BEIJING FOR AN OLYMPIC HOLIDAY

The next summer Olympic games are being held in Beijing in 2008. If you are thinking of going I wouldn’t leave it much longer to book flights and hotels. A quick search and you will find hotels in all price ranges but for something approaching western standards I wouldn’t go below a three star. Their luxury hotels are lovely and certainly of the standard you would expect of 5 star hotels.

Apart from all the Olympic events most people will want to do some sight seeing while in China. Beijing is a huge city of 15 million plus people. However despite its size it is relatively easy to get around. There are plenty of buses and taxis and a new subway system should be completed in time for the Games.

Taxis are metered and fairly inexpensive. If however you notice the taxi you are about to enter doesn’t have a meter negotiate a price first. Buses are great, rather crowded but you can go for miles for a few cents. A great way to sightsee if you are lucky enough to get a seat, just travel the whole route and back again.

Must sees while you are there are of course the Great Wall of China. This is fantastic, a truly great experience. There are loads of junk souvenir sellers outside but if you look amongst the dross you can actually find some nice things to buy. Once on the wall you can take great photographs. Try to go very early in the morning to miss most of the tour buses so you can get some pictures of a fairly empty wall or take the harder uphill route there are fewer people on this section.

The Forbidden City is another place not to be missed. It is huge inside, well preserved and again a great photo opportunity.

The Temple of Heaven ( the largest sacrificial complex in the world), is quite beautiful and a little surreal. As you walk about the park area there is piped dance music coming from hidden speakers. In such an ancient place it does seem little odd. The temple is beautiful though. There is a market outside that is definitely worth exploring. There are a wide variety of stalls and some great antiques. These markets can be far better places to buy authentic Chinese souvenirs than some of the shops.

Tian’anmen Square is well known for all the wrong reasons but is an impressive square, the biggest in the world and worth a visit. You can also join the queue to see Mao’s body. Depending on when you visit there are frequent display and events held in the square.

Beijing has an abundance of temples, museums and sites of interest for the holiday maker. The ancient observatory is one worth seeing and the unusual police museum which is rather full of propaganda but definitely interesting. The very unusual underground city built in 1969 when thoughts of a nuclear war sent city planners underground is worth going to just to say you have been there. There are 90 hidden entrances on Qianmen’s main streets. There are hotels, restaurants and shops down there. Also worth looking at are the China National Museum and the China Art Museum both are interesting and if you have the time try to fit them in. There are literally dozens of places of interest so you won’t be short of things to do and places to go. There are photo opportunities around every corner.

To keep you fed and watered while doing all this sight seeing there are plenty of restaurants. The Hotels usually have at least one each and frequently more, the streets abound with them, many are well known names that you will be familiar with and there are hundreds of Chinese Restaurants. The Chinese food is not the same as you will have had in your home country. Here it is the real deal and is somewhat different in taste and style to the Americanised version we are all used to.

This brings to mind the toilet situation in Beijing. It is certainly better here than outside the city. However unless you use the ones in the hotels and better restaurants be prepared and take your own paper. Handy little packs of tissues are easiest to carry and I would suggest some wet wipes for your hands. When desperate I used what was referred to as “the stinky palace” I should have known not to enter when told the name but needs must. I went in, the smell was indescribable, it was filthy, there were just holes in the ground, no paper and no washing facilities. So be warned and go prepared.

If you have the time there is some great shopping in Beijing. We went to the Cloisonne factory and watched the items being made then we went into the factory shop to buy a couple of pieces. It is a great city to buy antiques, gold, silk, lovely embroidered table linens and jade and pearl jewelry. They have lovely ceramics and pieces of original art work can be quite inexpensive. There are the usual shopping malls and small shops too. My favourite places to shop were the street markets. Literally on the street, many “stalls” were just a mat laid on the sidewalk but the offerings are worth looking at. Two of my favourite antique pieces were found this way. So you may look at a lot of tat but there are also some lovely pieces to be found. Also artists are sometimes found at these markets producing original work for very low prices. So if you are a shopaholic don’t worry there will be more opportunities than you will be able to fit into the usual two week vacation.

If you are going to see the Olympics, enjoy yourself and the events, if you are just going to Beijing for a holiday I am sure you will have a great time. For the summer tourist the weather is very hot, humid and usually sunny, if you prefer sunny but cooler weather the autumn is best. The winters are great. Very cold and dry. The time to avoid in my opinion is spring. This is the time of year you are liable to get “yellow storms”, dust from the Gobi desert.

My last word of advice on Beijing is dress comfortably and wear the most comfortable shoes you have. This city is huge and you can walk for miles at any one of the places of interest above. Have a great holiday and enjoy your trip to China and the Beijing Olympics.

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