That nagging feeling “getting a visa is so annoying” often stops people from visiting many countries. Is this stopping you from trying to go to North Korea, because of the fact you have to go to China first? Fear not! Citizens of 51 different countries can now show up without a visa at most major airports in China and stay for 72 hours, as long as you stay within that city itself and don’t hop around the country.
Use this to your advantage for a 72-hour layover in Beijing before and after your trip to DPRK with Young Pioneer Tours!
Let them know this is your plan. You’re not the first.
Now that that’s settled, what should you do on your 72-hour layover? Glad you asked.
Written by Ryan Smith, The Wandering Vegan
The Great Wall
You can’t tell me you thought something else would be #1. Yes, you can actually take public transportation to the Great Wall, but ‘ease of access’ translates to ‘overcrowded’. You’re better off getting a group tour or finding your own route to a section further down. I highly recommend the section at Mutianyu, which is well maintained, less crowded, and postcard-worthy.
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Try the food.
Oh boy, oh boy. If you’re adventurous, you really can go wild. Check out the Dong Hua Men night market for everything from BBQ insects (really) to stinky tofu, as well as your traditional favourites. Walk around eating things on a stick or sit down at a small café. The options are incredible. A particular favourite of mine to try in Beijing is “cold noodles” (Zhajiangmian 北京炸酱面). They’re spicy but so delicious.
The Forbidden City
Once closed to the public, it’s now a labyrinth of museums, temples, former imperial residences, gardens, and lots of ways to turn yourself around. It’s also super full of tourists, so bring your patience for getting bumped on the head with selfie sticks. Guides are optional and not really needed; audio guides are a cheaper way to achieve this.
Tiananmen Square & the mausoleum of Mao Zedong
Numerous socialist and communist leaders have been preserved after death in the vein of Lenin. Mao, Kim il Sung, and Ho Chi Minh are also on this list, so stop by Mao’s mausoleum in Tiananmen Square. ABSOLUTELY don’t try to take pictures here, and no bags of any kind allowed inside. You’ll spend much more time in line than seeing his body, but it’s interesting. Back outside, check out Tiananmen Square, see the giant flag, and don’t try to talk to them about ‘the incident’ from 1989.
The Summer Palace
Across town, the royal family used to take their summer holidays here and had a lake artificially built for their pleasure, because why not? This is another area teeming with tourists, but it’s worth the visit to soak up the history, the architecture, and the fine details put into every last inch (or centimetre, depending on where you’re from).
There are lots of them. You can’t walk 5 steps without seeing a temple, probably. I recommend either the Lama Temple (best preserved and former residence of a prince) or the Temple of Heaven (better ‘postcard’ pictures but much more spread out). Both are impressive in different ways. If you want to see one that’s still being used for lots of prayers, get to the Lama Temple.
Marvel at the subway
I’m not kidding. It’s impressive. 10 million riders per day, 19 tracks, and it goes everywhere you want to go. It’s also super cheap when you’ve got foreign currency in your pocket, so ride it to your heart’s content. It’s clean, it’s organized, and people don’t shove or litter. However, you’ll also marvel at how long some of the ‘connection hallways’ are to get from this line to that line while changing at a station. Oops.
798 Art Zone
Similar to other major cities, an art movement took over abandoned factories and warehouses at the edge of the city, and it’s become the uber-cool 798 Art Zone in Beijing. There’s something for everyone here. Shop for art. Look at art. Be part of art. You don’t know what you might encounter, so head out here for something totally different. Don’t be deceived by the restaurant here advertising ‘unending potatoes’. It’s a mistranslation, and you won’t actually get refills on your plate of fries.
Did you know there are Muslims in Beijing? You do now. See something very different by checking out this mosque that’s over 1000 years old. The architecture is a mix of Han Chinese craft with Arabic writing, which is something you won’t find in other parts of the world. Non-Muslims are not permitted into the interior prayer hall, unfortunately.
Go to a park after dark to see elderly people line dancing
Looking for something you can’t describe and won’t believe? Find an open area at a park, outside a subway station, or many other places after dark. Look for crowds of elderly people to show up and do something akin to line dancing to techno music. Sometimes, there’s a leader or guide shouting commands/motivational phrases into a microphone ala Billy Blanks. Join in. They’ll die from excitement (not really, but you never know with elderly people). It’s how they stay young, mobile and healthy.