I can’t believe I went to China! It was absolutely spectacular.
I visited Beijing for five days by using the Visa-Free transit. (More about this below) I traveled to China solo, but I took a guided 3 day tour.
There were two other guys in my group – one of whom lives in my city and is my new bff – and we got along great! The other one was an older wanderer, whom I presume had women all over the globe, and he visited them periodically, haha. Me nor my new bff hadn’t had breakfast because our pickup time was so early (6:10am!!!), but our tour guide basically said, “that’s your problem.” So, the third guy in our group shared his breakfast with me and my bff, and felt much better.
We went to a big park – the man-made park, Coal Hill – and climbed a zillion steps to get to the top. There was a very nice view of the Forbidden City, and the White Pagoda and it was beautiful!!
We then went to the Hutongs for a rickshaw ride!! At this point, it was 8am, barely light outside and EXTREMELY cold. Like, teeth-chatteringly cold. Needless to say, not the best time for a tour, as everything was closed lol The rickshaw driver thought me and my gay new BFF were married, so we went along with it. 😂 I have no idea how this old, miniature Chinese man, who couldn’t have been more than 90 pounds soaking wet, was able to pull us on this rickshaw/bicycle, but he went so fast that the wind was basically tearing our skin off.
SQUEEEEEEEAK. The bike stopped and the driver motioned for us to get out and take pictures of the lake. This lake was beautiful, of course, but it literally could have been from anywhere. Venice to Brugge. Both beautiful places, of course, but unexpected for Beijing. lol
We smiled for pictures, got mauled by the determined dudes selling strange flutes, and then hastily sped back to the starting point. Our guide greeted us with a frown and a “you’re late.” 😂🙄 She was nuts, but what a crazy experience! (The other two tour guides from the following days were much better, I have to say.)
We saw the giant pandas!!!!!! There were six of them in total, and they were all just SO cute. Normally, I don’t like zoos because of how the animals are (usually) treated, but these massive floofs seemed to have plenty of food and water and roaming space, inside and out. They would sit on their big wooden play structures and watch all the people…who were watching and taking selfies. haha Panda TV!!! There were two sibling pandas, only about a year old, who were soooooo cute and awkward, bumbling around the trees and recklessly eating everything in sight.
Off to the Water Cube and the Bird’s Nest! Two of the giant buildings used for the Olympics! Beijing is clearly very proud of these two modern structures, as well as the massive slab of cement between the two, haha. They had quite a bit of security going into this area, as well as guards all over.
Then, we drove back to the Hutongs to have lunch in the home-converted-to-a-restaurant of a local family. They served us many small dishes, some with meat and some without, some spicy and some not. Most of the vegetables were bland and boiled, but the sauces were usually garlicky and soy sauce-y, so quite delicious. They gave us each one drink for free. I didn’t realize how popular pop was here, so I always had to ask for something that wasn’t sugary and carbonated. They usually brought tea over right away, which was amazing, because Jasmine tea smells soooo good!
I also got these little white containers with a straw plucked through the top, which turned out to be honey-yogurt, quite rich and delicious, and only made in Beijing! I saved the ceramic cup as a souvenir and ate one of these almost every day. Super tasty!
On the way out of the Hutongs, we saw live musicians playing ancient instruments, fluffy doggies lounging on their front porches, adult playgrounds for people to use on their lunch breaks, hanging laundry on every available space, and mini police cars parked on the sidewalk. So funny!
The Lama Temple was soooo pretty! There were a few buildings with different Buddhas in them, and then the last building – the biggest building – had been built around this 90 foot tall Buddha! 😱😱 It was made out of one solid piece of wood, and brought to this spot 400 years ago. It took 3 years to move the tree it was carved out of, and then another 3 years to carve the tree into its current form. So incredible!
Last, we went into a silk shop! It was supposed to be a demonstration of how the silk was made, which it was (for literally 2.5 minutes), but then also an INCREDIBLY pressured shopping adventure with sales ladies that we couldn’t escape from. (Although the people who follow me around are continuously disappointed. I always tell them that I am only looking and not buying today, and thank them for their help, but I don’t want to “lead them on,” if you will, but they never believe me. lol The ladies kept asking me if I liked the items or if something caught my eye. I told them that, yes! It all does! However, it’s much too expensive for me, unfortunately 😞 only when I told them that I couldn’t afford it would they back down. Like, who can actually afford $100+ scarves?!? So stressful, ahh!) Anyway, we saw how the silkworms (poor little things lol) make the silk, then how the employees stretch and wrap the silk in order to make sheets and bedding and the most beautifully colored fabrics. There were also rugs and clothes and shoes and paintings and souvenirs and anything else that tourists might want to buy. Considering that everything in the store was $100+, and that literally no Chinese people were in there except the salesgirls, I wasn’t too enthusiastic to buy anything. It was a super cool shop to go into, though, and I loved all the colors and rugs and beautiful clothes! 😻😻😻
Walking home from the first tour day was such an experience! I stayed in the Qian Men area, and saw candy and jewelry and dresses and food. So much food!
I went into a shop to buy some dresses. I thought that you carried the clothes around and then bring your big pile up to the cashier, like we do in American stores, but this was not the case! Here, you got to see your clothes on a mannequin – there is no trying clothes on! – or you could just say that you wanted to buy it and they’d put it in a bag for you, KEEP THE BAG, and give you a payment slip. You go pay for the item, then give them the carbon copy of the payment receipt and then they hand you the bag on the way out. The thing is, every piece of clothing is sold by a different group of sellers, so you get a receipt and a little plastic bag for EVERY SINGLE ITEM you buy. I started giving the bags back to them, because nobody needs 10 tiny plastic bags (unless you have a dog, haha).
In the trinket and souvenir shops, the owners followed me around like they did in the silk shop, but this time, I turned around and asked them where an ATM was, explaining with google translate that I didn’t have any money. They were first scared of the English, and then bored when I said I had no money, so that seemed to allow me a few minutes of peace to simply look around. Sheesh! It was one of those “You looked? You bought it!” places. Woof.
I really wanted these shoes with the cool faces on them, but when I told them my size (they only had European sizes, so a size 9 is a size 41), they practically laughed me out of the store, with tiny apologies that either meant “sorry, we don’t have that,” or “God, please help this poor, big-footed woman.”
I finally bought a dress, went home to try it on and dump my stuff off, then came back out wearing said new pink dress. What I didn’t realize, is that EVERY SINGLE STORE also sold this particular dress. So, every store I went into, they presumed that I’d somehow weaseled my way into this form-fitting-ish dress amidst the deafening chaos within the store and then slipped my coat over it. I had to show them my receipt from the last store every single time 😂😂😂. I finally bought a bigger coat to cover the dress, because we were heading to the Great Wall the next day and I needed something that was warmer than my extra-wide-wear-everything-I-own-to-avoid-extra-baggage-fees coat. This new coat seemed to hide the dress, but it also caused a lot of attention. A tall, white lady with long hair and a bigger-than-normal, fake-fur-tastic coat? Oh the pictures. There were so many pictures. Of me, of my hair, of my coat (of my shoes?). This little girl knew how to say hello and goodbye in English, and then she taught the corresponding phrases in Chinese. Her 178 year old grandmother really got a kick out of it, too.
I went to the food court and recognized nothing and experienced all kinds of new, sour smells. After much back and forth discussion with heads shaking and confused faces and furious typing on google translate, the yummy restaurant finally agreed on what I would have for dinner: noodles and an egg. I got the dish and – SURPRISE! – it’s a soup! Also, SURPRISE! There’s peanuts and raw pieces of garlic in it. The noodles were like the best things I’ve ever tasted, but the broth was SO greasy, I’m surprised I didn’t have a heart attack. So delicious though, and – BONUS! – I actually knew what it was, haha.
As for the Visa-Free Transit: Basically, if you’re from certain countries and have a flight from one country, a “layover” in Beijing/another qualifying city, and then a flight to a third country, you do not need a visa to visit China if you’re staying up to 144 hours, or 6 days. (Please google it and call your Chinese Embassy if you’d like more info on it.) I got a 24 hour Visa-Free Transit when I was just coming into Beijing and heading to Thailand the next day, spent 2 weeks in Thailand, and then I got ANOTHER Visa-Free Transit when I returned to spend some time in China, this time the 144 Visa Free Transit. There’s lots of paperwork and time involved. (It took me over 4 hours to get out of Beijing airport both times I did this.)
I’ll write another post about the other 2 days of my crazy tour of Beijing…stay tuned! ❤️🇨🇳❤️🇨🇳❤️
Thanks for reading, happy travels!
More pictures of this amazing day: