Wheel alignment

Friday, 21 June 2019

Travels in the Land of the Dragon, pt 7

Beijing, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

Another early start to avoid the worst of the day's heat and crowds - it was a 3 day public holiday.  At least it was in Beijing itself and only a half hour drive from the hotel.  It involved over 4 hours of walking in high temperatures, covering a good few kilometres so good hydration and walking poles were a great aid to enjoying the day.

On the way, it was a good opportunity to look at the architecture and Beijing was like the other centres we visited - modernising at a rapid pace, good infrastructure and clean.

Home base of China Television

Modern hi-rises

Like any other city in the world, only with more courteous and patient drivers

Arriving in Tiananmen Square on a hot sunny day, there was little or no personal sense of history or connection back to the photo which captivated the world of the lone protester standing in front of a tank almost exactly 30 years ago to the day.  It was planted with colourful flowers and although the government buildings and museum which  flanked two sides were more severe in terms of architecture, there was nothing particularly remarkable about it.  Just a pleasant area to stroll about in.

Tiananmen Square - a landmark place in the world from another time

Mass plantings in the Square

On one side of the square was the entrance to the Forbidden City with a photo of Chairman Mao, showing that he hasn't entirely been consigned to the past.

Chairman Mao gazing across Tiananmen Square

The one emotion which struck both of us on entering the Forbidden City was one of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the undertaking - it's HUGE. Constructed in the early 1400's, it consists of 980 buildings and covers some 180 acres.  Mind-blowing stuff.

Spectacular glazed roofing tiles and ornate decorations

Amazing detail

An internal moat

Only a fraction of the total area

One of the many lanes leading to other parts of the complex

Large bronze dragon

It's a big walk in hot weather and we were more than ready for a late lunch.  Eating out, particularly among young people is as popular in China as it is in the West and there were large queues at some restaurants which were clearly favourites.  As always, a great selection of quality foods.

Colourful restaurant entrance

Spoiled for choice!

Delivery service on the restaurant strip

On our last night in China, we went along to see the Legend of Kung Fu show.  It's a story about a young monk's mental and physical journey to becoming a warrior monk, encountering physical and mental challenges along the way.  As with the previous show, world-class computer-aided visual effects supported the performers.  It was fabulous and easy to see why it's renowned, both in Beijing and when it goes on tour round the world.

The novice monk being initiated

The novice growing up

Into training

Into temptation.....

Finally becoming a warrior monk - full circle

After the show, it was final goodbyes to the people we'd become close friends with as Jennie and I would be the first to leave early in the morning for our connection to Hong Kong and doing our own thing.  Sad, but hopefully, we'll catch up again sometime.  

Some general thoughts about the China part of the trip.

Viking.  Outstandingly organised in every respect.  Although we've travelled extensively (mostly on land-based trips but a couple of other cruises), it was our first trip with them. We were seriously impressed with both the itinerary and organisation - pretty much faultless.

Viking escorts.  All the escorts on the trip were ultra-competent and couldn't do enough for their groups.  As previously mentioned, our escort Iowa (Aihua Xian) had extraordinary people and organisational skills.  A tireless worker with an unflagging sense of humour.  I would have jumped at the chance to employ him pre-retirement.  A great ambassador both for his company and country.

Airlines.  Chinese airlines and airports are modern and efficient - no adverse comments whatsoever.  We arranged our international travel through our regular NZ travel agent.  It was Cathay Pacific business class and it was really good.  The main reason for travelling business class was to be able to sleep horizontally on a long haul and hit the ground running.  The best business class airline we've ever experienced is Qatar Air.  Fantastic in all respects which made an 18 hour non-stop flight to Doha tolerable.  They have justifiably won world's best airline again. 

China.  Hugely impressed with the rate of progress, infrastructure and cleanliness. People treated us with warmth and friendliness everywhere we went.  It's easy to forget among the political posturing between nations that most people everywhere want a safe, comfortable life and are thoroughly decent people.  It's normally the politicians and their self-interest who screw it up for others.

Rating the trip.  Going on safari through Kenya and Tanzania in a Toyota Landcruiser has been our No.1 vacation but that's a highly personal choice, longer and more expensive.  However, the China trip is right up there in terms of overall enjoyment and seeing another culture.  Highly recommended to anyone.  From our perspective, the trip starting in Shanghai and ending in Beijing was ideal for us as it progressively increased the amount of walking we did and was good preparation for the longer walks at the end of the trip.

Beijing airport business lounge - got it to ourselves for the trip to Hong Kong!

Next and final post - Hong Kong


  1. What a privilege to be able to visit all these places. Still wondering about the man in front of a tank... I believe he has gone missing like many others.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful travel experience, Geoff. Great pics, great stories.

    1. Yep, it is a genuine privelege to see other cultures. China has a lot more freedoms than it used to but still has a way to go by our standards. It's modernising so fast though.

      Thank you for the lovely comments, it was fun writing up our memories!