In the ultimate family trip, we started a 26-day journey of China and Vietnam in Beijing. By the end of the trip, we would have 8 people in the group. On our first stop in Beijing, five of us flew together.
The pond east of the hotel is on the west side of the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park. Headed out for sightseeing on our first morning in Beijing, we thought that we might spend an hour or two in the culture park, and then move on. Once inside, we rediscovered the park was much larger than anticipated. The existence of the park focused on ethnicity is itself a surprise, as the vast majority of the country is populated by Han Chinese. The south end includes reproductions of buildings in the Uyghur style, as would be found in the Xinjiang northwestern region of China.
On the east side of the Ethnic Park was a large bridge depicting the She (Hakka) region in southwest China.
Working our way north onto higher ground, the vegetation changed with structures from the Nu (in the Chinese region towards Tibet).
Just across the bridge in the north side opened up with a Tibetan plaza.
We paused to watch a performance of Tibetan dancers, on the red carpet.
Continuing north through the Ethnic Park, the Blang (of Yunna, Burma and Thailand) were represented on a small island with a stone walk bridge.
After five hours in the Ethnic Park, we were sufficient tired to give up seeing all 56 ethnic groups.
To aid on our recovery from jet lag, we were advised that a reputable massage spa was at a nearby hotel. We relaxed watching Chinese television in the lounge before being escorted into private rooms for couples massages.
On the second day, we booked a bus tour to see a variety of sights north of Beijing. The first stop was at the Ming Tombs at Changling. With many buildings to see, our short stop focused on the Hall of Eminent Favour.
The statue of Emperor Yongle was front and centre, with a pile of donations at his feet.
Continuing through the building, we took stairs down towards the Ling Xing Gate.
From the Minglou Soul Tower, we could look back and see the whole plaza.
On the way out, it’s a tradition to step over the threshold of the Gate of Eminent Favour, saying the Chinese equivalent of “I’ll be back”, so that spirits aren’t tempted to follow.
The bus tour included a visit to the Long Di Dragon Land Jade Factory, for a tour and lunch.
Jade was not on our shopping list, but we could browse.
After lunch, however, Adam did buy some spicy donkey meat as a souvenir for friends back in Canada.
The afternoon stop on the bus tour was at the Great Wall, at Badaling. The plaza and streets approaching the Great Wall entrance were more developed than we might have expected, but Badaling is the most-visited part of the most popular tourist attraction in China.
We had about 90 minutes to hike up to the wall and back. While this section of the wall is well maintained, visitors should be aware that the region is mountainous, so steps can be rather steep.
While we originally thought that we might walk up past a few towers, the ascent to even the first tower proved to be physically taxing. In heat, some cool shade was a relief.
While ascending an incline is a challenge, descending steep stairs presents its own issues. Handrails were welcome, to preempt a slip that might ruin the 24 days to follow!
On the bus back to Beijing, we found the last stop was at the Dongwu Silk Factory on Mingzuyuan Road, literally on the street next to our hotel.
Production doesn’t really happen here. There are demonstrations, such as the unravelling of silk thread from cocoons.
The showroom had a wide variety of silk duvets and clothes, in luxurious displays.
The Forbidden City is officially now know as the (Former) Palace Museum. Following the crowds through the south gate, the Hall of Supreme Harmony is front and centre.
In the midday sun, we opted to tour through the exhibits in the west corridor, by the Hall of Military Prowess.
Almost through to the north gate, I rested in the shade of the Imperial Garden while the more energetic toured more sights. I’ve previously enjoyed the rockery in the garden.
Out of the north gates from the Forbidden City, some of the best views are from Jingshan Park. The steps up might have been less tiring on a cooler day that wasn’t the second day for jet lag.
From the pavilion at the top of the peak of Jingshan Park, we gained some perspective on the size of the Forbidden City directly south.
The street-level shops weren’t to our liking, so we opted for a mall where each floor focuses on a specific product category. Some of us bought shoes.
At a restaurant specializing in Peking Duck, the two sons who hadn’t flown with us rejoined us, bringing some local guests.
In comparison to my prior visit to the 798 Art Zone, there seemed to be less art to see, this time. It could be that art shows are less popular in the hot Beijing summer, or that the economy isn’t as buoyant as a few years ago.
The 798 Space gallery is impressive, even if a major exhibit has not been scheduled.
Some remnants of the prior industrial history of the 798 district have been left behind: machine presses.
While tourists often pose in the Zhang Zhaohui 2009 installation of “You and Me”, we observed a professional crew with models onsite.
Rounding out the visit to Beijing was a stop at the most Western enclave that I’ve ever seen in the city: the Solana Lifestyle Shopping Park.
Expats could mistake the mall as being in the west of the United States, with the variety of non-Chinese brands featured.
Some restaurants face a lake, where there’s an amphitheatre for live concerts.
For a change in cuisine, we enjoyed middle east cuisine with the wholesome family entertainment of belly dancing.
The next morning put our group in two taxis, riding from the north side of the city to Beijing South Railway Station in rush hour. The taxi that left 5 minutes earlier arrived 20 minutes later.
Four days to visit Beijing is a compressed schedule, particularly when arriving with a 12-hour time zone change. In the 22 days that would follow, however, we would be traversing much of China, first east and then south.
daviding December 16th, 2013