Three Generations & One Big Beijing Adventure
It has become a tradition that once a year three generations of the ladies in my family head off over together for a week to make up for the time we miss living a state apart. Beijing like Kim Jong Un’s curious hairstyle is a source of fascination and wonder to me.
Both my children and Grandma were desperate to see ‘The Great Wall’, I had longed to see the Forbidden City and given we’re all passionate Chinese loving foodies, Beijing seemed like an absurdly sensible idea.
The Chinese have a really hard word for everything, which meant my ‘Mandarin for Beginners’ tutorial that I took before leaving for China was sadly unable to bring me up to speed on local lingo. You find out fairly quickly that English is not that widely spoken and a phone with Google translate is your best friend when visiting China.
There are so many things to squeeze in when travelling to Beijing for a short time. We had five nights before heading to Shanghai and booked three days of our Itinerary with ‘China Highlights’. They have a range of incredible tours all over China and aside from being in the business for over seventeen years, they are super friendly, very helpful and the service is flawless.
Our first adventure, ‘The Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Summer Palace Beijing Day Tour’ could not have squeezed more ancient sites into one day unless we had jetpack transport! Our group consisted of eight, which for the minimal cost of the tour (US$36PP) is insanely good value. It’s an intimate group with an intelligent and friendly guide that feels more like a private tour.
First stop is Tiananmen Square followed by a short walk to the Forbidden City. You really don’t quite get the scope of this magnificent imperial palace with over 500 years of history until you are standing there at its gates. The largest and best-preserved ancient palatial structure in the world, it takes some time (Around 2 hours) to experience all it has to offer but even in the heat, it’s a magical moment.
The next stop, Temple of Heaven, includes a visit to a traditional Chinese medicine outlet. We all had reflexology which was followed by a consultation with a Chinese physician. My doctor concluded I had several problems, which could be fixed with around $200 worth of herbs. Having watched a lot of ‘Border Security’ on Australian television I thought that bringing in a dried eye of newt was probably not going to make it through customs so I politely declined. The doctor got a tad grumpy I wouldn’t buy the herbs and realising he didn’t have a potential customer gave my 71yo mother the world’s fastest consultation and declared her to be in perfect health!
Lunch at a local restaurant is included with loads of different dishes that had even the kids very well catered for. The ultimate end of the day to the stunningly world heritage listed summer palace. A 30-minute drive from the big smoke, ‘The Summer Palace’ is the best preserved and largest imperial garden in the world.
A vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces, it serves as a popular tourist destination and recreational park. Mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, it covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres, three-quarters of which is water. Exploring this beautiful area had me wishing we were spending more than just a couple of hours. It is, undoubtedly one of the most photogenic locations to visit in Beijing.
Another day tour is the Great Wall and Ming tombs. On the advice of Apple Zheng from ‘China Highlights’, we decided to go to the Mutianyu section of the wall. She told us that it was less crowded than the Badaling Section and one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall. I liked the idea of not having 1000 people photo bombing my precious great wall pictures or having to conga line along the wall like a herd of tourists.
The start of the tour takes in the Ming Tombs, the largest and best-preserved burial site for Ming emperors. We explored the Dingling Tomb, the tomb of the thirteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Wanli, and his two empresses. Our guide had a wealth of fun facts about the site and the sheer size of the underground palace is astounding. The tomb is the only Ming Dynasty Tomb that has been excavated. This underground palace is 27 meters deep and has an area of 1,195 square meters with over 3,000 relics.
It’s then off to the wall… the highlight of our Beijing adventure! The Mutianyu Section located 70 kilometres northeast of Beijing, winds among the orchards and pines in the mountains. There was scarcely a soul to be seen. You take a cable car up the hill and walk up a narrow set of stairs and you are on the Great Wall. It’s narrower than I had envisioned but even more breathtaking. It winds through the hills with the sun catching certain areas making it impossible not to take a thousand photos.
My daughters ran along the wall in awe of the structure that seems to go for eternity and my mother and I wandered along feeling blessed to be experiencing this special moment. There’s so much to walk along that you have to really time how far you have gone so you can double back in time.
On the way back to Beijing we stopped for a tea ceremony, which my tea loving children thought was wonderfully fancy! The shop had all things tea with my kids buying pots and exotic brews for their own Sydney tea ceremony.
We couldn’t come to China without seeing a Panda, and Beijing Zoo is one way to see the Pandas without having to do a separate trip into their mountain habitat. The zoo itself is beautiful with wide paths shaded by weeping willows and of course those adorable Pandas. There’s a fantastic large primate enclosure and my only advice is if you are there in summer, go early as it’s seriously hot in the middle of the day.
The Beijing acrobatic show is another hot tip. Nightly in the Chaoyang theatre, it’s not the most glamorous of theatres but the show is spectacular. Expedia offers a ticket and transport deal, which is perfect for negotiating this busy theatre and part of town. The whole family were spellbound by the death-defying acrobatic displays and wonderful creative staging. The humour, music and superhuman displays combine to make a spectacular night out.
Throw a stone in any direction and you’ll stumble on great food in China. Simple noodle bars and fine dining restaurants make it a foodie heaven with so much choice. Dali Courtyard in the Dongcheng District has a casual vibe housed in a unique outdoor venue, which is perfect for warmer weather. The prix fixe menu (around 100-150RMB per person) means you are subject to the whims of the chefs, but they always deliver on delicious Yunnanese dishes. Among these are ru bing (grilled goat cheese), grilled chilli fish, spicy stir-fried mushrooms, spicy Yunnan-style dumplings, crossing-the-bridge noodles (guoqiao mixian), fried shrimp and stir-fried wild vegetables.
For a fine dining experience Temple Restaurant Beijing is consistently ranked amongst the best fine dining restaurants in Beijing. Serving contemporary European nosh, it blends the old and new Beijing in both atmosphere and cuisine. The restaurant reflects modern China, with a nod to its heritage and evolution. Located in a complex that is part of a 600-year-old Chinese temple it’s the perfect way to cap off a visit with perhaps a last supper there before heading out of this wonderful city.
I didn’t get a chance to do so many other things that I see a return visit in my future. It’s a great family destination that is fun, educational and one the whole family will never forget.
To Stay: The Peninsula Beijing
The Peninsula Hotel is in the perfect central location and the rooms are enormous making it perfect for families. The newly designed Palace Peninsula Hotel combines traditional Chinese art with cutting-edge technology and outstanding service. It’s luxury personified. It has an indoor swimming pool, which is a welcome retreat after a day of exploring the city. The Peninsula day spa has a range of treatments to limber up for the next day’s adventure. Chinese garden inspired Jing Restaurant for breakfast is an elegant start to the day. Traditional Cantonese at Imperial court is an elegant dinner suggestion or for the walk weary a dial in of room service with a movie is another terribly sensible idea. Rooms start from RMB2200
China Highlights www.chinahighlights.com
Beijing Zoo http://www.bjzoo.com/default.html
Temple Restaurant Beijing http://trb-cn.com/restaurant/