiet budget friendly. I bought a pocket guide for Shanghai which was so useful for the maps as I didn't want to be using my iPhone and racking up a massive bill (see Internet below). If you're staying at a hotel ask for a card with the hotel's name in Chinese to show to taxi drivers to get you home safely. Lots of guide books have phrase guides in but use at your peril (thank you = Xièxiè...?). Time Out do Beijing and Shanghai magazines and websites which I found helpful for restaurant recommendations.

5. The Internet

The great firewall applies in China and a lot of social media is blocked. My iPhone did work as a phone but I didn't turn on the 3G due to countless tourist horror stories of extortionate roaming charges. If you want to update your Facebook status / brag about your travels / let mummy know that you're still alive then you'll need to download a VPN - I used this one which was good but only connected to it when I was on wifi. I actually enjoyed the enforced lack of communication - it was nice to explore the cities without being fixated on Instagramming a view or Whatsapps-ing friends back home.

6. Culture etc.

Do not assume that "everyone will speak English". They won't unless you're in a high end hotel or restaurant. A lot of restaurants have picture menus or plastic models of food so point away! On restaurants...master using chopsticks or meal times won't be a lot of fun. China is much more smoker-friendly than the UK, I had a bit of a shock the first time I saw someone smoking inside a cafe in Shanghai - I feel old that I can still remember smoking in pubs back home...

Be prepared to see people spitting in the street - its not seen as rude or disgusting. As for toilets, in older parts of town treat them as you would loos at a festival (tissues and hand sanitizer are you best friends). If you are not a fan of "traditional toilets" then pop into hotels or shopping centres but sometimes there may not be other options... Be very, very careful when crossing the road - traffic is crazy and the line between road and pavement is sometimes less clear.

China is such a different place to anywhere else I've visited - it's busy and hectic and not a chill out holiday but its so different to the UK (without being a massive culture shock to a city dweller) that I still felt like I'd had a break. There's culture, history, shopping (oh yes), amazing food and you can almost feel the pace of change - go now before more McDonalds and Starbucks start springing up everywhere.  

Have you visited China?


  1. Really enjoyed reading your China recap. It looks like such a cultural and beautiful place to visit.

  2. I have loved your posts, it looks incredible. I'm not sure I would ever go but I am a complete wuss!

    Maria xxx

  3. Wow! What an exciting trip, love the photos. I made bibimbap for dinner recently, can't imagine it for breakfast. I would also have to go to the zoo and see the panda- I loved the ones in Edinburgh


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