Beating the heat in Beijing

Even though I had been to Beijing ten years ago, it was an overwhelming first day and there were multiple reasons for that. Starting again with having to go through an immigration process, and this time one that has more requirements (the nervousness always consumes so much of my energy). After arrival, I went to buy a sim card which at first did not work. The VPN which I had pre-installed did also not work. The amount of people and the noise were a lot to take in – and all of this happened at glistering 41 degrees Celsius. Usually, it’s not that hot in the city, but this year it’s an extraordinary hot summer.

Being a foreign tourist in China is not so easy. First and foremost, I do not own a Chinese ID card, Chinese bank account or Chinese credit card. With my sim card I have a temporary Chinese phone number, but when I bought the sim card they did not tell me the number, so I’m still not sure what it is. All of this makes it a bit hard to get tickets or even paying. In many shops they only accept two kinds of apps for payments, and having a foreign credit card and no Chinese ID card or Chinese bank account is not ideal. Credit cards are seldomly accepted and I pay mostly in cash. They are not used to having people paying in Cash and sometimes they need to ask a neighboring shop for the exchange money. Sometimes I can buy a subway ticket by myself at the ticket machine and sometimes I have to go to the counter to get one. Visiting China in summer is not the best time for foreign tourists, as it will be hot and many Chinese people are enjoying their summer vacation travelling through China. However, as I’m having the summer off and it was either this or not going, I at least had a hunch of what I was getting myself into. I did not expect 41 degrees in Beijing (I’d expected this for southern China), and the amount of people and noisiness is hard to imagine beforehand. It took me a couple of days to adjust and find my way around.

In Beijing I had two items on my list which I wanted to see. Firstly, the forbidden city and secondly the great wall. I did not get a ticket for the forbidden city as I was too late in buying one. Nowadays tickets for the forbidden city are sold 7 days prior to the date of visit and they are only sold online. Additionally, after Covid the number of visitors has been reduced to 30’000 people a day. Previously you could buy tickets at the ticket office before the entrance and on very busy days 80’000-100’000 people could visit the forbidden city. I was told that getting tickets to the forbidden city was quite hard, even harder than for the train (and already here I’d experienced some troubles!). So instead of the forbidden city, I went to see the temple of heaven and the summer palace. For both of these sights I was able to buy tickets on the spot for the same day.

Temple of heaven is famous for its Chinese ritual architecture. Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties (ca. 1420-1900) worshiped the god of heaven and prayed for good harvests here. It’s about the same size as the Central Park in New York City. For the temple of heaven I bought the audio guide, which would start playing as soon as you’d reached different points of the route. Honestly, 41 degrees are too much for my head so I wasn’t really able to pay attention to what has been said along the route. Nevertheless, the architecture is magnificent and it’s nice to walk through the park in the shadow. Most importantly, drinking enough water and eating ice cream kept me fueled and cool.

In the afternoon I went to see the summer palace, which is located within a huge park and has its own lake. The summer palace is a masterpiece of imperial Chinese garden design. First parts of it were built during the 12th century and its name changed multiple times over the next couple of centuries. It had to be rebuilt after the second Opium war in the 1850s and was then given its current name “Summer Palace”. The rebuilt was ordered by emperor Guangxu for the usage by empress Dowager Cixi (what a modest gift of ca. 3’000 Square Kilometers!). A refreshing breeze was blowing and I did manage to do a complete tour and walk to the top of the palace and around the lake. 

For the second day I booked tour with an English-guide to the great wall at Mutianyu (there are several places where you can visit the great wall). Let’s say, the tour was not quite what I expected. I was the only foreigner on that tour and most of the information was provided in Mandarin. The only parts which they translated to me where pick-up time and location. I do speak a bit of Mandarin, but following a description of the history of the great wall exceeds my capabilities by far. Thus, at first I was a bit annoyed. However, at the end of the day I was happy that I had a tour bus with air-conditioning taking me there and back to the city. Mutianyu is not reachable by public transport, as for example Badaling is. On the other hand, many more people go to Badaling and I felt like the option with “less people” would still mean enough people for me (which was absolutely true).

I had visited the great wall before. I cannot recall where I was the last time, but I remember that I had seen parts which were not as restored as what you see on the photos and where you actually had to do more climbing. I guess there are still parts where the remaining parts of the “original” wall can be visited, but I’d recommend to check this with a local before going there. As I had learned, there are a couple of things which have changed after Covid. The evenings I spent walking through the hutongs (small lanes with traditional buildings) and getting a cold shower before going to sleep.

It was nice to see again Beijing, but I was also looking forward to my next stop – with presumably a bit less people and temperatures in the low to mid-thirties.

Until soon,

Aline ☀️


  1. Thanks for sharing your story, it was a nice read and certainly useful when I visit China. Nicely written!

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