We woke at 8:15am and ate breakfast at the Beijing Drum Tower Youth Hostel again. JT opted for the ¥30 Mexican breakfast again, although he noted the burrito was spicier and smaller this time. Katie tried the ¥30 Swiss breakfast which included toast, scrambled egg, and a bowl of yougurt, raisins, granola, and fresh fruit.
After breakfast we stopped to visit with the sweet hostel cat before heading out for the day.
We took the subway to Tianamen East, and then found the subway’s Exit A was closed – with a police police officer protecting it. We went through Exit D instead, and then had to go through ID check and then a long security check in the underpass tunnel to Tianamen Square. After the security check we realized that Exit A from the subway had been closed because it would have allowed us to bypass the ID and security checks.
We pushed through the crowds to get to the ticket lines for the Forbidden City. We got in line at 11:25am and finally got tickets at 11:55am (¥60/~$10 each). There were constantly looping announcements that they have a new 80,000 visitor per-day cap – which probably is not a problem except on summer weekends. They also require identification such as a passport in order to buy tickets. It seems like online reservation has been recently made possible, and this probably would have allowed us to skip the long ticket line. One peculiar thing is that we only got one physical ticket for both of us.
We rented two of the ¥40 automatically activated audio guides. They had decent English, but we are not convinced that they were worth the money. We generally followed the main tourist route, and became very tired and worn down due to the humid hot day, pushing people, and massive crowds. Perhaps they should limit admission to much less than 80,000 people a day! The building exteriors were pretty, but became monotonous over time. We cannot recommend going to see the Forbidden City, but do admit that experience might be different in other seasons or more rewarding for some people.
We left the Forbidden City around 2:30pm and started looking to take a taxi to the Temple of Heaven. The first taxi we approached stated a price of ¥150 for the 5.7 km ride, so we dismissed him and headed over to the rickshaws. The first offer there was ¥80, which JT laughed at and got the price quickly lowered to ¥50, but we still did not think this was reasonable. So, we used Google Maps to determine a route. Just as we did, the 109 bus that we needed pulled up right in front of us! After struggling with the language barrier with the ticket taker, we paid ¥2 each and took the bus 3 stops to just outside subway line 5 (Dongsi station), which we took to Tiantandongmen stop just outside the Temple of Heaven East Gate. This journey ended up being easy, cheap, and quick!
Th admission there was just ¥35 for the “through ticket” – including entrance to the gardens and all 4 other attractions in the garden. We wandered towards the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, and happened upon a group singing! It seemed like an informal happening – most people seemed to know the words, although some had sheets with words but no musical notes. We stopped and took in the performance for a while. Then we continued on, and were amused to also see locals playing cards, Chinese chess, and kicking feathered balls around. We eventually made our way to the main sight in the park, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.
We had decided to buy a through pass, and we are so happy we did. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest complex was pretty neat, and so pretty in the late afternoon light. We saw five different couples taking engagement/wedding pictures near the temple. JT really enjoyed shooting pictures in the light! The exhibits around the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest complex were informative and air-conditioned.
Once the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest complex closed at 6pm, we wandered around the rest of the park. Some of the vendors around the tourist areas were frustrating, but we saw none once we got away from the tourist areas. We found a large rose garden in our wanderings. Right as we were leaving the park around dusk, we saw a bunch of people slow dancing in sync to music just outside the gates. We watched and enjoyed for a few songs, and in talking with one local lady, learned they dance outside the east gate around dusk each evening.
After enjoying the dancing, we took the subway back to our hotel. On both subway lines we got into the first car and watched the checks the driver must make at each stop. It seems very regimented, is taped, and seems to put safety as a real priority! It was impressive to see!
We stopped by the hostel before dinner to drop off all of our belongings. But this slight extra time caused us to arrive at the dumpling restaurant next door 4 minutes too late (they closed at 9pm). It ended up okay though, as we shared Greek salad pizza (¥68) and beers (¥8 each when ordered with food) at Beijing Drum Tower Youth Hostel instead.
After dinner, Katie worked for a few hours on planning out the Great Wall trip for our final day in Beijing.