Monday, 12 January 2015

China: Xian + Beijing

This Trip: FROM 2014.12.25 TO 2015.01.04

Obviously December isn't the best time of the year for a trip to the chilly northern China, but the pros brought by the absence of crowds were significant especially at the most popular attractions such as the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Park, Great Wall of China, and the Forbidden City. Also due to the fact that destinations in Europe closest to our home are mostly "asleep" during the Christmas and New Year period, we decided to enjoy a vacation in China where all attractions, shops, and restaurants, etc. open and glow as usual, not to mention we couldn't wait any longer for a Christmas with Chinese deliciousness.


We would never have traveled a long way just to visit Xian if not for the Terracotta Warriors. Tourist Bus Line 5 (306) (fare: CNY7) from East Square of Xian Railway Station also stops at Huaqing Hot Springs before arriving at Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Park. The bus journey takes about 1 hour. Both sites are must-see. Please note that for those who are completely Chinese illiterate would have difficulties making this trip and probably surviving a day in Xian. All foreign visitors we saw were accompanied by their Chinese friends.

Of course it was worth all the hassle getting to Xian for the Terracotta Warriors, we also visited Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Da Ci’en Temple, Xian City Wall, Ancient Cultural Street of Shuyuanmen, Bell Tower and Drum Tower, and also the Great Mosque, before departing for Beijing.

BEIJING - day 1 - Tianmen Square > Forbidden City > Jingshan Park

One wouldn't spend more than 1 hour at Tianmen Square, from there walk northward to Forbidden City. There should be lots of tour guides before and at ticket areas. Bear in mind the tour these guides offer lasts only 2 hours during which they rush yours so that they can start another with the next group of tourists. We spent almost a full day to tour around this magnificent palace. We do not recommend paying CNY250 for a 2-hour tour. After the visit at Forbidden City, continue north to Jingshan Park. Walk up to the summit to enjoy a panoramic view of the Palace.

BEIJING - day 2 - Temple of Heaven > Great Wall of Badaling 

Temple of Heaven was the place where emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) held the Heaven Worship Ceremony. It is China's largest and most representative existing masterpiece among China’s ancient sacrificial buildings. First built in 1420, the 18th year of the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), it was enlarged and rebuilt during the reigns of the Ming emperor Jiajing and the Qing emperor. A visit should last 1.5-2 hours. To go to the Great Wall of Badaling, take Subway to Jishuitan and then walk 450 meters eastward to Deshengmen Arrow Tower for bus no.877 (green-and-white official buses). Instead of taking a pulley or cable car, we walked up, as this must be the best way not to miss all the stunning views on the way up.

BEIJING - day 3 - Beihai Park > Shichahai and Houhai Hutongs (+Prince Gong's Mansion) 

Beihai (Northern Sea) Park is one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved ancient imperial gardens in China located in the city center. It was a nice place to spend our morning on that beautiful day, before going into the Hutongs. People say that the real culture of Beijing is the culture of the Hutongs and Courtyards. In the past, Beijing was composed of hundreds of courtyards around the Forbidden City, and these lanes stretched out in all four directions, connecting the different kinds of courtyards in the city. The lanes have their own layout and structure, and when viewed from the air the combination of the lanes and courtyards resemble a chessboard with delicate gardens, fine rockeries and ancient ruins this makes them a wonder in the world. Because of the cross interlacement of the lanes every houses connected to the other, making it easy for local people to keep in touch with their neighbors. Therefore, once one enters any of the lanes, one can feel the deep and warm relationships among people, which is rarely found in this modern world. Prince Gong's Mansion is a must-see.

BEIJING - day 4 - Summer Palace > National Stadium the Bird's Nest > Beijing National Aquatics Center the Water Cube

We spent one full day in Summer Palace but still that wasn't enough. It is huge. When we got back to Beijing City for the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube, it was already dark. We spent a moment there admiring the night lights of both constructions.

BEIJING - day 5 - Lama Temple > Confucius Temple > Dazhalan Hutongs

In the morning on the last day, we spent around an hour in each of Lama Temple and Confucius Temple. We should have grabbed a breakfast before starting the day, as there is almost no eatery in the area. Dazhalan is another famous area of Hutongs. Here was our walking route: Liulichang Culture Street -> Da Shi Lan Xi Jie -> Da Guan Lou Cinema -> Jiuwan Hutong -> Qian Men Da Jie -> Zhu Bao Shi Jie.