How easy is it to get up before 5 am? Very, apparently. We’ve been getting up super early to see what Beijing looks like in the morning. This day, we got up around 4:30 again. Surprisingly at about 5 am so many people were awake already, and the sky was bright and clear. We walked to two parks, which were recommended by two Polish travellers we met the day before. So here are some ideas for a Beijing day out!

Beihai Park

At 6.25 the sun was already high up and we were at the northern gate of the park. Who would have thought that in our mid-20’s we’d be queuing up with like fifty grandpas and grandmas eagerly waiting to get into the park? As soon as the clocks hit 6.30 and the gates opened, the elderly enthusiastically funneled through into the park, just like horses sprint onto the racecourse when they hear the start pistol.

Everyone seemed to have their own routine: some people were walking and chatting, some were stretching, some ladies were doing dance routines, some – Tai Chi, and some were jogging around the lake. For a lake in the city centre, it’s pretty big – it even has a ferry to visit the island in the middle. There was supposed to be a 10 yuan fee, but I guess we blended in with the flock of elders flashing their pensioner passes.

Jingshan Park

The only reason we went to this park was to climb up a hill from where you can see the whole of Forbidden City. We don’t like crowds, nor we do like places where they charge to see crowds, hence going to the actual palace was not worth it. Entry to the hill was 10 yuan each, compared to 60 yuan to Forbidden City. The bottom of the hill was swarmed with pensioners, buzzing around smelling blossoms just like bees. So many of them had proper camera gear and huge tripods just to take pictures of the flowers. Maybe they’re the ones who still make those colourful socialist postcards with a hammer and a sickle?

This park was one of those things where you just go along, and then read about it on Wikipedia. It turns out we climbed the highest point in Beijing. At the top there is a temple with a Buddha, which didn’t seem to get as much attention as the view of the Forbidden City. In China all places and buildings are huge, and we couldn’t fit the whole complex into our 20mm frame.

The top of the hill was like a time-capsule to Siberia: we were in our t-shirts at the bottom, and after ten minutes up there (with our jumpers and coats) we nearly froze our fingers off. It wasn’t because of the temperature, but because of the winds. It’s definitely a nice place to visit, especially if you want to literally chill out with a view.

If there’s pub-crawling, there’s definitely park-hopping, as we ran into the same bunch of ladies now doing their dance routines at this park.

Qianmen Street

So far our Beijing day out was full of quiet walks with the elderly – time to see some modern spots. Famous for the sightseeing trams, next stop on our itinerary was Qianmen street. Honestly, if it wasn’t on the way to Dashilar street, it’s not really worth a separate visit. It’s basically a wide pedestrian street with high-so shops and jewelleries, and flag-led tourist groups… and a tram that nobody wants to go on.

Dashilar street

As an ancient commercial street it has pretty architecture and antique shops. More than anything though, it has tourists. And souvenirs. They do know their audience. The further you go, the narrower the street gets and you start seeing more dusty old houses and run-down shops – and that’s where very few tourist step a foot in. No English is spoken here and there are a few local places to eat. Two places we went to seemed happy to cater for vegetarians, and one place served gigantic portions: 28 yuan for 30 dumplings and a 2 litre bowl of soup.

We wanted to break a 100 yuan note at the subway, but the cashier didn’t understand “10” neither in English nor sign language, so she topped up 100 and uttered that cannot do a refund. We just stood there holding up a queue, because we only needed to take one or two subway stops. Luckily one guy in the queue spoke English, but all he confirmed with the cashier was that she couldn’t do a refund. As we refused to leave she added 5 more yuan to the card and refunded 85 yuan… I. Don’t. Understand.

Tip: only break large notes in places where the price is clearly marked on the item, such as supermarkets. They use different signs for numbers, so you may overpay simply because of miscommunication. And you need lots of small change for buses and tickets anyway.

We spent the whole day underground in the subway. Even though we walked a lot outside, it still felt that’s the only thing we did.

COFFEE TIME. But where?

So many areas that we visited in Beijing were very Chinese, with simple shops like welders, bike repairs, noodle shops and simple convenience stores, so it was difficult to find a decent coffee shop. They just don’t drink coffee. Auste did some digging on Bing (does anyone even know what that is anymore?) and found modern shops and trendy cafes in Sanlitun area. And boy they’re not for budget travellers. They’re almost double the price for a latte compared to equivalent hip cafes in Bangkok!

Mokabros – that was our choice, because they had the best seats, a decent dessert variety and best value for money. We checked most of the cafes but some were more like restaurants and not as cosy. Although anything would have been cosy since we had been walking for over 12 hours during to complete our Beijing day out project…

This coffee shop had two entrances: a main entrance from the street, not far from the “Pattaya of Beijing” (the famous Bar Street), and another entrance to the European-style garden area leading to more restaurants. We found a spot by a huge window looking at the courtyard. It was 99 yuan for 2 coffees and 2 small desserts, not bad for a modern vibrant place.

Then we remembered to collect our train tickets for the next day, which was a wise move. But that part deserves a separate post, so keep on reading here (link coming soon!).