Exploring Beijing

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Flag of China  , Beijing,
Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My first tour left my hotel at 7:20AM.  I met a mother and son from India that I talked with most of theday.  There was also a friendly couple from Moscow.

Our first stop was the Ming Tombs.

At a distance of 50 km northwest of Beijing stands an arc-shaped cluster of hills fronted by a small plain. Here is where 13 emperors of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) were buried, and the area is known as the Ming Tombs.  Construction of the tombs started in 1409 and ended with the fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. In over 200 years tombs were built over an area of 40 square kilometres, which is surrounded by walls totalling 40 kilometres. Each tomb is located at the foot of a separate hill and is linked with the other tombs by a road called the Sacred Way. The stone archway at the southern end of the Sacred Way, built in 1540, is 14 metres high and 19 metres wide, and is decorated with designs of clouds, waves and divine animals.
At the Tombs we visited the site of the 3rd Emperor of the Ming Dynasty.

Next we drove to a jade factory to learn how they make objects with it.  Then wehad lunch here.  It was a HUGE delicious lunch of traditional food.

Next we visited the Great Wall of China.  The section we visited today was known as Badaling.  Unfortunately the fog and pollution is so terrible that it is not visible. Of course I could see where I was but I was but I was hoping for more panaramic views.  It was a long, steep, grueling hike up the stairs and I passed through three watch towers along the way.  It is exciting to know that I was now experiencing another of the New Seven Wonders of the World. 

The history of the Great Wall is said to start from the Spring and Autumn Periods when seven powerful states appeared at the same time. In order to defend themselves, they all built walls and stationed troops on the borders. At that time, the total length of the wall had already reached 3,107 miles, belonging to different states. In 221 BC, the Emperor Qin absorbed the other six states and set up the first unified kingdom in Chinese history. In order to strengthen his newly born authority and defend the Huns in the north, he ordered connecting the walls once built by the other states as well as adding some sections of his own. Thus was formed the long Qin's wall which started from the east of today's Liaoning Province and ended at Lintao, Gansu Province.
In the Western Han Dynasty, the Huns became more powerful. The Han court started to build more walls on a larger scale in order to consolidate the frontier. The Northern Wei, Northern Qi and Northern Zhou Dynasties all built their own sections but on a smaller scale than the walls in the Han Dynasty. The powerful Tang Dynasty saw peace between the northern tribes and central China most of the time, so few Great Wall sections were built in this period.  The Ming Dynasty is the peak of wall building in Chinese history. The Ming suffered a lot by disturbances from minority tribes such as the Dadan, Tufan and Nuzhen. The Ming court from its first emperor to the last ceaselessly built walls in the north. The main line measured over 4,600 miles. Besides adding many more miles of its own, the Ming emperors ordered enlargement of the walls of previous dynasties into double-line or multi-line walls. For example, out of Yanmenguan Pass were added three big stone walls and 23 small stone walls. Eleven Garrisons were distributed along the main line of the wall. The countless walls, fortresses, and watch towers made the country strongly fortified. In the early Qing Dynasty, some sections of the walls were repaired and several sections were extended. This great engineering work stopped in the middle of the Qing Dynasty.

The next stop on the tour was a drive by the Olympic area.  The Bird's Nest which will be the place for the opening ceremonies. It was designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, global engineering consultant ARUP and China Architecture Design and Research Group, the National Stadium is located on the North Fourth Ring Road in Beijing. The main body of the stadium is composed of 24 columns of trusses, which surround the bowl-shaped stands in the stadium. The structural elements support each other and converge into a grid formation, just like a bird's nest with interlocking branches and twigs. Construction started in December 2003 and the concrete work of the main stand was completed on November 15 last year. On August 31, the steel skeleton was welded together.  The steel skeleton weighs 42,000 tons and can now bear a load of 11,200 tons of the roof and hanging parts. With a seating capacity of 91,000, the National Stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field competitions and football finals during the Games. The seat number will be reduced to 80,000 after the Games, when it will be used for large-scale sports events, conventional competitions and non-competition events. The national landmark will offer wide-ranging entertainment and sporting facilities to residents after the Games.

When the tour ended I was dropped off at Tianamen Square with the Russian couple and the mother and son from India.  We were astounded at how large the Square was.  Someone said as large as 60 soccer fields.  We walked all around it.  I saw the Monument of the People's Heroes as well as the famous building with the large picture of Mao. There were hundreds (thousands?) of people gathered around the flag for the ceremony.  However our group seemed to be the center of attention.  We were shocked at the fact that everyone seemed local or at least from China.  The paparatzi was all around and I was asked to take pictures with many people; not counting the people that just snapped pictures of me.

Later I took a taxi back to near my hotel.  I had dinner at a nearby restaurant but I am not sure of most of the food I ate there.

I was picked up at 8AM for today's tour.  The mother and son from India were there again so it was nice to see a familiar face and have someone to talk to throughout the day.

Our first stop was the Forbidden City.  It was absolutely impressive!!  First, it was just a thrill to be in a place that was the home to 34 emperors of China.  Even a century ago the entire country was closed to foreigners and so to be in the Forbidden City which was realy exclusive was quite a thrill!!

I was shocked at how enormous it was.   I can see why it is called a "City".  We would pass through a palace/building and itto a massive square that was surrounded on all sides by huge buildings/  So of courser since the suare and surrounding buildings were so grand and large it seemed as though that was it.  But then we would pass through that square and through a gate and into another huge suare surrounded by buildings and then another and another and another.  The most striking thing was that all of the buildings were red and the roofs were yellow/gold. 

Lying at the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, called Gu Gong in Chinese, was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Now known as the Palace Museum, it is to the north of Tiananmen Square. Rectangular in shape, it is the world's largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. Surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten meter high wall are 9,999 buildings. The wall has a gate on each side. Opposite the Tiananmen Gate, to the north is the Gate of Divine Might (Shenwumen), which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between these two gates is 960 meters, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 meters. There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the curtain wall. These afford views over both the palace and the city outside. The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The southern section, or the Outer Court was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. The northern section, or the Inner Court was where he lived with his royal family. Until 1924 when the last emperor of China was driven from the Inner Court, fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty had reigned here. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities.  Construction of the palace complex began in 1407, the 5th year of the Yongle reign of the third emperor of the Ming dynasty. It was completed fourteen years later in 1420. It was said that a million workers including one hundred thousand artisans were driven into the long-term hard labor.

The next stop on the tour was the Temple of Heaven.  It is much bigger than the Forbidden City and smaller than the Summer Palace with an area of about 2,700,000 square meters. The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven. As Chinese emperors called themselves 'The Son of Heaven' ,they dared not to build their own dwelling,'Forbidden City' bigger than a dwelling for Heaven.  The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a long wall. The northern part within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth. The northern part is higher than the southern part. This design shows that the heaven is high and the earth is low and the design reflected an ancient Chinese thought of 'The heaven is round and the earth is square'.  The Temple is divided by two enclosed walls into inner part and outer part. The main buildings of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the middle axis line of the inner part. The most magnificent buildings are The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) from south to north. Also, there are some additional buildings like Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall.Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao) or called Sacred Way.  The Circular Altar has three layered terraces with white marble. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 A.D. - 1911 A.D.), the emperors would offer sacrifice to Heaven on the day of the Winter Solstice every year. This ceremony was to thank Heaven and hope everything would be good in the future. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a big palace with round roof and three layers of eaves. Inside the Hall are 28 huge posts. The four posts along the inner circle represent four seasons-spring, summer, autumn and winter; the 12 posts along the middle circle represent the 12 months; and 12 posts along the outer circle represent 12 Shichen (Shichen is a means of counting time in ancient China. One Shichen in the past equaled two hours and a whole day was divided into 12 Shichens). The roof is covered with black, yellow and green colored glaze representing the heavens, the earth and everything on earth. The Hall has a base named Altar for Grain Prayers which is made of three layers of white marble and has a height of six meters. Another important building in Temple of Heaven is Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you look at it from far away, you will find that the Vault is like a blue umbrella with gold head. The structure of it is like that of Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, but smaller in size. The structure was made of bricks and timber. The Vault was used to place memorial tablets of Gods. White marble railings surround the vault.

The nice thing at the Temple of Heaven was that many elderly Chinese locals gather here daily for exercise, dance, cards and games.  The Temple was really impressive.  The emperors used to visit here to pray for a good harvest.

Next our tour stopped at a medical facility.  The doctor explained how Chinese go to doctors when they are healthy as opposed to when they are sick in the Western world.  He explained how herbs are used and beneficial.

Later we drove to the Summer Palace.  We walked around the lake to the Summer Palace.  Unfortunately the smoggy, foggy weather made visibility poor.  Otherwise I am sure that the Palaca, situated high above a large hill and by the lake, would have been even more impressive.  After walking along the lake there was a long, long corridor that was beautifully painted.  Like the Temple of Heaven, the corridor bent 90 degrees along the way to ward off evil spirits.  Even here there were more paparatzi.

Situated in the western outskirts of Haidian District, the Summer Palace is 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from central Beijing. Having the largest royal park and being well preserved, it was designated, in 1960 by the State Council, as a Key Cultural Relics Protection Site of China. Containing examples of the ancient arts, it also has graceful landscapes and magnificent constructions. The Summer Palace is the archetypal Chinese garden, and is ranked amongst the most noted and classical gardens of the world. In 1998, it was listed as one of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Constructed in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), during the succeeding reign of feudal emperors; it was extended continuously. By the time of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it had become a luxurious royal garden providing royal families with rest and entertainment. Originally called 'Qingyi Garden' (Garden of Clear Ripples), it was know as one of the famous 'three hills and five gardens' (Longevity Hill, Jade Spring Mountain, and Fragrant Hill; Garden of Clear Ripples, Garden of Everlasting Spring, Garden of Perfection and Brightness, Garden of Tranquility and Brightness, and Garden of Tranquility and Pleasure). Like most of the gardens of Beijing, it could not elude the rampages of the Anglo-French allied force and was destroyed by fire. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled navy funds to reconstruct it for her own benefit, changing its name to Summer Palace (Yiheyuan). She spent most of her later years there, dealing with state affairs and entertaining. In 1900, it suffered again, being ransacked by the Eight-Power Allied Force. After the success of the 1911 Revolution, it was opened to the public.

When the tour finished I walked along Wangfujing Street...again.  I walked down the back streets and by many of the food vendors selling starfish, seahorses and scorpions on a stick.  Sound yummy?
Then I sat out on Wangfujing and had a couple drinks in the "beer garden".

After I went for a traditional duck dinner.  It was great. They wheeled the duck out on a cart and cut it up there.  They served it to me on various plates; I think each plate had different parts.  I think one of the plates may have had the heart.  But the parts that I ate were really good.  They serve it with hot pancakes that you roll the duck up inside.

To end the day I walked along a street perpendicular to Wangfujing.  Here was a long row of vendors selling all kinds of things meant to be eaten such as snake, centipede, larva, seahorse, fried scorpions, live scorpions, sea urchin, starfish, insects and more.

In my tour today I toured with an Asian American family from the United States so even though they spoke English I stood out even more!

The tour started today at the Beijing Zoo.  At present, the zoo houses over 7,000 creatures of 600 different species, including the giant panda, red-crowned crane and Pere David's deer-all unique to China-as well as the African giraffe, rhinoceros, chimpanzee and antelope; American continent; wild ox from Europe; and elephant and gibbon from India.

However, we only visited the pandas.  There were well over 20 pandads in a bunch of habitats.  I saw most of them very close up and it was definitely the most pandas I have ever seen in one spot!


Next we went to the Lama Temple.  The Lama Temple, or Yanghegong, has a long history. It was originally built in 1694 and originally used as official residence for court eunuchs of the Ming dynasty and was converted to the royal court of Prince Yongzheng(Yin Zhen) a son of Emperor Kang Xi of the Qing Dynasty. Before he ascended the throne, during the 33rd year (1693) of Kangxi's reign of the Qing dynasty, it was remamed Yonghegong. After the prince came to the throne in 1723, half of the residence was used as an imperial palace.  The Lama Temple is now a typical Tibetan Monastery.  I was impressed with the amount of temples. I would go inside one andthen there wasabackdoor that led to anew small courtyard and then another temple.  Each temple had different styles of Budha and an area to pray.  Many people worshipped with incense too.  The final temple had amassive 26 meter tall Budha that had been carved from just one piece of wood.

Next we visited an area of China that looks very much the same as hundreds of years ago.  Here I was lucky enough to have lunch inside one family's home whereI enjoyed home cooked Chinese food.  It was delicious!  

When we left their jome we enjoyed a rickshaw ride for a Hutong Tour.  The hutong is basically old, narrow streets.

Our last stop for the tour was Beijing's Bell Tower and Drum Tower.  I made the climb to the top of the Drum Tower.  From there I was rewarded with great views of the city.  I even witnessed the drum ceremony from the top of the tower.

I arrived back to my hotel at about 4PM and I watched some of the EuroCup on television.  Around 6:30PM I was picked up and went to the Chinese Opera.  It is not like an opera in the U.S. although it was as boring as one!  There were subtitles that missed the mark.  At least the costumes were stunning.

I was picked upat 7:20AM today and had one guy, A.J., from Toronto and two women from Germany joining me.  We began the day with a 2 hour drive to the Mutianyu Great Wall.  The drive was great because it went through numerous small towns and farms that provided great scenary.  The absolute best part of the day was the weather!!!  Today was the very first time in Beijing that I actually saw BLUE sky and it was actually all blue today!!!  Therefore the drive afforded me views of the mountains.

Finally we made it to Mutianyu Great Wall.  It is located in Huairou County about 45 miles from Beijing, Mutianyu Great Wall enjoys a long history and is part of the glorious culture of China. It connects  Juyongguan Pass in the west and Gubeikou Great Wall in the east. The wall was first built in Northern Qi Dynasty (550 - 557). In Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), Tan Lun and Qi Jiguang, two famous patriotic generals, rebuilt it in order to strengthen its defensive potential when they guarded the strategic pass. It served as the northern protective screen, guarding the capital and imperial mausoleums for generations. Mutianyu Great Wall winds 1.4 miles through lofty mountains and high ridges, many sections of which are made of granite. The unique structure makes the wall almost indestructible. It measures 23 to 26 feet high and four to five yards wide. Both of the wall's inner and outer sides have parapets to defend against enemies coming from the two sides. Some parapets are saw- tooth shaped instead of the regular rectangular form. Below the parapets, there are square embrasures the top of which are designed in an arc structure, different from the traditional round embrasures. There are 22 watch towers distributed at close intervals along the wall. They are located not only in the main wall but also at the distinctive 'branch cities'. Branch cities are built on the hill ridge against the inner or outer side of the wall. They measure from several yards to dozens of yards across.

I am so happy that I made a second trip to the Great Wall as this section was more breath-taking, rewarding, scenic and exciting tham the Badaling section.  The fact that the weather was clear today allowed me to see the Wall snake up and over the mountains for miles in both directions.

To reach the top of the Wall I took a lift just like the ones used at ski resorts.  Once I was on top it was just amazing!  I walked for miles climbing up and down and passing through watch towers.  The biggest difference at thissection of the Wall is that at Badaling it was basically just a straight run up one side of the mountain. However, here it was like a LONG LONG road; although it was never level as it went down and up.

Going down the wall was an experience too!  There was a small "tobaggan" car that I rode dowm a track all the way to the bottom.  At the bottom I celebrated and quenched my thirst with a beer.  Then I walked through the market.  One lady told me a shirt wasonly $1 and had me follow her into her tent store.  Once inside therte was only a narrow passage out that was half as wide as my body!  Here she informed me that the shirt I wanted was not $1 because it was made of cotton.  She wanted me to know how amazing cotton wasincase I had never seen a cotton shirt before.  So now I tried to leave.  I had to contort my body to escape through the narrow passage all the while having her dragme back by my arm. I finally made it back to the street with her still clutching my arm! 

On the driveback to Beijing we stopped for a delicious traditional lunch.  Then we drove through the Olympic area and passed the Bird's Nest which will be the place for the opening ceremonies. It was designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, global engineering consultant ARUP and China Architecture Design and Research Group, the National Stadium is located on the North Fourth Ring Road in Beijing. The main body of the stadium is composed of 24 columns of trusses, which surround the bowl-shaped stands in the stadium. The structural elements support each other and converge into a grid formation, just like a bird's nest with interlocking branches and twigs. Construction started in December 2003 and the concrete work of the main stand was completed on November 15 last year. On August 31, the steel skeleton was welded together.  The steel skeleton weighs 42,000 tons and can now bear a load of 11,200 tons of the roof and hanging parts. With a seating capacity of 91,000, the National Stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field competitions and football finals during the Games. The seat number will be reduced to 80,000 after the Games, when it will be used for large-scale sports events, conventional competitions and non-competition events. The national landmark will offer wide-ranging entertainment and sporting facilities to residents after the Games.

Although we could not stop close or go inside we did get to see part of the Olympic village.  We visited a health area for the athletes and here I received an amazing 20 mimute foot and calf massage like nothing I had ever experienced before.  He whacked, pounded and manipulated my legs but after it felt great.

Then we stopped at Dr. Tea in the village.We sampled and learned about four types of tea.

The tour ended at 5:30PM and at 7PM I took a walk down Wangfujing Street again.  I went back to the back-alley market to buy some more tea cups as souvenirs. The price of each was 285 RMB but I wuickly talked her all the way down to 10 RMB each!!  I bought three at that price and also a Terracotta soldier.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a restaurant for chicken and vegetables in a wok.

Today I was on my own in Beijing.  For the first time I slept in late and watched Nertherlands lose in the EuroCup.

Eventually I ventured out of my hotel for what would be five hours of walking the streets of Beijing.  I have no idea how many miles I went but I am sure it was quite a bit.  The furthest point I reached from my hotel was Ditan Park.

On my way back toward my hotel I stopped at a computer place.  I don't know what else to call it.  It is not a cafe, and basically I am the only one using the internet.  There are probably over 200 computers and it is packed with mostly young Chinese guys smoking cigarettes and playing computer games all day.

On my way back to my hotel I got Chinese take out food...in China.  That thought amused me!  I ate back in my room and relaxed.

At 6:45PM I was picked up for an evening tour.  For the third time I visited the Olympic site, but at least this time I saw it in the evening.  Also for the first time the bus stopped.  We stopped by the National Aquatics Center (the Water Cube).  Now that it was the evening it was lit up in ever changing colors on one side.  I also had great views of the Birds Nest.  We then drove by Houhai "bar street".  We drove past Tiananmen Square and I saw everything lit up there.  We then drove past the new news building (CCTV) which had a unique architecture.  From there we stopped at the National Grand Theater.  It was a large half oval and it looked like a large UFO.  Finally we stopped at what was left of the 580 year old City Wall.

I woke up at 10AM and called Diana.  Then I watched Italy defeat Spain in the EuroCup. 

At noon I checked out of my hotel and stored two bags there.

Like yesterday, I spent the next five hours walking the streets of Beijing.  I am proud to say that of all the places I wanted to go to today I found them perfectly on my own by foot.

My first stop was Jingshan Park.  I am so happy that I stopped there.  The park gate is across the street from the back gate of the Forbidden City.  Inside I walked through the garden.  Then I made my way up a big hill to a pagoda atop.  Reaching the summit was great because here was a magnificent never-ending breeze.  Inside the pagoda was a large Budha.  The best part however was the 360 degree panorama of the city.  Since the park was next to the Forbidden City, the Pagoda stood above it and gave me an incredible view of the entire Forbidden City from above.  Once again, the fog and smog tried to ruin the view, but it was still spectacular.  I spent an hour up there enjoying the breeze and the view.

Then I took an hour walk to Tiananmen Square.  This time I got right up close to the Great Hall of the People where the large picture of Mao was located.  I walked though the gate and explored the "city" inside.
Suddenly the rains came and I took shelter under one of the gates.

Afterwards I took a long walk back, eventually made my way down Wangfujing Street and then walked another twenty minutes to the computer place.  The boys were still smoking and playing their computer games and I had a chance to update my travelogue that you are reading right now.

Next I walked back to Wangfujing for a farewell to Beijing duck feast. 

At 8PM my driver picked me up to take me to the Beijing train station and this is when the pain began.  I have three pieces of suitcases but my largest is a 50 pound duffel bag with no wheels.  I may have been able to carry this by then it was mass confusion with people bombarding me from all sides.  It was the longest walk to reach the train platform with my bags.  Once aboard the train I walked into my tiny room which I had to share with 3 other people.  The train departed after 11PM and I attempted to sleep before its arrival at 7AM the next day. 

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