After living in London for almost three years, we have realised that our definition of a long flight is very different from everyone who is used to hop on a plane from London and land in Amsterdam within an hour. However, the flight from Buenos Aires to Beijing even broke our backs.
Since we were on a budget, we flew Air Canada from Buenos Aires to Toronto (14 hours), stopping over in Toronto for two hours, heading to Vancouver (5 hours), stretching our legs there for two hours, before flying to Beijing (12 hours). That is total in-flight time of 31 hours! So after leaving Buenos Aires on Wednesday afternoon, we reached Beijing on Friday afternoon.
After all the places we were meant to visit on this extended holiday, China was possibly the one we were most apprehensive about. Language aside, I was worried about the cultural etiquette, the controversial food offerings and of course the lack of connectivity. Thankfully for us, Mr FOMOist worked with a Kiwi girl in London, who relocated to Beijing so we wrung all the information out of her before we got there.
Before arriving, we bought a VPN (ExpressVPN) so we could stay connected and use our usual apps. Booked ourselves a private room at the Leo Hostel, in the Xicheng area located within walking distance to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (both must-see) and surrounded by Hutongs, bustling with street vendors.
We knew that my friend was quite a celebrity in China given she’s Caucasian, but we had our first taste of stardom when we went to a local restaurant where we could point at pictures to order our dinner, risqué, I know! As we entered, there was a table occupied by four women, who kept looking at us and smiling. By the time we ordered our food, they finished and left. Before our food came out, the manager of the restaurant comes to us and politely says “you remember the ladies sitting next to you? They’re standing outside the restaurant and would like to take pictures with you”.
When we obliged, all of them came flooding back into a restaurant, instructing me to sit next to Mrs FOMOist (I was sitting across her). The ladies then made themselves comfortable on either side of us and multiple pictures were taken, including several on the restaurants manager’s and my phone. We’ve seen a lot of Caucasians getting such treatment in many Asian countries, but this was a first for us and quite amusing.
Since we were in Beijing, Great Wall of China was on top of our list, among eating insects, stuffing our face with dumplings, buying cheap affordable goods. If you’re planning on going to the Great Wall of China tour, don’t bother booking anything in advance (unless you like being organised). Regardless of where you stay, they will all offer a tour of sorts. We chose to do it through Three Legged Frog Hostel. There are a number of routes you can choose from, but we did the Jinshanling to Simatai West. It was recommended by our friend, was reasonably priced and we wanted to avoid being chased around by locals trying to sell us [crap] stuff we didn’t want. I also used this website to try and get my head around the available options.
One of the mornings, before heading for a day-trip around all the major tourist attractions, we had the best (and the most expensive coffee) in Beijing at a café called Soloist Coffee Co. They were so confident about their brew that they didn’t have sugar available at the café, which Mrs FOMOist found out the embarrassing way.
One of the nights we also indulged in the highly recommended Kung-Fu show at the Beijing Red Lion Theatre, that we again booked through our hostel. While it is one of the things to do, we were a bit tired and not really in a great shape to fully appreciate it. The same night, we returned and decided we were going to fuel ourselves with the liquid energy of baijiu and paint the town red. It was all going really well, we got chatting to some other tourists and then a couple of local guys joined us. At the start it was all very endearing, them trying to talk to us, until one of the two friends got so drunk that he just wouldn’t leave us alone. He got really handsy and when we wanted to get away, he started following us. It got so bad, that once we locked ourselves in the hostel, this guy broke through the front gate, we had to leave our hostel from the back entrance and hide at one of the local restaurants till he was taken away by the police. The best thing that came out of it was 3am fresh dumplings, always a silver lining!
No trip to Beijing is complete without the infamous Peking Duck and we knew just the place! It’s called De Yuan Roast Duck Restaurant in the Xicheng area, about 100m from Leo Hostel. I am convinced that any Peking Duck you’ll have in Beijing will be delicious, but this one was particularly scrumptious. This is the place that educated us in the art of eating Peking Duck. The duck came with a side of a bowl of sugar, which is apparently to be used to coat the crispy duck skin and then let the flavours explode all over your taste buds. If you haven’t tried it yet, please give it a shot, it will change your life forever and for the better.
Even though we were headed to Shanghai, we were determined to “eat-like-a-local” so on one of our final days we walked to the infamous Wangfujing Snack Street. We first asked at the reception about it and the lady was determined that it was closed. That made me equally determined to go check it out for myself and when we got there, it was there in all its creepy, crawly and busy glory. We tried crickets (yum), pigeon on a stick (delish) starfish (awful) and a scorpion (meh). While I was getting tucked into the scorpion, the look on the locals’ face was morbid. I didn’t see any of the locals devouring any of the insects, which makes me think if it’s only for the tourist indulgence and locals’ amusement.
Have you been to Beijing? Feel free to share your own stories and recommendations.