Last year, I was the winner of an online language challenge where you learn a language for 90 days and then make a 15 minute video speaking in that language with a native speaker. The prize for the winner is a free return flight to the country of their target language. As I was learning Chinese for this challenge, my prize was a free return flight to China!
I had already briefly visited the south of China on a one day excursion from Hong Kong but back then I could only speak a few phrases in Chinese and I really lacked confidence. When I returned to China for my prize winning trip after completing the challenge, I was able to speak a lot more Chinese than my last visit and I had much more confidence. I was able to get by in restaurants (this was important because I am vegetarian), in shops and at tourist sites. I even managed to use my Chinese to buy clothes, discuss sizes, colours, trying them on and as it was close to Christmas, I bought all of my Christmas presents for my family in China. I had a lot of fun choosing unique gifts that I wouldn’t find at home.
My hotel was in a hutong (alley) area of Beijing. It’s quite a central location and within walking distance of the Forbidden City and the main shopping street. The hutong streets are very narrow and old. There are quite a few shops in the hutongs as well as a few cafes and hairdressers. My hotel was within a traditional old building in the hutong and was decorated in traditional Chinese style. The service from staff was excellent and I enjoyed being able to stay somewhere so unique.
I was in Beijing for just under a week. I booked several guided tours before I left home. I had always wanted to see the Great Wall. It has been on my wishlist for many years. My first full day included a visit to both the Great Wall and Ming Tombs. First, we went to the tombs and we were able to go inside and see the red coffins and thrones from the Emperor. The surrounding countryside is very pretty and from Ming Tombs you can see other tombs up in the mountains which aren’t open to the public. After lunch at a restaurant near the Great Wall, it was time to make our way up to the Wall for some free time to walk along it. The busiest part of the wall is Badaling as that is the nearest part to Beijing. I chose to go to Mutianyu because it was a quieter part of the Wall. I think I made the right choice because while I was on the Wall, I was able to get lots of photos without any other people in them! The walk up to the Wall is tough if you are not very fit. In fact, just walking from the car park up to the cable car is tough because it’s up quite a steep hill. It was certainly worth it though!
Over the next few days I visited the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the zoo to see the pandas and the Olympic Stadium. I would recommend taking a small group 5 hour walking tour of the Forbidden City as there is so much to see in there and most bus excursions only have 1 or 2 hours at the Forbidden City which is nowhere near enough. The Summer Palace was very interesting too with a beautiful setting on a lake.
The Chinese people really appreciated me speaking their language and I received lots of compliments even though my Chinese is still quite basic as I was only learning for 90 days. However, I am glad I was able to do everything I needed in China and I enjoyed the challenge and my trip so much that I am continuing with my Chinese studies and my 8-year-old niece is now keen to follow in my footsteps.
This is my video below showing various places during my trip :
To read about my Chinese challenge with a link to my Day 90 video with a native speaker, click here.
Italki where I find my tutors for my language lessons on Skype. Some lessons can cost just $5 for 30 minutes. You can register on this link here and after taking your first paid lesson, you will receive $10 of credits to use towards another lesson.
USEFUL TRAVEL LINKS (not affiliate links)
I booked my flights independently using Skyscanner. It also brings up results of the budget airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet.
I normally look for hotels or apartments using Booking.com as many of them do not require a prepayment and are flexible with regards to amendments and cancellations up until a few days before travel. By using my link, you will receive a 10% refund in your accommodation costs.
Another site I regularly use for hotels is Hotels.com. They also have many hotels offering flexible options. I once had to cancel a hotel at a non-refundable rate but they helped me obtain a refund as I needed urgent surgery and the hotel still had a week to rebook another customer. I have therefore been happy with their service.
For insurance, I have been using Flexicover to buy annual policies for over 10 years. In that time, I have had to claim twice for last minute illnesses resulting in cancellations and the service has been efficient. You can also arrange to pay extra and cover pre-existing conditions.