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As the capital of the People's Republic of China, Beijing has been the heart and soul of politics and culture throughout its long history and consequently there is an unparalleled wealth of discovery to delight and intrigue travelers as they explore this mysterious ancient city and enjoy its exciting modern development. Beijing is located near the western coast of China on the Pacific Ocean and stands at the northern tip of the North China Plain. Greater Beijing has an area of 16,808 sq km with a population of 14 million. In comparison, Gauteng province of South Africa has an area of 18,810 sq km with a population of 9 million.

The city is well known for its flatness and regular construction. There is only one hill to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of the famous Forbidden City). Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis.

Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics on August 8-24, 2008.

  • History
  • Airport
  • Must see
               The Great Wall of China
               The Forbidden City
               Tian'anmen Square
               Temple of Heaven
               Hutong tour
               Summer Palace
               Xiushui Markets
               Houhai Bar area
               Wangfujing Street
               The Bird's Nest
               The Water Cube
               Beijing Opera
               Kung-Fu Show
  • Eat & Drink
               Peking Duck
               Hot Pot
               Jianbing guozi
               Lamb kebabs
               Candied haw berries
  • If you have more time
               The Ming Tombs
               Sacred Road                
               Beijing zoo and aquarium
               Beihai park
               Fragrant hills
               Beijing botanical gardens
               Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution
               Cuandixia Village


Beijing literally means "Northern Capital", a role it has played many times in China's long history. While various small towns and warlord capitals have been traced back as far as the 1st millennium BCE, Beijing first served as the capital of a (more or less) united China in 1264 when Kublai Khan's victorious Mongol forces set up what they named the Great Capital (Dadu) to rule their new empire, from a northern location closer to the Mongol homelands.

After the fall of the Mongol Yuan dynasty in 1368, the capital was moved back to Nanjing ("Southern Capital"), but in 1403, the 3rd Ming emperor Zhu Di moved it to Beijing again and also gave the city its present name. This was Beijing's golden era: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and many other Beijing landmarks were built at this time. Beijing remained the capital into the Qing era and into the revolution of the early 1900s, but in the chaos following the abdication of the last Emperor, Beijing was beset by fighting warlords. The capital was moved to Nanjing again in 1928, renaming Beijing as Beiping ("Northern Peace") to emphasize that it was no longer a capital. However, Beijing was proclaimed capital of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Beijing is usually your city of entry into China and your first stop from a long flight. The best way to deal with jet lag is to try and stay awake during the day and try to get as much sleep at night time. We often arrange to have a leisure stroll in Summer Palace on arrival - it is very relaxing and keeps you awake. A good night's rest will ensure that you will have the energy to enjoy your tour of Beijing on the next day.

Beijing Capital International Airport (IATA PEK) is located to the northeast of the central districts, 26km from the city centre. Terminal 1 of the airport was renovated in 1995 and Terminal 2 opened in1999 with contemporary abstract architecture. More expansion and renovation is carrying on to be ready in time for the 2008 Olympics. Facilities on arrival include ATMs and money changers.

The cheapest way to get to the city centre is to take the airport shuttle. There are several lines running to different locations in Beijing. Buses for each route leave every 10-30 minutes. In most instances, your hotel may not be next to a stop and you will have to catch a taxi from the drop-off stop to your hotel.

Your next option is to take a taxicab directly from the airport to the city centre. Try to get the Chinese name in characters of your hotel so that you can let your taxi driver read where you want to go. A taxi from the airport should cost ˘FD80-160 depending on which part of the city you are going and traffic jam. You will have to pay the fee shown on the meter (make sure the driver uses it) plus ˘FD10 toll for the airport expressway.

Though many residents of Beijing know conversational English, don!|t count on finding a taxi driver who knows English well. Pronouncing Chinese place names so that the taxi driver can understand clearly is a risk. Your best bet is to print out the names of places you want to visit in Chinese characters and show the text to the taxi driver. Generally, you have more chance to get help in English if you speak to younger people, as many schools in China have expanded their English education in the last few years.

Warning: Be aware of scams where impostors pretending to work for the taxi company posing at the official-looking stands outside offering rides to the city. You will be led into a "taxi" with a fake meter that runs very quickly.

Renting a car is not recommended. Besides being extremely expensive, driving in Beijing can be quite complicated.
Alternatively, look out for a welcome sign with your name(s) on, our professional English-speaking guide will meet and transfer you to your hotel safely.

Must See

The Great Wall of China
The great wall is definitely one of China!|s most legendary and breathtaking sights. It was built mainly to protect the Chinese Empire from the Mongolians and other invaders. Though successive Chinese dynasties all had a hand in repairing, re-building, lengthening, modifying and preserving the Great Wall, Qinshi Huang is the emperor who is credited for linking them all up and unifying China. The Great Wall twists and winds along hill crests, gorges, and rivers. Its length extends over 6,000 km westward: from the China Sea town of Shanhaiguan to Jiayuguan in the Gobi Desert. Ancient records reported that at least one million slaves and prisoners of war were used to build this wall. Many laborers died from exhaustion and starvation while working on this colossal task. Their bodies were added to the rubble and masonry as the quickest means of disposal. For centuries, the Wall was known as "the longest cemetery in the world."

"He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man" - Chairman Mao

Wear comfortable footwear for walking. Some parts of the Great Wall are very steep and could be slippery. Climb as far as you like but please remember that you!|ll have to walk back to where you started. Tired? Have a highly enjoyable and relaxing foot massage for a fraction of the South African price or enjoy life as the locals do at a spa complex.

Warning: Never for organized tours to the Great Wall that are advertised by people handing out flyers around the Forbidden City. It is guaranteed to waste your entire day. Conveniently you are picked up from your hotel (so they know where to get back at you, in case you will not pay), you end up on a shopping tour through many many Chinese art, China, Chinese medicine, etc. shops and afterwards you have to pay upfront to get back to the city.

The Forbidden City
Also known as the Palace Museum, it is the largest and best-preserved ancient architectural complex in the world and center of power of China for over 500 years. It was the imperial palace to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Forbidden City has a total of 9,999.5 rooms for the emperor, empresses, their eunuch servants and concubines to use as living quarters. !ĦħAdmission price!ĦL to the Forbidden City has dropped considerably from instant death for the last 500 years (during the Ming and Qing Dynasties) to less than a hundred Rand today.

Recognized as one of the most important five palaces in the world (the other four being the Palace of Versailles in France, the Buckingham Palace in the UK, the White House in the US and the Kremlin in Russia), it was nominated as a world cultural heritage site by the UNESCO in 1987.

If you want to walk through the vast and spectacular courtyards in relative peace; get there early !V the gates open around 8:30am. Despite the transformation Beijing, the Forbidden City remains mercifully untouched. Here you can truly appreciate the might and grandeur of the imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Tian'an Men Square
At the center of Beijing, Tian!|anmen Square is the world's largest city square. At 440,000-square-metres, it is large enough to hold 1 million people standing. The square is surrounded by Soviet-style monuments and government buildings, and houses Mao's mausoleum at the end opposite the entrance to the Forbidden City. It is an astounding place and a spot to linger and see visitors from all over China, many visiting their capital for the first time.

At sunrises and sunsets national flag hoisting and lowering ceremonies are performed by a troop of soldiers drilled to march at precisely 108 paces per minute, 75cm per pace! It is observed solemnly and thousands of people come to the Square every day.

The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is the most holy of Beijing's imperial temples. The temple was where the Emperor came every winter solstice to worship heaven and to solemnly pray for a good harvest and seek divine clearance. UNESCO endorsed Temple of Heaven as a world cultural heritage site in December 1998.

Experience the morning life of Beijing citizens at the Temple of Heaven. One could see older people practicing slow and flowing movements of Tai Chi or younger generation performing vigorous karate-like punches and kicks. One group might be learning the ancient martial art of sword-fighting, while another might be practicing a traditional dance. It is well worth visiting this park early morning to watch such events take place.

Hutong tour (by rickshaw)
The heart of Beijing lies behind its modern facade, after seeing how royal family lived, experience the life of the common man in the tranquil Hutong: narrow alleys that have been the hub of the city!|s street life for 700 years. A hutong is a unique form of community that exists only in China. They are a wonderful glimpse of the city as it used to be. All Hutongs crisscross with each other with tiny workshops dimly lit by a single bare bulb, street vendors selling steamed Baozi, snot-nosed children, old men carrying their songbirds in bamboo cages, coal smoke and bicycles. As Beijing continues to modernize, the Hutong is under threat. Nearly two-thirds of the 1,330 Hutong that existed in Beijing in the mid-1950s have been demolished to make way for mirrored-glass skyscrapers.

Experience the life style and traditional Hutong culture before it disappears. To further enhance the experience, we can arrange rickshaws to pull you to an authentic home to enjoy a Hutong home made meal together with the family.

Summer Palace
The Summer Palace dates back 800 years ago. It is the best preserved imperial garden in the world and the largest of its kind that still in existence in China today. The beautiful imperial garden is set off by a multitude of highly decorated buildings, halls, pavilions, bridges, towers, pagodas, isles, and courtyards. Housed in these buildings are an immense collection of treasures and cultural artifacts. The harmonious layout of the garden is a Chinese architectural masterpiece that combines both the gorgeous landscape and the treasure of the traditional Chinese gardening art. It was endorsed by the UNESCO in 1998 as a world cultural heritage site.

Beijing is usually your city of entry into China and your first stop from a long flight. The best way to deal with jet lag is to try and stay awake until night time. We often arrange to have a leisure stroll in Summer Palace on arrival.

The Ming Tombs
These imperial cemeteries covering an area of 120 square kilometers are the best preserved Chinese imperial tombs and have been nominated by the UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site. The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Fengshui (geomancy) belief and is enclosed by mountains in three sides. Built in 1409 AD, it is the burial place for emperors for the next 200 years, with 13 Ming emperors, 23 empresses and a number of concubines, princes and princesses buried there, and thus called 13 Mausoleums.

The Sacred Road and the Ming Tombs are near !ĦħBadaling!ĦL and !ĦħJu Yong Guan!ĦL sections of the Great Wall. If time is limited, plan and see them together in a full day excursion instead of separating to visit on different days.

The Sacred Road
The Emperors of Ming Dynasty use this divine road to get to the Ming Tombs, This Divine Road !V leading to heaven !V is guarded on both sides by 36 huge stone sculptures of human and animals. Every year, the emperor enters the tomb zone to hold a memorial ceremony for the ancestors. When he dies, he is also carried through the Sacred Way to his tomb - guarded on both sides by 36 stone sculptures, 24 stone animals and 12 human figures. The stone sculptures are huge; some exceeds 30 cubic meters in volume. In the ancient times, without modern machinery, these heavy sculptures were transported here all entirely by manpower.

The Sacred Road and the Ming Tombs are near !ĦħBadaling!ĦL and !ĦħJu Yong Guan!ĦL sections of the Great Wall. If time is limited, plan and see them together in a full day excursion instead of separating to visit on different days.

Beijing Opera or Kung-Fu show
Beijing Opera is a true cultural reflection and a national treasure of China.

Feedback from numerous travellers is that they couldn!|t understand Beijing Opera and felt bored during the performance. On our tours, we!|ve replaced it with the exciting Kung-Fu show: theatrical performance with song, dance, martial arts and an excellent story line.

Eat & Drink

Peking roasted duck
Peking duck is a famous delicacy that one must try when in Beijing. A special kind of duck is roasted to perfection and sliced by a chef in front of you. Enjoy the succulent duck slices wrapped in a thin pancake with green onion, sweet soybean paste, fresh cucumber and garlic paste. You can!|t say you!|ve tasted Beijing without sampling this mouthwatering dish.

Hot Pot
Beijing is also known for its lamb hotpot, which originally came from the Manchu people and emphasizes lamb over other meats. Like variations of hotpot from elsewhere in China and Japan, lamb hotpot is a cook-it-yourself affair in a steaming pot in the center of the table. Unlike Sichuan hotpot, lamb hotpot features a savory, non-spicy broth. If that's not exciting enough for you, you can also request a spicy broth (be aware that this is flaming red, filled with peppers and not for the faint-hearted). To play it safe and satisfy everyone, you can request a pot divided down the middle, with spicy broth on one side and regular broth on the other.
Raw ingredients are purchased by the plate. In addition to lamb, beef, and seafood, this also includes a wide variety of vegetables, mushrooms, noodles, and tofu, so it's also perfectly possible to have vegetarian hotpot. A dipping sauce, usually sesame, is served as well; you can add chilis, garlic, cilantro, etc, to customize your own sauce. While "raw" sounds dangerous, boiling the meat yourself is the best way to ensure that more risky meats like pork are fully cooked and free of germs.

Jianbing guozi
Some of the cheapest and delicious meals can be had on the streets. This is one of the most popular street snacks, eaten from morning till night. This delicious pancake is cooked with an egg on a griddle, a fried dough crisp is added, and the whole thing is drizzled in scallions and a savory sauce. Hot sauce is optional. Ask our local English speaking guide if you want to try it.

Lamb kebabs
Lamb and other kebabs are grilled on stands all around Beijing, from the late afternoon to late at night. Wangfujing has a "snack street" selling lamb, chicken, and beef kebab, but the brave can also sample silkworm, scorpion, and various organs all skewered on a stick and grilled to order.

Candied haw berries
A winter specialty, are dipped in sugar and sold on a stick. You will find variations with oranges, grapes, strawberries, and bananas, or dipped in crumbled peanuts as well as sugar. This sweet snack can also sometimes be found in the spring and the summer, but the haw berries are often from last season's crop.

There are many places to enjoy the nightlife of Beijing. Sanlitun has a bar street with several clubs and discos. Hou Hai is a man-made lake surrounded with trendy restaurants and bars in the central part of Beijing. Wudaokou where most of the foreign and local University students hang out. Dashanzi Beijing's new trendy art zone Nurenjie (lady!|s street) also have some interesting new bars, restaurants and clubs. Ask our local English speaking guide about the latest night life places in Beijing.

If you have more time

Beijing Zoo and Aquarium
The Beijing Zoo was built on the site of ancient gardens; it has lakes, pounds, pavilions and other beautiful old buildings. If you!|re not going to the Panda Breeding Centre in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, here is your opportunity to see China!|s national treasure !V the giant Pandas. The aquarium is one of the biggest in the world, and very impressive.

Also known as Lama Temple, the temple was built by Chinese emperors who harbored a deep fascination for the Tibetan version of Buddhism. Over the years many Tibetan and Mongolian monks lived and taught here, and there are still monks in residence today. The temple is famous for its 18m statue of Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood.

Beihai Park
Beihai is a good place to take a glance at Zhongnanhai, heart of Communist China. There's a big island and white pagoda which was built in the 17th century. The giant buildings westward outside are PRC's Ministry of Defence and General Staff. On the north bank, you can visit some small but beautiful gardens.

Fragrant Hills
On the northwestern corner of Beijing, it is a good place for weekend outings and picnics. Formerly a Qing imperial garden, today Fragrant Hills makes an easy short climb in the suburbs of Beijing. It's also home to the Fragrant Hills Hotel, designed by I.M. Pei (Louvre Museum Pyramid).

Beijing Botanical Gardens
Steps away from the east gate of Fragrant Hill. The Botanical Gardens have acres of greenery and flowers for those tired of urban Beijing. Sir Johnston, teacher of the last emperor Puyi, had a villa in Cherry Glen, a silent and beautiful retreat in the Gardens. In the spring, the gardens hosts special exhibits of tulips, peach and plum blossoms.

Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution
A great place to read the official Chinese version of what happened in Chinese military history, from ancient times up to 1949. There are also airplanes, boats, guns, missiles, rockets and vehicles on display (including U.S. military hardware evidently seized during the Korean conflict).

Another museum of interest is the China Aviation Museum !V a must see for all aviation fans. It is located about 50 km outside Beijing in Changping District and is probably better known by the name Datangshan.

Flexibility! Guide and driver to bend over backwards for you and your family only! Choose when to go and where to go.
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