Getting to Beijing was one of those travel days. You know the type, where your plane is delayed a number of times and you start to feel a cold coming on and you keep dreaming of that sweet moment you can bury yourself into your hotel bed. After arriving and finding our very cool little hotel in the backstreets of Beijing’s Hutongs, I collapsed into bed and stayed there for the entire next day, struck down in my prime with a cold. My one day out of action put us a day behind our Beijing plans, so we hit the ground running on Tuesday morning. I had expected Beijing to be heavily polluted and really noisy, buzzing and a little bit ‘in your face.’ Turns out it was the total opposite. We awoke to bright blue skies, lush green trees, smiling locals and a general feeling of calmness and zen in the air. Matt had been the one to choose our hotel and he absolutely nailed it. Away from the usual soulless touristy crap and massive hotels, we had found a little oasis. Our Hutong (small street) had everything you could ever need in it, from awesome cafes and restaurants to quirky little boutique clothes and art shops. Everything about the place oozed rest and relaxation, which is exactly what we did. It slowed down the pace of the trip for us, pushing us to unwind a little and fall into the local rhythm.
Our first proper day exploring we took off to Jingshan Park and boy, did we nail it. The weather turned the city into a pretty, sparkling little oasis. Walking through the park everything was so lush and beautiful. Local ladies practice their dancing in groups or sit together and talk under the shade of trees. We climbed to the top of the park and a lookout area with a beautiful bright red and royal blue temple offering stunning views of the Forbidden City and Beijing. It honestly took my breath away. It was the perfect place to get my first real look at Beijing and it absolutely floored me. I couldn’t quite take it all in at first, it was so surreal. We had to sit for a minute and let it soak in while we came to grips with what we were looking at. When you see something on the internet, in movies and imagine it in your mind’s eye for so long, it’s amazing when you actually see it in person. While we’d struggled to find local food in Guangzhou, it was the total opposite in Beijing. On every street we found restaurants and cafes we wanted to eat at and there was absolutely no shortage of dumplings! I can’t tell you how many dumplings I ate over the course of last week, but it was definitely a lot. Each restaurant serve theirs slightly differently, making it hard to compare them, but they were all fantastic and really well priced compared to the stuff we eat at our local Yum-Cha restaurant at home. I may never be able to stomach Yum-Cha again. The serenity and calm, welcoming vibe of our Hutong put both Matt and I into some kind of zen, blissful state. We stuck to the Hutong and the area around our hotel for the first two days, getting around on foot and finding it hard to get lost. We walked all day, finding hidden pockets of beautiful streets and incredibly well-kept public gardens. On the third day we decided it was time to get it together and head to the touristy spots near Tiananmen.
As we arrived at the subway station we realised it was peak hour. We headed down toward the platform and I suddenly froze. It felt like there were thousands of people streaming down toward the platform and suddenly, to me, they looked like something out of the Matrix or a Sci-Fi movie. It looked like a swarm of thousands were rushing down and my anxiety kicked in. I shook my head and told Matt I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go down there and I couldn’t get on the train. I was freaking the heck out and I had to get out of there. He whisked me up to the street and we walked a while, waiting for the peak hour rush to subside. I don’t know if any of you guys experience social anxiety or any kind at all, but when it gets you like that, there’s nothing you can do. I had a good old-fashioned freak out! After a bit of walking we found a much quieter train station and I tried again, this time with a lot less people freaking me out. Crowds aren’t my strong-point. Tiananmen, however, turned out to be crowd central. It immediately snapped us right out of our Hutong bliss-out and shoved us into the heart of thousands of swarming tourists and selfie-sticks. We were both overwhelmed. I had forgotten what it was like to visit a HUGE tourist site like the Eiffel Tower and the Roman Colosseum. Nonetheless, it was still pretty awesome to see it in person, but I was glad to get back to the calmness of the Hutong later that day. I would never have anticipated Beijing having that softer side, but it does and it’s awesome and it’s exactly where I’ll be recommending people stay when I write up my Beijing guides when I get back home.
We stuffed up our plans a bit and couldn’t get out to the Great Wall on the train like we thought we could. Instead we found a great driver online who we contacted very last minute and sorted a trip out for us. I’ll write a whole blog post or two just about the Great Wall it was so cool. I’d heard mixed reviews, some people saying it wasn’t worth it, but I absolutely loved it. It’s another one of those moments, like when you see the Roman Colosseum, and it suddenly strikes you just how massive it is and you start to realise how difficult it would have been to build it. Rather than lugging our fat butts along the wall for hours, we found a shady spot and just sat for a half hour, soaking it all in. It was definitely a highlight of our stay in Beijing. By the end of the week there I was ready to move on, having had more than my fair share of local goodness and dumplings. Every moment there was amazing and brought with it something that will stay with me forever. It has definitely been one of my favourite cities I’ve visited. I knew I’d like it, I just never expected to like it that much. This week we are in Hangzhou and Huangshan, which will see us getting to experience China’s natural beauty. We’re talking massive lakes, huge mountains and some pretty amazing sights. It’s a different side to what we’ve seen so far and I’m really happy about the chance to reconnect with myself and the Earth again by being around trees and water. The Universe has been urging me to rest this week, so that’s exactly what I plan to do. Thanks, Universe!
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.