The overnight train from Hangzhou may have been the end of my modeling career, but it was only the beginning of our adventures in Beijing. As Anna and I made our way to our newest hostel, I noted that Beijing was very different than hip, flashy Shanghai. The city was older, historic and slower paced, although still plenty crowded. Our hostel, the Peking Downtown Backpackers Accommodation, was on a hutong in a fantastic location.
A hutong is a narrow street or alleyway lined on both sides by traditional residences. These were the neighborhoods of olden days, although now most hutongs have either been demolished, or the old homes have been turned into shops/restaurants and hostels, as was the case with ours.
Our hostel was on a street filled with cute boutiques, a variety of restaurants and was within walking distance of the subway and a bus stop. We got a double room with a private bathroom, only slightly more expensive and a definite step up from our room in Shanghai. The room was clean, the staff were friendly and helpful and breakfast was included at the cute little restaurant next door. Having not been overly impressed with Chinese food up to this point, I was glad to see some more familiar options on the menu, even if they were a little strange for breakfast, and ended up ordering a tuna sandwich every day. I recall it being delicious, don’t judge.
Since we had slept on the train, we showered quickly and then hit the streets for a full first day of touring. Our first stop was the Lama Temple, a beautiful 17th century Buddhist temple and monastery. It was a lovely, spiritual place, and very peaceful despite all the tourists and thick clouds of burning incense.
The temple is still active today and we encountered many monks studying, praying and prohibiting pictures of the 85 foot tall Buddha carved from a single piece of white sandalwood. That is awesome to behold and definitely the main attraction at the temple. Of all the temples in Beijing the Lama Temple is one of the most popular and definitely worth a stop!
We followed the Lama Temple up with a trip to Beijing’s main tourist attraction, the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties.
I loved these adorable tour groups waiting outside the main entrance. They all wore matching hats, I guess so that if anyone got lost, they would be able to find their group again? Ingenious and hilarious.