Hi Frugalistas! The latest addition to my Insider Guide series is very special. This time we’re off to Beijing courtesy of Agness Walewinder of etramping. Agness has been living and teaching in China for the past two years, so I jumped at the opportunity for her to contribute to this series. Despite being one of the great cities of the world, Beijing is poorly understood, so it’s been great to get Agness’ insights and advice on this fascinating, and rapidly changing destination.
1. A lot of people discount Beijing as a serious destination because of its pollution and crowded roads. What makes Beijing so special for you?
Rumor has it… there are one million bicycles in Beijing and believe me it’s so true. What I love the most about Beijing are the local bikes. Every time I travel to the capital city of China, I rent a bike and go for a relaxing ride visiting some local temples, grabbing some Baozi (Chinese dumplings filled with steamed veggies) on the way and then stopping at the Tiananmen Square to see little kids fly their kites.
2. What is your favorite place in Beijing to take out of town visitors, and what makes it so special?
Of course the Great Wall of China. As Mao, a former Chinese communist revolutionary, politician and socio-political theorist, said “Who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man”. I would take the tourists to Mutianyu (the most renovated part of the Great Wall of China) early in the morning to avoid the crowd (never take a taxi; walk there or take a bus to save some money). Once we got there, I would take everyone for an exciting cable car ride up to the Wall, then have a walk, take some photos and enjoy the scenery. That would certainly be more fun than booking a tour with a travel agency. If you are an adventurous person, you can spend a night on the Wall playing guitar, having a picnic and watching the sky!
3. Tell me about your favorite place that I wouldn’t find in a guidebook.
There is a park near my favourite restaurant where the best Beijing duck is served (Nanxincang Guoji Dasha, 22A Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng district), where I always do my yoga, read books and relax. The park is very small with a few benches around, and plenty of beautiful flowers and trees. There is a small fountain in the middle and a charming bridge at the end of the park. What do I love the most about this place? It’s always quiet and peaceful, never overcrowded with tourists and locals – so shhhhhhhh…. don’t tell anyone! It’s a perfect place to calm down, think of your life and do some meditation.
4. What is your perfect day out and about in Beijing and why?
I’m a very active person who keeps herself busy all the time. My perfect day out and about in Beijing would be filled with various activities and plenty of local food. Moreover, I would do a lot of walking and trekking to keep myself active through the day without visiting too many historical places in one day so as not to get bored.
Let me give you an example of my perfect day in Beijing:
I would start my day by having a nice bowl of noodles in one of the local restaurants.
Then I would visit the Great Wall of China where I would take a lot of pictures.
Afterwards, I would follow my China Lonely Planet book to plan a few hours in the Forbidden City where I would stroll down the gardens looking at the animal and other creature sculptures. Then go towards the Belhai Park to rent pedal boats so I could go for a boat ride across the lake.
I would also go to the Beijing Zoo to see giant pandas and monkeys. It is home to many animals from around the world and I would observe them and take some photos.
I would also pay a little visit to the Temple of Heaven, stroll down the park and have a picnic.
At last, I would watch the Kung Fu show and take a peek at the Shaolin Kung Fu performance, which is extremely exciting to see and have a dinner at Wangfujing Street. At night this street looks stunning with thousands of red lanterns hanging above your head!
5. There are many great day trips from Beijing. Could you share some of your favorite day trip destinations?
I would definitely enjoy a day in Summer Palace and Pearl Market. Pearl Market is a great place to shop for gifts and souvenirs and get to know pearl culture whereas the Summer Palace is the largest former royal garden, and is extremely peaceful and charming.
6. What is the best way for English speakers to find out about concerts, exhibitions and other special events?
The best place to find out about concerts, exhibitions and other special events going on in Beijing is definitely your hotel/hostel/guesthouse. The staff members always keep themselves updated and posted on all special ceremonies and bigger events taken place in the city. You can ask someone at the reception and I am sure that you will be given a map of the city with list of all things to do and attend attached.
7. Some quick fire favorites now:
Agness is a Polish travel blogger who has been travelling and living in different Asian countries since 2011. She is well known for travelling the world for less than $25 per day and she shares her tricks and tips with the readers of her blog eTramping.com. She is also a food lover obsessed with Chinese cuisine, yoga, life enthusiast and photography freak.