The last two months were really hectic because I was working hard on graduating from my master in Rotterdam. After handing in my thesis, I finally got a well-deserved break from this stressful period of the year (and my life :D) by going on a trip to Beijing, China! I was really looking forward to this trip the last 6 months as I signed up together with some of my fellow classmates from the programme and the experience was supposed to include both cultural and professional angles. So the plan was to spend 10 days exploring the Chinese way of life such as everyday activities, cultural heritage as well as the business perspective and the market as a whole. I will try to briefly explain what we did and how we liked Beijing but believe me, you should experience this culture first hand as both words and photos can only remotely touch upon this side of the world!
This travel guide will be a bit different from the previous ones that we have posted on our blog, mainly because I did not organize the trip myself, hence I could not be entirely precise about the details in arranging transportation, accommodation, etc. I will mostly share with you some of the places that are worth visiting, some other tips and tricks based on my own previous research + actual experience and my overall impression of the city.
We flew to Beijing with Emirates through Dubai and the whole journey took about 17 hours. Of course that’s quite long but this airline is definitely the one that would make the experience as pleasant as possible with services, food, comfortable chairs and so. When we arrived in Beijing we slept in a very cute hostel (Beijing Heyuan International Youth Hostel) which had a very authentic inner yard and was really conveniently located, close to the city center (consider that close in Beijing means 20mins by metro). In terms of the weather, July is usually extremely hot and humid and day temperatures get up to 39C, so prepare for some serious heat. From what I have read online May and June are milder but if you’re used to hot summers then you will be OK in July as well.
In terms of sightseeing, we tried to do and visit all major things but as the city is so big it took us quite some time to travel and get to our point of interest for the day. We had an organized tour trip for Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden city and the Summer palace, which was super interesting and allowed us to explore Chinese culture and their heritage. I don’t need to stress that these three things are mandatory to visit if you’re in Beijing, which is also why they can be extremely crowded (and crowded in China is another level in comparison to Europe :D). Some other nice places:
- Temple of Heaven and the whole park area there in general, which we visited on a Sunday and found really relaxing
- Houhai Lakes is an extremely beautiful area during the day and at night becomes a lively bar and party place. You can rent a pedal boat or just walk around the lake and enjoy the scenery. My favorite was the lotus part of the lake as I found these flowers so mesmerizing! Also the neigbourhood around the lakes show the old, typically Chinese culture.
- 798 Art district is a must-visit place for all modern art lovers that are always on the hunt for more cultural experiences
The Great Wall
If you find yourself in Beijing you should most definitely visit the Great Wall of China and see all its glory. We decided to go for the not so touristy part of the wall called Simatai, which offers the option to either climb to the top or take a cable lift to (almost) the top. We, of course, decided to hike and I most definitely recommend this, although this route is said to be the hardest. It is pretty steep and there are quite a lot of stairs but the views are breathtaking. And on the way back it’s even better!
This whole topic deserves a separate section in the travel guide for this whole country as food plays a crucial role in Chinese culture. Let me tell you one thing, all Chinese food that you have eaten so far in the West has nothing to do with the actual food served in China. I was honestly so surprised by how much it differed and most importantly how much better it tasted! The Chinese treat every meal as a ritual where people gather around a round table with a rotating center, where the food is served and people can share different dishes with various tastes. In the West when we go to a restaurant we rarely share food, whereas in China this aspect makes even a public place feel like a home environment. As for the dishes, there’s plenty of choice and I advise you to explore as much as possible – meat, veggies, noodles, spicy, sweet! Of course, if you’re in Beijing you must definitely try Peking duck as this is the traditional meal of the region. Some other cuisines and places that we found nice:
- Hot pot – you order a variety of raw toppings such as beef slices, tofu, shiitake mushrooms that you boil yourself in either a very spicy broth or a regular one. We went to Haidilao.
- Dumplings – another dish that you should have in China, either steamed, boiled or fried, is dumplings! We went to Mr. Shi’s Dumplings.
- Ramen – I am a big fan of ramen and couldn’t miss out on trying the real deal in Asia. The place that we went to and loved is the Japanese chain Ippudo.
- Korean BBQ – another interesting concept where the food (meat and veggies) is cooked in front of you on your table. You also get some additional toppings to include in your lettuce wrap such as kimchi, sauses and so.
- Wangfujing Snack Street – if you want to try out the real local stuff, I suggest you take a walk around this street where you can find a lot of delicious food and snacks as well as some controversial things such as scorpions on a stick 😀
As I mentioned before, we did a lot of cultural things but we also went to visit a few companies and see how they function on the Chinese market. The first one was Sennheiser, where the managers shared a lot about how big the ecommerce scene in China is and the big differences with the Western world. I found this super interesting and some of the figures were definitely shocking such as the Single’s day sales (read this if you don’t know what I’m talking about). The second company was Microsoft China, where we also discovered the Asian Research Center and had some first hand experience with state of the art technology of mixed reality, instant translation and more cool stuff. Find out more from the highlighted Instastories of Beijing @quitealooker. Here are some other tips:
- Calligraphy workshop – this was such a challenge for my impatience 😀 But I loved the idea and how beautiful this form of art is!
- Nightlife – there are plenty of party areas around Beijing, where you could either just go for a drink or go clubbing. We did both but I honestly did not find the clubbing particularly fascinating. As for bars, we went to Migas Mercado, which offered an amazing view over the CCTV and some other pretty cool buildings in the area.
- Karaoke is a big thing in China and apparently it’s a lot of fun. We, however, did not manage to go but if you’re into this, definitely check it out!
- Shopping – one fun thing to do is go to a fake market (we went to the Pearl market) and experience the cultural aspect of hardcore bargaining. I found it super funny how they started with a ridiculously high price and eventually ended up selling for at least 10 times less the initial price.
Overall, Beijing is a huge city with an enormous amount of citizens (over 22 million), so the experience was definitely worth it – everything was completely different from European customs, which was the most enriching and interesting aspect of the whole journey! I definitely recommend visiting Beijing and personally would love to go back to China and explore both the metropolitan Shanghai as well as some rural places.