You really haven't been to China if you haven't been to the capital, Beijing. So I was decided to include it in our itinerary. Since we get in and get out through Shanghai, I realized we could take China's high-speed, long-distance, night-time trains to and from Beijing within our five-day stay. Besides, train travel in China is in itself an authentic Chinese experience. And hey, it would save us considerable travel time and hotel accommodation costs.
We boarded a sleeper train in Shanghai at around 9 p.m. Saturday and arrived in Beijing at around 7 a.m. Sunday. Immediately upon arrival, we checked in our hotel, conveniently close to the city center, and went straight to Tiananmen Square. We chose to take the metro because the Beijing Metro is very efficient, and at 2 RMB a ticket, no matter the distance nor the number of connections, amazingly cheap.
Tiananmen Square is really easy to get to. It has a metro stop—Tiananmen East. Once you get to the station, you can take the south exit and you'll find yourself at the square facing Mao's Mausoleum. If you take the north exit, you'll find yourself at the gates of Beijing's Forbidden City, Mao's huge portrait welcoming you as you enter.
The Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum, is a huge complex, with courtyard after courtyard of intricately decorated walls, roofs, walkways, bridges and staircases. They do charge an admission fee of 40 RMB, but you don't pay until about three courtyards in. If you want to rent a audio guided tour, available in a number of languages (including Filipino), you pay an additional 40 RMB.
The Forbidden City, located smack-bang in the middle of Beijing, served as the primary residence of the Chinese emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was constructed during the early 1400's and for five hundred years, it was the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese imperial government. The city is forbidden because no ordinary folk could enter nor could the people living inside leave without the emperor's permission.
Travel guides suggest an early morning visit to the Forbidden City, ideally, as soon as it opens at 8:30 in the morning. Since it is very easy to get to, the place can get packed with people. We were there around lunch time and yes, the place was full. The only consolation we had was that it was still winter. I am guessing the crowds get a whole lot thicker during spring or summer.
Though it can get really crowded, you will still find little spots and corners where you can enjoy relative peace and solitude. Maybe even ponder the enormity of the place you are in and the might of empire that built it. The Chinese, they don't like doing things small. You will notice that going around Beijing. Buildings in the capital, not only those with a UNESCO World Heritage Site tag on them, are enormous. This desire to be the biggest and the mightiest is, I think, a very distinct Chinese trait. You admire and it and at the same time, you fear it. In any case, it makes for a very memorable travel experience.
* For more photos in this set, see my Flickr page: China: Beijing, Forbidden City.
** All the information I needed about train travel in China I got through Seat61.com. I wasn't paid to advertise them, so trust me. Information on the site checks out.
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