On my first free day in Beijing, I was spoiled for choice – Beijing has an almost endless number of temples, historical sites and other amazing places to check out. I decided to make the day about some of Beijing’s big ticket attractions: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Lama Temple.
I started off the day with some veggie dumplings, which were to be the start of my long and fruitful dumpling addiction. Some shrimp wonton soup rounded out my very strange and not at all Western breakfast; I’d quickly get used to eating very different things for breakfast!
By the time I dilly-dallyed over my food and had a conversation fully in gestures, some attractions were opening up and I headed to Confucius Temple. Since I got there so early, there were only two other tourists: a perfect opportunity to try out my new selfie stick!
I’m still mastering it, but I can tell this is going to be an awesome tool for solo travel….get your hands on one! Confucius Temple was a stunning example of Chinese architecture. I took a lot of pictures of the ceilings, which look beautiful in real life but terrible in pictures. I wandered around, read the poorly worded English signs, and greeted some Chinese tourists as they pointed and laughed at the Westerner with a selfie stick.
Next, I went to the more highly touted Lama Temple. To be honest, I liked the Confucius Temple more, although I think the emptiness of the site contributed to my enjoyment. The Lama Temple was certainly more ornate, but my untrained temple eye couldn’t really see any major differences. The thing that was very cool about Lama Temple was that it was a fully functioning temple and I got to see monks in action.
Next, I wanted to see the Drum and Bell Tower, but when I arrived they were both closed until November…good thing I knew that in advance! However, they were still gorgeous from the outside so I’m glad I had a peek.
After a brief stop for froyo in Nanlougouxiang, one of Beijing’s most famous hutongs (and I can see why) it was time for one of the most exciting parts of the city – Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City!
Tiananmen Square was very unnerving…I was patted down twice before I was let in, and soldiers were crawling all over the place. A few months before my departure, I read Red China Blues by Jan Wong, and I was glad I did. Tiananmen Square is certainly a place you need a bit of background on, and I don’t think it would have had any impact on me if I hadn’t read the book.
I was worried that the Forbidden City was overhyped. Could it really be that great? The answer is yes.
There are no words to describe the sense of history you feel when you’re walking through the Forbidden City. Even if you don’t really understand what you’re looking at, there’s no denying that this place exudes ancient vibes. Which are totally a thing.
My one big tip for the Forbidden City is to get away from the middle of the complex. Sure, it’s tempting to walk through the largest halls where everybody else is, but the emptiness is striking when you move over to the side. Get off the beaten path!
To round off the day, I paid the completely reasonable fee of 5RMB (about 40 cents) to enter Jingshan Park and climbed up the hill to get ‘spectacular’ views of Beijing. After using my first squat toilet and being disgusted by the experience, I came out to see this lovely view of the smog:
While any view over the Forbidden City is going to be pretty cool, I’m not sure the trek up the hill was entirely worth it. If you’re lucky enough to be in Beijing on a clear day, absolutely head up into Jingshan Park, but it was quite underwhelming in the excessive smog.
Exhausted after a long day of walking and sightseeing, I got lost before dinner and crashed at my normal China bedtime of 8pm.
Next up from my China posts: the Summer Palace, and finally the Great Wall!