I lived in Beijing, China from May, 1997 till October, 1998, less time out for excursions to Mongolia and Central Asia. This is how I proceeded: Starting from Phoenix, I flew via Los Angeles, to Hong Kong. This was before the British tenancy expired. In Hong Kong, I visited a travel agency that obtained a six-month multiple-entry visa for me for about $100. Then I flew Air China to Beijing. Though I had studied Chinese, it was very difficult for me at first, but little by little, I got better. At the end of the first six months, I had found no way to renew my visa in Beijing, so I trained back to Hong Kong. This time Hong Kong was under Chinese rule, but nothing had changed, so I assume that even today it's all about the same. As for transportation, the train is much cheaper and far more interesting than a plane. Getting a second visa, I trained back to Beijing. When that expired, I went back to Hong Kong again, for a third visa. The third visa would have expired at the first of December, 1998, but I decided to leave in mid-October, in order to avoid the cold weather, since I didn't intend to seek a fourth visa in any case.
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong, China
Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, China (Clickable)
Most online street maps of Beijing are entirely inadequate. They generally show six or seven blocks each way. But a really fine one, as an enlargeable pdf, can be found here: Map of Beijing
I lived in four neighborhoods in Beijing: Chongwenqu, Haidianqu, Xuanwuqu and Xichengqu, longest in the last one. My address was #3 Xiaoshiqiao Hutong, which is near the Old Drum Tower, a Qing Dynasty landmark. During Qing days, the hours were told by beating on drums in the tower.
Jiugulou, the Old Drum Tower, in Beijing
I didn't actually go on a tour to the Great Wall, but I got an excellent view of it on my train trip from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. In east China, the wall looks much like the picture below. I saw the wall in numerous places in central and western China too, since it parallels the railroad from Beijing to Xinjiang, which I traveled three times. Out in the more remote parts of China, it is not very decorative, being just a massive plain bulwark, now in fragments.
The Great Wall, near Beijing, China (Clickable)
I visited Ürümqi (Wulumuqi), the capital of Xinjiang (Sinkiang), three times. The occasion was that I was passing that way on my way to Central Asia. The first time I went to Kazakhstan, I was deported, for lack of a visa. So I had to make a second trip. I ended up spending 3 or 4 days on each of three visits to Ürümqi. At one time, Ürümqi was a caravansary, at the very edge of the known world. Today, it is a modern city.
Trains run from Beijing to Ürümqi and beyond. It's a 66-hour ride, across 1500 miles, and in 1998 cost $83 for a hard berth. A seat was half that amount, and sometimes a seat was the only accommodation available. It happened once to me that I got stuck with just a seat. The bodies lay all over the place at night, on seats, on the floor, everywhere. But somehow I managed. In the map below, Ürümqi is in the upper left-hand corner of China.
Map of China, with my itinerary
On the map, in the upper right-hand corner of China, just below Beijing, one can see the city of Tianjin, China's third city, with a metropolitan population of 11,000,000. Opposite Tianjin, on the Liaodong Peninsula, to the east, lies the city of Dalian. In September, 1998 I took a train from Beijing to Dalian, and then sailed across the upper bay of the Yellow Sea, which is called the Bohai, to Tianjin. This was a 12-hour sail. From Tianjin, after a short visit, I took another train back to Beijing.
On the map also, in east central China, can be seen Hubei Province, with its capital at Wuhan. Through the province, eastward to the sea, flows the Chang Jiang (Long River), also known as the Yangzi. The Chang Jiang is the world's third largest river, after the Amazon and the Congo, carrying about twice as much water as the Mississippi. I passed over the river four times, as I trained back and forth between Beijing and Hong Kong. The scenic picture below is very characteristic of China from the Chang Jiang to Hong Kong. Ranges of mountains corrugate the countryside, creating gorges full of blue water. Numerous tunnels have been dug through miles of rock to accommodate the railroad. This is all very beautiful. The sad part is that there is very little level land available for farming in many areas.
The Chang Jiang, in Hubei, China
Image, Photo and Map Credits:
Flag of China:
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong, China:
Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, China:
Jiugulou, the Old Drum Tower, in Beijing:
The Great Wall, near Beijing, China:
Ürümqi, Xinjiang, China: