Welcome to Beijing
This is the nations capital, and there are more famous attractions here than anywhere else in China: the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, the Summer Palace, and the Great Wall to name a few. You find many locals who are eager to practice their English with you, and if you take some time to chat, you'll make some friends.
Many visitors come to Tiananmen Square. When you join them, you'll notice shallow grooves in the pavement. Are those tank tracks left over from the military crackdown on the student demonstrations? And what about those half-inch holes in the sides of nearby buildings? Bullet holes? A local can confirm it.
Inside the Forbidden City, the former home of the emporers.
There are dozens of palaces and temples here. Many spectacular treasures were removed by fleeing nationalists after the victory of the communists following WWII. Still, it's an impressive place.
The Great Wall, north of Beijing.
The first thing you'll realize here is that you can't really see the Great Wall from outer space. It's no wider than a large house, and much of it has crumbled. Portions have been restored for the sake of tourism. Merchants flock here to sell tiny painted jars, embroidered fabric, old opium pipes, or their first born if the price is right. At the right (or wrong) time of year, you'll find more sellers than buyers.
The wall has unbelievable proportions, with thousands of miles in length, and thousands of years of history. It was first completed around 200 B.C. as an earthen wall. It was modified and rebuilt over the centuries, until it reached it's modern form in the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644). As impressive as these numbers are, the Mongols slipped past in the 13th century simply by bribing local border officials.
Beijing is not all ancient history. Here you'll meet people from the remote province of Xinjiang (where the locals are caucasian and speak a dialect of Turkish)...
...and from the elite Beida University. The "X" is for Malcolm X, believe it or not.
The black market ticket sellers are easy to find here, and perhaps more reliable than in other cities. The journey is still young, and you're still eager to see the big tourist sites, so you buy a ticket to Xian and board a train heading west.
Jump to any of the main stops in China by clicking on the links below