Beijing, China: Forbidden City & Tiananmen Square

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It was a Friday night, and like other Friday nights when we meet over wine or beer, my friend, Rajni, and I talk about all sorts of stuff. We usually talk about our frustrations at work, but on this particular Friday night, we thought about the idea of travelling together. The trip was very spontaneous -- one day, we found ourselves already booking a flight to Beijing. One month before the trip, we got our visas, booked our hotel, planned our itinerary, and we were good to go!

By the way, I think it's my first time mentioning about Rajni here on my blog. She is one of my few closest friends here in Singapore. We met at work, and we became really good friends despite our different backgrounds. This girl is my colleague, best friend, and mentor rolled into one!

We went to Beijing in November, during the autumn season (my favourite!!!), and it was for only 2 short nights. The reason why the trip was so short is because we both don't have leave credits left. Haha. I told you it was spontaneous.

The flight from Singapore to Beijing was around six hours, and we flew via Air China. We departed at 12:15am, and we arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport at 6:30am. After going through immigration, we went to Starbucks to get our coffee fix and to have a light breakfast. I think it was around 8am when we started travelling to our hotel. We took the airport express going to Chongwenmen station where our hotel is located nearby. We checked in at Novotel Beijing Xin Qiao. Unfortunately, when we reached the hotel, we were not able to check in right away, so we waited. It was around 10am when we finally got to our room. We rested for a few hours before starting the tour.

The weather was extra wonderful that day: the sun was up, the skies were clear, and the temperature was just the right amount of cold. It was perfect because our agenda for the day was to visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. I was really excited to visit these places. I remember when I was still in high school, during my History classes, although I don't like studying the subject (who likes to memorise dates?!), I am always fascinated with places full of history and culture.

We went first to Tiananmen Square. As its name suggests, it is just a massive square. We didn't linger here much, and went straight to the Forbidden City. I don't have a single picture of it. Weird. Anyway, when we reached the vicinity of the Forbidden City, we were greeted by swarms of tourists. The place was huge, and getting into the area was quite confusing at first.

It was around 1pm already that time, and we haven't had our lunch. So before going in, we decided to eat first. Finding a restaurant was tough: it was either the place was full, or the food options were very unfamiliar for us. After scouring the place, we finally found a decent restaurant where we can actually dine in, and it's very near to the entrance of the Forbidden City. By the way, my friend is vegetarian, and it was a relief that this restaurant has also vegetarian options.

Tip: It is very rare to find locals who can speak and understand English, so take advantage of your phone, and download a Chinese dictionary. I used Pleco Chinese Dictionary, and it was heaven-sent. When Rajni was ordering her food, we had to make sure that it's vegetarian. The waiter, of course, cannot understand English. What we did was we searched for the word, "vegetarian", on the dictionary app, and showed it to her. She understood! This application has helped us a lot during the entire trip.

After our lunch, we proceeded to the ticket booths. We bought our Forbidden City tickets in advance on Klook, and we just needed to exchange the voucher and show our passports to get the actual tickets. It is better to buy in advance because they limit the number of tickets sold per day, and the queues to buy tickets are usually long.

Before entering, we rented an audio guide for 40 yuan. I highly suggest to rent this especially when you don't have a tour guide. The device is also an electronic map, so it tells you the name of the place you are currently in, although sometimes it acts up because the GPS signal is weak, I guess, in some areas.

The structures were all lavish and grand, but there's no surprise about it since this was where the royal family of China resided in the old times. The roofs, the pillars, the walls, and even the floors all have very intricate designs. But for me, to be honest, although this place is a must visit -- in a sense that, as a tourist, it is a sin to not visit this iconic and historic place -- roaming around was really boring. As I have said earlier, it's really better to have the audio guide or have a tour guide with you although they cost extra, than just blindly looking at the similar structures. I remember, there was a part when it was talking about an emperor and his 3000 concubines! That was really interesting. I think it was one of the reasons why Forbidden City is so huge.

By the way, when we were roaming around, we noticed that people always stared at us. Actually, we experienced this during our entire trip. There was even a point when Rajni and I were just sitting somewhere, resting and chatting, and a group of teenagers suddenly took photos of us. They didn't even try to hide what they were doing, and they took lots of photos! It was weird at first, but we thought, what the heck, we even posed and made peace signs. They were very delighted. Haha. Initially, I thought that maybe they are not just used to seeing a Filipino and an Indian travelling together, or they were weirded out by our height difference LOL. But I realised, maybe they are not just really used to seeing other nationalities, in general. Especially those people who came from the rural areas of China.

At the northern-most part of the Forbidden City is the Imperial Garden. In the area, you can see colourful pavilions, rock formations, and ancient cypress trees. This place was a breath of fresh air after viewing similar structures earlier.

The place was really massive! Make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Allot 2 to 3 hours of your time if you want to see everything. We didn't go to the other smaller areas anymore after visiting the Imperial Garden because it was closing soon. It closes at 4:30pm during the off-peak season (November to March), and 5pm during peak seasons (April to October).

We were so exhausted, so we just quickly bought souvenirs, and we went back to our hotel afterwards. For dinner, we ordered room service because were so lazy to go outside and find a restaurant. We also needed to sleep early because we have an early and long day ahead the next day.

And that's it for our first day! I'll soon blog about the succeeding days! Xiè xie for reading! Bái Bái!

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