During my recent China trip, aside from traveling to Shanghai, we also had a little side trip to the capital of China, Beijing. I have to say, Beijing that I visited is not like the one I envisioned at all.
Read on to see 5 things I learned about Beijing, and hey, a little bonus when you’re done, I’ve put together my Ultimate Winter Checklist available for FREE download to help you pack for your own winter getaway!
ONE: Beijing is HUGE on TV, but it is actually MASSIVE.
Beijing is not only the capital of China, but is it is the capital of the most populous country in the world.
As we entered Beijing by train, an overnight sleeper, we had a very unique perspective of the capital city of China. In the morning, we arrived in Beijing at 9am, so as I woke up at 730am, we had a lot of time to see the landscape change from rural farming areas…
…to industrial areas…..
….to suburban housing areas….
….and finally to the centre of the city of skyscrapers galore.
Being in Beijing introduced me to the sheer scale in which China operates.
Tiananmen Square, a city square in the middle of Beijing that hosted some of the most important cultural events in Chinese history, probably can fit the whole of Brunei in it.
There is constantly a lot of people everywhere, millions in fact! But interestingly it does not feel crowded. You don’t feel invaded, and there’s always space for you to do you and be you.
TWO: The Great Wall of China is reason enough to visit Beijing
Called just THE GREAT WALL there hahahaha.
The Great Wall is the main reason we decided to visit Beijing. Being one of the 7 wonders of the world, built hundreds of years ago during the Ming Dynasty – how can I miss it?
In Beijing, you can visit two very well preserved portions of the Great Wall, namely Badaling (the more popular one) or Mutianyu. Between the 2, we were recommended to go to Mutianyu. It is less crowded and you get to leisurely stroll and take photos without having to battle with other tourists.
There are many ways to get there but for us we decided to simply join a tour for CNY300 (around BND60).
The tour picked us up from our hotel, and we had a guide to explain the history of the Great Wall on the way. That said, it wasn’t a very good explanation hehehe. Our tour guide had a perpetually worried look on his face but I suppose at least he can speak some English! Hehe.
To climb up, you can choose to go up using the hiking trail, or go up via cable car. The tickets will need to be purchased beforehand. After discussion, we decided to buy a 1 way ticket and go on the cable car to go up, but enjoy a leisurely walk down back to the “base”.
When we were done, we enjoyed a rather awkward lunch together with other people in the tour.
After, we make our way back to the city and we get a choice of getting dropped off at the Olympics Park or back at the hotel.
Out of curiousity, we chose the Olympics Park.
Finally saw the Bird Nest and the Water Cube. A little bit old looking – which made me realise that Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008 – 10 years ago and yet the world is still recovering from the engineering awesomeness of these 2 venues.
Here we walked around and got a bit lost cause Google Maps turned out a bit useless here – with our VPN showing we are in the US! Thankfully, we bumped into a lot of locals who are kind enough to show the way to the nearest subway station. We even spoke to 2 girls who offered to walk with us to make sure we didn’t get lost. People are really nice here!
THREE: Peking Duck is a must!
Peking is what Beijing used to be called by them orang putehs, and while for most people the name reminds them of Beijing, it actually reminds me of PEKING DUCK.
Hands down, if you don’t eat anything at all in Beijing, you need to eat Peking Duck!
I was surprised that, despite being officially atheist, and more associated with Buddhism, China has quite a deep-rooted relationship with Islam.
Near our hotel, there was even a mosque called Dongsi Mosque which we visited!
Islam was introduced in China in about 600AD and there are a few of them living in Beijing alone, thriving and opening up businesses including those catering to people like me – hungry Muslim traveller looking for Peking Duck!
A simple Google search reveal THE place to get it – Hongbinlou.
We had Peking Duck, Chrysanthemum Sweet and Sour Fish, Braised Ox Tail and rice!
There are apps you can download – for example Zabihah has a fabulous app for easy search of halal food, but I really just use the Tripadvisor app and put “halal” as part of the filter. Also, these halal restaurants are very obvious! Look out for Assalamualaikum boards at the entrance!
In some cases, when I get lazy though I simply go “Vegetarian”. Going vegetarian sometimes is easier than finding halal food which tend to concentrate more in specific areas and not very convenient. Eat a lot of egg, veggie, tofu, and beans!
FOUR: January is the coldest month of the year!
Before I left for China, I was most anxious about how cold it would be in Beijing, and oh boy, the weather forecast does not disappoint.
Despite the absence of snow when we were there, the temperature was constantly below 0 – and the wind chill made it worse!
We need EVERYTHING.
Ultra warm thermals, winter socks, fleece lined stockings, heavy wool dresses/sweaters, a warmly padded winter coat, gloves (preferably fleece lined LEATHER!), scarves, hats, waterproof boots, pocket warmers – BRING THE WHOLE SHEBANG!
Bear in mind, all this will not keep you warm – they just keep you from freezing to death.
This is also the time for you to bring all your industrial strength skincare out to keep your skin from being freeze dried like haw flakes. I brought my Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream, which seems to be the only moisturiser I have that did not freeze in sub-zero temperatures.
FIVE: Leave your credit cards at home, bring cash!
Guess what, our foreign credit cards are NOT widely accepted in Beijing!
Restaurants and hotels generally accept cards to varying degrees. If it’s those cheap restaurants, forget it. But fancy restaurants, most probably ok.
Most of the time we still had to use cash! WHICH by the way you need to change in an actual BANK! Leave your BND at home cause they don’t generally accept those either – u gotta bring other currencies like USD, EU, GBP or in some places, they accept SGD.
This is so surprising to me cause it’s BEIJING! Beijing is a megacity but my foreign Visa, Mastercard, AMEX AND UnionPay is no use unless for withdrawing money from the ATM.
And omg, I can’t imagine what it’s like in other parts of China.
Don’t depend on your card. Carry cash!
As promised, to kickstart your own winter getaway, I’ve put together my ultimate checklist below for your downloading pleasure.