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Beijing – The great firewall of China

Destination:  Beijing (Aisa)
Date: October 2018
Airline: British Airways
Hotel:   Artyzen Habitat Dongzhimen

2 Continents, 1 month continues…

Ni hao, ni hao ma? 😃

Welcome to Beijing, a city with long, rich history that dates back over three thousand years. Beijing is the capital of China and has been the power centre since the Ming dynasty in 1421. With it’s awesome architecture and steeped in ancient customs and traditions, Beijing is a must on you list of places to visit.


Now the Beijing airport arrivals process is intense.  You are warned that you need to complete immigration documentation on arrival and complete a self-scan fingerprint register.  No-one warns you however that from when your plane lands, plan to go through the processes for the next 90mins!!

As Beijing is part of a bigger trip, we only stayed for 3 days.  We therefore didn’t need the conventional tourist visa, but the 144hr ‘in-transit’ free visa.  You just need proof that you are moving onto another country that is not the airport you departed from i.e. you can’t do a UK to Beijing to UK trip.

Be prepared for roughly 6 checks between getting of the plane and actually leaving the airport.


Our transfer was pre-booked, but due to how long it took to clear customs he left us! The company kindly refunded the money and advised to get an airport taxi. The taxi driver didn’t speak a word of English, but you could tell by her tone she was cussing.  Now most people would assume this was a race issue, but it was simply because we had 2 large suitcases, didn’t speak a word of Mandarin and clearly didn’t move as fast as she wanted.  We, with our western selves, showed this straight-faced Chinese lady the hotel address in English.. even though the paper also had the Mandarin on the other side.  What are we like?


So 30mins later and ¥77 (yuan) lighter (approximately £7.70), we were at our hotel – The Artyzen Habitat.

We stayed at this 5* hotel on a bed and breakfast basis.  The reception was basic with 3 tables each with a laptop on it, but the Lobby had a grand, but contemporary feel.  We were allowed early check-in complementary and off we went to floor 5.

What we walked into was totally unexpected, the room was the size of my whole apartment at home (maybe a slight exaggeration).  It had a kitchenette the size that most people would dream for in a London flat and a bathroom… well I mean I think you can imagine.  They have massively undersold this hotel as just that, this is actually an apartment hotel and that should be shouted from the rooftops.  Major bargain as it’s priced incredibly low too, what an experience.


We didn’t get to experience the usual breakfast experience of the hotel as we were on excursion every morning, but they did have a take-away option that could be ordered the night before and were bagged up and ready to go.  Focaccia sandwiches with a salad, an apple and a bottle of water.  A great way to start the day.

We experienced 2 traditional Chinese meals.  Rice and vegetables, always a great combination, but be prepared to eat with chopsticks.  We failed at this challenge as we were hungry and didn’t want to learn how to use them in that moment.

Timesquare café – The hotel has a great inexpensive quick comfort food café.  Tasty and good value for money.


Day 1

Off to see Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Summer palace; as part of our 2 day excursion package.  We patiently waited in the reception for our guide.  He came speeding into the hotel announcing himself as Lee.  As soon as he was sure we were his passengers he was off, I mean.. I suppose we should follow.  First observation, why is this man running?  Should we be running? Do all Chinese people run like this? So many questions, but Lee was a man of few words.  We joined the rest of the party and off we were.

Lee was very knowledgeable and informative about the history of Beijing.  Be prepared to run for the whole day trying to keep up with him and to walk up and down at least 200 steps.

Day 2

Yoyo arrives at the reception.  Yet again she takes off running, we begin to realise it’s a Chinese thing.  We’re off to the Jade factory, Ming tombs and the great wall.  Another day of lots of walking and steps – this day is not for the light hearted or those with limited mobility.

At the great wall, we had the option to go up by cable car or chair lift.  The cable cars had queues of approx.. 2hrs, so our guide strongly encouraged us to take the chair lift.  Now, mum is TERRIFIED of heights. And the sign once you get to the front of the queue says ‘anyone with mental health issues, fear of heights and disabilities’ should not use this method of transport.  But she had already got there and the embarrassment of walking back down was greater than her fear of being higher than the canopy of the forest.

The Chinese always shout; and important information is always repeated at least 3 times.  So just telling us to put our rucksacks on our front and move quickly into position, took an already terrified woman to a place of no return.  Bless her, but she spent the whole 5min ride with her eyes closed, panting heavily shouting ‘woo woo, Shirley don’t move’.  She even missed her own photo opportunity – you should see the picture, it’s hilarious.

With this tour you go to the Mutianyu part of the Great Wall.  The biggest shock about this for us was the wall is made up of steps.  Uneven, steep, narrow and missing brick steps.   There is an observation deck for those who do not wish to walk to the highest point.    We tried to walk a part of the way, but having recently broken my arm with it being so uneven and a story of someone recently falling to their death, we took some lovely pics and kept ourselves safe on the deck.

The coming down was an ordeal of it’s own.  With a fear that is now fully cooked and 60mins over done they again told us put our rucksacks on our fronts and with tears welling up in her eyes she stands ready for our descent.  She has taken up my side of the footrest and now the legs of my 5’2” statue are dangling in literal mid-air.  To try not to panic her further, all I can think is my shoes are going to fall off into this forest.  I perch one foot on the end of the bar and cross my legs and hope for the best.  I give her a detailed monologue of her surrounding and explain that in 100m we will be down on the ground.

She slowly opens her eyes with a man telling her to stand up.. she has returned to her child-like state and is unable to understand the command.  The man quickly helped her up before laughing with her and asking whether she wanted to go round again?  He clearly didn’t know my mother.

Social media lock-down

Did we mention the lack of the ability to communicate with the outside world?  Beijing has rules.  Major social media lock-down rules.  Now I’m a strong believer of limiting social media time with apps such as Facebook, Insta and snap etc.  However, WhatsApp? Google? Emails? I think they’ve gone too far.  Being an in-transit visit we needed to be able to receive emails about our excursion and transfer pick up times, but it was impossible.    Having free Wi-Fi was useless and if you are not prepared with international call minutes or texts your family may not know you have arrived safely for the whole trip.  There was no explanation of why the ‘Great Firewall of China’ exists, but it sadly cries oppression and lack of freedom of speech.


It was a great whistle-stop visit to Beijing, loved the culture and the wall etc.  No idea how you’ll be here on business, as you can’t access any online services. See you in Metro Manila


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