Asia, China, Destinations

Beijing – How to visit The Great Wall without the crowds

July 8, 2014

Our next stop from Shanghai was Beijing. You can get from Shanghai to Beijing by G (bullet) train taking around 5 hours, or by plane which is half that time. However, a train journey requires around half an hour to get in/out of (much less than an airport) and there is no need to wait for the luggage.  Plus the transport to/from is a lot cheaper, especially by taxi.

front of bullet trains in Beijing

Bullet trains

For anyone with limited time, I definitely recommend the overnight sleeper train, as you travel at night and leave more time for sightseeing during the daytime. The soft sleeper cabin (around 80$) is soft, clean and comfortable, so you will arrive at the destination fresh and ready to check-in and explore.

Generally, you don’t need to book in advance as there are plenty of trains, but for your peace of mind you can make an online reservation. Since we didn’t have a reservation, but because of the World Expo, we ended up in the only available cabin, a 1st class sleeper, so we traveled in (a quite costly) style to Beijing.

First of all, Beijing is huge, and it’s not as compact as Shanghai. What may look as a 5min walk on a map (a corner let’s say), could turn out to be a good 20min walk.

Here are the top 7 touristic attractions in Beijing:

  • The Forbidden City,
  • Tian’anmen Square,
  • Great Wall,
  • The Temple of Heaven,
  • The Summer Palace,
  • The Hutongs,
  • Jingshang Park.

Out of all the above attractions the Temple of Heaven and The Summer Palace we liked the most. The Forbidden City is really vast, it goes on and on, building after building, and at some point you get the feeling that you’ve seen all that before. But there is a reward after this long walk and it’s called Jingshang Park, from which you have the best view over the Forbidden City.

For the Summer Palace you need at least half a day and preferably in season, so you can admire and take in all the views, the beautiful paths full of flowers or the water lilies on the lakes.

The Great Wall is a symbol of how tireless labor can make a lasting mark upon the planet.  We opted for a tour of the Great Wall organized by a hostel (Leo Hostel that is) which promised to take us to a less crowded part of the Wall called Mutianyu. Well, we were almost alone, and the views were every bit as good as we had always imagined.

If you decide to go to Badaling, I advise you to take the bus and go on your own. Beware of the local touts and just walk a little bit further, beyond the steeper part where most of the flip-flop-tourists stop.

Not to be missed by foodies is Ghost Street, a long boulevard hosting restaurants on each side. Some of them are so popular that you are offered some sun flower seeds to crack while you wait on the side-walk. We ended up in a fish restaurant, where you get the whole fish baked in a VERY spicy sauce (even if you choose mild). But the dish is absolutely delicious.

Fish with vegetables in a spicy sauce

Fish with vegetables in a spicy sauce

But you can’t leave Beijing without trying it’s signature dish, the Peking duck.

Another authentic street is Qianmen Dajie, south of Tian’anmen, full of small restaurants or food stall and souvenir shops.

Prices in Beijing are almost half the ones in Shanghai. A subway trip costs 2 CNY compared to 4-5 CNY in Shanghai, while the bus trip costs 1 instead of 2. The same goes for food.

A funny thing about China, all kids have a ‘quick release’ system, so who needs diapers?

I am myself coming from an ex-communist country so I know a few things about dogma, doctrine and brain washing, but even I was surprised to see groups of people in Tian’anmen Square watching propaganda movies on big screens. The kind of movies we used to have on our 2 hours TV program, only these were more colorful.  The big difference is not in the colors though, but in the fact that we were totally against the system, whereas all these people chose to be there – nobody was forcing them to take a selfie with Mao.

 Live traditional show performed at the Summer Palace:

Just to get an idea of how complicated a multi level intersection can be in Beijing:

Multi level intersection in Beijing

Multi level intersection

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  • Reply Norman December 2, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    You got quite some spectacular pictures here. Loving the perspectives. They feel natural and not at all like having read a bad photography guide about “changing perspective” good job and wishing you all the good look with your new travel blog!

    • Reply Lucian December 3, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      Thank you Norman, we’re gonna be on the road now for the next 3 month so the blog will get a little neglected, unfortunately. We’ll catch up next year…I hope.

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