Somewhere to unwind in Beijing? Here are the top spa hotels.
It started from the minute I walked out of the Beijing train station, as soon as my foreigner’s face was hit by the Beijing sunshine or lack of, there was someone hustling for access to my wallet. ‘Hellooo, taxi…taxi, sir’. where do you want to go?’ said the suspiciously casually dressed man hoping to snag an overpriced fare.
This guy is not a legit taxi, luckily I had been warned to avoid the touting taxi drivers that hover around the terminals. Their trick is to quote an upfront fee of 100 yuan, which in many cases can be five times what you would pay by the meter! I’d rather wait and find a real taxi.
The Lama Temple in Beijing is a functioning lamasery for Tibetan and Mongolian monks practicing Tibetan Buddhism. It’s open to visitors, and is a very popular tourist attraction featuring well preserved ancient architecture and artifacts, along with friendly monks roaming the grounds!
As a primer, the word lama is another name for a Buddhist priest, and a lamasery is a place for monks to practice their beliefs on the journey to becoming a lama. It’s somewhat hard to imagine that someone could find spiritual enlightenment in the middle of bustling Beijing, but nonetheless, this is quite a special place.
This was my first trip to the Badaling section of the Great Wall and went with a tour group and I’m going to tell you why that’s a really bad idea from the first-hand experience. After that, I tell you what you should really do.
As the tour bus left the Ming Tombs the guide started talking about jade, and then tea, my eyes rolled into the back of my head. To explain; it’s quite common for tour services to take gullible foreigners to ‘jade galleries’ and tea houses featuring ‘genuine green tea’ for sale.
Still feeling pretty ordinary and very tired I chose to join a tour group to see the Great Wall rather than go through all the challenges of how to get there and back. I asked the tour desk at the hotel and the got me into a tour the next morning.
A minibus picked me up from the hotel early in the morning and off we went, all three of us, a grand total of five including the driver! Cool, this could be ok! First stop was the Ming Tombs, the tour desk didn’t tell me about this one but ok, I’ll go along, it looks interesting.
BeigongmenThe Summer Palace is an imperial garden built by Emperor Qianlong in 1750 to celebrate his mothers birthday, it was later used as a garden where emperors and empresses would escape the heat of Beijing’s summers.
The palace covers a staggering 290 hectares featuring a massive lake, temples, halls, pavilions, corridors, towers which are decorated with fine stone, bronze sculptures and feature paintings, all amongst a garden of ancient pines and cypress trees.
A major feature of the Summer Palace is the man-made Kunming Lake covering over 2 square kilometers and having three islands all connected via beautiful stone bridges.
Tian’anmen Square has had its moments in history, but in front of me today I see a massive public space, full of people enjoying themselves in what is the heart of Beijing.
It’s the largest outdoor square in the world and contains the Meridian Gate (southern entrance to the Forbidden City), Great Hall of the People on its western side, Mao Zedong Memorial Hall on its southern side, China National Museum to the east and in the center is the Monument of the Peoples Heroes.
Tiananmen Square Location Map
The Forbidden City was once the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and was originally constructed in early 1400’s. The city was once off-limits to the general public and home to 24 successive emperors. Now, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world attracting over 7 million visitors a year.
Jump to: Forbidden City Travel Tips – Opening Hours & Ticket Price – Food & Beverage – Visitor Services – Getting There – Forbidden City Map – Suggested tour routes through the palace – Forbidden City/Palace Museum Beijing Location Map + Hotels – History of the Forbidden City
Beihai Park in Beijing is over 1000 years old and covers an area of 690,000 square meters featuring a large peaceful lake, ancient temples, and an islet featuring a 36m high Buddhist shrine in the form of a Tibetan Dagoba.
The ‘White Dagoba’ (also referred to as the White Pagoda) located on Jade Islet towers over the park and can easily be seen from afar. It was originally built in the late 1600’s by a Qing Dynasty Emperor in recognition of the Buddhist faith.
Beihai Park is an easy place to spend a lot of time if your keen to relax and unwind. There is plenty of seats around the lake and you can even hire row boats.
After nearly one month on the road things had started to catch up with me, I was tired. Apart from being on your feet 12 hours a day, walking up things, down things, getting lost then more lost, there’s also the mental load as you never stop thinking. Even simple tasks become complex in country where you don’t speak the language.
Now that I think about it, it’s been a constant mental and physical load for the time I’ve been here in China, apart from the relaxing phases when I have had wonderful guides that have made things so easy!
Jingshan Park in Beijing is located in front of the north gate of the Forbidden City and is well worth a visit if only for the view of the city that it offers.
Entry to the park is only 2RMB and the site, which covers 230,000 square meters, features a number of pavilions dating back to around 1750 along with native gardens.
The pavilions, which once contained copper casts of Buddhist Deities prior to being plundered during a civilian uprising in the 1900’s, are specially positioned to offer a unique experience to the senses.
Sanlitun Village Beijing is a recently built sleek shopping complex packed with luxury brand names. I didn’t spend too long here as I was more interested in the Ya Show Clothing Market which is just next door.
I did have a coffee at the Starbucks and used there free wi-fi! Brand name stores at the site include Apple’s and Adidas’s flagship stores along with many others, a cinema, restaurants, cafes and a Uniqlo store which features discount clothing.
Well known and well visited by tourists, the Silk Market is seven floors of clothing, shoes, bags, fashion accessories, leather goods, traditional Chinese crafts, calligraphy, carpets, home fabrics, paintings, hand-knitted dresses, toys, trinkets and souvenirs, fine jewelry and more. There are also plenty of custom tailors for suits etc.etc. Most stall operators speak English.
Apparently, the market operators are trying to clean up the image of Silk Street, and there’s plenty of signage around the market about ‘buying with confidence’ and the ability to return goods if not satisfied, and they are also trying to remove sellers of brand name copies, fake goods and the like. I think it’s safe to ignore this and consider everything to be fake, and that once you hand over the cash, you own it.
UPDATE: this market is no longer
Sanlitun Yashou Clothing Market is five floors of clothing and fashion (notice its name can sometimes be translated as Ya Show or Yashou or even Yaxui!). Including men’s and women’s clothes, suits, women’s bags, luggage bags, leather goods, shoes and more. It’s located right next door to Sanlitun Village, a new and ultra-modern shopping complex featuring many big brand name stores.
Inside the five-storey building is jam-packed with independently operated market stalls with staff that won’t let you past with you know what they have for sale! But note, if you see anything here with a brand name on it at Yashow Clothing Market, check the authenticity.
Wangfujing Street is one of the largest and most well-known shopping streets in Beijing. Featuring a mix of large modern department stores, luxury brand name outlets, small retail shops, and markets. What’s interesting is that this has been an active commercial street for over 700 years!
The street is pedestrian only for half its length with plenty of room, which is fortunate for the many thousands of people visit here daily! The street is quite long and if you like shopping you could lose a day here no problem. Or maybe longer.
There is no shortage of places to go shopping in Beijing, if that’s what you’re into, you can find markets, retail department stores, mega-malls and the quirky side streets packed with all sorts of odd goods.
You can haggle a great price on souvenirs, no-name, and copy goods at the markets, and enjoy some savings on brand name quality goods at the major modern malls. Although in some cases you may find prices similar to the west, particularly on goods that are imported into China.
For detailed info on shopping markets and malls in Beijing check out goshopbeijing.com.
The first thing that struck me about the Redwall Hotel was the incredible service provided by the concierge team. As soon as I put my foot on the steps of the hotel there was someone bounding out the front door to help with my luggage and escort me to the reception to check in.
Oddly, and to my benefit, the concierge even helped out in securing the best rate possible and matching the Ctrip price which initially the reception desk was unable to do.
The hotel is starting to show some age, the rooms are kept very clean and are well maintained with everything working as it should. Unfortunately, the same cant be said about the restaurant, it’s rubbish, the food is average and the place looks like it hasn’t had a decent clean in years, it really lets the rest of the hotel down. The breakfast is acceptable though, and reasonably priced by Beijing standards, but I’m sure better could be found if you were prepared to travel away from the hotel.
My first time on a train in China was on the overnight trip from Xian to Beijing. China has many different classes of train and this one was the ‘Z’ train. This Z train (the Z20) was no old rattler, it was near new modern, clean and very comfortable train!
Apparently it’s wise to buy train tickets in advance so I did so a couple of days ahead of leaving Xian and had no trouble getting a ticket. There are two places to buy train tickets in Xian, either at the main train station which is just outside the city wall on the north side towards the east or go to a small little booking window which is on the side wall of the ICBC bank in the main center of Xian. At the time the lady at this office also spoke english.