Beijing Now! Before The Olympics

Beijing's getting ready for the Olympics. New construction and restoration are taking place. It will become too much soon. The unrestored Great Wall and Temple of Heaven should be seen now. The locals enjoying their activities on the street are sights I don't want to see "Westernized". If Beijing is crowded now, just wait and go later.

Beijing Now! Before The Olympics

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by nmagann on July 28, 2004

As much as I enjoyed the sights and especially walking on the Great Wall before the hoards of tourism that the Olympics will bring, I really enjoyed the locals and their everyday life. In the evening you would find the sidewalks filled with people playing cards and checkers, taking their dogs and birds for a walk or practicing Tai Chi. By day you would find them inspecting fruit and vegetables at open markets, bringing out boom boxes to dance by with others joining in and playing variations of paddle ball. Nobody was concerned with what other people might think of them. Something I wish I saw in my own country. This seemed to bring people together to make new friends and get to know neighbors.${QuickSuggestions} The Friendship Store off subway line number 2 is good place to purchase items with a set price and get an idea of what to pay for items when bartering other places. Everything from modern western clothing to traditional clothing and from toys to jewelry can be found here. It is about 4 stories high.

Credit cards are really not accepted nor are traveler’s cheques at merchant stores. The Bank of China seems to be the only bank that exchanges currency and luckily is open on weekends.

Always be sure to carry handiwipes, toilet paper and a fork if you can’t or don’t like to eat with chopsticks. Good walking shoes are a must. The cobblestone sidewalks are uneven, but more importantly is the need when crossing intersections. Even if you have a green light, right turning cars and bicycles expect you to get out of the way. You find yourself quickening your pace frequently. ${BestWay} Shuttles from the airport don’t start until 8:00am, but a taxi into town is only about $12. Taxis in town are reasonable, but with traffic it is often best to go on the subway for Y3 as far as possible.

The subway has two lines, line one runs from east to west and has a stop right in front of Tiananmen Square. Line two is shaped liked a square and encompasses the major sights like Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Lama Temple and Behai Park. Two more lines running north and south are in progress.

The trains are great and efficient, just be sure that with 5 stations in Beijing you go the correct one. I took a paid Y124 ($15) including commission to the hostel for a hard sleeper (2 sets of 3-high bunks) for an overnight 7 hour overnight trip to Datong. For those that reserve hard or soft sleepers, you will be notified of your stop. When you board, you exchange your ticket for a card. Approaching your stop, the attendant comes for the card and returns your train ticket. Negatives are that the toilets are not western and do not offer paper or soap products.

Fei Ying Youth Hostel

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by nmagann on July 28, 2004

Both location and amenities made this a very good choice of accommodations. It was too early for the bank to be open so I paid a taxi $12 for a pleasant ride. A driveway off the a main street lead up to the hotel. On one side was a vendor selling a variety of fruits and vegetables each evening and the other side were two very reasonable basic restaurants.

The building adjoining offered several types of body massages, foot massages, milk baths, salt baths and more. I opted for the full body Thai acupressure massage on my last day. Practically on the corner of the driveway and main thoroughfare was the subway. Everything I needed seemed to be on the very block on which I was staying. Tiananmen Square was 3 blocks away or you take the subway.

As for the accommodations themselves, I stayed in a two bunk bed room complete with en suite western toilet (not always a given), shower and tub with retractable clothesline, closet and drawers. Linen and thick comforters were provided with additional blankets in a cupboard. But at this time of the year we all appreciated the air conditioning. There was a common kitchen down the hall as well as a TV room. Toiletries and towels were available for purchase here.

Reserve without cost @

Fei Ying Youth Hostel
Beijing, China

The Great Wall Overall

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by nmagann on July 28, 2004

The Great Wall is approximately 4000 miles long and dates back to the 5th century. It originally began as independent walls constructed by various states who believed they enemies or were having problems with neighbors. During the Qin Dynasty it became the "great" wall with individual walls be joined with the Huns being the foe after China’s unification.

Badaling located 47 miles nw of Beijing is the most crowded. This section of the wall includes restored towers and turrets, a museum that shows a 15 minute video of the wall, and a cable car. Tours typically give you about 2 ½ hours to explore. The cost is Y40.

Mutianyu was opened to relieve some pressure off Badaling although it has begun to get crowed as well. Like Badaling this section of the wall has been restored and again tours are usually 2 ½ hours long. The cable car is Y35 one way and Y50 round trip with entrance to this section Y35. Both Badaling and Mutianyu are the relatively close to Beijing and half day tours are offered to both or can be combined with a visit to a tomb. On the other hand, the following sections of the wall involve a three hour drive one way with walking and hiking necessary on rough terrain.

Simatai is 67 miles ne of Beijing and not restored. From the entrance there is the choice of hiking towards the left towards Jinshanling or to the right which is the very steep and can require climbing on all fours depending on how far you go. Tours are not readily available, but mini bus transportation can usually be arranged at hotels for Y80 with the entrance another Y30.

Huangyaguan is 18 miles nw of Huairou and is not restored. The reservoir, water pass and beacon tower along with the yellow leaves in the fall (hence the name) provide the uniqueness to this section. Entrance is Y15. There are no tours for this, but 2 bus routes followed by a mini bus will get you there.

Jinshanling is the least visited section but the best preserved (not to be confused with restored). It is 94 miles from Beijing and includes highlights such as 67 watchtowers with 7 miles, a storehouse tower and obstacle walls which are walls within walls. Aside from public transportation, there is are usually mini buses arranged at hotels for transportation only for Y90. The entrance is Y30, but halfway to Simatai you have to pay Y30 again for the Simatai section.

Great Wall (万里长城)
North Of Beijing City
Beijing, China
+86 (0)10 6912 1235


Member Rating 5 out of 5 by nmagann on July 28, 2004

Getting to Simatai is by way of mini bus for Y80 round trip. The round trip is a total of six hours with one stop en route to Simatai for gas. This is your only chance for a restroom stop as awful as they may be, and considering rush hour traffic can cause your drive to go beyond three hours…

At the entrance are a couple of restaurants, souvenir stands, a youth hostel and a small cable car that goes up to the eighth tower. The colorful buckets look they belong at Disneyland and probably came from there. The tour allows for 4 hours at the wall, which is plenty of time to hike up to the twelfth tower and back without using the cable car. Before some accidents the hike extended to the 16th tower, but now there is guard just beyond the twelfth. All you have to do is look at how the trail narrows and is at angle NEXT to the wall to understand why.

Unlike other areas, the towers along this section are close together providing momentary breaks. For the most part, Simatai is a hike upwards the entire distance. I spend two hours ascending and one descending.

Another unique aspect of this hike is the reservoir at the beginning of the hike. It makes for a beautiful sight from some of the higher towers. On your return you have the option of taking a zip line near the first tower across the reservoir only to be brought back across by a small boat. The cost is Y35 and didn’t have too many takers, perhaps because the harness seemed to secure you only by Velcro.

Most towers were very well preserved with all the walls and roof completely intact. The views were indescribable. It seemed unfathomable that the high peaks you see in the distance driving up, would be the same ones under your feet a little later. It feels like being on top of the world.

The terrain itself is very rugged and continually changing. Steps could be shallow (toes only) or deep and they could be 5 inches to 18 in height. And still other areas were merely gravel-like rising out of the red dirt.

Although I brought three bottles of water with me I was grateful to have water to purchase along the way at Y3. The hike was difficult but it was the heat and humidity that caused my clothes to become soaked. I wouldn’t have missed this one for anything. And I mean that literally as I had two huge blisters on my heels from walking around Summer Palace the day before.

Great Wall at Si Ma Tai
Si Ma Tai
Beijing, China, 101508
+ 86 (0)10 6903 1051

Summer Palace

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by nmagann on July 28, 2004

The Summer Palace built in 1750 was originally a royal garden. It was destroyed during the 1860 Opium War and rebuilt in 1888 by the Empress who used money intended for the Chinese Navy. Her extravagance included the reconstruction of a marble boat, which is still intact today. In 1900 foreign troops torched the palace and major renovations didn’t begin again until 1949. Such an incredible place with such and incredible construction and destruction history.

The grounds are basically divided into 4 areas: court reception, residences, temples and finally the sightseeing grounds. The latter includes Kunning Lake, which comprises ¾ of the park and offers boat rides in the summer and ice-skating in the winter.

The court reception was the area in which administrative functions such as the state of affairs were conducted and where the officials met.

The residences consisted of the Hall of Jade Billows where the Emperor stayed, the Hall of Joyful Longevity where the Empress stayed and the Garden of Virtue and Harmony where operas were performed.

The sightseeing area including Kunning Lake is the crowing glory in my opinion. Covering an area of 220 hectares, it covers about 2/3 of the park with still waters, which the rulers believed to be a sign of longevity and stability. Bridges, dams, and pavilions are just the beginning to a leisurely stroll.

There are many major and minor sights to behold. Seventeen Arch Bridge, which connects an island to the banks of the lake, is a beautiful piece of architecture with the Bronze Ox in nearby proximity. Long Gallery is very colorful with some 8000 elaborate paintings and said to be one of the longest galleries in China.

A considerable amount of time can be spent at he Garden of Harmonious Interests with its bridges, pavilions and a lotus garden. The waterfall and bamboo grove are always a favorite of mine creating a peaceful feeling to me.

Probably one of Kunning Lake’s most well known sights is the Marble Boat. The main body of the boat was built with huge stones while the rest of it was made of wood and painted white resembling marble. Colored bricks and inlaid glass adorn the vessel along with four dragonheads, which are actually for rainwater runoff.

Kunning Lake cover’s the most area of Summer Palace and can easily consume the most of your time. The beauty and serenity just makes you slow your pace and sit back to enjoy the feeling that comes over you. You can walk around the lake and there are also boat cruises, which I opted for with my tiring feet.

Summer Palace
Kunming Lake
Haidian, Beijing, China
010-6288 1144

Temple of Heaven

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by nmagann on July 28, 2004

The Temple of Heaven is one of China’s largest temples. Built in 1420 it is one of the most photographed buildings, being of such incredible beauty. It sits on a 660 acre park where music plays in the background continuously. This is where emperors prayed to Heaven for a good harvest. The shape of the park in the south is square which represents Earth and in the north is round which represents Heaven.

Entering the park from the south affords the opportunity to see the three main sites culminating with best at the end. The first sight is the Circular Alter consisting of three-tiered marble terraces with the lucky number "9" exhibited by the number of stones and other such items within the architecture.

Next is the Imperial Vault of Heaven with Three Echo Stones outside. Stand on the 1st stone facing the vault, say something and you hear one echo. Stand on the 2nd stone and say something and you hear two echoes. And at the 3rd stone, three echoes.

Surrounding the Imperial Vault of Heaven is Echo Wall where a whispered word spoken at the east end of the wall will be heard clearly by someone at the west end and vice versa. Theory of sound waves provides a detailed explanation.

Both the Circular Alter and Imperial Vault of Heaven will cost you an extra Y10 each and does not permit re-entry if you accidentally exit or want to return.

Lastly, the Hall of Prayer of Good Harvest is a round wooden hall, 125 ft high and constructed entirely without the use of any nails or pegs. Inside are 28 huge pillars arranged to represent time. These include 4 seasons, 12 months, and the twelve divisions of a day…as on a clock face.

In spite of the interesting cultural and historic sights, my favorite was an open music area where locals simply engaged in a variety of activities. One group were holding sheets of music and singing out. Others were practicing Tai Chi or playing versions of hackysack and paddle ball. There were still other games that I couldn’t begin describe. A gentleman was even teaching a few couples to waltz.

Hours are 8:30-4:30, cost Y35.

Temple of Heaven
Tian Tan North Rd.
Beijing, China, 100050
+86 (0)10 6702 2242

Tiananmen Square

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by nmagann on July 28, 2004

Tiananmen Square was built in the 15th century and restored in the 17 century. October 1, 1949 Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. In 1976 people paid respect to Mao here and then in 1989 tanks moved in on pro-democracy demonstrators. A bit of restoration in 1999 covered traces of the event.

Five doors and seven gates lead to the square which can accommodate a million people and is the largest public square in the world at 99 acres. It is surrounded by many of China’s finer monuments such as the Monument to the Heroes as well as government buildings where guards stand at attention moving only their heads from side to side to watch around. It is located just across the street from the entrance to the Forbidden City.

Sights to see include Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum. Apparently whether the was model or the real corpse is on display isn’t known. Not being familiar with the preservation process, the corpse was initially overfilled with formaldehyde and then drained to put the corpse into an acceptable condition. Fortunately prior to preserving the corpse a wax model had been created. Hence, what is actually on display isn’t a given. Although admission is not charged to the museum, all bags must be checked at a cost Y1 per bag. The line for this is incredibly long, but goes relatively fast. There are many locals that pay tribute to Mao this way.

Also popular at the square is the flag-raising ceremony with the PLA soldiers marching at exactly 108 paces per minute. The nighttime scene of this event is even more spectacular if you can find a viewing spot.

More than anything I could not get over the massive open area here and realizing that at one time all these people flying kites and meandering around were replaced by tanks mowing down protesters.

Tiananmen Square
Chang An Avenue
Beijing, China, 100006

Jinshanling Wall

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by nmagann on August 2, 2004

Jinshanling to Simatai is a one way hike, where you are dropped off by mini bus at the entrance to Jinshanling and given four hours to reach Simatai where the mini bus picks you up to return to Beijing. I should have known from my experiences with other trips including a previous Great Wall hike that you are given more than enough time and that I could have stopped and eaten a sandwich or just taken rest. The entire hike took under three hours.

Another unique aspect of this part of the wall is that you are starting at a point on the wall where you could actually go either direction. Others sections there is only one direction to go, either because the wall is not passable the other direction or that it has ended at a reservoir. I went the opposite direction for about 15 minutes to throw off the lady that was trying to accompany me and eventually sell me something. When I figured she’d found someone else to following I turned around and went the correct way. She had waited for me and latched on as soon as I reached the point of the wall where we all first entered. I was huffing up steps with sweat pouring down due the heat and the little English she knew began with, "where are you from?" to which I replied, "don’t want to talk". She would try this several times until I found one section of fairly flat cobblestones and took off very quickly outpacing her. I wanted to enjoy the nearly spiritual feeling this place had on me.

The distance between the towers was greater than those at Simatai and not uniformed. Shape and sized varied as did the degree of ruin. This section is known for its obstacle walls and other items to throw off intruders. I found myself heading up stairs that dead-ended at the wall of a tower or I found I could not exit the tower on the other side. (The latter resulted in taking a dirt path that paralleled the wall.) On this section I found the hike alternating between ascending and descending whereas at Simatai it was straight up one direction and back down the way you came.

After covering about half the distance, a gentleman in next watchtower served as the ticket seller for the Simatai section. So here you pay another Y30 to walk on the wall. When you reach the last tower before the reservoir there is a hanging bridge you need to cross for Y5. After crossing this you are now at the first tower for the Simatai hike. Taking the road down you have the option of taking a flying fox line back across the reservoir and being returned by boat. This is just for fun of course as it is not a short cut. Not too many takers for this. Perhaps it was because the harness was just Velcro.

Great Wall (万里长城)
North Of Beijing City
Beijing, China
+86 (0)10 6912 1235

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