Beijing was never a city I dreamt of visiting. Mexico, Budapest, Cuba, New York these are places I dream of visiting. But Beijing, smeh.
I knew one day I would like to see China. In that broad way you say you want to travel. You don’t pinpoint what or where in China you would like to see, but you’re open to it.
In August 2016 my sassy flatmate was seconded to Beijing. We spoke about me coming to visit, her: you should come!, me: yeah! And that was it. As I started to realise she was coming back to London soon I knew it was now or never.
Originally I planned on visiting in January 2017 and taking a week off work, but after a reshuffle I realised the Christmas break was the perfect time for a visit.
After hosting my fellow orphans for Christmas Day I woke up on Boxing Day a little precious, finished my last minute packing and booked the National Express to Gatwick.
London to Beijing is a 10 hour flight when going direct. My trip to Beijing taught me a valuable lesson: do I put more weight on the financial cost of something or on the effort and the time it takes me?
Getting to Beijing
When booking my flight to Beijing I found a flight for £440. It was with Ukraine International Airlines and required a stop over in Kiev both ways. The flight left London at 3:00am and arrived in Beijing at 2:00am, and the return leg departed Beijing a week later at 3:30am. At the time of booking I rationalised that instead of going to bed, I’ll just go to the airport. And yes I did it, I survived and I slept on the plane, but it came at a cost.
Arriving in Kiev for my stop over, I managed to make my way through the airport quite easily and was back on the plane within 90 minutes. But then the trouble started. An issue with the luggage required a 2 and a half hour delay with all of us on the plane, at the gate. The stewards couldn’t answer any questions and it took them 90 minutes of us sitting on the plane before they even started offering water.
There was no food offered on the leg from London to Kiev, and from Kiev to Beijing you were offered a step up from gruel and had to purchase alcohol. The entertainment package was on communal screens and playing was Harry Potter and Jingle all the way.
On the way back we were again delay in Kiev, this time for an hour.
This trip was a travel lesson. You can’t have it all so you need to pick: money in the wallet or an enjoyable travel experience.
Arriving in Beijing
After the two hour delay at Kiev I was really worried about touching down on the other end. I was staying with Laura (the sassy flatmate), but she was still in London since she’d come back for Christmas. I had her house keys and a man was meeting me at the airport, but after a two and a half hour delay, plus getting through customs I didn’t meet him until nearly 5:30am—three hours after the agreed pick up time.
Luckily, my man was still there at the airport and he got me to my front door with no issue.
Driving through Beijing at 5:30 in the morning I couldn’t help but notice how crazy the drivers were. Sure there were lanes on the road, but these seemed to be more suggestions than rules. Drivers were hugging two lanes and if someone wanted to actually overtake they would just honk and the hugger would move into one lane, before cruising back into two.
Arriving in the flat it was lights out for a quick nap before taking the city on.
Day 1 in Beijing
My first day in Beijing was probably my favourite. Waking up around 11am after a nap, I got showered and dressed and headed out to take on the city.
Laura’s flat backed onto a shopping mall so it was the perfect place for me to get familiar with my surroundings. A shopping mall is such a familiar sight, even in a foreign city, that it was the perfect place to see the city in action while feeling really safe. I got to see the locals at work or at lunch, check out the type of stores, hear the language and make my way to the food court where I could easily point out what I wanted from the menu.
Day 1’s first meal ended up being a rice dish where the rice is cooked in the bowl, so it’s all burnt and sticky on the bottom—yumma yumma!. It was topped with pork belly, limited greens and some beans. It was delicious, filling and for a budget saving £3.
At those prices, a girl could get used to Beijing.
After a wander around the shops and a Starbucks coffee, I was ready to really get into Beijing. First on the itinerary, Beihai Park
Beihai Park is the most beautiful, calming, spectacular park. It has to be a must see on anyone’s Beijing itinerary.
My recommendations is to start in the south east entrance near the Jade Inlet. There are two south entrances, so make sure you enter through the one that’s more east. This way you can see the Jade Inlet and walk east along the lake before heading north to see the Nine Dragon Screen and coming a little bit down on the west to see the Bell Tower.
Wandering through the park, must sees are the White Dagoda, Nine Dragon Screen and Five Dragon Pavilions.
I timed my visit to Beihai Park exceptionally and after visiting all I wanted to see in the park the sun was setting and I blessed with the most stunning sky transforming from blue, to pink to orange.
Happy with my day in Beihai Park I left and made my way for a cab, showed them my address in Chinese and I was ready for meal number two.
Dinner in Beijing
My second meal in Beijing was again in the ShiMao Shopping Mall, but this time I went to a restaurant, Nanling Impressions.
I adored this restaurant. They’ve decorated it to look like a historical Chinese restaurant with lanterns, wooden tables and benches to sit on and traditional string music playing.
The menu was in English and had photos. I went for the beef brisket and was bought out enough food for two people, or me!
The soup had a stunning broth, full of flavour, with vermicelli noodles, some greens and beef brisket. Well, it said beef brisket on the menu, but once I received the soup I think this was more a chuck steak than brisket as it was incredibly fatty. In all fairness, those cuts are right next to each other but I think more chuck got in my soup than brisket. Still tasty though.
I put myself to bed around 10pm and ended up sleeping terribly. Thanks to jet lag I got about five hours sleep before waking up at 2am for my day trip to the Great Wall of China.
Next in my four part series Where Rebecca Travels: Beijing, I head out to the Great Wall of China for a half day trekking. Stay tuned for more of my travel guide to Beijing.
Have you been to Beijing? Did you love Beihai Park as much as me? Leave me a comment about your trip to China and let me know what you think of my travel guide to Beijing.