After our 30 hour train journey from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing it was a godsend to have booked a hostel only a 20 minute walk from Beijing central station. What good planning on our part! We stayed in Saga Youth Hostel and I would highly recommend it. It’s only a 12 minute walk from the nearest subway station, close to supermarkets, ATM’s and lots of lovely restaurants. We used the maps.me app to find our way there, however the directions the hostel sent us when we booked via hostelworld would have sufficed. It has 3 floors of rooms, a bar, restaurant, good travel advice and a nice large roof terrace. After checking in we decided we wanted/needed Peking duck and pancakes, of course, being in the formally named Peking. We asked at the hostel reception where the best restaurant nearby was and they gave us a map and told us it was a 5 minute walk away. I have one rule that I abide by when travelling, if the restaurant is busy with locals then it must be a good place to eat… and this place was full of locals. The menu had some poorly translated English, you’ll find that in most places but they also all have pictures. We ordered half a duck between us, some pancakes, 2 nine piece vegetable and sauce selections and 2 beers. Now it wasn’t like the shredded duck you’d get back home, it was sliced roast duck but still the best duck I’d ever tasted. The whole meal came to £10, so £5 each, we were happy customers and on our way. The only problem with the meal was the lack of carbohydrate, so take this into account with your diabetes. I’ve had to reduce my slow acting insulin to 20 units, down from 32 units back home, as I kept going very low in the night. One problem with China is the internet, in order to be able to access a lot of websites you will need to download a VPN. This isn’t illegal in China and a lot of people use one, however it makes the internet connection very slow. Because of this I am struggling to upload photos, so I will add more at a later date.
The next morning we awoke early to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. From our hostel it was a 35 minute walk but we could have taken the subway. The subway in Beijing is excellent and can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go. When arriving at a station you need to put your bags through a scanner, like at an airport but they don’t even look twice and your insulin injections, this is nothing to worry about. Every station has self service ticket machines with an English option. They are clear and easy to use. Just click on the station you wish to visit, pop in your money and you’re good to go. Have your money ready though as they time out pretty quickly. The most expensive price is 7 Yuan, bearing in mind currently its 8.8 Yuan to the pound, and that’s after the Brexit messed everything up!! The majority of subway tickets to the main attractions cost either 3 or 4 Yuan. When arriving at the entrance to Tiananmen Square you have to queue to put your bags through some scanners and once again they don’t even look twice at your insulin needles. There isn’t actually much to see at Tiananmen square, its worth saying you’ve been but apart from that it’s just a big square. The Chinese tourists outnumber the foreign tourists about 3000 to 1, be prepared to be stopped and asked for photos, especially if you have blonde or ginger hair! After Tiananmen square you can head to the Forbidden City, its just across the road. There are 2 ways in, one way through a park which costs you ¥2 to enter, or another way which the majority of people go. It’s worth paying the money to walk through the park as its lovely, less crowded and you can stop and sit for a drink in the sun. After walking through the park you can buy tickets for the Forbidden City, the queues are long but go down quite quickly. We met two Americans, Gigi and Brandon and ended up spending the next 2 days with them. The tickets cost ¥60 but are half price if you have a student card. I showed my driver’s license when buying a ticket and they believed it was a student card, handy tip there, this will save you a fair amount of money and works in every attraction where they offer student prices. The Forbidden City is huge, you can take up to 5 hours walking around if you visit every building, but we just took a straight line through the middle and were still there over 2 hours. From here we used the map.me app to find a nearby cafe, the only problem was it only had western food, it was good in a way I suppose as a pizza had lots of carbs to combat the walking we had done, and still had to do!
After lunch we headed to Jingshan park with the pavilion of the ever lasting spring, which cost a small fee to enter then from there a short walk to Beihai park which again cost a small fee to enter but was well worth it. Here you can hire a boat if you so wish and parts of the lake are covered with bright pink water lilies. From here we headed to Houhai which was a 15 minute walk, this is a street along a river with tons of bars and restaurants, however it’s catered for tourists and we struggled to find a restaurant that served local food. We asked around and got pointed in the direction of a restaurant that specialised in traditional Chinese hot-pot. This is where they place some coals on your table with a chimney surrounded by boiling water, you order your meat and vegetables and using your chopsticks you place your food in the boiling water to cook, when its ready you remove it, dip it in some lovely satay sauce and eat away. The food tasted amazing. We ordered enough food for the 4 of us and it cost us £4 each. From here it was a short walk to the bell and drum towers and then we got the subway back to our hostel. Using the iPhone fitness app it calculated that we walked 15 miles that day, however I’m not sure how accurate it is! It was a great day and we manage to fit a large amount of the attractions in, however this could easily be completed in 2 days instead of 1. That night, once again I woke at 3am with my sugar level very low, again there was hardly any carbohydrate in the dinner and we had done a hell of a lot of walking! Make sure you visit a supermarket early in your trip to have some carbs with you back at the hostel.
The next morning we woke early ready for our trip to the Great Wall. We ended up booking a tour through the hostel to Mutianyu but it wasn’t exactly a tour which was great, you get given breakfast at the hostel, a lift to the sight 70km from the city, then given 3 hours to explore on your own, lunch at a local restaurant and finally a lift back to your hostel. All of this for £31. It is possible to do on your own but I think this is the easiest way and worth it with the money you are paying. It included your entrance ticket but not the cable car up and down. It is possible to walk up and not get the cable car, but this can take up to an hour, especially with the humidity. The price of a return cable car ticket was ¥100 and from here you could visit the restored part of the wall, the semi restored and the totally unrestored part. It was an amazing experience, very hard work climbing up with the humidity, just make sure you have enough food and drink on you for back up. The lunch was a buffet of traditional Chinese dishes which were lovely and from here we headed back to the city. The 4 of us when out for traditional Chinese dumplings. We ordered 44 dumplings between us, pork and celery, beef and a set of vegetable dumplings. The whole meal cost us £3 each. After this we caught the subway over to the Olympic park to see the Birdsnest lit up at night and then headed back to chill in the bar. Again with the lack of carbs and all the walking, make sure you have back up with you.
On our final day in Beijing the weather was atrocious. There was a torrential downpour all day, so make sure you pack your waterproof just in case. We headed over to the summer palace, via the subway. This is a nice site and well worth the visit, half price with your student card/drivers license. From here I headed back to the hostel to have a bit of time to chill, go to the bank and the supermarket and make sure I soaked my Frio packs and pack in preparation for our train to Xian the following morning. The other guys wanted to carry on going so visited the Temple of Heaven, the greenest part of Beijing. If you so wished you could visit the Lama Temple as well and that’s pretty much the main parts visited in 4 days. The food in Beijing is amazing, just be careful with your diabetes. The lack of carbohydrate in the meals and the amount of walking means you will have to reduce your slow acting insulin. From here we get a train to Xian to see the terracotta army and continue our adventures in China.