Where do I begin? Like Japan, I have always been fascinated with China. On my bucket list, an item that needed crossing off was visiting the Great Wall of China. So, when the opportunity to briefly visit China came up for me and the kids, I could not resist.
Self or Travel group? – We used a travel agent to help us with travel within China. As a result, we did not have to worry about a lot of things – transportation, food, lodging, etc… It was all part of the package we chose.
Visa – The first speed bump to go over was obtaining the visa to enter China. There is a lot of paperwork to submit. However, if everything is in order, then the process is very simple. I will admit – the wait was pretty nerve-wrecking.
Currency – We carried USD with us and exchanged at the Beijing airport. It is a fairly simple process. The exchange rate with charges vary slightly from vendor to vendor within the airport.
Here is what we were able to accomplish during our 2 days in Beijing.
Day 0: Arrive in Beijing
We arrived late in the evening. We used the evening to settle into our hotel, have dinner and then called it a night.
Important tip: The magic of arriving in a new place, in a new time zone late in the evening is real. You can have a quick dinner and go to sleep quickly. The next morning you really do wake up fully refreshed, ready to go. No jet lag!! Most package tours plan your visit this way as well.
Day 1: Beijing Sightseeing
The day began with a good continental breakfast.
Our first stop of the day was Tiananmen Square. Since we were traveling as a group, we had a local guide with us who helped us understand the history and more importantly the rules that need to be followed during our visit. This is very important folks… you must follow local rules. We spent about two hours walking around the square area. We slowly made our way into the Forbidden City.
Tip: There is a lot of walking. Escorted wheelchairs are available for folks who cannot walk. Ask your tour guide to pre-arrange one if needed.
From Tiananmen Square we walked into Forbidden City. Learning the history and seeing the architecture up close is quite a fascinating experience. Due to a packed schedule, we did not have enough time to explore the entire complex (could go through several gates but missed the last one). If you want to see the complex properly, plan to spend at least half day… 3 hours is just not enough no matter how quickly you walk.
Important note: The Forbidden City has many stairs, a few ramps and uneven cobblestones making up the floor of the courtyards. Please make sure you are wearing proper shoes. The wheelchairs do go a little bit in to get a feel for the palace but you cannot reasonably explore the place using a wheelchair.
Our next stop was the Jade Factory. If you are planning to go with a packaged tour, then, visiting local factory outlets is a requirement (I will write another post in detail regarding our factory outlet visits). We spent about an hour and a half at the factory before heading to our lunch stop.
The lunch stop was a huge buffet place where we were able to taste some authentic Chinese food along with some Americanised food. It was around 3 pm by the time we were done with lunch.
Great Wall of China
After lunch we headed to the Juyongguan Pass of the Great Wall of China. By the time we got there it was 4:15pm (we were told the closing time was 5:30pm). Those of us who were keen on climbing, very quickly made our way up as much as we could. Because of closing time constraints, we could not reach the top to soak in the view on the other side. Nonetheless, it was an AMAZING experience! Once again, wearing proper shoes goes a long way on the uneven steps.
Golden Mask Dynasty Show
By the time we exited the Great Wall, it was almost 6pm. We were scheduled to see Birds Nest on our way back but couldn’t as we were stuck in traffic. We quickly headed to the theatre to watch the Golden Mask Dynasty Show. It was spectacular! Definitely see it if you can.
Once the show was done, we grabbed dinner and called it a night.
Day 2 – The rest of Beijing
After a late breakfast, we headed out to explore more of Beijing. The day before was quite exhausting and we were going to end Day 2 with travel to the next destination.
Our first stop for the day was the Pearl Factory. We traveled past Birds Nest stadium but did not stop. We spent about 2 1/2 hours at the factory before heading to our next destination.
Xuishui Street Shopping
It is actually a shopping mall filled with little stores. You can literally spend an entire day shopping – multiple levels, tons of stores, variety of things available. The only drawback is that you need to have space in your suitcase to carry everything back home (of course, you can also purchase an extra suitcase here :)). We spent about 2 hours here (which definitely was not enough time) before heading to the train station to catch a train to our next destination.
- Hotel Check-in – You have to give your passports during hotel check-in (all traveling members in the family). We were told that the information is entered into a centralised database but really do not know. It did feel weird not having the passport for the night. So, very important, have photocopies with you — just in case.
- Weather – Depending on the time of the year, Beijing can be on the cooler side at night. Do carry a light jacket with you.
- Internet and WhatsApp – Access to the Internet and WhatsApp is limited in some areas of Beijing. My son had already installed Baidu search engine which proved to be useful. Google cannot be used and it is really not feasible to install the Chinese search engine after reaching there. Depending on your needs, plan ahead. The tour company may be able to help you purchase a short term SIM card (do not know the details however).
- Respect and follow the rules mentioned by the tour guide. There are policemen every few feet in tourist places to ensure there are no disruptions. You are not allowed to speak to them or take pictures with them (This is not England folks!).
- Bargaining while shopping – Beijing is one of those places where you can bargain. Make sure you are clear on the final price you are willing to pay. Whether or not you are able to reach it is all up to luck and how reasonable your offer is. I had read too many blogs regarding overpriced items that I was too aggressive with my bargaining. For example, at the Jade Factory, I ended up walking away because my buying price was too low compared to what was reasonable. I still feel bad that I walked away from picking up a good item. However, it appears that in general, the bargaining culture is going away slowly.
- Shoes – wear proper walking shoes that will allow you to be on your feet for long hours.
- Snacks – do carry snacks with you. IF you choose a packed schedule like ours, you really will not know when you will have lunch and dinner. Snacks can save the day.
- Currency – Most places take Chinese currency, Forex cards and Credit cards without any issues.
- Food – Finding vegetarian food is not impossible. Choices may be limited but you can definitely ask and they will help you in getting a good meal.
- Self or Tour – IF you are going to China for the first time, I would definitely recommend using a tour agency which comes with the services of a local guide (customise or packaged is up to you). It definitely makes your life a lot easier. For example, I did run into an unexpected situation where the guide was able to help me with translations and helped resolve the situation quickly.