Imagine the surprise of discovering only when at the airport that my birthday will be spent in Beijing…
As one of the largest and most populous cities in the world, Beijing is a marvellous destination, even if it’s just for a fleeting 9-day birthday getaway.
I had no idea that I would spend a special clocking of a decade (not letting on which decade) in Beijing – a total surprise. To those that say I’m spoilt, I say, totally agree with you…but, I’m worth it! 😉
How the birthday surprise transpired…
My partner decides that this special birthday is going to be a surprise – did I mention that I’m not big on surprises?
I’m one of those painful people that relentlessly tries to find out what the surprise is before the actual day.
My passport is taken from me for a visa. The plot thickens. I have absolutely no idea where in the world I’m going to land for the 9-day birthday getaway.
For several months beforehand, my partner secretly beavered away organising visas, flights, accommodation, researching activities – absolutely everything. Did I mention he makes a fantastic travel coordinator? Think he missed his calling in life. All I needed to do was submit holiday leave from full-time work.
What to pack when you don’t know where you’re going?
So, what do I pack? Eagerly ask trying to glean just a vague clue, a hint to work with, but it’s hopeless.
The secret won’t be revealed. Tight-lipped. A firmly shut book.
Not a single clue is divulged. Instead, to my frustration: Pack clothes for all types of weather.
The surprise won’t be spoilt by my constant prodding, asking questions, or trying to best guess, but still finding out nada about the surprise getaway.
Brisbane International Airport
So, the day finally arrives, and I’m charged. Although still have no clue of where the destination for the next 9 days will be…
At Brisbane’s International Airport, we wander around slowly, almost aimlessly, to a few counters. A trick to put me off the scent, but it’s useless as I still don’t have any idea.
Finally, we stop at a check-in counter. The board displays Beijing – I’m ecstatic and so excited!
I’m handed a brand-new copy of the Lonely Planet Guide on Beijing – double-thrilled. I’ve never visited Beijing, or anywhere in China for that matter.
Seriously, I had absolutely no idea what’s been hatching for the past several months. Think my partner was trying to top his previous surprise birthday present of a couple of years ago in 2010, with an incredible 25-minute Jet Fighter Top Gun Mission flight.
After getting over the surprise and excitement of finally finding out about the Beijing destination, it’s a wait to be called for the first leg of the flight.
Absolutely everything is pre-planned and pre-organised. All I have to do is to sit back and enjoy the ride.
From Australia’s east coast, Brisbane, a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong takes around 9 hours.
Still on a high after finding out about this amazing destination after all these months of secrecy, slowly calmed down. Sinking into the small set for the long flight, enjoy the airplane’s rhythm with a couple of movies.
With a transit wait of around 3 hours in Hong Kong airport, what is one to do? Feast on some delicious but expensive traditional handmade noodles. All airports throughout the world are expensive, aren’t they?
Wander around the pristine airport to stretch the old legs and search for some unusual photos to capture.
What else is there to do at airports but wait, watch, and eat.
The Dragonair (rebranded as Cathay Dragon in 2016) flight from Hong Kong to Beijing is totally crammed. At least the flight is on time.
This is a relatively short flight of around 3.5 hours, so not too long to endure the squeezy airline seats not built for foreigners. For an Airbus 330, the seats are even smaller than Cathay Pacific’s seats.
Landing in Beijing
Arriving at Beijing Capital International Airport in the evening, Immigration isn’t too onerous, and Customs doesn’t even blink an eyelid. So, it’s straight through to find the legitimate taxi rank, which is the one to use so you’re not ripped off.
Taking your life into your hands during the one-hour taxi ride to the hotel experiencing Beijing’s traffic congestion and crazy drivers, finally arrive at the hotel quite late but relieved.
Where to sleep
Shichahai Shadow Art Performance Hotel
Along No.24 Song Shu Jie, Xicheng District, the Shichahai Shadow Art Performance Hotel in old Beijing is a wonderful choice for a short or long stay. This 4-Star hotel offers everything in the room’s price including a delicious buffet breakfast, and the service is excellent.
The hotel in the heart of Beijing hosts traditional live music and fabulously unusual shadow art performances. The captivating shadow art is made at the hotel, and you can indulge in lessons on how to create shadow art, which always divulges an ancient story.
Positioned only a 10-15minute walk to the metro station the hotel is close to famous surrounding sites.
What to see
How much can you pack into a 9-day getaway? Does Beijing hold much to explore?
The answer is loads! You won’t have enough time.
The more you wander through this incredibly intriguing city, the more you realise the plethora of experiences Beijing offers and that 9 days in the city is just not enough. So, I’ll publish another couple of posts on what you really can’t miss on your trip to Beijing.
If you’re anything like me, then when you land somewhere you’ll want to explore everything on offer. But when time is tight, you need to be selective and make sure that you don’t waste precious time fumbling around deciding what to see…
The incredible and expansive Great Wall of China is a must. Learn about the secrets of the Forbidden City. But don’t forget, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, then escape the hordes of people while visiting beautiful tranquil Houhai and Zhonghai Lakes. Tian’anmen Square is a must as is the Haidian Gaoliang Bridge. For a good taste of local haggling, venture to the Panjiayuan Antique Market.
So, check back here for part two of this incredible surprise birthday, discovering just a few of the amazing sights in and around Beijing.