Olympics Tourist Manual: High-Impact Beijing Day 1

Culture | by Dan Shapiro
Posted: June 27th, 2008 | Updated: July 16th, 2010 | Comments
Warning: High-Impact Beijing is a rigorous program for travelers with limited time and serious curiosity about the wonders of China's capital.... If you suffer from heart disease, low blood sugar, chronic fatigue or are currently taking prescription medications, please consult your physician before commencing with the below recommendations. We recommend printing this guide for easy and portable reference. Below is a complete itinerary for Day 1; click here for Day 2. This is part of the ChinaTravel.net Beijing Olympics Tourist Training Manual... come back for more insider tips on getting the most out of your Beijing trip. Getting Started: What You'll Need To execute this itinerary, we suggest you assemble an old-fashioned survival pack for times of thirst, hunger and doubt.  Beijing can be hot, and, combined with the absence of convenience stores or supermarkets in the city center, this can leave tourists with few options beyond overpriced snack foods. Bring bottled water (don't be shy, go for a couple of large 1.5-liter containers—when you finish them you can use the extra space for souvenirs you pick up along the way and you'll make a random Chinese person's day, as recycling has become a desirable profession in 21st-century China), fresh fruit (be sure to wash it...seriously) and some sort of trail mix, nuts or chips should suffice for the day. Wear the most comfortable pair of walking shoes you own. A small tube of hand sanitizer and roll of toilet paper will be in your best interest. And make sure you have plenty of free memory for your digital camera and, ideally, a charged up mobile phone. If you need backup batteries for anything else, its best to bring them, as some shops have been known to sell pricey short-lived knockoffs. Day 1 – 8:00-9:30 am Though the sightseeing portion of High Impact Beijing begins at 10, we urge you to eat a solid breakfast before heading out for the day. Many of Beijing's attractions lack quality food establishments, and as with any sightseeing destination, what you manage to find usually comes with a serious markup. A substantial meal combined with the aforementioned survival kit should be enough until an early dinner, when your hunger will be amply rewarded. 10:00 am – Tianan'men West (or East) Subway Station The underground (or metro or subway if you prefer—the Chinese call it the ditie) is the only way to arrive within reasonable proximity of the South gate of the Forbidden City (紫禁城 also known as Gugong in Mandarin) and the most famous portrait of Mao Zedong in history. For now, don't worry about heading into the main square—we'll get there tomorrow. Just stay north of Chang'An Jie. After snapping off a series of awkward, funny, serious and candid photos of yourself and/or travel companions with the Great Helmsman in the background (notice how the majority of Chinese doing the same thing almost never crack a smile), head inside the forbidden terrain, making sure to grasp the golden orbs that decorate nearly every door and gate. There's some culturally relevant superstitious reason to (wo)manhandle the ornaments; I don't know what it is, but you don't want to look like some clueless tourist do you? And it'll give you a chance to use that hand sanitizer. Until you've purchased tickets (RMB 60 in recent years, though there may well be an increase for the Olympics), you're not really inside the prohibited territory, so stroll through another set of gates before proceeding to the ticket booth. 10:30 am – Forbidden City Once inside the southern Meridian Gate it becomes apparent the lengths Ming and Qing emperors were willing to go through to separate themselves from the common people. The towering gates and vermillion walls that line the expanse once inspired commoners who somehow chanced to glimpse them to cower in fear for their lives; today, they'll immediately inspire you to join the masses in taking photo after photo (Heaven bless digital technology). You could easily spend an entire day in the Forbidden City (super-fans of The Last Emperor could probably swing two), but given that HIB-ers are on a time-constrained mission, it's best to look around, read the most prominent placards, and take a few moments to realize that you are in what is most likely the most elite place in history (it can be easy to forget when a chubby, sweaty tourist in a fake Adidas mesh tank top steps on your foot while scarfing down a Snickers bar). Of all the various halls and gates in the Forbidden City, the ones along the main axis – the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Middle Harmony, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony – have the most historical importance. They also have the largest crowds of local tourists lining up to see an imperial throne in a gaudily decorated chamber. Rather than try and push your way through the locals (you will lose) to catch a brief glimpse of a chair inset with some gem stones, HIB recommends wandering around and getting "lost" on purpose. The Forbidden City was built to confuse, making it harder on would-be assassins or rebelling soldiers in from the provinces, so don't fight the architecture. Rest assured, though, that despite the size and labyrinthine layout, you can't really get lost – you're in an enclosed space with only a few entrances and if you keep walking, you can't help but stumble upon one. You have time to enjoy the magic of the place...but you don't have time to fight the crowds. So let yourself go and soak up the ambiance of the wide spaces, ancient gates and huge halls. If you continue heading north, you'll find your way through. To the northwest lie the Gate of Peaceful Old Age and the Hall of Imperial Supremacy; to the west are the residences of the imperial concubines. There you'll find several exhibitions and collections that require additional entrance fees; it is the humble opinion of this author that these are not worth it—especially on a time limit.  Also of note are the "4-Star Toilets" just before the Gate of Heavenly Purity (have your sanitizer and TP at the ready, just in case). Continue north through the Gate of Terrestrial Tranquility into the Imperial Garden where you can enjoy the lush greenery and interesting rockeries. After several hours of walking in the sun, you will be here for hours (3-5 depending on your level of interest), the garden is a nice place to enjoy a quick sip of water, munch on whatever snacks you've packed away, and catch your breath before heading out of the north Gate of Divine Prowess. 2:00 pm – Hutong Tour Exiting the north gate of the Forbidden City and heading east on Jingshan Qianjie you'll encounter clusters of Chinese men on rickshaws who will hound you for patronage. Words to the wise: Pass on the first few offers. The further east you walk, the more pedicabs you'll see, improving your ability to bargain for a better deal. Once you've decided on a driver, hop aboard and enjoy the scenery of Beijing's hutong and courtyard homes (siheyuan). Given that many hutong date back to the early Qing era (1644-1911) and a large number are being torn down to make way for 21st-century developments, it is imperative to see these unique neighborhoods now. Even if you plan to return to Beijing, they might be gone by the time you get back. During the hutong rickshaw tour, your driver will pedal his heart out, occasionally offering to stop at local homes that double as unconventional museums where, for a small fee, you can pay to walk inside these courtyard homes. Some are occupied, others only act as tourist attractions. Though not a case of "seen one, seen 'em all," there really is no need to stop and enter more than one or two siheyuan. An hour of hutong-ing is definitely enough time to rest your feet, so, when you've had enough (your driver works by the hour, so work your time out in advance to avoid confusion), ask your guide to drop you off at Beihai Park (北海公园). 3:00 pm – Beihai Park Like many tourist attractions in Beijing, Beihai Park ("North Sea Park") is as notable for its historical significance as for its beauty. Formerly the center of the Mongol capital (Dadu), Beihai's most famous monument is the Tibetan-style White Dagoba, built in 1651 to commemorate the arrival of the Dalai Lama. The fee for the park and the pavilion are both low (recently RMB 10 for each, but again, an Olympic premium may apply) and the views and scenery are well worth it. Beihai offers other attractions and activities, namely boating in the lake, but I advise against it. There are often lines and one false move and could capsize you, rendering the remainder of your day worthless (well, at least put your day on hold while you head back to the hotel to change clothes). 4:30 pm – Bargaining on Wangfujing At this point, you'll be tired. The beating sun and lack of food (hold out as long as you can...I swear there will be a killer dinner at the end of all this you can stick to the regimen) will take their toll. However, looking a bit frazzled and disoriented might just help you during the next segment of HIB. There is no question that every traveler to China wants to load up on cheap souvenirs to bring back to friends and family. Not everyone has the opportunity to fly to the other side of the world, and your loved ones will be delighted to receive your offerings, no matter how small. So, with that said, hop in a taxi and head to Wangfujing Dajie. Even though the main drag of Wangfujing is saturated with shopping malls, electronics stores, and overpriced fabric shops, there is a small alley located west of the central walking area where local merchants sell all the chopsticks (seriously, they make great gifts), fans, silk pajamas, silk-bound notepads and novelty "Mao" items (clocks, watches, pens, manifestos) you can imagine. Of course, the hawkers will offer you rather high prices at first, so find a stall that has what you want (most have an assortment of junk) and work out combo deals. The more you buy, the better your bargaining position, and from the start, take their initial price and counter with ten percent of that. They'll act offended at your lowball efforts, but remember, competition is fierce and they all have similar inventories, so you can afford to walk away if you're not happy. Not to say that 90% off is standard, but it's a good place to start negotiations. No matter what bargaining tactics you employ, maintain a calm and smiling appearance. For the most part, sellers want to make the deal and are friendly, so if you remain composed there's always a way to come to an agreement. Additionally, shopping too early in the day makes bargaining more difficult because merchants know more tourists are coming. Late afternoon is when prices begin to soften and you'll look so tired and pathetic from a long day of sightseeing that, at a certain point, they'll give you a deal just to get rid of you. 6:00 pm – Dinner at Quanjude The moment has arrived! Hot food is on the way! Northeast Wangfujing is home to Quanjude Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant (13 Shuaifuyuan Hutong, Dongcheng District, Tel: 6525 3310). This six-floor mega-restaurant (one of several locations around Beijing) is a staple of every visit to the capital and the duck is delicious. You'll have to wait to be seated, but if you've made it this far, a little more won't hurt you. Upon first glance, the Quanjude menu looks a bit pricey, but you'll eat well. They offer various combinations of duck innards, outers, and pâtés, but stick to the classic kao ya (烤鸭) and a vegetable or a mushroom dish. One duck plus a couple of side items can feed two hungry adults. After your waiter come out and slices up your bird for you, he'll give you some complimentary duck broth and a certificate of authenticity. 8:30 pm – After Dark: Options Now, given that you're in Beijing for the Olympics, it's possible that you may not do 48 consecutive High-Impact hours, but rather break up the program or hit the sack early in anticipation of that early morning track event. You'll probably be drained from a day's walking, but the duck may just give you a second wind. I suggest you get out and explore Beijing's nightlife—you might not be back for a while. The most common, but still exciting, area for drinking and bar hopping is Sanlitun (三里屯 located northeast of Worker's Stadium (Gongren Tiyuchang, 工人体育场 though the main street is rife with prostitutes and over-priced hookah bars, several alleys to the west offer a more down-to-earth vibe and an interesting assortment of locals and Beijing expats. If you're into live music, Beijing's got a vibrant rock scene. Good bets include clubs like D-22 (242 Chengfu Lu,near Wudaokou Subway Station,城府路242号,近五道口地铁站), YuGong Yishan (3-2 Zhangzizhong Lu, Gulou, 张自忠路3-2), Mao Livehouse (111 Gulou Dongdajie, 鼓楼东大街1111号) and 2 Kolegas (21 Liangmaqiao Lu, Nuren Jie, Inside the drive-in movie theater park 亮马桥路21号 汽车电影院内) ll feature excellent local bands every night of the week. If you're looking for a "mega-club" atmosphere, there are several big ones located around Workers Stadium. Whatever your fancy, make sure to catch a couple hours of sleep before waking up for Day Two of High-Impact Beijing.
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