Around the world travel, Bucket List, China, Compass Holidays, Travel, Travelzoo

13 Hours and 13 Miles in Beijing

After surprisingly being able to sleep through the night, we wake feeling pretty rested and ready to tackle our first day in Beijing. First things first, breakfast… and oh, what a treat this is. It’s dinner time to our bodies and we’ve had nothing but airplane food for the past few meals, so we take advantage of what’s on offer, and that’s basically everything and anything you can think of… sushi, dumplings, steamed pork buns, preserved eggs, bok choy, omelettes, soup, fruit, etc etc.

A bike rental stand near Happy Valley.

While Michael rounds up the group for the guided tour, we try to get a cup of coffee from the very over-worked machine (It seems to be one employee’s job to monitor the machine, dump the coffee grounds, and generally encourage everyone to drink more green tea and less coffee!)

We  make plans for our day exploring Beijing. We’re on the southern outskirts of the city, and the closest metro stop is “Happy Valley,” named appropriately for the amusement park that sits between our hotel and the metro station. Unfortunately, we have to walk around it, but this affords us a little glimpse into rush hour. In a city comprised of 23 million people, there are 6 million cars on the road, but no motorcycles or trucks are allowed during the day. BUT, there are an estimated 10 million bicycles on the road (yes, you can google this to verify). Bicycles seem to have their own lane between walkers and the roadway, and all across the city are bicycle rental stops that look like the picture above. Bicycles are rented by using a QR code and are free for the first two hours. Michael informs us that funnily enough, most rentals last about 1 hour and 58 minutes.

Katherine getting tickets to Tiananmen.

Beijing’s metro system.

We make our way into Happy Valley metro station and begin to try to figure out our route to Tiananmen Square when a lovely young worker comes over to help us. She speaks no English, but chats away to us quickly in Chinese as we point to station names on the screen. She is all smiles and kindness and soon we have 2 tickets that will get us to Tiananmen Square East. The metro is extremely clean (like the rest of the city) and incredibly efficient. We have a couple of line changes, and about 30 minutes later, we arrive at Tiananmen Square.

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

We queue up with hundreds of Chinese tourists to clear security and immediately head over to tour the Forbidden City, which is the former imperial palace of the Ming (1490-1644)& Qing (1644-1912) Dynasties.

A giant marble carving at the Forbidden City

Details on the eaves, Forbidden City

This is a sprawling complex that occupies almost 200 acres and boasts 980 rooms. After two hours of exploring courtyards, pavilions, gates and halls of harmony and tranquility, we exit the Forbidden City to the north in need of our own tranquility.

Jingshan Park

Fortunately, we’re standing right outside Jingshan Park, so we purchase the 2¥ ticket and enter the grounds of this peaceful little park, which was built during the Jin Dynasty and opened to the public as a park in 1928.

Come to find out this is one of the best preserved imperial gardens in all of China and historically important as it’s the place where Emperor Chongzhen (a ruler during the Ming Dynasty) hanged himself in 1644.

Looking down to the Forbidden City

Beijing as seen from Wanchun Pavilion.

We climb the footpath up to Wanchun Pavilion (meaning Everlasting Spring) and enjoy incredible views of the Forbidden City below and panoramic views of Beijing’s skyline.

Candy apples for sale.

When we leave the park, hunger is setting in, but seeing no nearby restaurants or cafes, we’re at the mercy of the street food vendors. Lunch, or our snack, is street corn and candy apples.

The Temple of Heaven.

We begin the walk back to Tiananmen East station and take the train over to Temple of Heaven, where we spend the afternoon exploring another sprawling imperial palace complex.

After nearing the point of being “templed out,” we enter the Long Corridor and see hundreds of people gathered in groups of four, playing an intense card game. We take a break and look on for a bit, seeing if we can figure out who’s in charge, what the buy in is, and the rules of the game.

A lady debates her next move.

Scariest tuk tuk ride ever!

We’re getting seriously hungry, so we head to Hutong in search of food. We arrive (barely) by China’s equivalent of a tuk tuk. We were either going to die by ingesting fumes or getting leveled in traffic, as our driver seemed to think he was driving a truck, not a tuk tuk.

We begin to explore the many little side streets of this area, and it doesn’t take us long to spot a cook in the window of a noodle shop rolling out fresh dough for dumplings. We look no further and enter a stark, cafeteria style restaurant.

Best meal in Beijing.

Kung Pao chicken.


A lady ushers us to a booth and looks at us inquisitively. After using hand gestures to make the shape of a menu, she brings us a 40-page bound book with pictures of every dish available. We choose kung pao chicken and dumplings, which come out within minutes and immediately bring us back to life.

At this point in time, I decide to check my fitbit and see that we’ve walked close to 12 miles already. By the time we get back to the hotel, we’ve clocked another mile.

We see Michael who lets us know our start time for tomorrow is 8am, and there will be a 6:30 wake up call followed by breakfast at 7am.  I suck up all this “organized” stuff and let the excitement of our trip to the Great Wall set in.


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