I lived in ‘small’ Jinan (at the time around 6 million people) so most of my memories of China are from Shandong area. But I was privileged enough to visit Shanghai several times and Beijing once as well. Shanghai I’ve definitely spent more time in but Beijing had a lot more touristic places to visit that we tried to do with way too little time. Both are pretty incredible cities and if you ever have a chance of visiting either city, do it! I’ll spill here some of my memories from those cities:
Lets start with the capital of China, Beijing. Bei 北 meaning north and Jing 京 meaning capital. I went to ‘pick up’ Rebecca, one of my besties, who was arriving from Finland to China to visit me. I was like super cheap and got the cheapest train tickets to Jinan for us. FAIL! Trains in China are amazing, if you go with the fast trains. For example Beijing to Jinan can be done in like 2h if you take a good train. But since I felt Chinese and didn’t want to overspend, I chose to travel like Chinese do. So I took the 6h train to Jinan. And safe to say a lot of Chinese will travel on these trains. We had seats but that means nothing because there’ll be so many people on board that they will pretty much sit on you trying to fit in. Safe to say Rebecca was so pissed off with me and I was so sorry for trying to save couple of kuais (Kuai aka RMB aka Renminbi aka Chinese money). So travel nice! Safe to say when we travelled to Shanghai by train, we booked the nicer fast train.
Before we travelled to Jinan though, Rebecca had requested the Great Wall of China, pandas and some other touristic places. I on the other hand had requested seeing my old co-worker from Disney World, Ma Ni. So we had couple of days of things to do in Beijing. So first we did the must do of going to see the Great Wall of China. I think everyone will tell you that this is the place to go and thing to do in your life. And I will just say the same. I was wondering between Mutianyu or Badaling, both are tourist destinations to see the Great Wall. In the end I chose Badaling because it’s easy to get with train and will serve the point. It’s super touristy nowadays. They have restaurants and stores and whatnots. Cable cars and a fun slide down the wall. We didn’t do these slides because we have one in Jinan too so we didn’t need to experience that in Beijing. But these slides down are super fun, so a high recommendation for those. We didn’t stay too long on the wall or have a long walk. It was a way too cold of a day and we had way too little clothes on. At least I did. So we went, saw, took some pics and went back to our hostel. But it’s pretty mind blowing to think that humans have built that piece by piece.
We were staying in a hostel called Beijing Drum Tower Youth Hostel and itwas a great experience. I don’t remember us having any issues in there and we could easily access places from there. If you end up going, try and find our little Finnish flag on the wall (we drew it with our names on it). Rebecca also wanted to visit Beijing Zoo but I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that. I’ve visited Beijing Zoo and Jinan Zoo and I have to admit that China’s zoos are not the nicest for the animals. And we were pretty depressed on the conditions some animals were living in. We had a chat around the monkey cages about why does the air smells of weed. One of us was convinced they calm the monkeys down with weed. I think that tells enough. We saw the panda (as seen in the pic) but if you really want to know and see about pandas, I can really recommend traveling to Chengdu to see the conservation centre. It’s a lot more information and the pandas are treated a bit better. I’ll write more on that another time though.
Some must sees in Beijing are Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden Gardens. They’re super touristic but they’ve got a lot of information to listen to or tours that will tell you so much of China and China’s culture. And The Forbidden Gardens were really lovely. Also did some shopping in Silk Street & Pearl Market, which is an underground market. It has an easy access with a metro. Haggling is the rule here. As a foreigner you’ll get a higher price but the Chinese absolutely love haggling and Rebecca was really embarrassed with my haggling tactics. But the shop owners love the game. They’ll shout you out of their booth and then they’ll run after you with a better price. So as a Finn don’t take the first price. Give it a go and haggle a little!
Shanghai was the first place I visited in China ever a year before I ended up living in China. My bestie Mari was studying in Thailand and visiting her brother in Shanghai. And I’d just won 1000€ gift card to Tjäreborg (travel agency) but I wasn’t interested in Thailand. So I bought tickets to Shanghai and went to see my friend at her brother’s flat. This was in 2010 when the World Expo was in Shanghai. Me and Mari went there for a day and we were exhausted after couple of countries. It was so full of people and so large, this is a running theme in Shanghai. First time in Shanghai my agenda was mainly shopping and partying (and funnily on my second trip I had same plans, simple girl I am). So we did have couple of days time to go around markets and buy all kinds of stuff. Second time around, I went to see my sister who came to do some shopping in Shanghai with her friend. So I can highly recommend Shanghai as a shopping city. It has so many different markets and shopping centres. And if you speak any Chinese, you can get a pretty decent China price haggled for yourself. Otherwise you might have to pay a bit more than locals, but coming from Europe it should still be cheap. But make sure you’re prepared to shop amongst thousands of people. Shanghai is well populated and there are a lot of people there. It can get overwhelming and a bit troubling at times.
Second time around Mr Merry had researched some sites to see and take some building pictures. Obviously we had bad luck with weather and it was very foggy days. He had also researched a cool museum for us too. I’m not big on museums but my sister wanted to see a museum after all the shopping. So on we went to Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. I have to say that even I enjoyed this museum. It had a lot of fun activities and rides. Loads of information and loads of departments to see. Could have spent more time there but we got tired and went on our way. But really recommend to see this museum if you’re in Shanghai.
I had some friends move to Shanghai and I always thought I would have another trip to Shanghai. So I never thought I needed to see everything in one go. Same with Beijing. Like I said in the beginning, I was so ‘Chinese’ that these big cities and their touristic sales tactics didn’t really speak to me much. Both cities are enormous and as a tourist you will find all the things you want to eat, see or do. They’re truly a great location for first or second Chinese holiday. Loads to do, loads to eat, loads to see and loads of things to buy!!
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