Hands down my recent trip to China was the craziest trip I have ever done. Literally Adam and I spent 55 hours on the ground in Beijing. Was it for a mileage run? Surprisingly not. As is the theme of 2016, I just found a KILLER flight deal (we’re talking $390) on a nonstop flight from Chicago to Beijing. I have always wanted to see the Great Wall, so there’s no time like the present. YOLO. (P.S. I really hate that saying, but it seems oddly fitting here)
So, what does one do when they have so little time in Beijing? Consult Trip Advisor for the best things to see, do and eat (other than the Great Wall of course). And don’t forget to apply for a Chinese Visa. I have some major tips here for anyone considering going to China:
- Do your research on where you need to apply. Luckily for me, the Chicago Chinese Embassy services most of the Midwest, which means I could just walk in and apply. If you don’t live in the city of the Embassy you need to use, I highly suggest using a Visa company. Travisa is one I have used in the past and they take care of everything for you (for a fee of course)
- Pay VERY close attention to the details on the Chinese Embassy site in terms of process and application. As of Oct 2016, your application needs to be typed/printed, not handwritten. All fields must be filled out, even with N/A. You must submit travel documents along with your passport. I heard so many horror stories that I literally went on Yelp to read about people’s mistakes and also Googled how to fill in the application perfectly. Anal, I know. But, it worked.
- Don’t sweat about the timing. The Chinese visa process only takes 4 days IF DONE CORRECTLY when you submit, so take your time upfront so you can save it on the back end
- Bonus: There’s a little known option (it’s not even on the form) for a 10-year multi-entrance visa available to US citizens available for the same price as a standard visa. APPLY FOR IT. Then you can visit China as many times as you want in the next 10 years. Trust me, after you go, you’ll want to go back!
Ok, now let’s get to the good stuff – the trip!
We landed in Beijing late so we basically went through Immigration/Customs and headed straight to the hotel and to bed. I do have to take this opportunity to give SPG my usual shout out – the St. Regis Beijing treated us so well and was such a great value. They even went out and got me cough drops for my sore through – or “Golden Throat Candy” as they called it. I joked that it probably was an illegal substance, but it made me feel better so whatevs!
We woke up the next morning refreshed and ready to take on our super long day of sightseeing. I should probably pause now and mention that smog is a HUGE issue here and it’s a great idea to bring or buy a pollution mask to help save your lungs. That said, we were incredibly lucky as the temperatures dipped and wind blew out all of the smog just in time for our arrival – so we had normal air quality!
We knew that since timing was tight and we didn’t speak the language, it would be most efficient for us to hire a Guide and Driver for the day. We found Catherine Lu Tours from TripAdvisor and worked with them to customize our itinerary for the day!
We started off with a stroll through Tiananmen Square (holy crowds!) and then into the Forbidden City, which was truly magnificent. At the risk of sounding ignorant, I felt like I was in Mulan and back in Imperial times walking through there. It was truly stunning!
We then hit the road to the Great Wall (!) and along the way, stopped for a delicious lunch. I couldn’t tell you where it was, what it was called or what we ate, but it was so great! I also had my first “Eastern Toilet” experience (aka hole in the ground). TMI for this blog, but make sure to ask me about it the next time you see me!
We finally made it to the Great Wall and it sure was spectacular. It also was a b*t!h of a hike! I think everyone forgot to tell me that part because I was definitely not prepared (or in shape), but was determined to see all I could. We came late Fall after most of the leaves had fallen, but it would have been SO stunning when the leaves were changing. Write that down!
After reveling in the beauty of it, we hit the road back to Beijing. I should probably also mention a few things – there are a few different sections of the Great Wall open to the public. We went to the Mutianyu section, which is the most popular with foreigners. It’s a bit further of a drive, but is less crowded and has stunning views. Also, the Great Wall is a bit of a drive anyway from Beijing, plus traffic can be really tough. Make sure to plan enough time to get there, spend there and get back.
We decided to round out our crazy day of sightseeing with a traditional Chinese Acrobatic show. While I was scared to death for half of the show watching these incredibly talented men, women and children risk their lives, I loved every minute of it!
With bellies still full from lunch and exhausted legs, we decided to skip dinner (I sound like my Grandma!) and call it a night.
The next day was supposed to include a morning walking tour, but due to some communication issues (COUGH NO GOOGLE, WHICH MEANS NO GMAIL IN CHINA, COUGH) we had a morning free which we chose to spend at a local spa. I justified it by telling myself that the Chinese are known for massages. I am not sure if that’s true, but whatevs again!
After feeling refreshed, we set out to see the Lama Temple, a gorgeous Buddhist Temple in Beijing. I know you guys think that all of my trips are perfectly planned, but we arrived after the gate was closed. FAIL. So, we took a few photos and then took the time to stroll through a local Hutong (super narrow neighborhood – considered “Old Beijing”). After our previous day filled with the top tourist sights, it was so nice to stroll through the streets and just see local people living their lives.
After entertaining ourselves for a bit, we met Joyce, our host for a Dumpling and Noodle Class. Yep, you heard me right! This was seriously the highlight of my trip (sorry, Great Wall). We followed her through the Hutong into her kitchen and along with another couple, spent the night making traditional Chinese dumplings and pulled noodles. I was in pure heaven!
Feeling brave (and slightly buzzed) we also decided to navigate the subway home. Super easy and really fun! The trains are much cleaner than the EL (though really, what isn’t more clean than that) and the transfer was also simple, despite this daunting map.
I wish I could say that there was more we got to see and do, but this was our Taste of Beijing – partly because it was so short, but partly because we ate ourselves silly (what’s new). I have to say though, despite what you may hear about China, the people we met were so friendly, it was beautiful and we had such a great time. So much so that I am hella glad we got the 10-year visa!