Travelling to remote
China may appear overwhelming for many Canadians, but my wife and I travelled there for the Olympic Summer Games in 2008, returning with fond memories of the country and its people.
We have experienced three Olympic Games: Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010. We are 'extreme Olympic Games fans.' We leave with no tickets and no accommodations! (More on that some time later.) What follows is a list of the must-see sites in Beijing along with a few tips.
First, one requires a VISA to enter China, so plan a trip to a Chinese Consular Office (one in Toronto) well in advance of your trip. One can also acquire much information from the Chinese tourism offices. We visited an office in downtown Toronto as part of our pre-trip planning, where we secured maps and guide books written by Chinese authorities in English. We also believe in reading multiple tour books to get a handle on the 'must-see' sites.
Trips were made to the northern part of the city to visit both the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, the signature Olympic venues, stunning buildings and photographer's delights, especially at night with the colourful lighting. The buildings are close to one another and easily accessible via Beijing's efficient
Cabs are cheap. We took 30-minute cab rides during the Olympics and paid under $5 CDN. Traffic was often restricted and the roads congested, so public transit was a better option. We found that by showing our cab drivers the Chinese name (from a map) of our desired destination, we were able to overcome the language barrier.
We also enjoyed a trip to
the Great Wall of China and recommend the two- hour trip to the entrance at Simatai, less visited and congested. The vistas are stunning and the physical structures are breathtaking. Bring your sturdiest hiking shoes or boots since the terrain is treacherous in spots. You take a one-hour bus ride followed by a one-hour cab ride to reach Simatai.
Be certain to ride the zip-line down, a breathtaking end to your tour and a life-long highlight. Another must-see in Beijing is the
Tiananmen Square, adjacent to the
Forbidden City. A small fee is charged to enter the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is worth seeing simply for its sheer vastness. The Forbidden City boasts exquisite architecture. Don't forget the Royal Gardens!
No trip to Beijing is complete without a trip to the
Silk Market, a massive shopping market that overflows with electronics, silk products, knock-off high-end clothing and merchants willing to barter to earn your business!
During our stay in Beijing, we actually found time to acquire tickets and take in 7 Olympic events...as they say - priceless!
Fred Masters and his wife Kathy reside in Kitchener. Fred has performed technical review work for a major Canadian textbook company. Both are avid "last minute" travellers who have attended three Olympic Games. (Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010)