is a bit off-putting when a family of Chinese ranging from a small
child to grandmother skip effortlessly past you as you climb the
steep steps of the famed Great Wall, just to the north of
Climbing the wall
is a challenge at any time, but in midsummer, with temperatures
hovering around 98 degrees, it can be positively enervating.
Visitors should be sure to bring plenty of bottled
are a series of towers on the Juyong Pass section of the wall at
Badaling that offer shade and a respite before tackling the next
series of steps. The view from the "top" of the
wall is spectacular and well worth the effort of climbing, although
travelers who suffer from vertigo may have problems.
My humble efforts
at scaling the wall on a recent day trip from Beijing paled into
insignificance when I considered the incredible engineering, not to
mention the labor, involved in building a structure that stretches
more than 4,000 miles, from one side of China to the
Any day tour from
Beijing should also include a stop at the Ming Tombs and lovely
Sacred Way, located a few miles away. Set in the vicinity of the
Tianshou Mountains, there are 13 tombs, but only one, the Yong Le
tomb, is open to the public. However, it houses many treasures
recovered from other tombs; its displays of jade and clothing worn
by royalty and warriors is impressive.
The Sacred Way is a
long avenue lined on both sides with trees and large, stone statues
of elephants, camels and horses -- and other animals, real and
imagined -- as well as figures of officials and warriors. Not too
far off, vendors sell clothes, souvenirs, drinks and, when I
visited in summer, large and juicy peaches.
Around Tiananmen Square
The central part of
Beijing is set out in grid fashion, with wide roads many of which
are bordered with trees and other greenery. Key attractions such as
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are located in the city
center, close to the major hotels where most Westerners
At one end of
Tiananmen Square, large crowds queue up to shuffle past the
embalmed body of Mao Zedong. Chairman Mao's mausoleum is only open
for short periods on weekdays, and not at all on
The crowds inside
the adjacent Imperial Palace, or Forbidden City as it is commonly
known, are just as substantial. The Forbidden City consists of a
succession of courtyards surrounded by colorful buildings -- mainly
painted in reds and yellows, many in similar style -- with little
greenery to break the uniform greyness of the paving stones
Most of the
buildings are virtually empty, as the treasures they once held were
long ago moved to other places, including the National Palace
Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.
A popular diversion
on many tours is a ride in a rickshaw through the hutongs, or
alleys, of Beijing. The hutong closest to the Forbidden City is
among the best preserved -- the buildings and way of life of the
inhabitants are relatively unchanged.
A growing world
capital, Beijing boasts many landmarks and attractions. Getting to
them, however, is often a problem because of the city's constant
Visitors with time
to spare, however, will want to brave the congestion to visit the
Beijing Zoo, with its giant pandas; the Summer Palace, featuring
superb gardens; the Temple of Heaven, the largest temple in China;
and the Yonghe Lamasery.
A visit to the
Beijing Opera is another popular tour inclusion, and it's great
fun. Chinese opera singing is not every
Westerner's cup of tea, but the English translations of the action
on the stage are hilarious. The acrobatic and juggling skills
displayed by the ensemble choreographing a fight between good and
evil was a masterpiece of skill and endurance.
about pickpockets operating at Beijing's markets, I found the city
safe. I felt quite comfortable strolling around the city center on
balmy summer evenings, getting a glimpse of local life: packed
restaurants; tiny shops; men playing mahjong and card games; family
groups sitting on the pavement in deck chairs; people reading
newspapers, children playing traditional games and flying kites;
and young people buying the latest clothes and CDs, like teenagers
For many visitors,
the opportunity to splurge on shopping is a major reason to visit
China. Beijing is a place to splurge. Modern department stores and
myriad smaller shops sell everything imaginable, but it is in the
markets, such as the famous Silk Market, where bargains are
The designer labels
may be fake, but the quality is excellent. And after the obligatory
bargaining, everyone is happy. There are clothes, handbags, leather
goods, watches and silk -- the range is endless.
Most tours include
a number of lunches and dinners, but these are usually rather
standard, bland fare. If you have the chance, seek advice from
locals and go where they eat.
For more on travel
to Beijing, call the China National Tourist Office in New York at
(888) 760-8218 or Los Angeles at (800) 670-2228. Or visit www.cnto.org.
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].