A reflection of Beijing, China

Beijing (北京市)

We arrived in Beijing on an overnight sleeper train, where I surprisingly got a decent amount of sleep (despite the layer of cigarette smoke filling my lungs). The sun was just rising as we attempted to find our way to our hostel. But in typical Chinese form, nothing was straight forward. By the time we made the decision to just jump on the subway, it was peak hour, and we were not warmly welcomed to squeeze into what's safe to assume are sardine cans, with the locals. After a whole lot of aggressive pushing and shoving, we decided to just jump in a cab.

After getting completely lost once our lovely taxi driver dropped us off on a busy road (our hostel was in a hutong neighbourhood which is an array of small ancient alleyways), we literally wandered up and down the same streets for an hour on end. Feeling completely hopeless we decided to retrace our steps, and eventually stumbled upon our hostel.

Exhausted and frustrated, we dumped our stuff, got changed and headed out for the day. For we were in Beijing, and nothing was going to stop us exploring!

Beijing is really quite surreal. Images of the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and hutong streets have been circulating in my life since I can remember. So really being there, amongst the hustle and bustle of China on a weekend, was totally weird! We were off to a good start – the sky was blue, there seemed to be very little smog in the atmosphere, and the air was crisp.

Our days in Beijing were jam-packed full of things to do. We had far too much on our list, and too little time. I'd recommend spending at least 5 days in Beijing, adding another for a day trip to the Great Wall.

My very favourite experience of Beijing, if not of China, was the Lama Temple. Being one of the largest Tibetan temples outside of Tibet, it fills up on a Saturday with locals and Chinese tourists – but this just adds to the entire experience! The smell of incense lingered in the air, the sun shone through layers of smoke, all while people preyed and payed tribute to their gods. You could spend hours here, wandering around the beautiful architecture, people watching, taking in what it really means to believe in something.

Looking back at Beijing, I was damn excited to be there. But, once it was all done, I was a little underwhelmed. It all felt very planned. As though everything worth doing is priced low, hidden and not discussed. I'd like to go back to Beijing and skip all the touristy things, and really try to understand this beautiful, ancient city. I think it's got a lot to offer underneath the surface.

If you're interested in what I recommend to do in Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an, stay tuned, I'll be launching city guides soon.

Tell me, when you travel do you stick to the tourist trail or do as the locals do?