by Roaming Panda
Before I get into our first day in Beijing, let's talk about how we got there. Beijing is about 750 miles slightly northwest of Shanghai, that's about the same distance between Charleston, SC to New York. Instead of flying, we took a bullet train directly there, which I highly recommend. Even though it takes a bit longer, it's so much more comfortable. The train itself rides smooth AF. You're going on average 180 mph but you barely feel it. The seats were incredibly spacious (we had premium seats, but the economy seats weren't too far off) and you have an attendant that offers drinks, snacks, and food just like an airline. Do it if you can.
This is my second time in Beijing, last time was 9 years ago back in December of 2008. Word of advice, if you decide to come to Beijing during the summer months, get ready to sweat. It is HOT and you will be doing a lot of walking. Worse part is, many places don't have centralized a.c. or just don't turn it on. Even the hotel we stayed at regulates the temperature in each room so you can't turn it down past a certain temperature. Relief was hard to find and I found my favorite place to be the tour van where we could ask the driver to blast the air conditioning.
First stop: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City to see the sacred grounds of the imperial palace. The Forbidden City was once home to the Chinese emperors from 1420 to 1912. Basically, the Chinese equivalent of the White House but way bigger. Based on the step counter on my watch, I walked about 10 miles that day. Once you go in, you have to make it all the way through the many sections to the end of the palace. The grounds cover about 180 acres so make sure you have comfy shoes on.
The architecture of the palace is nothing less than amazing. As intricate as each of the buildings are, no nails were used during construction. It's all just an intricate interlocking system, like really complex Legos. Each gate that leads to a different section represents something different. I just know that the Meridian Gate toward the front is where people got decapitated. The significance of the different gates is rather interesting, and if you want to learn more, Google can explain it way better than I can.
After our trek through the imperial palace grounds, we headed to the historic district of Wangfujing. It's an interesting shopping and dining area. The main street looks like any modern shopping plaza you can find in China, but take a turn into the narrow streets and shit starts to get weird. You'll find a number of vendors peddling their wares and even more food stalls with offerings only for the bravest of stomachs. I had fun just looking at all the foods on display, most notably the scorpions and bugs on a stick. The scorpions were still alive!
They don't sell it to you kicking and screaming like that, they do fry and cook it before they let you eat it. Some foods were less exotic than others, but quite honestly, the sanitation code in China is already questionable and even more so for street side vendors. I'm sure it's fine, but I really didn't want to risk dying of dysentery. I think if I was in a normal fine dining restaurant here in the states, sure let's try some scorpions, but just not in the streets of Beijing.
The shopping is fantastic. Every price and every deal is negotiable. It was funny for us to watch foreigners over pay for novelty items we got for dirt cheap. Great place for cheap souvenirs that look more expensive than they are.
Our first day in Beijing was a marathon. I was so happy to just lay down at the end of the night and this was just the start. Day 2 brings us to one of the 7 Wonders of the New World: the Great Wall of China. Come back and check that out next. For the rest of the pics from the Forbidden City and Wangfujing, click HERE.