China 6: Beijing, Great Wall, and Tianjin
From Shanghai, an overnight train took us to Beijing. Robin and I spent a week there, taking a much-needed break from moving around every day or two. I also had quite a bit to prepare for my upcoming bike and train trips, especially buying a bike and getting some riding in!
We went for Peking Duck on our first night, then since the restaurant was expensive we visited a nearby "night market" for desert. This was the most orderly night market I’ve ever seen. Usually they’re a chaotic jumble of carts, stalls, and tables, and they run from sometime in the evening until late at night. This one had a single type of stall and about 6 different types of food repeated over 30 or so stalls. The big surprise was that it shut down precisely at 10 PM. They turned off the power, people started packing up, and other people started washing the sidewalk in front of the stalls. This wasn’t just a hose job either – they were dumping buckets of soapy water and scrubbing too!
A highlight of our time in Beijing was hiking the Great Wall. We hiked the section from Jinshanling to Simatai, which is one of the less touristed sections. It was a great hike but too short. Note to China: please open more sections so we can hike further :)
One morning, we rode out to the 2008 olympic park. The bird’s nest now houses some cheesy tourist attractions we figured weren’t worth $7 to see, so we stayed outside. The acquatics centre is closed for renovations! This was also the day of my best ride. Heading straight north from the olympic park, I first rode on new roads built for the olympics then on a highway with nice wide shoulders and hardly any traffic.
As a day trip from Beijing, I headed to Tianjin on my own, partially to take the Hexie and partially to escape Beijing’s pollution for a day. Tianjin reminds me a bit of Kunming in that it’s a modern, clean Chinese city with nothing remarkable but just enough to see to make a good day.
Robin and I also headed to the Lama Temple (for a taste of things to come in Tibet). The unusual thing about this temple is my ticket contained a business card-sized CD. I don’t know what’s on it but I’m bringing it home to check it out.
I visited the Temple of Heaven on my own since I happened to ride by it. This is a 1000 year old temple complex. The best part are the grounds around the temples, which are beautiful juniper orchards largely free of tourists.
All in all, I really liked Beijing and I’m looking forward to going back for a day on my way out to Mongolia. The people are more civilised than in Shanghai ("raised by wolves" is the exception rather than the rule), and there are lots of little alleys (hutong) that are great to wander through. We stayed at a hostel located on a very hipsterish hutong, Nanluogu Xiang. It and the streets nearby are full of trendy shops.. there’s even a Holga Camera shop!
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