Beijing, China

 

Are you visiting Beijing soon?


More than THE Great Wall, I have quite a few recommendations when you visit the good old 'jing. The lesser known places, or the off-the-beaten-paths and activities, so to speak.

This is much what I can contribute to the city that adopted me for eight wonderful years!

1. Cycle around.

As the song goes, "There are nine million bicycles in Beijing..." This is one of the cities in the world with good bicycle lanes. And it's better to ride your bike to work than take a bus or subway, not only because of the traffic but also avoiding the (stinky) crowd! :P

If you're visiting, the city has introduced public bicycles for rent. But you need to register first at any of these places with your passport: Dongzhimen subway station (exit A of of Line 2), Temple of Heaven subway station of (exit A of Line 5, next to the temple's east gate) and Chaoyangmen station (exit A of Line 2). For more detailed information, click their website.

Once you have a bike, you can try these best biking routes around the city.


2. Hutong exploration.

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Hutongs are traditional courtyard residences arranged according to social classes since Zhou Dynasty (1027-256 BC) and are mostly prominent in Beijing. Some of them were turned into commercial courtyards such as, hostels, restaurants, bars, and stores.

Due to Beijing's modernity, these places are becoming extinct. Sadly, the Chinese people failed to realize that this is the authenticity and uniqueness they can offer to the world.

My favorite hutong spots are: Baochao and Beiluoguxiang. Nearest subway stops: Guloudajie (Line 2) to the north and Nanluoguxiang (Line 6) to the south. You can find the infamous, Mr. Shi's Dumplings (74 Baochao Hutong) for your jaozi, Mai (40 Beiluoguxiang) for your cocktail drinks, and Modernista (44 Baochao Hutong) for film screenings & party dancing.

If you're into comedy and art, Fangjia Hutong is the best place to see more of that. From Exit D of Yonghegong Lama Temple Station (Lines 2 and 5), it’s a simple ten-minute walk straight south to the east end of Fangjia Hutong. This hutong entrance is less recognisable than that of Guozijian (with it’s colourful gate), so be on the lookout for the sign.

You can either walk or bike around a hutong neighborhood. Pick your choice. :)


3. Miniature Beijing.

The Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall is the best place to see the whole picture of the city!  It's my favorite, simply because you can immerse yourself in the architectural creativity of Beijing and learn so much after. They have a lot of interactive presentations as well.

The best part of this place: not too touristy & crowded! And in Beijing, it is a heaven's delight. ;)

Information: No. 20, Qianmen Street, Chongwen District, Qianmen Subway Station Exit A, 9:00- 5:00 PM (Tuesday-Sunday), 30RMB entrance fee.


4. Highest and most beautiful view.

Did you know that with just 2RMB, you can have a 365 degrees and a high view of the Beijing? Well, you just have to head to Jinshan Park! It is also the best place to watch the sunrise and the sunset. On a non-smoggy day, of course.

Additional trivia: This is where Emperor Chongzhen hanged himself.

Direction: Take Subway Line 5 to Dongsi Station. Get out from Exit C and then find bus 101 to Gu Gong (Forbidden City) Station. It is opposite to the north gate of the Forbbiden City.


5. Less-touristy Wall.

Understandably, THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA is the most famous and most touristy place in the outskirt of Beijing. And since Badaling is the nearest and most accessible through public transportation, it is the most visited-- everyday. (Let's say an estimated of 50, 000 people and up.)

So would you want to see the people in your pictures or the Great Wall?!? That's why you should go farther! And I suggest that you should take a van-for-rent for a long and comfortable journey. Call this number: 13641057896. He would usually charge 300-500 RMB for the round trip ride.

My favorite Great Wall spots: Mutianyu Wall,  Jinshanling Wall, and Huanghuacheng Wall.


6. From the zoo to the palace.

The Beijing Zoo is not only the home for the cute, giant Pandas of China, but it is also connecting to the Summer Palace. For 40 RMB, you're paying for the entrance fee in the zoo, the Panda's house, and the ferry boat ride to the Summer Palace. As seen here on the picture, the lake is the connecting canal to the palace.

Once you arrived at the South gate of Summer Palace, you need to pay the entrance fee of 20RMB. I highly recommend exploring the Front Hill area. You will have a nice and tranquil view of Beijing from that high spot. Also, they have free Opera Theater performances in Deheyuan Grand Theater. So be ready for this cultural experience that dates back in the late 18th century. But they only perform every hour. Ask the schedule for it.

Direction: Take Subway Line 4. Get off at Dong Wu Yuan Station, get out of the station from Exit A (northwest exit), and you'll find the south gate.


7. Bookish hangout.

Ultimately, my favorite hang out, chill out, and inspirational place in Beijing is The BookwormI can literally spend the whole day in this place without feeling bored at all. But that's just me! ;) So if you're a literary type, like me-- this is a good place to borrow and buy books, magazines, travel guidebooks, and Moleskin!

They have monthly events such as; book launching, talks, comedy nights, and quiz nights. And of course, never to miss their Literary Festival every March.

The Bookworm also serves breakfast all day! How lovely! Plus it's in Sanlitun, so you can go directly to your favorite bar after a quiet, nerdy day! You can head to The Local, which is my favorite Irish-pub in the area where you and your friends can play pool and Foosball.

Direction: 4 Sanlitun Nan Lu, Chaoyang District. Tuanjiehu Subway Station: Exit at the Pacific Century Plaza exit, on Gongti Bei Lu.


8. Dance with grannies.

Pic taken from google images

Pic taken from google images

Beijing has a good number of public parks. And from springtime, you will see Chinese retirees dancing their feet away to the tune of English pop music, tango, cha-cha, and classic Chinese medleys!

This is one of the best way to immerse and enjoy(!) yourself with the old people. So don't be shy to join in with their line-dancing. Trust me, they're very good dancers too!

Houhai Park is probably one of the large groups in the city. But I've recently learned from the news that they're cracking down these public dances and exercises. So just keep an eye to any public park around you. They usually start from 5PM- 8 PM, everyday.


9. Food! Food! Food!

I love Chinese food!!! It's one of the huge reason why I miss Beijing! And the variety of choices from other Asian and Western foods are also endless!


Here are my favorite restaurants around Beijing:

(Don't worry these restaurants have English menus with pictures.)


  1. Baoyuan Jiazi Wu (6 Maizidian Jie, Chaoyang District) for colorful dumplings and eggplant dish. 
  2. Da Gui (69 Daxing Hutong, Jiaodaokou, Dongcheng District), a Guizhou restaurant. I highly recommend their suantuangyu (fish on the soup), yuan xiao (glutinous rice dumplings), and their Dagui style pork ribs!
  3. Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant (Gongti Beilu, just across the Workers Gymnasium) for a cheaper but good tasting Peking Duck! They also serve my favorite Fried Spicy Chicken and Spicy Fish Soup, and other famous Chinese dishes.
  4. Annie's Italian Restaurant (located in all districts) is probably not just my favorite go-to Italian restaurant but also Frenchie's favorite take-out! We literally eat Annie's pizza and pasta every weekend (and every night for him!).
  5. Muse (Sanlitun, Chaoyang Park, and Indigo Mall) is my favorite go-to Vietnamese restaurant. I love their fried chicken, tom yam soup, and Vietnamese rolls! And of course, pho noodle soup!
  6. Susu (Qianliang Hutong, West Alley No. 10) is another Vietnamese restaurant in Beijing. They are located in this hidden hutong alley and you need to reserve a table before you go because they are always full. We love their lunch menu set which is affordable as compared to their pricier dinner menus. Don't pass up to eat their papaya salad.
  7. Element Fresh (Sanlitun and Lido area) is my favorite take-out food. It's fresh and healthy! And they make the best Chicken Teppanyaki Salad and fresh Carrot-Ginger juice!
  8. Macau Taste (Sanlitun) is my favorite Cantonese restaurant. I love their interior set up, too. Their variety of dim sum are a delight to my stomach!
  9. The Tree (Sanlitun) is probably one of my earliest favorite restaurant in Beijing. They have the best wooden-baked pizzas in town. And their Pan-Fried Chicken with mushroom sauce is already a full meal in itself.
  10. Haidilao (all around the city) is not just my favorite, but perhaps the favorite of all Beijing ren. It's a hot-pot restaurant that you have to try whenever you're in China. Yes, hot-pot is a must experience! ;)

10. Quiet bars.

As I passed my 20s, I feel like I no longer belonged in loud bars with pop music, skinny dancing Chinese girls, and expat teenagers. In short, I'm no longer the target demographic of these places! Haha!

Thankfully, there are "quiet" bars that you can go to for a cocktail drink on a Friday and Saturday night in Beijing if you feel too old like me. Or if you simply don't want to shout when you talk to anyone while inside a bar.

I especially love the atmosphere in Ennotera (Sanlitun) for the rooftop setting, Fu Bar (Workers Stadium) for the hidden surprise, Revolution (Sanlitun) for the small crowd, Ming Bar (Sanlitun) for the member-only entrance & best cocktails (they only have 7 chairs inside), and Mai (Beiluoguxiang) for the hutong vibe.

Ahhh, I miss Beijing. But I hope this will give you more to love with my adopted city. And oh, Capital M (Qianmen) is my best recommendation for lovers. They have the best food and the nice view. All in all, a good romantic package for a date night or a date lunch. ;)

This will also help you plan your Beijing adventure: http://www.timeoutbeijing.com/VisitingBeijing.html


Have you been to Beijing? What was your favorite?

Harbin, China

 

Where to go for an ice and snow festival?


If I have to choose between hot and cold weather-- I'll raise both my hands and feet, and say, HOT!!!

My body is made for the tropics. Thankyouverymuch! ;)

But on January 2013, I braced the coldest temperature my body can ever take-- -25'C! Weee!

I went to Harbin, China for their Ice and Snow Festival that takes place every Chinese Spring Holiday.

Since, I wasn't leaving the mainland for the Chinese Chunjie (New Year), I decided to go there.

www.ctrip.com-- probably has the best travel deals within China. And true enough, I paid CNY 1,800 for my round trip air flight and hotel accommodation to go to the Northeastern part of China.

I was able to convince my co-league slash housemate slash baker friend slash party organizer buddy, Wilbur.

Together, we explored the foreign city which is almost close to Russia!

St. Sophia Church is an edifice that says more about the Russian influence in this part of China.

Harbin is the capital city of Heilongjiang Province and this is China's original and greatest ice artwork festival, attracting hundreds of thousands of local people and visitors from all over the world.

I did not stand the cold in Harbin.

I kid you not, I was wearing five layers on top, three layers of pants, and four layers of socks! I had to beg Wil to get inside a store, or a coffee shop, or a mini restaurant just to get warm. I also brought a mini faux fur blanket just to keep my hands from the chill. (See pictures below.) Brrrr!

The main tourist attraction is the Ice and Snow World being one of the world's largest ice architecture parks.

It is open from 12:00- 21:00 and had an entrance fee of CNY 330. You need to visit it at night to see the multicolored lights that illuminate to each ice and snow sculptures.

The place was massive and each ice sculpture is humongous!

For photo ops, Wil and I are asking random strangers or taking turns just so we can capture the whole place!

There are two other ice parks to visit, but I couldn't take walking around, in the cold so we settled with Ice and Snow World. They are all accessible on foot or by bus: Ice and Lantern Garden Party (14:00-21:30 CNY 200) and Sun Island Scenic Area (8:00-17:30 CNY240). You can also go skiing to Yabuli International Ski Resort .

Another tourist attraction in Harbin is the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park.  It is the largest natural park for wild Siberian tigers in the world at present.

We've seen wild tigers next to our caged vehicle and walking through a caged corridor, eating their poor prey-- live chickens!

Downtown Harbin (both day & night) looks a lot like this. Since, it's snowing almost every day, the snow ground is too slippery to walk on.

Oh, don't forget to try the Russian food while you're out there. It was my best paid Cream of Mushroom soup! Ever!

 

Where's the coldest place you've been to?

Xingping, China

 

Have you always been looking for some place quiet?


After a successful self-finding-slash-self-indulging-solo-travel in the end quarter of 2012, I found myself starting a tradition.

That is, to take a trip once a year, on my own, to collect memories, try new adventures, and meeting inspiring people. 

In 2013, I last-minute-ly picked, Yangshuo, China!

I was supposed to go to Vietnam for this trip but my renewal of Chinese visa got delayed, so Frenchie suggested that (somehow) Yangshuo is close to Vietnam.

Well, I'm not really sure about that because...

  1. He's never been to Vietnam at that time.
  2. Spending three weeks on his part in Yangshuo is not exactly a good comparison to a country that is Vietnam.
  3. How should I know?!?

So the moment I got my new Chinese visa at hand, specifically making me a legal alien yet again in this country, I booked a flight to Yangshuo and flew early morning the next day.


I love airports.


Or perhaps the swarm of people I see around me--having different routes to take.

My secret desire for a career was to be a flight stewardess.

I tend to pretend that I can hear their personal stories in my head, as to why they wanted to take a journey, wherever there is they’re going…


“Who’s going to pick me up when I reached arrival?” 
“I miss my daughter so much I can’t wait to hug her.”
“I wonder if I had her smell in my shirt, I hope my wife is not home yet.”
“Another airport again, I’m sooo exhausted!!!”


Almost six hours later—3.5 by air and 1.5 by land, and .5 by lake, I was welcomed by a magnificent view of Li River.

Now, I have to tell you that in spite of consulting Frenchie and tripadvisor and an additional friend called Brian, I did not entirely plan or knew what I should be doing in this part of the mainland.

Heck, I didn't even know that the inn-- Xingping Our Inn, I booked was two hours away from Guilin!

But you see, that’s the good thing of traveling alone, when this shit happens, you have no one to blame except yourself.

I did not do the blaming.

After all, the sight can make up to what I was really looking for.

The trip was also my ME time. Early that year, the work has just been crazy and I literally needed a break and a real vacation, which for normal people like me, means doing nothing.

Which probably explains why I didn't exactly plan plan the whole trip.

All I know is I needed a new scenery…a far cry from high rise buildings and smog.

And oh boy, Frenchie is very well right to say that it'll be like Vietnam (but then again, how should I know?!)

Little did I know that the small town of Xingping was a big reminder of what I missed most about home...

  • It was very quiet and peaceful. Business stop at exactly 6:30 PM.
 
  •  I love how old people are living without qualms in such a touristy environment.
 
  • The ancient place is like a time capsule (at least for me) when it stood the test of modernity.
 
  • The natural beauty and wonder of nature was truly a sight to behold.
 
  • This little town of Xingping is popularly known to Chinese as the place of the 20 renminbi bill
 

For five days, I was treated to a beautiful scenery, good food (I highly recommend the beer fish) and the awesome and inspiring company of the travelers I've met.

 

Biking became like an afternoon hobby. You can rent a bike for RMB25/day.

 

And hiking was my new exercise.

 

I had a fabulous, lovely time, and very quiet ME time so to speak...


Where is your quiet place?