I’d read many times that the best way to experience Beijing is to explore it by bike. So, since our hotel had posters up everywhere about hiring bikes, it made sense to give it a go. They were ¥50/bike ($8) – seemed that someone had forgotten to update the posters that advertised them for ¥30… The bikes were good enough for us, if a little small and uncomfortable for me. I like to think that I’ve spent a fair amount of time riding bikes, but today I experienced pain on my arse unlike I’d ever experienced before (even compared to hours and hours of racing on rough terrain on a mountain bike).
Beijing is essentially flat and quite well set up for cyclists. The main roads have separate lanes (with a barrier fence). However, you still occasionally see cars, and those weird hybrid tricycle trucks driving down this lane towards you, beeping their horn as you get in the way. Drivers seem to pay attention to cyclists and are aware of them needing to pull out to overtake a bus that has pulled in. For the most part, I actually felt safe riding the streets here (and not a target like in Brisbane). The one main area that doesn’t feel safe is when you have to cross the road… Even with a green light (and them with a red), cars will still try to push their way through. But, with a little courage, we took the locals lead and just ignored them, did our thing, and there were no collisions.
Speaking of collisions, considering how fluid the driving here is, I’ve been surprised at how few accidents we have seen (and at how little damaged cars we’ve spotted). Except, the two times I actually verbalised my thoughts and witnessed small accidents afterwards…
On the bikes we rode back to Nanluogu Hutong area, but it was absolutely packed today (Saturday). It felt like walking around at the Ekka (the Brisbane Royal Exhibition – an agricultural show, that is mostly attended by families with children to buy bags of junk and ride on overpriced rides, not to look at the animals or produce on display and is a disgusting crush of people).
We just started riding down random streets, turning when it looked interesting, going straight when it didn’t. There was always something to look at.
We eventually ended up by the shore of a small lake, which we followed around for a while and ended up in another tourist alley way (which I’m not sure what it was called). Nowhere near as nice as Nanluogu, but looked like it would be quite lively at night time with all the rooftop bars.
Following Houhai Lake south, we could see the man made hill at Jingshan Park. The hill is said to be the earth that was removed to create the moat around the Forbidden City, as well as creating a Feng Shui block for the bad spirits coming from the North. It was a ¥10 entry fee, and the flowers were in full bloom, though it was hard to see them for all the people with phones outstretched taking photos of them. We just climbed to the top of the hill (which felt much bigger than it looked) and admired the (hazy) views out over the city. It made me wonder if it would be worth paying top dollar in Beijing for a top floor apartment, since you might not be getting the view you would normally get.
On the other side of the pagoda that was on the top of the hill, a photo booth had been set up, letting you get dressed in period costume. It was ¥35 ($6), so I thought why not, it’d be a laugh. We had a series of photos taken, and then were told that it was going to be ¥115! I gave the lady her ¥35 and we were both happy.
It was also our first time to look over the Forbidden City, and it was amazing. The area is enormous! Truly something that has to be seen to be appreciated (and the view from this hill was a great vantage to do just that). We could also see just how crowded it was there today (Saturday), so we decided that we’d put it off until Monday, when the weekend tour crowds subside a little.
Lunch was a random little dumpling shop. Again, it was a case of trying to guess what it was based on knowledge of Japanese. It hasn’t failed us so far, and today was no exception. Tasty little handmade dumplings.
Another quick stop to Beihai Park. ¥20 entry ticket. It’s a nice park on a small island. At the top of the small hill is the large White Dagoba, which was a Buddhist structcure quite unlike any of the other structures we’d seen before.
We returned the bikes, riding past the Forbidden City and just being amazed at how many people were there today. Huge swarms of Chinese tourists. It looked like chaos, and made us glad we had the luxury of visiting it a different day.
We also came across some older men who were doing calligraphy with water on the tiles in a park. Their writing was truly amazing, and it was beautiful to watch their perfect strokes.
We thought we’d do some shopping at the Sanlitun clothing market before dinner. It was surprising to see the steady increase of foreigners as we approached the market. It was also surprising to see the concentration of Middle-Eastern restaurants. There were no shortage of Western brand stores in shiny new buildings, but it was the market that we were interested in. Once we were inside it wasn’t quite what we were expecting… Firstly, it seemed the only Chinese people there were the people working at the stalls… Secondly, it was basically the same stuff spread around the five floors. We knew it was going to be a lot of the knock-off clothing, but didn’t expect it to be so repetitive. I actually needed to buy a small packable down jacket, and probably also a waterproof jacket. There were plenty of fake North Face on sale, and at a quick glance the quality didn’t seem too bad, but we just didn’t bother. I did buy a down jacket though, which was interestingly a knock-off Uniqlo (Japanese budget clothing shop). I probably over paid at ¥200 ($30), but if it works as well as it should, then it’s not too bad. Will be handy for Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.
The area was packed with bars and clubs, too. We had a quick walk around looking for a restaurant, but they all were above our budget, so we gave up and left.
We saw a Mongolian BBQ restaurant near our hostel the other night. It smelt awesome, and was busy, so we saved that as a potential for dinner one night. With no other plans, we ended up here. Again, ordering was a little complicated (a giant sheet with nothing but Chinese characters and boxes to tick), but we managed to get some nice lamb and beef, and some vegetables and rice and had a good dinner, even if we’re probably going to be eating a lot more of this when we’re in Mongolia, too…