I loved my visit to Beijing, and I’d go back in a heartbeat if I could! It’s the capital China, so I expected loud bustling streets and tall buildings, but instead I found Beijing to be surprisingly calm, clean and quiet. This city is full of beautiful traditional architecture, and ancient historical sites that are a must see for any travelers wanting to cross China off of their bucket list.
The rest of my ILP group and I only stayed in our Beijing hostel for one night, so I can’t really give too accurate of a review. As usual we booked our hostel on hostelworld.com (the best website to find hostels on, let me tell yah), but when I visited the site again to get more information for this post and find a link to the page, the hostel wasn’t listed anymore. All I really remember about it was there were bunk beds and hot drinking water available, someone had to come fix our air conditioning, I accidentally opened the shower door on a half-naked Russian man, and they had books for sale, none of which were in English (a tragic blow for a book lover such as myself). This hostel was in a pretty decent location, not too far from the silk market which we walked to for some shopping, and there are lots of restaurants nearby including this bar where we were able to find some pretty yummy burgers and fries that didn’t cost us an arm and a leg. Clearly I don’t have very strong feelings about this hostel, as I can’t even remember the name; it’s not the best I’ve ever stayed in and definitely not the worst either.
To get to Beijing, we took a sleeper train from Guangdong province, which ended up being much more affordable than a plane ticket, but took us a good day and a half. Although these trains are a good way to travel long distances in China, they definitely aren’t for the faint of heart: if the idea of sleeping in a bed that some stranger just slept in, 3 feet from another stranger makes you uncomfortable you should probably sit this one out. Like when we visited Shanghai, we chose to use the subway system to travel around Beijing. It’s the cheapest (between 2-8 RMB per ride) and most reliable form of transportation that I’ve encountered in China, besides good old walking of course. Although subway riders beware: if you’re travelling over a Chinese holiday, some of the stations may close due to the fact that the city becomes so crowded. We encountered one of these random closures when the station we needed to get off on to get to our hostel was closed, we had to double back and nearly got into trouble with subway employees.
The Great Wall of China
This is common knowledge, but The Great Wall really is a must see if you visit China. My friends and I booked a camping tour on the great wall for about 1000 RMB each, and the night that we spent there was probably one of the best of my life. We found this excursion on travelchinaguide.com, another invaluable website for anyone travelling in China. The area of the wall we visited wasn’t completely restored, so we were able to avoid a lot of the holiday traffic and tourist traps. The website stated that the hike we booked was meant for aerobically fit people, and this was no understatement as backpacking up that wall is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Nobody told me that the wall is practically vertical in parts, with nothing to hold you in place but the soles of your shoes and your will power (I wore my Nike’s that are more cute than they are practical, and I nearly slid down the freaking Great Wall of China and died, so wear shoes with some grip people!). Our two guides, Ben and Kelly were so much fun, seriously bless them for putting up with my out of shape self.
We hiked up and down one side of the wall, had lunch at a local farmhouse, packed our backpacks and hiked up another side to set up camp in a tower. From there we ate the dinner packed for us, played card games and looked at the stars until it was time to go to sleep. The next day was actually me and my friend Morgan’s 20th birthday, so we were able to celebrate on the wall before backpacking down, which was so fun. I’d highly recommend this excursion to anyone looking for something a little outside the regular tourist realm.
The Summer Palace
If I could choose one of the places I visited in Beijing to spend more time at, it would definitely have been the Summer Palace. This place is so huge it resembles a small town. The architecture is amazing; and all of the buildings have been restored to their original hand-painted glory. The Summer Palace offers a student discount if you present a valid student I.D. when purchasing your ticket, so with this discount I believe my ticket came out to be around 15 RMB, a steal considering all there is to see and do here.
The Forbidden City
This was our last stop on our visit to Beijing, and after backpacking down the Great Wall and racing through the Summer Palace, we were dang tired so truthfully we didn’t stay long. The entrance fee was rather cheap, and I believe this was another location where we were able to receive student discounts. The buildings in the Forbidden City are some of the oldest wooden structures still standing in the world, and the architecture is simply amazing. The buildings also have a rich history as home to various emperors, empresses, diplomats and their families, but now they house various museums, gift shops and artifacts from the city’s colorful past. Make sure to wear your walking shoes for this one, because there is so much to see in the Forbidden City, and a lot of ground to cover to see it all.
From the Great Wall of China to the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, I barely scratched the surface when it comes to all there is to see and do in the beautiful city of Beijing. I loved being able to see so many relics from China’s rich history, and I really hope to be able to visit again someday.