Published: February 15th 2011February 14th 2011
Tuesday 8th February
Our taxi from Pattaya to Bangkok cost around £20 and its the usual check in and boarding routine when we get there. We have a one stop flight to Beijing being a 2 hour flight to Kuala Lumpar then 7 hours up to Beijing. We arrived in KL at 10.15pm and caught the flight to Beijing a hour later for an overnight plane journey.
Wednesday 9th February
The wake up call from the captain at 6am alerts us to the fact that its -6oC in Beijing. Even more bothering is the 45 minutes waiting on the tarmac after landing due to a mechanical fault with one of the wheels which prevented us form reaching the arrival platform.
Another long wait at immigration before we are greated outside by our guide and private car for the next few days. Our guides name is Linda and she speaks good enough English as she explains a few things about our plans for the next few days in Beijing. We are both tired and we have a hectic day ahead so once we are checked into the hotel we take a very short nap before being picked up and taken to
our first stop at Tian'anmen Square.
As we drove through Beijing our first impression is that its as huge. Its busy on the ten lane Chang'an Avenue which is no surprise given that Beijings Population is near 22 million and its the last day of the new year holidays!
Tiananmen Square is a named after the Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heaven) located in the north of Beijing which separates Beijing from the Forbidden City. The square was designed and built in 1651 and enlarged a few times in the 1950's.
Its flatness is contrasted by the 38-meter high Monument to the People's Heroes which was built in memory of the martyrs who laid down their lives for the revolutionary struggles of the Chinese people during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Tiananmen Square is the largest city square in the world (880m by 500m). It has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history. The square was the center of the infamous 1989 student protests, where soldiers opened fire on protesters, killing 400–800, and perhaps many more. The famous footage of the student that stopped the Chinese Army tanks with only flags
near to where are standing although questions about that day go unanswered.
We walked around for a bit admiring the buildings that surround the square and also the extra large lcd screens that were playing highlights of new year celebrations from the week before were worth noticing. We walked through an underpass which took us under the busy Chang'an Avenue and over to the Tiananmen Gate. Tiananmen Gate is a building which is decorated with a portrait of Mao Zedong in the centre and two placards to the left and right: "Long Live the People's Republic of China" and "Long live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples". Passing through this building, over the moat and bridges into the next square would lead us the way into the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912). For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.
Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings with 8,707 bays of
rooms and covers 178 acres and declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.
The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 7.9 metre high wall and a six metre deep, 52 metre wide moat. The walls are 8.5 metres wide at the base narrowing to 6.5 metres at the top. Pretty secure then you would say!
We've collected our tickets and make our way across the first square and approached the Meridian Gate.
Meridian Gate is the main gate and the south gate of the Forbidden City. As the greatest of the gates, it is also the highest building of the Forbidden City. Five pavilions with golden glaze tiles, like five phoenixes, sit on the gate, thus the gate is also called Five-Phoenix Pavilion. Bells and drums reside in the two pavilions closest to the main pavilion. The bells would ring when the emperor left the Meridian Gate for the Temple of Heaven.
We passed through the tunnel under the Meridian Gate into the the next square which was enclosed by high red walls with the Gate of Supreme Harmony in front of us.
Once through the Gate of Supreme Harmony we enter a beautiful large square which has
the Inner Golden Water River cutting through it crossed by five beautiful marble bridges. The river is frozen solid and we are beginning to feel the same at this point. In front of us is the majestic Harmony Hall. Wow! We are pinching ourselves as we've looked forward to this for a whiley.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the main attraction within the forbidden city and it sits proudly in the center of three Halls surrounded by lots of bronze incense burners. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is one of the largest wooden structures within China which is about 28 meters high and stands on a three-terrace base of white marble. During the dynasties, the hall was used to hold ceremonies on grand occasions, like the Emperor's enthronement, birthday and wedding day, the dispatch of generals to battles, the Winter Solstice and the Spring Festival.
The hall is nine bays wide and five bays deep, the numbers nine and five being symbolically connected to the majesty of the Emperor. The six pillars nearest the imperial throne are covered with gold, and the entire area is decorated with a dragon motif. The imperial Dragon Throne, in particular, has five
dragons coiled around the back and handrests. The screen behind it features sets of nine dragons, again reflecting the "nine-five" symbolism which is also evident on the rooftops.
Walking further onwards and past Harmony Hall we came across the next Hall which was the Hall of Central Harmony and its stands alone on some complex marble and stone carved stairways. This pavilion-style hall used to be the place for the emperor to do preparations for ceremonies. He's a bit spoilt the emperor me thinks! Theres lots of other halls around, too many to remember and I'm only writing on the ones we visited.
To the East of here we headed through some nice gardens and past the Nine Dragon Wall.
Built in 1773 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), this marvelous wall is 20.4 meters long and 3.5 meters high. Nine dragons, each playing with a pearl, are carved in a very lifelike manner. The trees around this area are all over 400 years old and have red badges pinned to them to show their age and they look like big bonsai tree's but of course there not, bonsai is Japanese.
Just a short walk from here is
the Hall of Heavenly Purity.
This hall was the place where emperors held council with his cabinet, interviewed his ministers and foreign ambassadors and read submitted documents. On festivals, family banquets and ceremonies took place in the hall. When the emperor died, his coffin was placed here for mourning for several days.
We entered the side halls and wandered around the Museum looking at various artefacts from the various Ming and Qing Dynasties. Theres lots of Large Jade stone sculptures as well as Gold and Marble gifts from throughout the years. Just before we went back outside we came across some musical chimes which consisted of chime stones and bells which were well preserved and were situated in a lavish room next to some lovely gardens.
We were now leaving the City by the opposite end from which we entered, the North Gate. We've traveled nearly 940 metres on foot through many gates and Halls and our guide informs us that we half only seen about 60% of the Forbidden city. We pass over the frozen Moat that surrounds the entire Forbidden City and our driver is waiting to take us for a well needed lunch as we
are frozen and shivering.
Some how we ended up at a pearl Factory for a short stop to witness the harvesting of Pearls from Freshwater Oysters. It wasn't in the itinerary but we've cottoned on to this trick in Bangkok so we just play along. The lady removed nearly 20 pearls from one oyster shell and then proceeded to show us around the shop desperately trying to sell us some pearls and jewelery which we declined and left. It would've been a waste of time if it wasn't for the free hot green tea on arrival.
We're to tired to go off on our own to find somewhere cheap to eat so we just settle for the tour guides recommendation which was average and overpriced.
In the afternoon we visited the Temple of heaven which was a forty minute drive awa through Beijing which gave us some more glimpses of the the sprawling city.
The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Park) is the grandest cult architecture complex in the world and a masterpiece of the Chinese people created in ancient times. The Tiantan Park in which its located covers 667 acres, which is nearly four times the
area of the Forbidden City. The Temple of Heaven was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
The temple was constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and was enlarged during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Emperors of the two dynasties used to worship the heaven and pray for rich harvests, as the feudal emperors thought they were the son of the heaven.
The primary buildings in the temple are the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests in the north and Circular Mound Altar in the south.
We walked past lots of lovely pavilions in the park watching the many locals who use the park for simple things like jogging, dancing and some were playing Chinese checkers and cards under the cover of the pavilions. There was a couple of old people practicing Tai Chi out in the open and it was great to watch albeit for a short while as theres a bite in the air and its best to keep moving.
We can see a magnificent structure not far from here and our guide tells us its the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvest which we are heading for. We passed a Cypress tree
embracing a Pagoda Tree which was two trees which have grown with each other and the looked almost joined at the base. Quite strange but it reminded us of the two trees that were entwined with each other in New Zealand.
We are almost at the main attraction and its started to get a bit busier and tiredness is creeping in.
We arrived at the impressive Altar of Prayer for Good Harvest and its here the emperors prayed for favorable weather and ample harvest. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the principle building of the altar, is thirty-eight meters high. It was built on a three-tiered circular terrace which measures six meters.
The structure of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a wonderful building and we stared at it for a while before dong anything, its that empowering.
The pavilion-style hall was built entirely of wood, but it has no crossbeam or purlin inside. Twenty-eight pillars support the three-tier building, with the four in the centers symbolizing four seasons of a year and also built with twelve pillars on each side to represent twelve months of the year.
We walked around the nearby East
and West Annex which were interesting enough inside and out. We decided to call it a day without visiting the North Circular temple where our guide wanted to take us before going home. It just seemed a long walk and we just wanted home as our hands and feet are blue with the cold. We've been in hot climates for nearly half the year and its a shock to the system walking about in the frost!
We walk through the park to the other end and past some wonderful decorations which are still up for last weeks new year celebrations. A group of old people dressed up in traditional Chinese clothing are dancing along to authentic Chinese music nearby as hundreds of people walk by us heading into the Temple of heaven.
This year is the year of the Rabbit and theres lots of red latterns and rabbit motifs everywhere which makes our walk that bit more enjoyable.
We're glad to be dropped off back at the hotel and waste no time in taking hot showers and getting settled into bed for the nght with TV on and several hot cups of tea!! The hotel is really nice
and comfortable and we're looking forward to our first sleep in a bed in three nights seeing we slept on a plane and a sofa the last three nights!!
We're excited at the thought of walking the Great Wall of china Tomorrow!
There are more photos below