Toilet Star Rating = 4 star
Our arrival in Beijing was inauspicious. The city was covered in a mist so thick that we could see nothing from the plane's window until we actually touched down. From the airport we took the subway to Zhianzizhong station, as instructed and navigated with surprising ease to our hostel. The hostel, the lovely Peking Yard, is situated in a hutong (old neighbourhood) east of the Forbidden City. It isn't the best area for nightlife or restaurants but is close to the subway. It's also easy to find in the dark as there are three public toilets in the alleyway and they can be detected from miles away.
We set off into the night, walking to the nightlife district about 20 minutes away. It was amazing how quiet everything was. Possibly it was the weather, but Beijing was simply nothing like what we expected. We expected a busy madness, like Hanoi or Bangkok. Everything was calmness and order. We found ourselves a bar for a drink before moving on to a restaurant for... wait for it... Chinese food. It was delicious and cheap. Just as we finished up however the heavens opened and it poured with rain. Luckily we'd grabbed a car at the hostel with Chinese directions on it that we could give to a taxi driver as very few people speak any English. The ride back to the hostel cost us A$2.
The next day we set off to the Forbidden City. This was the imperial palace of the Ming and Ching dynasties. It was started by the emperor Yongle in the 15th century and was added to by later emperors. It's a vast complex, but the constant sequence of courtyards, halls and temples and courtyards get a bit boring after a while.
That night we tried to hit the town and took the subway to the Sanlintun district. We got a bit lost out there though and it took us almost an hour to find the bar street. When we did we were jumped on by spruikers trying to drag us into their bars, all invariably featuring hostesses and twirling dancing girls. Ahh, no thanks (although I did have to drag Shelly away). We wandered around several districts that night, jumping from subway stop to subway stop, and then walking endless miles looking for a decent bar to hang out in. We failed. It was exhausting and disappointing.
The next day we failed to get up early... something to do with tiredness and lack of enthusiasm. We took the subway again out to the Olympic Park. It's enormous!
We wandered around a little and then headed over to the Summer Palace. This is where the Ming and Ching emperors would retire in summer to escape the heat of central Beijing. It's a pretty location around a lake. Here they built little pleasure gardens and palaces and pretended to run the empire. The dowager empress Xhi Xhi (might be spelling that wrong - in fact I know I am) built a pretty little marble 'boat' on the waterfront with the funds allocated to the Imperial Navy. It was a ridiculous and wasteful extravagance that helped run China into the ground in the 19th century.
From there we attempted to do some shopping but we found ourselves walking mile after mile looking at shops selling ... well, Chinese junk so we gave up and cooled our heels back at the hostel a while. Later that night we found the really flash shopping district and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. There was a market area off a side street which sold Chinese trinkets and really weird food. On offer - bbq scorpion kebabs, snake, starfish, and various offal parts, including sheep penises. I would have taken a photo of that but there were too many New Zealanders in the way.