Posts Tagged ‘Terrace Tea House’

Beijing – Olympic City 2008

June 26, 2008


Stuart Bass


Since the time of Deng Xiaoping, the great liberator and champion of an open China policy more and more travellers have been heading East, pulling back the bamboo curtain and taking trips to China. This August with the Olympic games being hosted by China more visitors than ever will be following in the footsteps of Marco Polo.


I made my first visit to China over a decade ago and have been returning with sufficient frequency to make Beijing my second most visited capital outside the UK.


So, with the Olympics looming I thought I should take time out to make known my lists of “ Beijing do’s and don’ts” .


Beijing Do’s (in no particular order of merit)


1) Beihai Park, Dōngchéng District.


Just North of the Forbidden City stands Beihai Park- originally planned in the 10th century it remained part of the Forbidden City until the early part of the 20th century.

An excellent destination to try and escape the Beijing traffic, if not always, the crowds. Half the park is given over to a lake, which houses the famous White Dagoba in it’s centre. The Dagoba dominates the landscape of the park and is supposed to be the site where Marco Polo met the Kublai Khan.


Beihai Park also houses one of only 3 Nine – Dragon screens in China. The Nine-Dragon screen is as its name implies a screen…with nine dragons inscribed on it. You can see another in the Forbidden City but if you come across the third, situated in Datong city, Shaanxi Province, you are either lost or planning on spending a longer visit to China than the duration of the Olympics.


2) Beijing Underground City, Chóngwén District.


One of my favourite destinations in Beijing and one I believe which epitomises China perfectly. A destination I had to have on my list despite the fact that I have never actually been inside. On one of my first tourist visits to Beijing I was desperate to see something off the tourist map and the underground city The underground city fitted the bill perfectly. The City was mainly built in the nineteen seventies to safeguard against the threat of Soviet bombing and it’s passages are said by some to rival The Great Wall in length, Having spent the best part of an afternoon in locating the entrance my guide and I were ecstatic to finally find it – only to be met by three Beijing grandmas ensconced in their knitting. Without dropping a stitch the grandmas informed us that although the underground city was open, every one who paid the admission, currently 20RMB, emerged shortly afterwards non-plussed and demanding their money back. An enquiry as to whether we could peek inside to see whether we thought it was worth the entrance was flatly refused, but a request for a photograph of the three was warmly accepted. My advice is go –apparently these days a 20 minute tour is offered-but only to see if the knitting is finished.


3) Tiananmen Square, Chóngwén District.

Tiananmen Square is another part of the capital, which perfectly epitomises the country as a whole. Tiananmen is a huge open space surrounded on all sides by imposing official buildings. Apart from being a popular gathering place for tourists and kite flyers, it is still often used for any big celebration and for the government leaders to address the people.

Tiananmen SquareIf you can try to get there in time for sunrise as the raising of the flag ceremony is performed. People come from across all of China just to see this get there an hour or so before if you want the best view.

If at all possible, you must check out the square at night as well as during the day. The atmosphere at night is different again and the square is beautifully lit. But don’t arrive too late, at 10.30pm the soldiers come and evacuate the whole thing in minutes and its sealed off for the night.


In between sunrise and sunset at Tiananmen you can explore :


v The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall


v The Forbidden City Front Gate


v Gate of Heavenly Peace


v Monument to the People’s Heroes


Also bordering Tiananmen is the Great Hall Of The People, but to be honest I wouldn’t recommend it. A very ordinary looking building used for conferences – enough said.


4) The Temple of Heaven, Xuanwu District.


Bigger than the Forbidden City but smaller than the Summer Palace. Built in the 15th Century as an altar for Winter Solstice sacrifices to heaven. Today the temple of Heaven is sometimes missed during a frantic visit to Beijing, but those who do miss out. Try to get there early in the day to check out the acoustics prior to the advent of the crowds of day-trippers. At the Three Echo Stones if you speak when standing on the first stone you will hear one echo, standing on the second stone two echoes and third stone …well you can figure out the rest for yourself.


More echo fun can be had at the Echo wall, but to appreciate that you need a friend or fellow traveller to stand at the other end of the wall.


Another attraction of the Temple of Heaven is the Vermillion Steps Bridge, which was believed by past emperors to lead directly into heaven.

5) Forbidden City, Dōngchéng district.

The Forbidden City is a vast complex of halls, temples and housing, which make up the former residence of the ancient emperors. Also known as the Imperial Palace, the complex is said to contain 9,999 rooms. The complex is divided into a northern and southern part. The southern area is where the emperor would hold ceremonies and entertain guests. The northern half was kept completely private residence accessible only to the select circles of the emperor.

If you take the audio guide you might recognise the English speaker’s dulcet tones as none other than Roger Moore, which pleased me greatly as I meandered round this imposing site.

Today, the Forbidden City is one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions and lately becoming ever more popular with film crews who pay a hefty price to film Chinese period pieces. Be warned, the Forbidden City might have 9,999 rooms but on a busy day it will seem half of China is attempting to view the one room you wish to see. I first visited on China’s National Day and came away with a lot of photos of the back of people’s heads.

6) Jingshan Park, Dōngchéng District.


Any who has visited Beijing will tell you what a rewarding experience it can be. They will also tell you that the constant hum of man, engine and business can wear down the hardiest of souls. And for that reason another Park makes it onto our list.


Situated just North of the Forbidden City Jingshan Park has an excellent view of the City and Beijing itself. My advice is to take a packed lunch with you to the Forbidden City and then when you are finished there take the short trip up into the Park to recuperate. Just find yourself a bench (the Chinese aren’t great fans of grass dwellers) and enjoy the view ( smog permitting).


7) Confucius and various other Temples, Various Districts.

The Temple of Confucius was where people paid homage to Confucius between the 13th and early 20th Century. Today it is now home to the Beijing Capital Museum. It is the second largest temple in China erected in honour of China’s greatest thinker.

Look out for the Evil touch Cyprus tree in the courtyard – this 700-year-old Cyprus is supposed to have once taken the hat off a treacherous visitor to Confucius – so legend now has it the tree can discern between those of good and evil intent.

For those of you whose appetite isn’t sated by the Confucius Temple there are many more to choose from before Temple fatigue sets in. I have listed some of the more popular ones below. But inspiration comes from within and your favourite might turn out to be one not listed here.


  • The Lama Temple, is the base for the Yellow Sect of Buddhism in Beijing, the head of which is the Dalai Lama. Originally the home of a long forgotten prince and now home to the monks in this working monastery. The Lama Temple also houses what is supposed to be the largest wooden sculpture on Earth, an 18 metre tall Buddha carved from a single Sandalwood tree.


  • The Fayuan Temple, claims to be the oldest Buddhist Temple in Beijing and has some fantastic buildings. Famed for the hundreds of Lilac bushes it had which were unfortunately destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, pleased to say they have now been replaced.


  • The White Pagoda Temple also claims to be the oldest in Beijing and it’s architecture rivals anything The Fayuan Temple has to offer – one of the lesser visited temples in Beijing and because of that one of the more authentic and peaceful.


8) The Terrace Tea House, Dōngchéng District.

What could be more Chinese than taking tea in Beijing. And The Terrace Tea House have been dishing up some of the best for as long as anyone can remember. Situated within a teacup’s throw of the Forbidden City East Gate, the full address is 69 Donghuamen Dajie. Expect to pay £2 to £4 per cup – a small fortune by Chinese standards, but well worth it.


9) The Great Wall, Badaling section.


And in at number 10, it’s the pretender to the throne as strictly speaking it’s not really in Beijing but let’s face it if there was one thing you wanted to see in China then this is it. Great by name and it has to be said Great by nature. For me seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an was a big disappointment but my visit to the Great Wall lived up to all of my expectations.

From Beijing you can get to a few different pieces of the Great Wall within 2 or 3 hours by bus or car and the only negative I can draw against Badaling is that this section does suffer as being the day trippers preferred section of wall.

That said, the wall here is fully restored and you can walk for two hours in one direction before having to turn around – very few people do.

A word of warning though, in August it will be sweltering and the Great Wall is extremely hard work. Some sections have steps and railings, other sections are just gradual steep slopes. My advice pack extremely comfortable shoes, a lot of water, and a light snack and give yourself plenty of time.

For those spending longer in China you might want to try either the Simatai or Xiangshuihu sections for a rougher less manicured section of wall where you can escape the crowds somewhat and enjoy even more fantastic scenery.


10) The Summer Palace, outskirts of Haidian District.

The largest Imperial garden in China, again a short way outside central Beijing, built following the destruction of the old Summer Palace by British and French troops. In 1998 UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List. It declared the Summer Palace an “outstanding expression of the creative art of Chinese landscape garden design, incorporating the works of humankind and nature in a harmonious whole.”


Mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, three quarters of the Summer Palace is actually lake. The earth excavated for the lake went to make the hill. The Summer Palace is also home to a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.


Do’s and don’t do’s…


1) Currency . The Chinese currency is the Reminbi, more commonly known as the Yuan. The Yuan is made up of 100 Feng. The system is exactly the same as sterling pounds and pence. Some universal rules apply in China as they would do anywhere:


ü Obtain currency before you go, try to get all of the major denominations and familiarise yourself with them. You won’t be able to obtain Feng but just remember the smaller the note size the lower the value. I have heard reports of people being given Feng change in China when they should be receiving Yuan.


ü Always try to change your currency at a bank rather than your hotel, you will get a far better rate of exchange. If you take traveller’s cheques The Bank of China will probably be the only bank willing to encash them. However, if you wish to withdraw cash from an ATM I have been able to do this at Bank of China and China Agricultural Bank.



Finally be on the look out for counterfeit currency. As a tourist you will be regarded as an easy target for anyone wishing to dispose of funny money. The 100 Yuan note is the most commonly counterfeited.


2) Hotels


Like the majority of countries you will be unable to check into your hotel without a passport. Although you should carry a copy of your passport don’t expect to be able to use the copy at the reception desk.


Avoid any hotel which has a karaoke bar attached – unless you wish to stay awake until the early hours of the morning listening to drunken Chinese murder the hits of the seventies.


3) Road safety.


When crossing the road feel free to use Zebra crossings. Just bear in mind that to many Chinese drivers – cyclists included – they are a decoration rather than a regulation. Crossing the road in China was once explained to me as follows: Never make eye contact with the driver of a vehicle, as soon as you do responsibility for any accident passes from them to you.


If you are a passenger in a taxi the safest seat is always the one directly behind the driver.


4) Racism/ Discrimination.


Being a white male this is something I have never experienced in China however, there are widespread reports of prejudice towards non-Asians and women.


Every traveller in China though, becomes a “Laowai” the second your plane touches down in China. You will rarely hear this in Beijing but the further you are from the capital the greater of occurrence of it’s utterance. Laowai is used in conversation by all Chinese to refer to foreigners. Some travellers find it annoying to hear the words uttered by onlookers wherever they go, however, it is hardly ever said with anything but surprise and curiosity,


Bear in mind though that the old Chinese saying remains as relevant today as it did during the Boxer rebellion “We can always fool the foreigners.” Remember that you are visiting a country where many consider you a big nosed barbarian interloper.


5) Scams


Be careful of the bait and switch, where the item you select is not always the item that ends up in your bag. I have heard tales of this happening with electrical equipment at Beijing airport!

Beware con artists are widespread in China. Ostensibly friendly types invite you for tea, under the pretence of practising their English upon you. Your new found friend will then order food and say they have no money, leaving you to foot the bill. The variation upon the theme of this is that you are taken to a bar where your Chinese friend will order a whisky priced anywhere between 500-3000RMB. All prices are displayed, and the bar will deny all knowledge of your ‘friends’ association with them, they send in the heavies if you refuse.

Don’t take a taxi without the meter running unless the distance is very far and you agree a price in advance. Taxis will wait at train & bus stations and try to take you to a hotel of their own choosing -OR- they will ask you where you want to go then offer you a price without turning on the meter. It will almost always be a higher price than the meter would be. Better to go out to the street and flag a taxi.

Beijing in August you are going to need a lot of water and as in so many other countries the only water you ought to be drinking is of the bottled variety. However, the bottled option is not always legitimate. Some water sellers recycle bottles and caps and refill them with water from non-safe sources. The only way you can check this is by having a careful look at the lid and ensuring the protection circle is still around it and intact. You will see water bottles for sale with straws in them – these should be considered unsafe.

Be alert at all times if changing money on the black market. One trick is for the money-changer to take your money and then say he has made a mistake and wants to recount the money he has just given you. Taking the money back as if to recount it, the last you see of him and your cash is his heels moving at velocity down the road.


6) Prostitution

No matter how many stars your hotel has if you use the sauna/spa you will be offered a massage, however, apparently the Chinese translation of the word massage is “sex for money”.


Also, if you wander off the main thoroughfares in Beijing you may stumble upon some streets with more hairdressers than would seem normal. Furthermore these hairdressers might have more young ladies gathered within than might seem normal in the UK. If this is happens and you enter within expect to be offered more than just a haircut. Whilst there are many perfectly honest barbers plying their trade in Beijing many hairdressers across China are in reality a front for prostitution.


Bear in mind getting too intimate with Chinese residents, especially women, can land you in big trouble with the Public Security Bureau.


7) Theft

Wherever you are you need to keep your bag close! If you have a strap purse make sure it has a long strap to hang across you and keep it to the front. Wallets should be kept in either an inside pocket or a front closable pocket. If you use a backpack you may want to wear it with the bag in the front at times. I have used the sleeper compartments on Chinese trains and on two separate occasions have woken to find razor cuts in my bag allowing thieves access.


8) Pollution


Don’t expect clear blue skies here. Pollution is a serious problem in China and can make travel unpleasant for everyone, but especially if you have allergies, skin conditions, or chest, eye, nose and throat problems. According to the World Bank, China has 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities. With Beijing being the 28th most polluted city within China.

9) Spitting

Not such a problem in the major cities nowadays but be warned the Chinese believe it is much better to expel than retain the bodily humours. The Chinese also fail to understand why Westerners would wish to retain body fluids, trap them in a handkerchief and carry it around in our pocket.

Spitting should not really affect your trip to China but beware if you sit at an open window on a bus or a train – sometimes things that are blown out are blown back in again.

10) Queues

There is no Chinese word for queueing! Instead when a bus/train arrives it is an oppurtunity for those present to audition for the national Rugby team.


11) General Advice

a) Obtain a free city map from the airport, bus station, or your hotel. If you can’t get a free one, purchase one.


b) Remember that all official documents have to be written in black ink.


c) At the very least you should learn the numbers and carry a phrasebook or electronic translator with you.


d) Don’t walk outside of crowded places by yourself at night. In other words, do not find yourself alone on a dark street.


e) This has not been confirmed to me but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest a scarcity of O group blood for transfusion purposes.

f) Never assume your fellow travellers are as honest as you are.

g) If something of yours is stolen, you should report it immediately to the nearest Foreign Affairs Branch of the PSB. If you have travel insurance (highly recommended), it is essential to obtain a loss report.

h) Carry your own plastic chopsticks and avoid using wooden ones.

i) Take your own toilet paper.

j) If travelling by train, retain your train tickets until you have left the train station – the reason for this will become apparent.

k) Give nothing to child beggars – in doing so you are rewarding parents who keep their children out of school in order for them to beg for them.

l) Don’t visit Beijing in August. A comparison of airfares to land you in Beijing in time for the Olympics gave an average airfare of £802.90. The same search for the day after the Olympic circus leaves town gave a fare of £437.30.

Finally, since this piece was written China has been hit by a natural disaster that comes only once in a generation.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the relief effort can do so via:


The Chinese Embassy in UK has opened a special account for donation for Earthquake in Sichuan province in Bank of China(UK).



The Chinese Embassy In UK
Sichuan Earthquake Donation Account

Beneficiary Name
:The Chinese Embassy In UK
Sichuan Earthquake Donation Account
Account number
Sort code

3)CASH can be deposited at any branch of Bank of China(UK)Limited
quote a/c no. 10196750