JACK TAME SATURDAY MORNINGS, NEWSTALK ZB.
Newstalk ZB’s Travel Correspondent, Mike Yardley is aboard with Jack Tame at 11.20am, Saturday January 19. The feature destination this week is the beginners guide to Beijing. China’s pulsating capital, steeped in old-world charms.
Here are the key sightseeing pointers if you are a beginner to Beijing.
For newcomers, what are the essential sights?
The legacy of the Olympics is the dazzling collection of Olympic venues, the modern skyscrapers of Beijing and the supremely efficient metro. But the nerve centre of the city is a great place to start your exploration, at Tianamen Square.
Tianamen Square, its monumental buildings and Mao’s resting place.
This sprawling concrete canvas, punctuated by monuments, memorials and monstrosities is where of course Chairman Mao proclaimed the founding of the the People’s Republic. If you wake up early enough, head on down to the square for the sunrise flag-raising ceremony. Performed by a troop of well-drilled People’s Liberation Army soldiers, the goose-stepping and military precision makes for quite a spectacle.
The square is also home to Mao’s mausoleum, continues to attract monstrous crowds. On my visit, many in the queue were aging Chinese peasant farmers, on their first ever trip to Beijing, only made possible by the new-found wealth of their grandchildren. The mummified body of Chairman Mao is on show in his refrigerated crystal casket. Surly white-gloved guards do their best to keep the conveyer belt of humanity shuffling past the casket at pace. And then it’s on to the trinket room, where you can buy all manner of kitschy Mao-emblazoned souvenirs.
The Forbidden City.
This really is Beijing’s blockbuster attraction, the extravagant temple complex that was the headquarters of 500 years of ruling dynasties. 24 emperors called the shots from this sprawling power dome. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, first built 600 years ago, was pain-stakingly restored to its gleaming best for the Beijing Olympics. I just adored the lavishly ornate Dragon Throne ,where the emperor would preside over his fawning, trembling officials. Set aside half a day here, hire a guide to understand it all and go early in the morning to avoid the crowd-crunch.
( Hutong )Adjacent to the Forbidden City, Hutong is Beijing’s ancient residential heartbeat, a network of winding alleyways dating back 800 years to Kublai Khan’s transformation of the city, and this is where you can sample the city’s oldest courtyard homes.Your rickshaw rider can take you to a house for lunch. I’ve never enjoyed dumplings and Crysthanamum Tea so much! And the chance to experience this oldworld charm, in the heart of such a pulsating metropolis, is truly special. Hutong was the absolute highlight of my Beijing trip.
The famous night food market.( Dong-hua-men. ) Another cherished visitor attraction is the authentic nightime food market,Dong-hua-men. It’s the only time I have ever chomped on fried grasshoppers, strawberry kebabs and Mongolian cheese in the space of ten minutes. Your hotel will point yuou in the direction of the market.
Is Beijing a popular shopping destination? Absolutely and the golden mile is Wangfujing Street, very much the Fifth Avenue of China. Big shiny department stores, old-style teahouses and designer boutiques all wrestle for attention. And its all exceptionally good value.
Further afield, the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs, are within an hour’s drive of Beijing.
Hotel rates are superb, so affordable luxury is what you can treat yourself too.
Best time to go? Well, not this week, with the ghastly winter air pollution. I recommend the shoulder months of Spring, April/May, or autumn Sep/Oct. The weather is mild and the crowds are more manageable.