Beijing Hotel Booking Problems
We decided to stay a couple of extra nights in our Beijing accommodation, and tried to extend direct with the hotel. It turned out, they wanted to increase the room rate significantly, we felt it was a bit of a scam aimed at foreign tourists. They wanted to charge us a higher rate than we had booked originally and also one much more than the locals were paying, we checked with many of them, to the anger and annoyance of the hotel management. At one point, they asked us to checkout, not a good way to run a business!
I wont go into the details or John may explode again, when he edits this, but suffices to say the hotel shall be named and shamed - Botai Hotel Beijing. Great location, (original) discounted price reasonable but annoying they want to rip off western tourists. Sort it out. One good thing was that through this time wasting re-negotiating process, we discovered that booking a hotel in China with elong.com (a Chinese hotel on-line booking site) will get you access to some of the special local rates. We have used this site since and got some great deals on China hotels.
Views to Die for
Given our hotel was so well located (it was about 15 minutes walk from the north entrance of the City walls) we decided to use our feet to travel to Jingshan park, before we made our way to the Forbidden City. My back was still sore from our trip to the Great Wall
. When climbing one of its many ridiculous inclines I had managed to trap a nerve which was causing me a bit of pain.
Fortunately Chinese pharmacists seem to offer any drug, it would seem without prescription, so it was very easy for me to get hold of some Diclofenac to help reduce the inflammation ($3 US for 40 capsules – bargain) and stop the pain.
Jingshan is a beautiful park, full of temples and shrines set atop five small hills. They would be deemed small if they were naturally formed, but incredibly these hills are man made and were formed from the earth removed to dig moats around imperial palaces and canals around the city. Each hill has its own pavilion set on its peak used for leisure purposes by the dynasties over the centuries.
We discovered groups of Chinese men and women in fierce battle at the southern entrance to the park, not feuding over land rights or politics, but heavily involved in what seemed to us at least, a life or death game of cards, lots of shouting and slapping down of cards going on. One got a bit heated and we reckon someone was double dealing!
For us the best climb was on the Feng Shui Hill, at the park's southern end. From the top of the hill you get some great views of the Forbidden City from above. We thought a climb would be in order before we visited the Forbidden City to try and get an appreciation of its size and scale.
While this objective was achieved (we climbed and viewed) we didn't actually get to see much of the city below as it was a really bad Beijing smog day. What the views lacked in clarity they did make up in eeriness. The view from Jingshan was breathtaking (quite literally by the pollution in the smog) and foreboding as there were huge streams of tourist emerging from its Northern Gate. We made our way down the hill to join the throng of tourists at what we thought was the City entrance.
We soon discovered that you can only enter the Forbidden Palace from the south gate a couple of kilometres walk round the walls. The sign helpfully suggested a bus to get you half way there but after waiting for a while we carried on walking until we discovered a nice little electric cart that will get you the last kilometre or so. It had to be done for the princely sum of 1Yuan (15 US cents).
Inside the City Gates
While the view from Jingshan park prepared us for the vastness of the Forbidden City, the sheer magnificent scale of it, when actually get into the grounds, is mind numbing. It is called the Forbidden city because in historical times you would have required the Emperor's permission to enter the grounds, hence forbidden to those not in the Emperor's favour. People viewing the walls centuries ago must have wondered what mysterious trade and rituals went on in there. It took us a good couple of hours wandering through the grounds and various temples and buildings. It's a real treat.
Like elsewhere at Beijing tourist attractions it is packed with tour groups in their different coloured hats led by their flag waving tour guides with personal loudspeakers slung over their shoulders. As we have found if you move away from the main thoroughfare in these places you can find some relatively quiet pathways and routes through the city if it all gets too much for you.
From here we decided to make our way for a food treat in a posh restaurant, not something we do that often even on our flashpacker budget. We were off for some Peking Duck.
When in Beijing Peking, one must eat duck
Peking duck alluded us for our first few nights but we corrected this on our third as we sought out a restaurant that had been recommended by Beijing Time Out. It was in the main business district of the city and so was a bit of trek to get to and even harder to find as both FourSquare and Google maps placed it about a kilometre from where it actually was.
But with the name written in Chinese and the help of a few locals we ended up in the right place. The duck was delicious and while similar to the duck and pancakes we are used to at home it is served in a slightly different way. The meat is much more moist than at home and it is sliced not shredded when served, also the skin is even drier and crunchier than we are used to. The pancakes were also considerably thicker. The taste was marvellous and well worth the two day wait, we rounded the meal off with a hot and sour soup, which was a bit too hot and a bit too sour for me, but they were forgiven because they were well up on points form the duck. One interesting taste was the duck tongue served with the meal.
A final day of Sightseeing
For our final day of sightseeing we wanted to slow down the pace a little so opted to visit the Temple of Heaven. While there are temples here , the biggest attraction for us was that it was set in a beautiful pine tree park. It was very pleasant just spending the morning people watching and finding some quieter places to sit and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet after our last few days in frantic tourist sights in the two major cities of China. We would definitely recommend this as a trip out if you have the time and are yearning for some tranquillity.
It was a weekend when we were there so it was full of families out for a stroll, performers singing songs (some good and some whose loudspeaker systems should be confiscated). We also found harmonica and accordion players and even a Chinese couple practising their flamenco. It was a real pleasure to share their Sunday rest with them, dodgy singers aside.
Sadly for me the tranquillity didn't last too long as John whisked us off to the nearby market. I hated it. It was the typical tourist type market with inflated prices and ‘designer and fake’ merchandise. John tried a few shirts but they were not budging from high street prices so we walked. So if you are in Beijing for a limited time and want to pick up some of this stuff pop to the Hongqiao Market (Pearl Market) otherwise don’t bother, they have an amazing collection of shoes and trainers. Yes they sell pearls and Jade, but only the top floor deals with that, the other four floors are awash with designer fakes, electronics, watches and other usual Asian tourist market items.
We ended the day around the Liulichang and Qianman shopping areas. Qianmen is a refurbished street of traditional stores with its own 'olde worlde' tram running up and down its length, However take any western side street off this and you will end up in a more traditional shopping and dining area of Liulichang
. We had a lovely meal and few beers soaking up the atmosphere of these more traditional Chinese streets as well as doing a bit of shopping for some new clothes – its been a while since we had anything new to wear. Flashpacker treats.
Our final day was going to have us pick up a few of the other Beijing sights on our wish list, but sadly the weather that had greeted us on our arrival returned with a vengeance, it really was not a day to be wandering the streets getting soaked. We had a train to catch that evening to Pingyao so we spent some of the day catching up with some blogging instead. Now you know why you are getting so many Beijing blogs!