Sunday, 5 October 2014

Beijing, China : Immerse your Family in Chinese Culture & History

This travel post is written by Jasmine who blogs at Scissors Paper Stone. She travelled to Beijing with her husband and kid(s), J (5.5 years) & K (2.5 years) in June 2011. 

This holiday is suitable for families who are keen for a cultural adventure filled with nature walks, museum hopping and a glimpse into the history of China. 

In all, we had a really swell (smog-free) time but as our visit was 3 years ago, there are some details that are now a little hazy (pardon the pun). So if I have gotten any facts wrong or if you have a helpful tip about Beijing, please feel free to share it in the comments below. 

Here are 10 memorable things from our 6-day visit to Beijing that left us yearning for more.

1. Beijing Zoo

As some of you may know, we are a family of avid animal lovers. So whenever we visit a new place with our kids, it's no surprise that the zoo immediately gets added to the itinerary. 

One thing to note about the Beijing Zoo is that it sits on a huge piece of land (89 ha to be precise compared to the 28 ha in the Singapore Zoo), so be selective and head to the enclosures that you really want to see. 

For us, it was all about the pandas. The kids were really excited when we got to the enclosure but it took us a while to spot the lone panda in his play area. Each panda had a ginormous space to roam about in, complete with a playground and slide but they weren't playing on the day that we visited. In fact, it seemed rather happy lying in the shade just staring at the gate.  

Overall, the Zoo is quite old and not that well-maintained. In fact, there were some animals caged up in rather tight spaces which did make us wonder whether more could be done for them. Although it saddened me, I thought it was good for the kids to see the animals in these living conditions and to be able to appreciate how different this was to the other zoos that we had been to. 

2. Military Museum of the Chinese People

For a glimpse into Chinese history, bring the kids to the Military Museum where you can introduce them to the key political figures as you pass by the statues of the chinese leaders. 

It is a great place to escape the heat or smog and spend a few hours as kids and adults are treated to a large display of chinese armoured vehicles, fighter planes and missile launchers. 

While you are there, try to spot "Lee Kuan Yew" located in the section where statues and busts of well-known chinese leaders as well as foreign ones are put on display. 

3. Bird's Nest

A quick visit to the Beijing National Stadium is in order for those who appreciate architecture. Created to house the 2008 Summer Olympics and designed to look like a Bird's Nest, it has become what some would say a museum piece as there isn't a regular tenant.

We enjoyed a quick drive around the building but didn't go in. Some people say the building is more spectacular at night when it is lit up so you might want to drive by after night falls. 

4. Temple of Heaven

Before you begin this trek, I must inform you that the Temple of Heaven covers 273 hectares which is close to ten times the size of the Singapore Zoo. So if you are travelling with young kids and want to catch a glimpse of this Temple, bear in mind that the path to "Heaven" is no easy walk in the park. 

I suppose a stroller might come in handy (I'm not sure about stairs though) but we had decided not to bring one on this trip. Thankfully I had brought along flying toys, we also sang songs as we walked and as you can see in the picture above, carried our kids when they could walk no longer.

But as we strolled through the park, I couldn't help but notice the people playing chess, walking with loved ones, doing tai chi. Go prepared and you will enjoy the walk too.

5. Beijing Museum of Natural History

For dinosaur lovers out there, check out the Beijing Museum of Natural History (100m from the West Gate of the Temple of Heaven). Another great place to hide from the sweltering sun, the palaeontology section was my favourite. I thought it was pretty cool seeing all the dinosaurs with chinese sounding names, like the Tsintaosaurus, Yangchuanosaurus as well as the Lufengosaurus. 

6. Summer Palace

If you were to ask my kids what their favourite part of their holiday in China, this would be it.


Simply put, it was the first time that either of them got to steer a boat. I can tell you at the age of 2 and 5, that was pretty cool.

The Summer Palace is the largest royal park in China and boasts of lush greenery and scenic spots to relax in. We chose not to walk around the park but instead rented one of the motor boats and drove around the lake. The boats move at a rather slow speed and there were very few boats in the massive lake so under our watchful eye, we decided to let the kids have a turn. 

It really was a wonderful way to enjoy the royal grounds. As the boat drifted through the calm waters, I enjoyed the gentle breeze and imagined what it must have been like to be royalty living here more than a hundred years ago. 

7. Great Wall of China

Of course, no visit to Beijing is complete without a visit to the Great Wall of China. On the advice of our hired driver, we chose to go up via the section at Mutianyu as it is known to be less crowded or touristy than the Badaling or Juyongguan sections. 

A cable car takes you up most of the way but there are some steps to climb but it isn't too bad. Once you are on the Great Wall, you can decide for yourself how far you would like to venture. The views are indeed spectacular but what really took my breath away was imagining how this magnificent wall was constructed, brick by brick. 

8. Tiananmen Square (& Forbidden City)

Historical places can be difficult for young kids and so we decided not to enter the Forbidden City with the kids. We did visit the Tiananmen Square and snapped a few pics but we didn't stay long. If you have brought your kids into the Forbidden City, I would love to hear what your experience was like. Perhaps we will head back with the boys someday.

9. Silk Street

The bulk of my shopping money went to Chinese books for the kids. They are a lot cheaper and the variety is of course more extensive. The kids were given a holiday budget and both bought one toy each. Most of our time was spent shopping at Silk Street where you are expected to haggle over prices which took time getting used to. Ultimately, don't be shy when you bargain. 

10. Food

Eating out with the kids was a breeze in Beijing. Everywhere we went, we enjoyed the food. We tried the Peking Duck, Ma La Hot Pot, and steamed mantou (buns). It was lovely not having to worry about what the kids could or couldn't eat. 

In all, it was a delightful trip with just the right dose of history and culture coupled with precious family bonding time.

Perhaps my only regret was not being able to visit the hutongs (traditional streets and alleys) and possibly indulge in a little paper cutting or peruse the painted snuff bottles. But I suppose that gives me reason to visit this charming old city again.

Have you visited Beijing with your kids? Do you think you would? 
If you have, what is your favourite place to bring your kids in Beijing?

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