Date of Trip: September 2002
I took in the standard sights — The Forbidden City, Tiannamen Square, The Summer Palace, The Great Wall of China, The Palace of Heaven — but the most unusual aspect of the trip was the Hutong Tours. Hutongs are the narrow alleys running through the traditional quadrangle dwellings that surround the Forbidden City. Horse and carriage tours take you through the narrow alleys to see how people live. Despite the tour’s obvious political agenda (many Chinese advocate replacing the quadrangles with high-rises) I enjoyed an up close look at local life.
Don’t take a Great Wall Tour, go there on your own. Many of the Tours include stops to other destinations. I spent hours at this Chinese Medical Center learning about natural remedies for my menstrual cramps and was bussed to one too many places to shop.
Best Way to Get Around:
You will need some kind of public transportation to get to the Summer Palace or The Great Wall, but don’t get suckered into taking a mini bus. The regular buses are cheaper and there is a standard fare. The drivers of the mini bus may ask for one fare when you are on the street. Once you are on the bus, they may raise the fare. Walking is the best, I think. But don’t open your map because cabs-both regular and bicycle–will park at your feet and offer you a ride.