The Forbidden City + Tiananmen Square – Beijing


After Thailand, we had a layover in Beijing for 8.5 hours. To me, that’s really like 4 hours considering the time it takes to get in and out of customs. Rachel and I discussed what we wanted to do during that time – do we chance it and go somewhere? Where do we go?

She wanted to head to the Great Wall of China, while I was more hesitant about it since it’s further than the Forbidden City (the Great Wall of China – Badaling is 43 miles northwest of Beijing and rebuilt in the 1950s). After discussion, Rachel and I decided on the Forbidden City.

Visiting the Forbidden City meant a lot to me because my great grandfather on my dad’s side was one of the tutors for the Last Emperor of China.

Have you seen the movie The Last Emperor? It’s a fantastic movie about the final Emperor of China, sad but a great drama and I highly recommend it, it is almost a 3 hour movie just FYI.

If you stop in China, you have a free 72 hour Visa. You don’t have to apply for it, you just need to show you have an outbound ticket within the 72 hours.


When we made friends during our Thailand trip, we head about Beijing Layover Tours and people were going to the Great Wall. I would suggest doing a tour after what Rachel and I experienced – getting ripped off by our taxi who wasn’t really a taxi with a real meter, and mass confusion. I suggest going with a legit taxi with a taxi sign and meter or a desk that offers taxis – do not go with any man with a sign or printed card with his rate, you will overpay at least 3x, like we did.

I’d like to brag that my child level Mandarin got us places, and it did for a good while. Rachel said there was no way she could have gone anywhere or survived if she were alone – but remember, we decided to do this with no help. If you have a tour, you’ll be fine. There was an opening to the Great Wall (we truly didn’t believe they would get back in time and in fact many of them had to run to the gate but they all made it!). Rachel said the choice was up to me, go with the group or go on our own to see the Forbidden City and when I didn’t know what to answer, she said, “Let’s go to the Forbidden City, I know that means more to you,” and I am so thankful for her willingness to do that because I know she really wanted to see the Great Wall.

We were dropped off at Tiananmen Square – a large city square in the center of Beijing.


We weren’t quite sure where we were going, so we just continued to walk toward the Forbidden City –


We just kept walking with the crowd not know where to get tickets, and then we went in, and then saw the ticket line, there were many open windows which was great – short lines. Cost was $10.


I was so excited and happy to be here, I had so much wonder and just love knowing more about the culture of my ancestors. I’m sad to say that I didn’t embrace who I was until I was in college and since then I’ve never been ashamed to say – I’m full Chinese! I love my roots and I’m proud to have the Chinese traits of hard work, efficiency and being ageless. Haha!

Of course the actual culture in China is very different than America, it’s just different – it’s Asia after all and it’s a different country and people have different life experiences here. If you can’t accept that everywhere outside of America isn’t America, you might be uncomfortable traveling.

Here’s the first really big entrance of the Forbidden City.


You actually couldn’t go through it, you could only see this –


A throne – in the Hall of Preserving Harmony.

Let me just show you how big the Forbidden City is –



It is 3,153 feet x 2,470 feet, that’s 778,791 square feet, that’s almost 18 acres. There’s 980 buildings with almost 9,000 rooms. Imagine how many cleaning ladies they had to have!

Here I am in the garden, had to take a picture of course!


Then I found a gift shop – there are many on the grounds, there have to be when you think about it.

I came across an artist who paints inside glass jars and beads! A large vase like the goldfish one you see below on the right can take 20 days!

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I had him make an ornament with a dragon and rooster since that’s Benjamin and my Chinese zodiac sign and write our names on them. I love gifts made by local artisans, they are perhaps my most favorite gifts to purchase.

We spent two hours in the Forbidden City and had to head back.

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A taxi from the airport to the Forbidden City should cost you around 120 yuan. If there’s one offered for 180 by a private taxi with an English speaking driver, just go for it, if it’s at one of those trust worthy booths with people and you pay ahead of time. It’s worth the layover trip – or book it through the layover tours site – our friends made it to the Great Wall and back, but I’d suggest you have more layover time if you can help it (10+ hours).

Thanks for coming along with me on my 8-hour layover excursion!

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Historic Ruins in Ayutthaya


Sadly, this is the final post in a series of 5 blog posts dedicated to Thailand. I still have China coming up!

We continued driving to Ayutthaya, a home of a lot of Thailand (formerly Siam) history. You can see the old city ruins, from one of the wars with Burma (there were many). Also there is a gorgeous spot that resembled Europe which you know means I was in absolute heaven!

Bang Pa-In Royal Palace

I felt right at home at Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, also known as Summer Palace – a mix of Asian and European architecture. This location is a palace complex formerly used by the Thai kings.

The palace had a very strict dress code for the entire grounds – not just the temple, and was checked upon entering. Thank goodness I wore a slip, they checked the sheerness of the dress and tied my scarf around my shoulders. I would have worn jeans and a wool sweater to see the grounds of Summer Palace – we rented a cart so we could cover the grounds quicker and get a breeze going.

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Ayutthaya Historical Park

These are the ruins of the old city of Ayutthaya. The city was captured by the Burmese in 1569 and the historical park has a few park sites within.


This one is Wat Phra Sri Sanphet – lots of stairs to walk up to see a few golden Buddhas.

This one is Wat Phra Sri Sanphet – lots of stairs to walk up to see a few golden Buddhas. Worshippers kicked off their shoes, paid for gold leafing to put on the Buddha statues.

Worshippers kicked off their shoes, paid for gold leafing to put on the Buddha statues.

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We jumped back on the bus to drive a short distance down the street to Wat Mahathat.


Check this out! The famous Buddha head in the tree roots! If you take a photo with it, you must kneel down as to stand over his head – there’s a sign that instructs you and there are also several workers on patrol to ensure you aren’t walking or sitting on the ruins and homoring the rules.

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And this post wraps up my Thailand trip!

Thailand Conclusion

From the beaches of Phi Phi to temples and the market, there’s so much to do in Thailand. Overall I would suggest it, but I would advise not going in April since it’s the hottest month of the year and avoid wet season (which is rainy and miserable I hear).

The Thai are so kind, so welcoming towards tourists. Tourism is their second highest income for Thailand. China is the number one country who visits, with America coming in second – so keep in mind that you will see a lot of Chinese tourists and Thailand is Asia – it may be crowded (but if you’re an avid traveler you’ll probably be flexible and know cultures differ and to be easy going). The exchange rate is out of this world great for a US traveler, and to get an idea of our trip cost, we booked it through Groupon with Affordable Asia tours for $1200 out of LAX, flights and 10 days, hotel and breakfast included. Our Phi Phi island trip was a detour, well worth the extra $500 extra in expense. And spending money, I usually bring $700-$1000 to spend on miscellaneous, meals, taxis, excursions and shopping. This trip I spent about $600 but that’s extreme since most meals were $1.25 to $15.

I would especially encourage Thailand for the younger, energetic crowd, and for those who love Thai food, especially! Just be up for an adventure and embrace the culture. Be willing to get uncomfortable, try the unique food, eat the street food – it’s fine! Drink the Thai tea (or in my case Thai coffee) and enjoy your experience! I hope I encouraged you to put Thailand on your adventure list!


Photographs taken with a Sony NEX-5R and Canon G7 X.

Thailand post series:

  1. Thailand Phi Phi Islands
  2. Floating Market + Temples in Bangkok
  3. Jungle Rafting in River Kwai
  4. Thailand Eats
  5. Historic Ruins in Ayutthaya

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The Forbidden City + Tiananmen Square – Beijing
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Jungle Rafting in River Kwai Thailand
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Jungle Rafting in River Kwai Thailand


This is the third post in a series of 5 blog posts dedicated to Thailand.

After a buffet lunch by the river, Rachel and I walked the bridge on River Kwai. My hat flew off but thankfully Rachel immediately ran to get it while I just stood there filming feeling all sorry for myself, I gave up! So glad she saved the day because I needed a hat for the rest of our trip!

The Bridge over River Kwai

The bridge is apparently a big deal – a movie called The Bridge over the River Kwai is an infamous Death Railway, spanning over Kwai Yai  River, built by the prisoners of the World War II under the supervision of Japanese Imperialism Army (source).


I didn’t think the tracks were actually in use until we were at the end about to turn back to our tour bus and heard a loud whistle and it was a train! People were on it and so kind waving and want to give hi-fives as we waited along the side.

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Jungle Rafting

We hopped on a jungle raft and some swam in the water – it wasn’t cold or warm, just a little cool. I love brave kids, many of them jumped in. I’m more of a jumping into the ocean but not in rivers or lakes, and I even grew up a mile from a lake in Northern California! I sat and admired braveness of children, I hope they continue to be adventurous and fearless!

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I did take photos but I wanted to be still and really take in the scenes. I sat there just admiring, listening, and feeling. Now I can go back to that moment, floating down the River Kwai hearing splashing, children giggling and seeing an incredible sunset.


We checked into a hotel late that night and I woke up to such a pretty hotel lobby! We decided to explore a little bit early in the morning before breakfast.

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The mountain views by River Kwai are spectacular. Like out of a movie moving, photos don’t do it justice and it breaks my heart that I can’t just really show the beauty in these images. After our jungle raft, we rode on the back of a truck chasing the sunset back to the grounds and I was rubbernecking the entire time just dying to keep my eyes on the red hazy sun and the mountain views.


This is my favorite, and most accurate shot of River Kwai that I took with my iPhone.


Photographs taken with a Sony NEX-5R and Canon G7 X.

Thailand post series:

  1. Thailand Phi Phi Islands
  2. Floating Market + Temples in Bangkok
  3. Jungle Rafting in River Kwai
  4. Thailand Eats
  5. Historic Ruins in Ayutthaya

More like this
The Forbidden City + Tiananmen Square – Beijing
Historic Ruins in Ayutthaya
Thailand Eats
3 tips to make the most of your vacation photos