With the end of my time in Mongolia, the rest of my trip was quickly approaching. After a 30 hour train ride from Ulaanbaatar, I found myself at a pleasant hostel in downtown Beijing. I find Beijing deceitful. It doesn’t look that big on the tourist maps they give you, but it is monstrous. It didn’t help that it was a national holiday week, so millions of of extra people came to Beijing to celebrate. I honestly would suggest that you avoid traveling in China during this week. It makes inter-city travel next to impossible, the sights are ridiculously congested and half the time, you won’t even be able to see certain things (like Mao’s Mausoleum).
Apart from my unknowingly bad poor timing, Beijing is still a very interesting city. It is like some of those European cities that I’ve been to where it really seems like the things to see and do are endless. I managed to only make it to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, because of a bad foot (I can also tell you that the Chinese hospital I went to was incredibly efficient). So here are the things that I know and loved about Beijing.
If you are looking for a hostel, the Peking Youth Hostel was fantastic. It is a little oasis in the behemoth that is Beijing. It also had a great location, literally just outside the walls of the Forbidden City. The beds were comfortable, it was clean and the people were friendly, which is all you can ask for in a hostel.
The second thing of which I am certain is that Beijing (and I am guessing a lot of China) has delicious food. After coming from a land of terrible food (sorry Mongolia), China was heaven for my palate. My second night in the city, I managed to go to both the Night Market and for Peking Duck. The Night Market is what your average foreigner would expect of Asian street food. It is a series of stalls located in downtown Beijing along one city block. Each stall offers something unique, ranging from what would universally be considered delicious (like deep fried ice cream) to those special meals that require an acquired taste (like seahorse, scorpion, and so many other things I can’t even remember).
Both ends of the spectrum are covered, but if you are just looking for dinner, there are really good dumplings and fried meats. The second dinner that night was Peking Duck. I can honestly say that you haven’t really eaten until you’ve had proper Peking Duck in Beijing. I went with a group of hostellers totalling about 13 to a place called Peking Duck, Private Kitchen. I cannot articulate how good it was. A friend and I went back two days later with some duck virgins and all we could do was say how good it was, without really being able to articulate the deliciousness. When you eat duck, they first bring you the duck skin with a little plate of sugar. You dip the skin into the sugar and voila. I know people who love chicken skin, but duck skin takes it up a notch as duck is naturally more greasy. After the skin, they bring out the duck. Peking duck is eaten with a pancake, a variety of extra fillings and duck sauce. You roll it all up, and it’s eaten kind of like a taco. My mouth is watering as I write this. In addition to the duck, you order a variety of side dishes to accompany the main course. My two favourites were the bamboo grilled asparagus and the duck spring rolls. After the second time, three of us sat there stroking our stomachs (which we called duck babies- food baby+ Peking duck= duck baby). I honestly wish that I could articulate how amazing this meal was, but I can’t and will end my description here before I get too hungry.
Oh, right the things I saw in Beijing. The Forbidden City was interesting, but I don’t think it lived up to the hype. There were lots of people and that was crazy but manageable. The complex felt stripped. The architecture was gorgeous but there were no details to give a sense of how the city was used. I don’t know if this is just my Euro-American sense of things, as that is how the museums are set up at home. I think I also got a little Forbidden City fatigue. After the first few buildings, they are started to look the same, and the lack of clarity on the use of each made them all blend together.
I wish I had more time in Beijing to explore the sights and to sample the culinary delights, but it was time move on to a new adventure in South East Asia.