Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beijing - Imperially modern

Temple of heaven

Beijing is powerful and imposing, you can tell as soon as you arrive that you are visiting a city assured of its own significance.  The sheer scale of the structures here immediately makes you realise that this land knew it was going to be powerful, influencial and densely populated - how's that for planning ahead.

This city is also a hybrid of themes and styles; soviet-inspired communist monuments and buildings merge with imperial temples and palaces.  Beijing seems improvised yet it is perfectly organised and has traditional elements fused with quirky modern touches.

I loved hanging out trying some traditional cuisine whislt enjoying the view in Houhai, Beijing's lake area.  Walking around in general took its toll as everything is huge but at least my legs were toned by the end of it.  Shopping was a lot of fun here, from the smart boutiques of Wangfujing to the crazy hassling and haggling of the Silk Market - you can't walk by a stall without the vendor shouting out "You want to buy _________?  I give you best price, very good quality."  It is a sight to be seen and is wonderfully exhausting. 

Houhai at night - the only time to go

Part of our brief trip was a visit to the great wall, which was an added bonus and a life-long dream.  We chose the Simatai region as it is unrestored and untamed, the ideal location for a great  hike.  Another benefit of this area is that it is virtually empty, we must have seen no more than 10 people for the few hours we were there, an absolute contrast after the crowded, bustling streets of Beijing.   

The Great Wall - practically deserted

After the Taj Mahal, I thought nothing could ever leave me in awe again but the wall has her own breathtaking tricks.  Being able to amble through the watch towers practically alone gives you an idea of the vastness of this epic structure and of China as a whole.  The wall weaves over a patchwork blanket of green, extending as far as the eye can see for some 6,000 kilometers or 4,000 miles. 

I was happy to return to China after having lived in Hong Kong in 1997 just after the handover back to the Chinese (wow was it that long ago?).  It remains a fantastic destination and Beijing in particular sells you memories you are happy to pay for. 

Next week:  Japan

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