Upon departing from Hong Kong to fly to Beijing, we were very surprised to find that we would have to go through immigration again when we arrived in Beijing. We learned that although Hong Kong is a part of China, there is a 50 year transition period where Hong Kong operates autonomously and is able to govern itself as it wants. Therefore, anyone leaving Hong Kong to enter mainland China must go through immigration. Upon entering Hong Kong from mainland China, as we did upon our return to the U.S., you will have to go through immigration again
We had arranged for a private limo to pick us up at the Bejing airport to take us to our hotel. Upon departing from the airplane in Beijing we were astonished to see a young Chinese man waiting for us just outside the airplane. He escorted us through immigration by taking us to the lane for Chinese nationals that had no one in line and allowed us to avoid the long tourist line. Once we got through immigration, he took us to the baggage area where he assisted us with retrieving our bags. We learned that he was an employee of the airport that worked with the Beijing hotels when a private car is booked.
He then met up with the representative from the Fairmont Beijing and they took us and our bags to the car just outside the airport where the driver was waiting. Both the airport and the representative from the Fairmont spoke very good English. The driver only spoke Chinese. It was like being treated like royalty!If you do go to China and travel on your own as we did, we highly recommend hiring your hotel’s private car pickup from any airport. This is an exceptional service that makes travel in China truly stress and hassle free.
We must take a moment to say that the new Beijing Airport built for the Olympics is an architectural wonder.
It is one of the largest airports in the world and has one of the largest seemingly unsupported and wavy roofs. We enjoyed spending time there visiting all the beautiful shops on our way to our next destination.
Although there are many grand well known older hotels in Beijing, we decided to stay at the brand new very modern Fairmont Beijing where we had the very best hotel experience of our many travels and hotel stays.
The property was built and is owned by a multi-billionaire Chinese national. The architecture is quite unique. It is all bronze colored glass in the shape of a capital “H” with the right side being the Fairmont and the left side being the “Reignwood Center City Club”, another example of Feng Shui architecture.
Our suite at the Fairmont was the ultimate example of high tech architecture. Everything was managed with a push of the button including the draperies and bathroom. In fact when you entered the toilet area, by simply opening the door, the lid went up. And without getting too graphic, Harman describes the rest of the bathroom experience like going to a “platinum car wash” where the washing and the blow drying is automatic! Need we say more, just use your imagination.
However, the main reason we said this was our very best hotel experience was because of the genuine friendliness and caring of the hotel staff and management. Hans Hordijk, the General Manager, and James Bevans, the Assistant General Manager, were ever present when we left in the morning to our destination and upon our safe arrival
. They were like the good parents ushering their children safely off for the day and being there to make certain they arrived back safely. We sat and had coffee with them more than once to share our daily experience and to get to know each other on a more personal basis.
The staff was equally attentive and highly service oriented.
We thank them all for this wonderful experience. They truly spoiled us.Day 1 – Tiannamen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Bejing Opera
We decided to go on our own to Tiannamen Square and the Forbidden Cit
y since it was right in the middle of the city and only three miles from our hotel. We took a cab that let us off right at Tiannamen Square.
At the end of the square farthest from the entrance to the Forbidden City is the Arrow Tower, used for defense purposes in ancient times.
Tiannamen Square is just that. An enormous open concrete expanse about ½ mile square. Mao Tse Tung’s Mausoleum is its focal point. His body is raised each day at a certain time for the people to visit and honor him for what he did for China.
There we learned about the Chinese flag which has one large star with four smaller stars underneath. The large star represents the government. The small stars represent the workers, students, soldiers, and farmers. This philosophy is taught at all levels of society in order to keep the people united and working toward prosperity.
THE FORBIDDEN CITY
The Forbidden City was named as a result of the fact that only the very privileged were allowed to visit it in ancient times while the main Chinese population was “forbidden” to enter. In 1949 it was opened to everyone and is now officially called the Palace Museum. However, it is still often referred to as the “Forbidden City”, the name by which it has been known for centuries.
What is most striking upon entering The Forbidden City is the building with the picture of Mao Tse Tung. One would think he is still alive and running the country. The Forbidden City aka the Palace Museum is China’s most magnificent architectural complex
and was completed in 1420. The huge palace of over 10,000 rooms is a lasting monument from which 24 emperors ruled for nearly 500 years. In one visit you can only experience a very small part of it. Day 2 – Ming Tombs and the Great Wall
The hotel arranged for us to take a private guided tour with a driver and a guide to visit the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall
, both northwest of Beijing. Lily, our guide, was a delight and did a wonderful job.
MING TOMBSThe 13 Ming Tombs are the resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming emperors
. The site was originally selected because of its “auspicious feng shui alignment”. A ridge of mountains to the north cradles the tombs on three sides, opening to the south and protecting the dead from the evil spirits carried on the north wind. The Chang Ling tomb was the first to be built and is the most impressive. It is the site that most tourists visit.
It has been beautifully restored and, thankfully, the burial chamber for the emperor, his wife, and 16 concubines has never been excavated.
THE GREAT WALL
There are few people in the world who do not know about the Great Wall
, even from an early age. Harman and I were as excited about visiting the Great Wall as children are who are about to visit Disneyland! And we were not disappointed. On the contrary, it was even more amazing to see and experience than we had anticipated.
The sheer grandeur, size, length and height of it is overwhelming. The approach is in a valley with mountains on each side. As we are driving through the valley and are looking at the Great Wall on the right, our guide told us to look on our left. What do we see, another Great Wall on the top of that mountain!
We simply couldn’t believe it. She said that two Great Walls were built in that region in order to doubly protect the area from invading Mongols.
The entire Great Wall is approximately 4400 miles long, although it has decayed and disintegrated in many parts of it along the way. The area where tourists visit has been authentically restored not only to ascend to the top, but to walk along the top for several miles each way.
As we could not travel the entire 4400 miles, we decided to climb 2200 steps each!
At one point along the ascent, we saw hundreds of padlocks on chains. We asked our guide, Lily, what they were for and she said that when couples get married they come to the Great Wall and put a padlock there to symbolize their marriage cannot be “unlocked”.
It was a day to remember for the rest of our lives.
BEIJING OPERA You simply cannot visit Bejing without going to a Beijing Opera performance. The term “opera” is a bit of a misnomer for Beijing Opera as it a form of “total theater” that includes along with singing, speech, mime, acrobatics and symbolic visual effects. The colorful costumes and stage designs are a large part of the enjoyment of the event
The performance we attended was held in the Huguang Guildhall.
This theatre and the Zhengyici Theater
, which was under renovation, are the only remaining authentic Chinese wooden theaters in China
. It truly gives the experience of what attendees from centuries ago experienced.
Unlike an American theatre, you are seated at tables where tea and snacks are served throughout the performance. Day 3 – Olympic Stadium, Summer Palace and Lunar 8 Restaurant
We only were able to fit in a “drive by” of the Olympic Stadium known as the “Birdsnest
” on our way to the Summer Palace. It was even more impressive than what we had seen on the television.
The Summer Palace
is in the northwest area of Beijing, about a one hour drive from the center where most hotels are located.
The sprawling grounds of the Summer Palace served the Quing Dynasty as an imperial retreat from the stifling summer confines of the Forbidden City. It is a favorite place to visit by the local Chinese as well as Chinese tourists. You simply cannot miss this wonderful example of Chinese gardens and architecture. It is an easy place to visit on your own. Maps are available to guide you through the maze of paths. The easiest route is to simply walk along or around the lake and take short detours to tour the various buildings throughout the Palace grounds. There are a number of places where you can buy food and sit by the lake or have a sit down meal at one of the modest restaurants.
Give yourself the day to enjoy this wonderful place since it will be a two hour trip back and forth to your hotel plus the 3-4 hours you can enjoyably spend at this marvelous location.
LUNAR 8 RESTAURANT
At breakfast on our first morning, Harman asked for their hottest sauce for the Chinese noodle and dumpling soup he ordered. When he tasted it, he said it tasted like “honey” and couldn’t they find something hotter. The chef came personally to Harman and said that he would have something really hot by the next morning. On that following morning the chef serve the new “hot sauce” to Harman. When Harman tasted it, he congratulated the chef. Then the chef said, “Mr. Bhar, I must confess that last night I called my mother who lives in western China for the recipe.” Harman was so touched by this gesture that he had the soup with the hot sauce every morning for breakfast.
As guests at the exquisitely designed Fairmont Beijing, it was only natural to dine at their beautiful Lunar 8 restaurant in the hotel.
In fact, because of its unique concept of having four individual kitchens and specialized cuisine with a chef for each - Japanese, Indian, Thai and, of course, Chinese - one could dine wonderfully for four different evenings without having to step outside the hotel and confront the hassle of transportation, traffic, weather (in our case, a sandstorm),etc.
Following are the dishes from the four cuisines that were served to us in a tasting menu paired with wine which we thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend:
Appetizer - Marinated Jelly Fish in Red Wine Vinegar, a refreshing, light, crunchy mild flavored starter to stimulate the palate accompanied by a Chilean Savignon Blanc Lapostolle label.
Japanese Sashimi and Sushi - Tuna, Salmon, Caviar Encrusted California and Rainbow Roll - "melt in your mouth" tender, non-fishy delightful taste served with ginger, wasabe and soy sauce accompaniment.
Thailand Tom Yam Koong Shrimp Soup with Lemon Grass, Kaffir Lime Leaves & Chilies - three plump luscious shrimps with mushrooms in a tangy light mildly spicy light broth.
Fairmont Beijing Duck with an Australian Pensolds Merlot - the highlight of the dining experience in Bejing. You need to go no further than Lunar 8 for the best Peking Duck in Beijing! We challenge any other restaurant to compete!!
Indian Chicken Tikka cooked in a traditional Tandoori oven necessary to accomplish the unique authentic flavor for both the chicken and the naan. Scrumptious!
Chinese Wok Sweet & Sour Prawn with Fresh Pineapple - If you like a sweet main dish you will absolutely love this dish. The chef managed to give the prawns a slight crunch followed by an exquisite taste.
Dessert - Emperor Sweet Pea Puree, a traditional Bejing dessert of small golden slightly sweet squares accompanied by a Chilean Vendimia Tardia Reisling - to finish the dining experience.
This restaurant is to be commended for its commitment to environmental awareness and responsible tourism by including sustainable seafood choices in support of a global effort to conserve precious marine species.
The staff and management made this a memorable experience! Day 4 – Sandstorm and Reignwood Center
Our fourth day and Bejing was definitely unplanned and unexpected. A sandstorm that had originated in Mongolia had moved into Bejing with full force. We were told by the hotel staff that we should definitely not go outside. Anyone we saw in the streets from our hotel window who dared to go out in this horrific weather had their face covered with a mask or cloth. We also found out that periodic sandstorms in cities throughout China are not uncommon. Cities come to a standstill and virtually everything is covered with at least a fine layer of sand. However, we were amazed to see how clean everything including cars were on the following day when the storm cleared.
Instead of getting upset about missing a day of activity, we decided to “go with the flow” and have a leisurely day enjoying our hotel and the adjacent Reignwood Center. Exploring it we found some unique boutique shops, a private club, performing arts theater and several exclusive restaurants including an Amercan, Italian, French and high end Chinese restaurant.
When we were touring the Chinese restaurant, by chance we met Fred Chan, Reignwood City Club Manager. He kindly took time to give us a one hour grand tour of the Reignwood Center telling us about the owner’s strong ties with powerful U.S. and international politicians including Bill Clinton, George Bush and Tony Blair among others who have had dinner with him at his club and restaurants on various occasions. The picture below is one of the rooms where they dined.
Fred was so generous with his time and convincing of the virtues of a dining experience at the Reignwood Center that we decided to have dinner at the Chinese restaurant, the Skycean Palace. In addition to the open restaurant area, there are several private dining rooms including the owner’s private dining room where he has dinner every day when he is in town. When Fred asked us where we wanted to dine, we said that we would like to dine in the owner’s private room if it was available. Fred checked the schedule and said it was available so we booked it.
It is a room exquisitely decorated with traditional antique Chinese furniture, ornaments and handmade silks.
Fred arranged for the menu and the service. It was a unique and memorable experience with a personal server, several delicious courses with wine, and Peking Duck carved the traditional Chinese way at our table side. As you can see from the photo, the carver covered both his head and face for hygienic purposes.
The highlight was the Chef, who had cooked for Bill Clinton and George Bush coming in to greet us. He told us that we would be the last people from the U.S. for whom he would cook as he was soon to retire to Australia.
They really served and treated us like royalty!Day 5 – Wangfujing Street
On our last day in Beijing, we decided to take a long 6-8 mile walk to and from Bejing’s main shopping area and pedestrian only street, Wangfujing Street
. Along the way are excellent examples of modern Chinese architecture.
Just prior to entering the Wangfujing street are all the name brand high end shops. Wangujing Street is filled with Chinese shops. A surprise was a side street that is a typical Chinese market. It had every kind of food you can imagine with many of them being on a stick ready to be grilled, including live scorpions. The shop keepers get a big laugh from the horrified expressions on the faces of foreign tourists when they touched the scorpions to make them squirm! LESSONS LEARNEDLesson #1 – Chinese bathrooms
Although bathrooms in hotels are as modern as any of those in the western world, once you leave your hotel, be prepared for another world! As Jan discovered, the women’s bathrooms in all the tourist attractions are simply PORCELAIN HOLES IN THE FLOOR of the stall WITHOUT ANY TOILET PAPER!
Her advice is • not to drink or eat too much before going out for the day
• go to the bathroom just prior to leaving the hotel
• take sets of toilet paper with you for use throughout the day
• go to the bathroom as seldom as possible when out for the dayLesson #2 – Taxis
The Chinese government has done their best on cutting down on illegal and fraudulent taxi practices, primarily overcharging. However, it is still rampant.You will generally be OK when you have the hotel get a cab for you as long as it going to some well known tourist attraction
. They or you should note the cab license plate so the driver will know he will be reported if he overcharges. You must have the hotel find out what the charge will be ahead of time.
However, the problem comes when you have to get a cab back to the hotel. In some cases, the cab driver will not know how to get there or where it is located even with directions in Chinese as occurred with us when we went to the Chinese Opera. It was only Jan’s observation of our route on our way to the opera that helped us get back as she had to give directions by constantly pointing the way to the driver who could not speak any English.
We also had a major problem when we came back by cab from the Summer Palace. The trip there cost 100 yuan. About halfway on our return we saw the meter and it said 450 yuan! We decided not to say anything to the driver at that time as we were afraid he would just leave us off halfway. We thought that when we arrived at the hotel we would have the staff there help us with the problem. However the driver stopped the cab within walking distance of the hotel and refused to take us there knowing that he would be reported. We saw a uniformed person and got out of the car to go and ask for his help. As we did so, the cab driver sped off.The advice we have to give on the cab issue is to either go on a group tour or hire a private driver who will not only take you to the location, but wait there and bring you back. That way you will know how much it will cost and will be certain of getting back to your hotel.