Thursday, March 20, 2014

Beijing #China2014

Read about Shanghai here.

This post may turn into a giant advertisement for But they deserve the credit. Jake and I were wanting to go to China but figured that was a kind of distant goal, until a friend led us to this website. We book our ENTIRE 9 day trip for $1200 a person. This included all our transportation, two meals a day, all our tours, 5 star hotels in both Beijing and Shanghai, and roundtrip airfare from the U.S. as well as Beijing-Shanghai flights. We thought the deal would be too good to be true, but everything was better than we could have expected while we were there. If you're thinking about going to China, I HIGHLY recommend this company.

As lame as tours can sometimes be, we wanted to do one here because we would have had no idea how to get ourselves around, or what to do. This country was completely foreign to us. The tour gave us a good deal of free time as well as tour time though and it worked out just right.

I'm sorry this post is going to be really vague and not very descriptive. There's just too much that we did and saw to write it all down. Our days were jam packed full of sight seeing. But I will cover the basics. 

Day 1 in China
We started our journey to China flying out of Houston on a 14 hour flight to Beijing. We landed at 5 a.m. on Saturday, where our tour guide was there to pick us up and transfer us to our hotel. We got in, got settled, cleaned up and napped before we were off on our free day in Beijing.

We had heard about the Panjiayuan Market that was only open on weekends. We headed there first and were not disappointed. We spent hours here and didn't come close to seeing everything. There's thousands and thousands of people and vendors. And super cheap souvenirs and various Chinese artwork, novelties, pottery and jewelry.

At the market we purchase a delicious looking (disgusting) chicken (tofu) meal. It didn't turn out the way we expected. 

We should have read the map a little more closely
After the market we headed to the Llama temple. We had heard much about it and expected a great beautiful building. We got there and there was one tiny room. We later figured out we hadn't walked down the street far enough to actually reach it. Oops.

We got back on the subway and exited near our hotel. Come to find out, "near" was actually close to 10 miles away from our hotel. We kept walking thinking we were close and ended up spending a few hours lost on the streets of Beijing. We had a great time however and enjoyed the view along the way.

Day 2
This day was our first day of touring with the group. We all loaded onto the bus and headed to Tienanmen Square. Unfortunately, the actually square was closed as all the government was meeting. However, we walked past on our way to the forbidden city. We were both amazed at the vast size of the place, and the beauty in the structures and architecture. We could have spent all day here.
Guard at Tienanmen Square

We did eventually leave and went to our first optional tour. If you ever do a tour to China, I highly recommend this one. We got on the back of a rickshaw and had a driver bike us through the old Hutongs of Beijing. They were old government issued homes that traditionally had courtyards but have slowly depleted as people expand their living quarters. At the end of the ride we were invited into the home of a local Hutong resident who cooked us one of the most delicious meals I've ever eaten. It was amazing just sitting in her home, enjoying her stories and taking in the culture.

After lunch we walked around Behai Park and then took a break at the hotel. Afterwards we also had a tradition Peking Duck dinner included in our tour. The preparation was interesting and the duck yummy.

Day 3
The Great Wall of China. What else can I say? It was simply amazing. We had to drive out of the city on our bus. We first stopped at the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs. It was freezing cold outside so most people just rushed through, but Jake and I loved it! So we took our time and our guide had to drag us out.

From there we went to a Jade factory. This was definitely a government mandated stop for tours to make. All proceeds from products purchased went to the government, and they left plenty of time for shopping. But it was really neat to watch the workers carving the jade by hand.  We ate lunch, more Chinese food, and then to the wall.

We visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall and were just left several hours to explore and climb on our own. Jake and I climbed to the furthest point possible for us to hike. We were able to look over on the old wall that has not been restored. It was all beautiful. The whole experience was just surreal and stunning. The wall was steep and slippery at parts. We were fighting the exhaustion, but it was all worth it. It was a chance of a lifetime and we were so happy to be there and experience it.
These stairs were not made for the weak.
Old sections of the wall.
 I also love that Jake was a celebrity. But he also loved it too. Everywhere we went people were trying to get a picture with him. One of my favorite moments, the first time it happened, we were on a tour and a man sneaked into our group and stood next to Jake. We were all distracted as the man's friend held a camera to take the shot. Jake finally put his arm around the man and said, "we might as well do this right." And posed for the camera. The man was thrilled.
So more people wanting their picture with the tall white man on the Wall.
After the Great Wall, they took us to the Olympic Park where we were able to see the Bird's Nest and the Water cube from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Day 4
Besides going to the great wall. This day was probably my favorite moment in China. We started the morning at the Temple of Heaven. As we walked in we saw locals dancing, doing tai chi, playing games, singing, the whole shebang. Not only did we see them, but we went and joined them. It was so fun to just surround ourselves with the culture and take part in some of their daily activities. We observed so many "unusual" behaviors by our standards, but enjoyed the same pleasures as the locals along the way.

Jake found a dance partner.
After, we walked around the Summer Palace. Another large park with beautiful buildings and scenery. I had the worst bathroom experience of the trip at this spot and almost lost my lunch. Most of the bathrooms we used were fairly clean by China standards. This one had no running water however and workers just splashed buckets of water into the squatters (not toilets) to clean them out. If you can imagine that then being splashed all over the floors and walls... It was bad.

After our touring this day, we were transferred to the airport for our flight to Shanghai.

First impressions of China
I cannot believe how much the government in China controls. (They might even shut down my blog for saying this).
  • For one, the June Fourth incident in Tienanmen Square is not taught, talked about, or known by most citizens. Our guide for instance only heard about it from American tourists. 100's-1000's of people were massacred by their government that day, and they cover it up. 
  • They control all media and speech that reaches the public.
  • They control much of the personal choices of citizens, such as work, home, schooling, etc.
  • When you BUY your home, you have to give it back to the government after your time allowance is up. Possessions do not stay in they family, they stay with the government.
  • They control the number of children you can have for crying out loud. What I did not realize about this law is that if you do get pregnant, the government will mandate you get an abortion.
  • They can take control over your personally owned company at any time they please.
I could go on and on with the government control over the people. But another thing that shocked me was the amount of study and schoolwork by school aged children. Most are there ALL day.

They also highly value teachers. Teachers are paid at the same rate as doctors. College education is also paid for, and housing is subsidized for teachers. 

Finally, I have been to several third world countries and I didn't expect China to be one of them. It almost was. Sure they have the huge cities, advanced technology and nice cars. They consider themselves a developing country, and for the most part, it is. When you look outside of the advancements and business centers however, there was so much poverty, filth and unhealthy lifestyles and living conditions. I think this shocked me more than anything. 


  1. Thanks for posting such a beautiful post regarding Great Wall of China. You can make this post more and more beautiful by using more colorful pictures of great wall china. The climate is so cool and warm that everyone will like to visit the place. The area is covered with little snow that is really eye-catching and attractive.

  2. Found your post on Facebook. We took the 17 day tour with China Spree in Oct 2012. It was one of the best trips I have ever done. I am glad you enjoyed the trip. I would not hesitate to travel with China Spree again as the service was very good.