Today ended up being a very long day but definitely worth it as I was able to visit Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Mausoleum, The Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and the Night Market all in one day.
I woke up at 5am ready to leave for Tiananmen Square’s Flag Raising Ceremony, which I had read was worth seeing. Basically if you’re there on time you’ll see a large number of soldiers escorting the national flag out of The Forbidden City where it’ll be raised while the National Anthem plays in the background.
I arrived at the square just as the ceremony was starting and took my place lining the road around the square to watch. The whole ceremony was over in 5 minutes but it was a great atmosphere and it was interesting to see about 10,000 Chinese people get confused about why I was there.
After returning to my hotel for breakfast it was back to Tiananmen Square to visit the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao before the queues built up. You’re allowed to take mobile phones into the hall but all bags and cameras must be deposited in the luggage store across the road for 10Yuan.
The queue for the Mausoleum only took me about 2 minutes and, after passing through security, it was straight into the hall. We passed by a statue of Mao where you could leave flowers if you wish before passing into the room where his body lays in state. After passing by his body at a rather fast pace you’re ushered out of the building and can pick up your bags again.
Next stop The Summer Palace, the place which the emperors used as their summer retreat during imperial times. Most guide books tell you to get there using a local bus but there’s a new subway line that goes directly to the palace – Beigonmen station which helped.
There aren’t any signs for the entrance when you leave the station so I had to Google Map the directions… but it’s about 2 minutes walk west -just look for the bus station and then it’s down the old road next to that.
I bought an all-inclusive “Tao Piao” ticket on this occasion as there are a lot of buildings you can’t get into without it – some of which give amazing views of the surrounding area… and it’s only a little bit more expensive.
I spent probably 3 hours exploring the palace and its grounds, again with the help of the automated audio-guide. It’s a beautiful location with beautiful surroundings, as you can see in the photos below.
While I was walking around the gardens to the west of the palace these Chinese teenagers came up to me and said “My friend he very much likes foreign people. May he have a photo with you?”… so I said of course and we chatted for a little bit and took photos of each other, and together. They were really nice people.
I was aching by this point so was glad of the long subway ride back into the city to see the Temple of Heaven. I managed to get a seat but after 2 stops this old lady got on so I gave up my seat for her. She thanked me, and when the seat next to her became available she wouldn’t let anybody else sit there and beckoned for me to sit there. There are some really nice people in this city, but unfortunately some annoying people that keep trying to sell me fake watches and con me into various things too.
While I’m on the subject I’ll give you a few tips about how to survive some of the people that pester you in Beijing. In general I encountered really nice people in Beijing but you’ll find a lot of people pestering you to buy fake watches, be conned into “free” tours but who will then charge you a fortune, beg for money and a few other things. Just say no thank you, ignore them and walk away is the best way to deal with them. The subway is a different matter – it’s every man for himself so be prepared to barge through to get on and off, and get along the platforms. A final piece of advice if you’re near any of the shopping areas and have any young women come to you saying they want to practice their English and want to have a coffee with you politely decline – they will take you to a cafe their friend owns and leave you with a very large bill. However as I said the majority of Beijing is really nice and the people are really friendly!
Anyway 90 minutes later, after a few changes, I arrived at Tiantandongmen station – which is at the east gate of the Temple of Heaven. After purchasing my tickets I rented another self-guided audio tour to look around the Temple of Heaven.
The Temple is where sacrifices, prayers and other offerings were made to God by the various Emperors and is well worth a visit. You will need to buy an all inclusive ticket here otherwise you won’t be allowed to get close to any of the buildings.
I’d say allow 90 minutes – 2 hours at the Temple of Heaven if you want to see everything and not have to rush. It’ll also give you a chance to enjoy the beautiful gardens the temple is situated in.
After looking around the temple for a while and taking lots of photos I made my way back to my hotel for a rest as my feet were aching by this point. However it would only be a short rest as I planned to visit the Night Food Market near Wanfujing street to see all the creepy crawlies being cooked.
The Night Market was a different experience. I’ve never seen so many weird things being cooked before – including Sheep Penis Kebabs, Silkworm, Snake, Cows Pancreas and much more. I decided to stick to the reasonably safe choices of Chicken Dumplings and Beef in a Roll although even they were an adventure!
I’m back in my hotel now as I need to make sure I’m awake in time for my flight to North Korea in the morning. It’s getting close now, and I’m a little nervous but very excited.