I just came back from my very first trip in China and still can't believe how amazing it was. I have to confess: I had lots of pre-ideas about China. I've heard so many stories from travelers, I just wanted to go there and explore it by myself. To get my own idea.
Beijing literally blew my mind, for different reasons.
Let's go back on this beautiful travel, and uncover the 10 things that changed my city trip into an incredible experience.
01. The hutongs
The hutongs are a type of narrow streets in North China. The word hutongs is now also used to refer to such neighborhoods. It's the most charming architecture of the city, and in some areas, a beautiful mix between history and modernity. Therefore, in Nanluohu Xiang, you can do your souvenir shopping, buy street food and drink beers in old traditional courtyards. For more authenticity, Mao'er Hutong is lovely.
02. The Beijineers
Great surprise. Not much Beijineers speak English, but lots of people try. We met smiling, friendly, helping, generous people in Beijing. We got lost a few time, and always found our way back thanks to the locals.
03. The Yunnan food
The Dali Courtyard is probably one of the best restaurants I've ever been to. Hidden in the heart of the hutongs, it's not easy to spot at first place, but it's really worth the effort to search. We got the 'set menu', for around 20US$. The plates arrived and arrived, non-stop: delicious fish, tofu cooked with fresh mint, chicken, cheese, veggies, pork ribs, mushrooms, even the salad was different and delectable. All this in a lovely green yard with a nice music in background, far from the crowds of the city.
04. The Summer Palace
Do you know how big the Summer Palace is? It's a city into the city! With totally different parts: a village on the water, huge palace, few temples, wide lake, beautiful island... You can get lost for hours there, and still feel you're discovering new things all day long. It took us a full day to explore the area. It was beautiful.
05. The street food
Don Huan Men market is a street food market full of stalls with scorpions, snakes, spiders and other weirdos, made especially for the tourists. It's fun to see, even though it is touristy, I mean, how often do you see scorpions skewers in the market?
06. Lama temple
Lama Temple is the biggest Tibetan temple outside of Tibet. With a very special atmosphere inside. As usual in China, it's huge. Every time you think the visit is finished, you catch sight of a tiny door on the back... That opens on a huge yard. With another immense and stunning temple.
07. The Pekin Duck
Da Dong Roast Duck stands out from numerous roast duck restaurants. Crispier and less fatty than other birds, these are supposed to be the best Peking ducks in town. It was absolutely delicious, and served in a classical Chinese decor with a bright modern flare. An all-round pleasant experience!
08. The 798 Art District
The 798 Art district is a 50-year old decommissioned military factory buildings with unique architectural style. The district is an area entirely dedicated to street art, sculpture, painting and everything in between. Actually, it's often compared to New York's Greenwich Village. It's a heaven for all kind of creative people -I found the open space of my dreams there, in a superb art gallery...
09. The nightlife
Who said Chinese people don't know how to party? We went to many bars during our stay, from Nanluogu Xiang to Sanlitun, lake Hou Hai's banks, and every one was an awesome! We sat on swing seats on a bar, saw live concerts, tried original cocktails, danced on rooftops...
10. The Great Wall
The Great Wall is one of the greatest surprise I had in Beijing. It's on everyone's 'bucketlist', one of the most famous places to visit on Earth. I expected crowds + lots of annoying souvenir sellers. We arrived in Jinshanling and were nearly alone. We had four hours to hike, the Great Wall for ourselves, enjoying every single minute of it. The Great Wall is breathtaking. The view sublime.
Beijing surprised me in the best way possible. The city holds many treasures, including several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This place abound of places to explore, and even though one week was enough, I'm sure if there are still lots of discoveries waiting for me up there.