During the Easter holidays our agency were lovely enough to take us all to Beijing for a long weekend to celebrate 10 years of business. We had a very action packed couple of days fitting in many (but certainly not all) of the sights that Beijing has to offer.
Although I was excited to experience Beijing, and indeed the mainland, for the first time, I'd heard very mixed opinions about the place so my expectations weren't particularly high. However, I was very impressed with the city, it had a lot of unexpected character and charm. I had seen so many pictures of smoggy Beijing concealed in a 'nuclear winter' like mask of pollution in the press over the last year that I had no expectations of it being a particularly beautiful city, aside from all the impressive tourist attractions that it's known for. I was pleasantly surprised however, I was really charmed by Beijing, it's friendly people and many, many bicycles.

This is the first time i'd visited somewhere as part of a tour group, we where with 'Wing On' a Hong Kong based tour agency. It was quite an interesting experience, I wasn't expecting the tour to monopolise quite as much time as it did (wake up call 6.30am back at the hotel by about 8pm nearly every day), and they were very against us walking around by ourselves. I think as the tour guides were used to the well behaved and obedient Chinese tourists, having nearly thirty young westerners under their charge was a bit of a shock. They did take us to a few too many pointless places that I'm pretty sure they get paid to take us to (i.e a chinese medicine lecture at 8.30 in the morning!) and being given a set amount of time to spend at each place was borderline infuriating (not enough time at the Great Wall, or Nanluoguxiang but way too much time trying to get us to spend money at a silk shop) Oh, and it was all set meals. Some of the food was nice, but we basically had the same meal for lunch and dinner everyday while we were on the trip, I would rather have spent my own money in some of the other lovely looking restaurants we did see.
In spite of all the annoyances of the tour I did have a great couple of days, with there being so many of us we had a good laugh, the hotel they put us up in was very impressive, and we did get to see a lot of Beijing. Needless to say I wouldn't do that kind of tour again. Trying to navigating yourself around the city and wandering around is often better than the sights itself for me, but it was a good one off experience shared with many friends and it was a lovely gesture from our company.

Beijing Highlights in pictures.

The Summer Palace

The National Opera House

Tianman Square

Forbidden City entrance from Tianman Square

Mao's tomb

Inside the Forbidden City

On the other side of the Forbidden City

Street style

The Great Wall

Sedgewaying around the Olympic Stadium

Water Park inside the water cube

Making friends in one of the Hutong's.

Pretty views on our rickshaw ride around the Hutong.

One of the many cute market stalls in the Hou Hai district.

One of my favourite spots in Beijing - the Hou Hai Neighbourhood, part of a Hutong area. It's very picturesque and lively. The colours of the lanterns around the big lake in the middle are really beautiful, a great place to relax and do a spot of people watching. We spent most of our night in the reggae bar, where there was a great vibe and dangerously cheap drinks. During the winter months you can go ice skating around the lake, which I can imagine looks beautiful.

Hot Pot flavoured crisps, intense and stimulating.

One of many wedding photo shoots happening in the Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven

The Birds Nest and Water Cube looking very impressive at night

Lots of cute cafes, small shops and bars with rooftop terraces in the Nanluoguxiang district.

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