Beijing – Entranced in the Capital of China

My travels across China finally brought me to truly amazing megacity of Beijing, the last stop of my one month journey across China, before the Trans-Siberian Railway to Europe.
In all its grandeur, Beijing lives up to its name as one of the greatest ancient capitals in the world. Despite all the the city has gone through in the past century (or maybe because of it?), Beijing is a bustling and spellbinding city with an illustrious and well preserved past, as well as an optimistic and energetic outlook. Honestly didn’t have much expectations coming in, but really glad in the end to have made the decision to stop by.
Before Beijing, I was in Chengdu, a little exhausted after a hike in the edge of the Himalayas and a botched attempt to make a quick getaway from Shangri-La in Yunnan to Sichuan. Had to make do with a tiring additional day’s detour by bus to Chengdu after getting the bus schedule wrong. At that point, I had already spent about 3 weeks on the road and so took the opportunity to slow down the pace a little for 2 days in Chengdu, pretty much just chilling in the city. My penchant for bad decisions returned just as I was to leave Chengdu for Beijing, when I opted for a hard seat instead of a sleeper for a 30 hour train ride. This was the scene not long after.
Nonetheless, I tried to enjoy the rest of my first (and hopefully last) time in such a communal experience. It got worse as the journey progressed, and soon people were lying all over the floor and the toilet was overflowing with rubbish. The 30 hour ride was definitely an eye opening experience, though I was all too eager to get off at the end of it.
The train arrived in Beijing early in the morning, with all my rest in Chengdu undone by the exhausting train ride. Still, I was determined to make the most of out my first day here and set off for the hostel I booked earlier purposefully. Upon reaching the hostel, I found out from the receptionist that there was to be a group leaving for the Great Wall in less than an hour. Usually, I don’t like to follow organised tour groups, but at this stage, a little weary from the travelling, I thought this might be a good option, given that the Great Wall was out of the city and a little less accessible. Checked in at the hostel, washed up, decided to join a hostel organised trip to the Great Wall (Y260), and left the hostel, all within an hour.
It was great that the section we visited wasn’t too crowded with tourists, though it did cost a bit for me to join the tour organised by the hostel. I heard from locals that it is common for private ‘tour operators’ to offer really cheap packages to attractions such as the Great Wall, but end up dragging tourists to certain shops and got really worked up if any of those in their tour group did not purchase any of the overpriced items at the stores. About late in the afternoon by the time the bus took us back to the city. I managed to grab a breather before heading to meet a local friend who offered to show me around some of the trendier districts in town. Really awesome to have awesome friends around the world, and I’m really thankful for all my friends, both in Singapore and around the world.
I met my friend at Nanluoguxiang, a preserved section of the city that has been around for a few hundred years. While the architecture and feel of the area is kept, the streets looked refreshed and revitalised, with trendy shops alongside traditional ones, and lots of young people seem to enjoy strolling the ancient streets here. We bought some snacks as we walked. It was to be a packed day ahead, with the visit to the heavens being highlights, getting close to heaven at the Temple of Heaven, and being in heaven, at Quanjude Peking Roast Duck. But first, a simple but hearty breakfast to start the day.

Chris Agar

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