DPRK (and Beijing) Day one
30.08.2019 - 31.08.2019
A Bei Hai Park teahouse
(taken the following day)
Flying to Beijing
Our tour of DPRK was due to start and finish in Beijing, so we were responsible for getting ourselves to that point. We were strongly advised to plan on at least one night there, to give us some slack in case of delays. We decided to give ourselves more of a cushion so that we could get over any jet lag and tiredness from the long flight. It would also give us a chance to explore a little bit of Beijing and see how much it had changed since we were last there in 1994.
We took an overnight Air China flight from Heathrow. Checking in online the previous day I thought I had secured emergency exit row seats with some extra leg room but disappointingly on boarding we found the layout of the plane completely different from the plan on the website and our seats were standard ones - aisle and middle in a row of three.
The flight was as OK as a long overnight flight in economy ever is. The food was edible for the most part, there was chilled Chinese beer to accompany our dinners, some good films to choose from (I watched Bohemian Rhapsody which we had missed in the cinema) and I even dozed a bit.
We landed on time and were impressed by Beijing’s attractive modern airport. As we were staying only three nights we were eligible for the visa waiver scheme for visitors staying less than 144 hours and transferring through to a destination outside China. Signposting to the relevant area was excellent at first and then disappeared, but we found it at last and after a few abortive attempts (we’d filled in the wrong arrival card, needed to provide evidence of our hotel booking …) we got the requisite stamps in our passports and could exit through border control to pick up our bags. These were only just coming off the conveyor so we hadn’t lost any time over the form filling.
From the Airport Express
To get to the city centre we took the airport express train (costing us 25 Yuan pp) and transferred to the subway, taking line 2 and then line 1 to Wangfujing. The trains were nicely air conditioned, but it was hot work getting our luggage up the flights of steps in the stations - we hadn’t appreciated that there would be no lifts or escalators!
On the Beijing Metro
Arriving at the station we took a guess at the correct exit, got it wrong and spent some time wandering the glitzy Oriental Plaza shopping mall to try to find the hotel entrance. All I knew was that the hotel was above part of the mall. Eventually, after asking two people (luckily I had the hotel name in Chinese on my phone), and trying three exits, we found it!
And ‘it’ was a bit of a splurge. We had originally planned to stay in a characterful hotel in one of the hutongs recommended by a friend but decided instead that as the main part of this trip in North Korea would be challenging at times, and many of the hotels somewhat basic, we would treat ourselves to a bit of comfort here In Beijing. So the Grand Hyatt it was, as I found a good deal on Booking.com, and very swish it was too!
By the time we arrived at the hotel we were quite hot and a bit weary, so rather than go back out again for a stroll as we had originally planned, we decided to relax and cool down in our room for a while.
Views from our room
Duck in Beijing
It didn’t seem right to come to Beijing and not sample the famous duck, especially as it’s a favourite dish of ours in Chinese restaurants back home. I knew there were a couple of specialist duck restaurants not far from our hotel on busy Wangfujing Dajie.
Oriental Plaza building opposite the hotel
We walked there through the glitzy modern tower blocks around the Oriental Plaza complex, dotted with modern art sculptures and fountains. Its sterility reminded me of London’s Canary Wharf when it was newly built.
In Oriental Plaza
Arriving on Wangfujing Dajie was quite a contrast - neon signs, families and couples out shopping or simply enjoying the buzz … It was anything but sterile, but in its way just as striking a contrast with the Beijing we had visited 25 years ago as the tower blocks had been.
Evening on Wangfujing Dajie
We took a few photos and stopped to taste some free samples of a nutty brittle sweetmeat being handed out at one shop.
On Wangfujing Dajie at night
When we spotted Quanjude I remembered reading reasonable reviews, so we decided to try it. We were told we would have to wait 30 minutes for a table and decided to do that rather than keep hunting. Just as well, as it turned out our wait was only 10 minutes.
Seated at a large round table at one side of the restaurant we had a good view of proceedings. While other dishes are available it is duck that rules here and most tables seemed to have chosen that, as did we. Although she didn’t speak English our waitress was able to recommend the accompaniments we might like, and we went along with her suggestions.
Our beers came quickly but not the duck. We amused ourselves watching the activity around us. The ducks were being brought out on trolleys and carved near the table where they were to be served. At last it was our turn. We were first brought a small plate with just pieces of skin on it which our waitress recommended we ate dipped in the sugar she had brought. This surprised us a little, but we tried it and it sort of worked, although I’d have preferred it if the fat had been more fully rendered.
Next came a platter of duck slices, arranged like a peony on a plate, the restaurant's speciality from what we could gather. Again, the flavour was good but the meat a little fatty.
Carving our duck, and the 'peony duck'
By the time all the meat had been carved and delivered, and pancakes, spring onion and other accompaniments (including a watery soup whose flavour and ingredients we were unable to identify!) had also arrived, we found that we had really much more than we could eat. Still we persevered and made a good dent in the spread before tiredness took over and we asked for the bill. Have received much more food than we thought we had ordered we were a little concerned that this would be rather large, but it wasn’t too bad.
We walked back to the hotel, took a few photos of the impressive fountains outside, made a valiant attempt to stay awake until a reasonable time and finally crashed out around 10.00 pm.
The Grand Hyatt at night