Hey, guess what?!, that loooong dreadful month of January is over. We are now officially landed in February and it's time to think about that spring getaway. If you live in Norway, like me, traveling halfway around the world to China for 3 days may seem a bit too much. However, if you are traveling around in Asia or living not too far away and got a couple of days off - here are some of the sights a first-time-visitor definitely should be aware of.
If you want to treat yourself, the Kerry Hotel or the Shangri-la's China World Hotel is definitely recommended. If you prefer to spend your money on other things than accomodation, the City Line Hotel (previously called Harmony hotel) is a cheaper option.
It's pretty easy to get around with the subway. There are also plenty of mini-bus tours that will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel which usually has at least a few of the top sights on the agenda. You can always walk a lot as well, but remember two things. In case you decide to take a taxi, always have the name of the place you are going written down in Chinese AND the name of your hotel (to get home). Also, the Chinese are all about "face" so if you ask about the direction they will probably not say that they don't know, but rather point you in one direction or another - which can make you lose some valuable time. My first trip to Beijing I walked for a long time before I realized I had been walking around the same block a couple of times relying solely on directions from people on the streets. Therefore, I suggest bringing a map. Also, ALWAYS negotiate prices in advance if you are going to take a bicycle-taxi (remember to say which currency you want to pay or else you might end up like me arguing about whether you're paying in USD instead of RMB - which is 7-8 times as expensive).
Things to do, eat and drink
I have organized things to do, eat and drink into three days. It's up to you in what order you want to do the days, but I have tried to put sights that are not too far away from each other in the same day to save some time.
/ Day 1 /
The Summer Palace needs to be visited in late spring, summer or early fall. You get there by taking several boats. It is definitely worth a visit I think, with traditional buildings and colors as in the Forbidden City.
If you like tea, there are lots of great tea houses to visit where you can buy tea and get samples to taste.
If you are one of the brave souls, I dare you to try one fried scorpio, cockroach or other funny things that you will find at the street market for lunch. Otherwise, you can always buy some less intimidating food for a cheap buck as well. When you are ready for dinner (or if you want a sit down lunch), try the Chongqing hot pot restaurant (Hu Jia Lou Chaoyang District). The concept is that there is boiling water in the middle of the tables and you order raw food that you cook yourself. It is very hip in China right now. However, the menu is only in Chinese so you might get a surprise or two when you order (we got duck intestines :)).
Finally, I would recommend you ending your day at the Acrobatics show at the Beijing Chaoyang theatre. The front rows are the cheapest, since there is not a whole lot of safety buckles for the acrobatics, so maybe pay a bit extra to sit in the middle rows.
/ Day 2 /
You can't do a visit to Beijing without seeing the Great Wall. There are several different spots to go to the wall such as Badaling, Simatai, Jinshanling and Mutianyu. It is a spectacular sight.
On your way there or back home you can stop at the Lama Temple, a Tibetan Buddhist temple. You will see a giant Buddha statue of 18 meters tall, as well as beautiful colored buildings with characteristic roofs and statues outside.
Another thing you cannot miss when you visit Beijing is the roasted duck. After a long day at the Great Wall you can finish the day at Da Dong Roast Duck restaurant (southwest of Dongsi Shitiao Bridge). It's delicious!!
/ Day 3 /
Another sight that is a MUST is the Forbidden City. The emperor's 1000 concubines all lived within the city and it is rumored that he spent 45 minutes with them each once a year. It really is astonishing to see.
Not too far away is the Temple of Heaven, which is also a beautiful sight, and close by is the Tianmen Square. Finally, if you want to shop, you can buy some scarves at the Silk Market before you head over to the China World Mall. If you don't want to shop you can also go people watching at the China World Mall or the stores around the Kerry Hotel where you might see some extravagant Chinese people. Then, have lunch at The Horizon in Kerry Hotel. The food here is amazing. Here, many young hip Chinese go to eat, so you might have fun people watching while you eat here as well.
To finish your stay, I would highly recommend going for dinner at the very cool restaurant: "那家小馆建国门店" to the south of Xinhua Insurance Mansion. I stumbled upon this place while looking for another restaurant and it was delicious food and very cool wooden interior inside the restaurant.
Also, if you have time at the end of a long day, or if you skip some of these sights, the Kung Fu show at the Red theatre is worth a visit. Other sights that supposedly are great (if you have more than 3 days): Chang tomb and Panda zoo (the Panda garden in Beijing Zoo).
Don't say yes to go tea houses with Chinese girls - they will order many different tea for you to try and charge you ridiculous prices for the tea which you will "split" (but they get their part covered by the tea house). I would also not recommend going to the Olympic stadium, it's really not all that (and I'm not into sports anyway). Also, the Ming Tombs was a big disappointment, basically just a stone in the ground. I would also avoid the Pearl market - unless you are really into pearls then you might get a good deal on some jewelry.