If you want to see a quiet and impressive part of the Great Wall, take a taxi to Simuatai (about two hours). Once you entered the Wall area, just before you about to climb on to the wall, walk through the wall and carry on the track for about 300 metres - you will come to the Dongpo Restaurant. It looks from the outside more like a shed but the owner is lovely and the Chinese food fantastic. An English menu is available, the owner will try her best to improve her English while talking to you.
Grand palace built for the emperor of China, fantastic site. To get the full experience I recommend the audio tour. Why? It guides you in English (or any other language) around the site explaining what went on. The best bit is the voice is none other than James Bond, Roger Moore.
Fish Nation serves the best fish and chips, pizzas and salads in Beijing. They also have English beers and ciders. What's more - it's on one of Beijing's oldest hutongs and their cute little roof terrace is perfect for eating good grub while viewing the old hutongs and soaking up the sun.
We had a fantastic time in Beijing; it's definitely one of my favourite Asian cities. It has an energy about it (aside from that generated by the neon signs and buildings everywhere) that's very infectious and belies its reputation as a bit of a concrete jungle.
One of the best things I did was to take a bicycle around the backstreet hutongs of the city, true Chinese style. The architecture is from Imperial times and it really feels like you're stepping back in time to when the Forbidden City was still really forbidden to mere mortals. This way you can escape the crowds too, and find some street markets where you can bargain to buy anything from knockoff designer clothes to Chairman Mao alarm clocks and the ubiquitous Little Red Book. And make sure you have your hotel's business card so you can show it to someone when you get lost!
Not to say that the 'New' Summer Palace isn't worth seeing - it is - but escape the crowds here at the 1709 original. Left in ruins by a joint act of vandalism by British and French troops (the English disease was alive and well, even in 1860), a lot still survives. You'll certainly be surprised at the mock Grecian architecture, evidence that even during the Qing Dynasty China did sometimes look out to the world.
Qinghua Xilu 28, Wudaokou.
For a comprehensive view of Chinese history encompassing its trinity of influential philosophies, take an afternoon to visit Beijing’s Taoist and Confucian temples, finishing up at the Buddhist Lamasery. Far more enlightening than a tiresome push and shove round the Forbidden City or the Great Wall at Badaling.
Best itinerary is to take a taxi to Baiyun Guan (White Cloud Tao Temple) on Baiyun Guan Lu. Then taxi it to Kong Miao (Confucian Temple) and finally cross the road to Yonghe Gong (Tibetan Lamasery) - both are on Yonghe Gong Dajie, close to Yonghe Gong Metro.
Face it - you might think you're going to visit every far-flung corner of the Middle Kingdom but if you're only in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, forget it. Instead head for this Tibetan Lamasery. The largest of its kind outside the real deal, with its aroma of incense and yak butter, it’s a brief taste of the roof of the world.
Yonghe Gong Dajie 12
Yonghe Gong Metro Station
In the early morning, there are groups of people practicing all types of kung fu and tai chi chuan. Many people contentedly entertain each other with music, songs or quietly playing cards. You can also practice with them if you are so inclined. This is another good activity for the jetlagged.
What makes the temple unique is the century-old trees - line upon line of Chinese cypress, Chinese juniper and scholar trees. Some of the cypresses are more than 600 years old. Dr Henry Kissinger, when he visited the temple, stated that while the USA could recreate the Temple of Heaven if it desired, it could not create the trees!
Reconstructed, re-opened, and smoothly re-surfaced, Dongcheng District's Nanluoguxiang is one such hutong.
The flood of tasty restaurants, cosy bars, and unique shops that run up and down the hidden street will no doubt remove the lane from the list of Beijing's best- kept secrets. Still, despite the renovations and ongoing grand openings, this area has retained its original essence of an inner-sanctuary. The fact that public toilets outnumber the private ones also add a certain cultural authenticity.
If in the area, this hutong is definitely worth wandering around aimlessly, day or night, ohhing and ahhing along the way.
This place is in the guide books but nobody seems to bother with it. It's a real escape from the hustle and bustle outside. There's also a tea shop with friendly staff (unfortunately they don't speak much English) across the street.
Across the road from the Lama Temple (Yonghegong) 100m down the lane on the right, opposite a vegetarian restaurant.
As well as the usual Jinshanling or Simatai Great Wall tours, you can also explore other parts which are completely unrestored. Beijing Leo Hostel run a tour/hike to Secret Shen Shui Hu for 100rmb.
It should be noted that you're not always following the path of the wall itself, and if you want to get the 'classic' wall experience (and photos) take another tour instead of, or as well as, this one. On the other hand, you will definitely avoid crowds and hawkers.
Beijing Leo Hostel, Guang Ju Yuan, 52, Da Zha Lan Xi Jie, Qianmen
It’s worth buying a ticket with an audio tour included at the main entrance. That way you’ll have Roger Moore giving a cool, sophisticated commentary as you stroll around this incredible imperial palace. Also, there’s usually less of a queue here for tickets than the main ticket office.
Pick up an audio tour by the main entrance, coming from Tiananmen Square.
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