Wednesday 14th May
On Wednesday we went to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City located in the heart of central Beijing. Tienanmen square has lots of interesting stuff like a mausoleum (Mao-soleum?) containing the embalmed corpse of Chairman Mao, a museum about Chairman Mao, statues of Chairman Mao, and also some large pictures of Chairman Mao. At the moment China is on high terror alert due to a series of attacks in other parts of the country. Consequently, the centre of Beijing is currently crawling with heavily armed soldiers (shotguns, sniper rifles), with security checks at most entrances and exits of public buildings, metro stations and tourist attractions.
The Forbidden City is the old imperial palace just North of Tienanmen Square which used to be the home to the emperor and his staff. It’s an incredible place with literally hundreds of golden dragon sculptures, several elaborately decorated halls and the emperors garden. And dragon turtles.
Thursday 15th May
Thursday morning we went to see Chairman Mau. This was a pretty strange experience to say the least. The amount of security was nuts. We had to have our bags scanned, submit the bags to a check in, go through security again, then queue for another security gate where we were frisked, armed guards everywhere. The actual event was quite surreal. Hundreds and hundreds of people were shuffled through the mausoleum at a rapid pace, only allowing about 20 seconds in the actual chamber. Attendees were everything from 2 years old to 80+. In the queue on the way there were flowers sold to allow people to pay their respects. Fairly sure these are collected up and resold day after day.
In the afternoon (after getting thoroughly lost in a very non-touristy part of town) we ended up at the emperors Summer Palace. This is a vast retreat outside the city where the emperor retired during the hot summer months. It’s a very hilly, forested park containing a beautiful lake and loads of ancient buildings. We climbed up the many, many steps up to the top of the palace, giving us an incredible view of the entire park. Unfortunately we had to race around a bit because of getting lost earlier on (I’d temporarily forgotten how subways work), but we still managed to squeeze in a boat trip across the lake which was cool.
Friday 16th May
Today we went to the Great Wall! Our hostel set us up with a “tour guide” who picked us up from the front door, drove us to the wall, gave us a “tour”, served us lunch and drove us back all for 25 quid: pretty good! The journey down was… interesting. As I’ve previously mentioned, the traffic here is nuts. The guy who drove us was certainly on the upper end of nuts. He wove in and out of traffic at breakneck speed, basically stuck to the back of peoples bumpers and somehow not crashing once. The mountainous region around the wall itself had a very Italian-Job-final-scene feel to it. Lots of tight corners and wildly inappropriate overtaking. We survived though.
The wall itself was incredible. We were taken to a part which was practically empty and in the process of being renovated . It was rather dangerously falling apart in places so was more like rock climbing than hiking. Our tour guide Steven (We suspect this may not be his real name) walked us up about ten steps, stopped, and gave an exasperated little speech about the wall. He then basically left us to explore it ourselves, a relief frankly because I’m pretty sure he would’ve collapsed if he’d had to climb any more stairs.
We’re off to do some more bits and bobs in Beijing over the next couple of days. On Sunday night we’re travelling to Xi’an by bullet train to go and see the Terracotta Army.