China: The Middle Kingdom
21 days, 9 cities and 1 typhoon later...
So whenever you travel, it's good to keep in mind that your destination won't be 100% like the ones you see in books, on TV or on google images. It's safe to say, even knowing this, China definately exceeded my expectations in many different ways.
First off, China is a massive country that has rushed toward to the modern age whistle still clinging onto the well burried roots of traditional eastern culture.
Should you ever choose to travel in China, you'll be impressed by the shear size.
Coming from the UK - a tiny island in comparison - I was left a little shellshocked by not only the size of the country, but even by just the enormous
cities themselves. Sporting a population of approximately 1.3 billion, China is a place you will never be lonely!
Once you push past the long hours of travelling and start settleing in, you can really start to enjoy the scenery. Whether its a busy neon city or an historic temple, there is a wealth of culture and an abundance of things to do.
Take a look at the video below for some clips of the top highlights on my China trip!
Day 1: Beijing - The Arrival in the North
June 27th 2015:
So for me, the first thing that hits you when you step onto Beijing territory is the air. in Summer, this is classed as the rainy season, where heavey rainfall and hot temperatures create "sauna days" that are quite literally as hot they sound - hot, sticky and humid. On top of this the air quality in Beijing is known for being polluted and if you not from a big city then you really do notice it.
Once you spend a day out in the bejing heat, you do start to adjust and slowly you should find yourself becoming accustomed to the climate.
When you finally step foot in the main part so the city you can truly begin to get a scale of just how massive Beijing is, not only in latitude but also in height. Boasting a population of 28 million (that's approximately 5 times the population of my home country of Scotland) China is a busy and happening place.
After grabbing some maps and sitting down trying to make some sense of the web of roads in their traditional Chinese names, we took to foot en-route to Tiananmen Square. With no true scale and only optimism at hand, our destination looked like 30-40 minute walk form our hotel, but did indeed take almost 3 hours from the south part of the Dongcheng district to the Square.
Beijing has 6 city rings, with 5 ring roads and divided into 14 districts. It's safe to say that if you plan to move around China the metro is a good option (if you don't mind the crowds) or a taxi, if you don't mind the traffic. Both are very cheap options and still work if your travelling on a budget.
Security in China is high, with police and regular baggage checks in main tourist areas. Although it might seem a bit tedious, the city is very safe. People tend to be quite friendly and help wherever they can even with the laguage barrier!
Next up was the Private Tea District on Maliandao Tea Street. Where, if you like your tea, this place is a great visit. With a range of teas from green, black, fruit and the special "imperial tea", Pu'er - you'll have quite the selection. The teas themselves can completely range in price but Pu'her, like whiskey, is aged and if you pay top dollar you can get your hands on some of this aged 25 - 50 years! But whatever your tastes, there will be something here you should enjoy.
Outside the City:
The Great Wall:
The Great Wall of China is more than 2,300 years old and is 21,196.18 km. However, The Great Wall is not one continuous structure, rather it is made of of chains of seperate and interconnected walls which have been joined together over time.
Many historical states such as the Qin, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Yan, and Zhongshan build massive walls to protect their borderes, After King Zheng of Qin conqured his last opponent, he rose to become the first emporor and he linked the northern walls of all the cities he had power over. This was continued but most famously revived by the Ming Dynasty which was the last to work on the expansion of the wall.
My visit was to the section of the wall called the 'Mutianyu', climbing to the highest peak at station 22. This section is well preserved and offers an amazing view over the surrounding province and even to the outskirts of Beijing. It was a crystal cleaer day at about 32°C, it couldn't hve been mroe ideal. it is a hard walk up with many approaches being near virtcile, but the view form the top is something worth seeing!
Literally meaning "east city district", the Dongcheng area is the smallest and most central district in Beijing.
This area is the further subdivided into 17 subdistricts, includeing a section of the Old City inside the 2nd Ring Road with some areas outside, even crossing the 3rd Ring Road at its northernmost extent.
The district's population is approcimately 535,558 (thats double my hometown population of around 250,000 in Aberdeen). This one district, considered to be a tiny fraciton of Beijing host some of the most famous attractions in all of the city, including:
The Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, bars and nightlife, the Hutongs and the shopping in Wangfujing.
Our Hotel was the Beijing Sicily Hotel, situated in Zuo An Men Nei Street, Dongcheng District. The Hotel was nice, and was very basic, perfect if you just need a place to sleep. As most places in China, English is rarely spoken, so get used to pointing and body language! Even Better - Learn some Chinese - they are very impressed when you ca speak back to them!
The local area was a bit off the beaten track but a 20 minute walk and you will be well on your way to the Temple of Heaven!
Once you reach the Temple you will also find the Metro which will be a godsend for getting around as if you plan to visit anywhere else in city in one day.
I recommend this hotel, it has air-con, clean facilites and and an all you can eat breakfast for 15CNY (only £1.50 each!).
So throw out everything you thought you thought you knew about Chinese food and get ready to get a mouthfull of chilli, garlic or corriander. The Chinese food we tend to eat in the west is more alligned with a Chinese breakfast which can consist of fried rice, steamed buns and noodles. The food tends to be reasonably savory with some sweet hints, but nothing quite like Coco Pops or Frosties that we are used to.
With this said, lunch and dinner are a whole different ball game. Look forward to mouth burningly hot, chilli infused food and a mix of meats that might say "beef" or "chicken" but can have a little extra than you might expect - and I'm talking heads, feet and some vital organs thrown in the mix!
Though if you are acustomeed to the spice and can naviagte your way around the menu (or you are lucky) you can get some of the most amazing food here with such a wide array of tastes. The further south you go in China, the hotter the food tends to get and when eating the famous Chongqing Hot Pot (see Chongqing cuisine below) I caertainly noticed it.
In Xi'an, which is the middle country, you can find the well known Muslim Ditrict. Here you can find a lot of street food and a different take on the Chinese taste pallet. When you reach the East food is more noticably sweet in Shanghai and Hong Kong Style restaurants. Food in China is cheap and even though you might say "High Budget" at maybe 200 Yuan - this is still only about £20 or $31, meaning your buck can go far!
Area: Xi'an | Price: ¥50
Area: Chongqing | Price: ¥240
Area: Beijing | Price: ¥120
The Temple of Heaven:
The Temple of Heaven (天坛) is a complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing, it was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. Built in approximately 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The complex was extended and renamed Temple of Heaven during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor in the 16th century. Jiajing also built three other prominent temples in Beijing, the Temple of Sun (日壇) in the east, the Temple of Earth
(地壇) in the north, and the Temple of Moon (月壇) in the west.
If you are looking for a bit of peace and traquillity in Beijing, The Temple of Heaven is great. A massive expanse of about 2.7 Kilometers² of trees, which noticbly reduces the air and noise pollution of the busy city outside, can offer a break from big crowds and grid-locked roads. The Temple itself has a both a symmetrical and circluar architectural layout which is layered wih symbolism and meaning. Earth was represented by a square and Heaven by a circle; several features of the temple complex symbolize the connection of Heaven and Earth, of circle and square. WIth its highly conceptual and symbological articuture along with its beautfully painted extiror and well decorated interiror, the Temple of Heaven is one of the top 4 attractions I would recommend in Beijing.
The Forbidden City:
The Fobidden City (紫禁城) is not only the best-preserved imperial palace in China, it's also the largest ancient palatial structure in the world.
It situated in the very heart of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties and made up of four main sections.
First, the Gate of Heavenly Peace is the entrance to the Palce grounds from Tian'anmen. Next, the outer court is made up of three main buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). These halls were where the emperors attended the grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs.
This is followed by the inner court and composed of the three main structures at the rear of the Forbidden City, namely the Palace of Heavenly Peace (Qianqinggong), the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian) and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong).
Lastly, is the Palace exit. the Gate of Divine Might, behind the Imperial Garden. The total coverage of the Palace and its grounds is approximately
The Summer Palace:
The Summer Palace (颐和园), first built in 1750, largely destroyed in the war of 1860 and restored on its original foundations in 1886 – is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design.
several imperial gardens were created around Beijing, the last of them being the Summer Palace, based on the Hill of Longevity and Kunming Lake in the north-western suburbs of the city. This palace was a retreat for the Emporer and his royal fmaily during th summer to escape from the scorcing Beijing summmers.
Between 1886 and 1895 it was reconstructed by Emperor Guangxu and renamed the Summer Palace, for use by Empress Dowager Cixi. It was badly damaged in 1900 by the international expeditionary force during the suppression of the Boxer Rising, in which Cixi had played a significant role, and restored two years later.
The Summer Palace became a public park in 1924 and has continued as such to the present day. It is filled with both male and female symbols which was unsual for the time, but due to the power Empress Dowager Cixi had at the time, leaving her mark on this, now famous, public space.
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Xi'an, Yangtze & Shanghai:
To see more of the trip including XI'an and the surrounding areas, the Yangtze River and Shanghai, click one of the buttons below!