By Rachel Armstrong. Many of the exciting highlights that you travel many miles to China to see – including the Great Wall, Forbidden Palace, Summer Palace, Hutongs and Tiananmen Square – are included on a group tour of China. But what else can you do to amuse yourself in Beijing when you’ve got some extra time on your hands?
Temple of Heaven
This celestial named temple was built in 1420 AD during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to heaven. The grounds are a fabulous place to see the older population of China hanging out and partaking in their favourite hobbies such as Tai Chi, ball room dancing, playing cards, martial arts, and even a spectacular display of sword Tai Chi.
Wangfujing Dajie Night Market
For those of you with more adventurous palates head down to Wangfujing Dajie Night Market and you will find a few of China’s more unusual food groups. You can find anything from toffee covered fruit on a stick to deep fried spiders.
Filling in your evenings
Eating – you must try a dumpling restaurant, especially one where you can see them making the dumplings. They look vaguely like goldfish, but it’s interesting to see the technique in action. And the taste is just divine!
Also a fun and spectacular night time spot, for eating out is Houhai Street (Bar Street). It is situated on a lake, near the Forbidden City and lit up at night by many many lights. Although the food and drinks are a little more expensive in this area, it has a great atmosphere. It’s also where you can get European food on the menu, so you’ll find a number of tourists here. This is not the place to look for local food, but it has a fun atmosphere nonetheless.
Beijing is city of merging old and new architecture. Well-known buildings on your list would be the Olympic Birds Nest and the Water Cube National Aquatic centre, but it’s also worth a drive by the Central China Television Headquarters (CCTV) Tower, pictured above.
Shopping, Shopping and more Shopping
Silk Alley Markets has to be the best place to shop in Beijing. There is a sign on the window as you enter (not that you can read it, but translated it reads that the named brands like North Face, Gucci, Chanel etc cannot be sold here.) This is apparently a game that the government plays with the stall owners – there is always a back room, or hidden banned items under the first layer of clothing!!
Beware though, if you see something you want, get it then and there, as the next time you go back, the store may have disappeared. We went back to Silk Alley 4 days after our first sojourn, and here I was thinking I would buy another genuine fake North Face jacket, (not that I really needed another one, it’s just some of my other fellow travellers got theirs cheaper than mine and I was determined to see if I could bargain them down – the addiction to a good deal definitely gets you in China) but there were no jacket shops to be seen. When asking around, and after deciphering pigeon English, we found they all had to clear out before they got caught selling items they shouldn’t be selling!
Next for shopping would be the Pearl Markets, not as refined as the Silk Alley Markets, and sometimes a bit harder to bargain down, but still a good few bargains to be had. Especially if you head to the top floors, you will find an array of fabulous Pearl shops.
Have you been to Beijing? What tips do you have for first-time travellers who want to see a bit more of the city?