My trip to Beijing was with an SAS tour group in a trip sponsored by the University of Peking. Originally we were supposed to begin this trip in the northern port city Qindao but we were rerouted to Hong Kong to avoid the center of the Typhoon Shanshan which reared it’s head the night we left Japan. This caused my trip in China to be shortened considerably.
Day 1: Fly from Hong Kong to Beijing. Dinner with students at Peking University.
Day 2: Cloisonné Factory, Ming Tombs, Great Wall of China, Peking Duck Dinner, Acrobat Show
Day 3: Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Fly from Beijing to Hong Kong
Day 4: Explore Hong Kong. Dim sum lunch, the Ladies Market, Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island
Cloisonné Factory: Cloisonné is beautiful and it was interesting to see it made but it was more of a ploy to get you to spend copious amounts of money on cloisonné pieces. Overall I don’t really recommend unless you are a huge fan of the stuff.
Ming Tombs: I was excited to see these but disappointed by what I got. The architecture is beautiful, built in the typical ming style (ie the Forbidden City) but the tombs themselves are fairly empty and pretty boring. Not really worth the long climb down into the tombs and back up. They’d be woth a visit to see the exteriors but not really worth the trek inside.
Great Wall of China at Juronggunag Pass: This isn’t the place where you get the typical postcard view of the great wall where miles and miles stretch along mountain ridges as far as the eye can see. Instead at this point it climbs higher and higher up a mountainside until eventually you are the highest point in the entire great wall. Those who reach the top are called a “Hero” and you can even get a souvenir card to prove it.
The Temple of Heaven: The Temple of Heaven is I’m sure an awesome place to visit anyway but we went on a Saturday morning when the grounds are even more lively. Singing groups were scattered all over the grounds practicing different arrangements. Men and women ball room danced in open areas and others played Tai Chi Ball, luring in the unsuspecting tourists to give it a try and then when they decided they liked it sell them the game (which was actually quite challenging and a lot of fun). The Temple itself had just been restored so the colors were quite vivid.
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City: As a giant picture of Mao hangs on one side of you and his mausoleum towers on the other side you find it hard to take in such an enormous place. Cross the street and walk under Maos’ watchful gaze to gain entrance into the Forbidden city. Unfortunately the Hall of Supreme Harmony (the one everyone pictures when they see the forbidden city) was being restored while I was there for the upcoming Olympics, good news though, that means that it is now open and very beautiful. It really didn’t matter anyway because all of the buildings in the city look the same. Be wary of college students who lurk around and will offer to take you to an art exhibition, they really just want to sell you art.
Markets: The Kowloon side offers many markets. I visited the Ladies market (and surrounding markets) and was pretty impressed. I got some good deals on knockoff lesportsac items and I got to view some really cool miniature turtles in the pet market
Hong Kong Island: I had originally planned on going to Victoria Peak, but the weather that day was not cooperating (so one day I must go back right). We walked around for a little while. Took in the enormous buildings and observed the Philippina maids on their day off “protest day.” The Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong was a pretty nice and picturesque ride and cheap as well.
Hong Kong Light show: Every night at 8:00 the buildings on Hong Kong Island but on a neon laser light show. It’s pretty spectacular. I recommend observing this from the Kowloon side where you can get a panoramic view of the event.