A few days in Beijing

The final leg of my private custom luxury  journey to China would end in the capital city of  Beijing. Once known as Peking, this city boasts a population over 20 million. Beijing is the political, cultural and educational center of China. My first visit to Beijing over 20 years ago the streets were swarming with commuters on bicycles. The buying power of the US dollar was so strong. Five star hotels were very limited.

Today’s Beijing is totally different. Commuters travel by car or subway, the US Dollar does not buy what is used to, and many  high end Five star hotels are available all over the city. My journey started off with my pre-arranged driver waiting to meet me at the very modern Beijing International Airport. This airport is the second busiest airport in the world. The drive from the airport to  Raffles hotel was about a 35 minutes. Beijing boasts over 50 five star hotels, with more soon to open. I chose Raffles from my fond memories of my stay at the Raffles in Singapore many years ago.

Raffles is a smaller 5 star boutique hotel strategically located near the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square, also a very short walk from the Wangfujing shopping area and subway station. The small lobby reminded me of a classic old world five star London hotel. My suite was beautifully appointed and included many special amenities. My first afternoon I walked down the wide boulevards and marveled at the scenery and historical value of the Forbidden City and Tinamen Square.

The next morning my private driver Mr. Chen was waiting for me in the hotel lobby after I finished breakfast. We would drive about 2 hours to visit the Great Wall of China. Construction for The Great Wall  originated in the 7th  century BC and gradually expanded for many centuries. It is estimated to be over 5500 miles long and was built to protect the empire from northern invaders.  We visited the Mutianyu section, which  is not as busy as the crowded Badaling section. Upon arriving Mr. Chen accompanied me for the scenic cable car ride to the top. I am always amazed every time I have visited the Great Wall of China. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. I walked along the wall for a couple of hours breathing in the fresh air and admiring the incredible views.

On the way home Mr. Chen insisted I accompany him to one of his favorite Chinese tea houses.

He knew the husband and wife that owned this small and charming tea house. Their English was limited but they did their best to practice their language skills with me. It was a relaxing and wonderful way to end the tour.

Tonight I would sample a Peking Duck restaurant. The last time I visited a Peking Duck restaurant I found the duck to be too fatty. The Chinese enjoy the fat on the duck. Mr. Chen told me not to worry, he would tell them to trim the fat off for me. The duck was wonderful this time, accompanied with many delightful vegetables dishes and rice. Mr. Chen enjoy telling me stories about his family and how things have changed in China over the years since he was a young boy.

The following day Mr Chen was scheduled to pick me up at 8:30am to begin our final day of touring. Since this was a private custom tour and I was a little tired I decided to have Mr. Chen pick me up at 11am instead so I could catch up on some sleep. Today we visited the Olympic Park, home of the 2008 Olympic Games, followed by the National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, National Swimming Center (Water Cube) and the National Indoor Stadium (Folding Fans). To see what the Chinese built for the Olympic games was quite an  architectural  achievement. That evening we feasted on many exotic Chinese dishes at a local restaurant. It was sad to think the next morning I would bid Mr. Chen  farewell after our drive to the airport.

Reflecting back I would consider Beijing  a blend of  modern and  traditional Chinese culture. The people are very friendly to the tourists. I enjoy walking after lunch or dinner and I found the streets very safe. Many students would greet me and try to practice their English in conversations. Although Beijing is not as cheap as it used to be there are still many good values to be had. I would suggest at least 3-4 nights for first time visitors.  I enjoy sightseeing but I also enjoy immersing myself in the local culture away from the tourist areas. A custom tour with a private guide allows me to meet my expectations.

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