Postcard from Beijing... no 17

Staycations not so bad

China has more public holidays than you can shake a stick at. We’re only half way through the year and we’ve already celebrated Chinese New Year, Tomb Sweeping Festival, Labour Day and, as of last week-end, Dragon Boat Festival.

Firm believers in the mantra that ‘a staycation is no way to vacation’, my friends and I planned to escape the hustle and bustle of Beijing for the long week-end. Planned being the operative word....

Credit cards at the ready, we tried to book flights online with Air China only to find the website was down. A quick call to the Air China helpline resulted in us finding out that we could book and pay for the requested flights over the phone, but the telesales price and online price differed: for no rhyme or reason, the phone fare was double that of the fare we had seen originally seen advertised online.

Not one to be thwarted when a holiday is at stake, I turned to Ctrip – confident that I would be able to book a cheeky break through the popular online website. Not so; Ctrip managed to misspell my name (despite having a copy of my passport) meaning that my credit card couldn’t be authorised.

The upshot? I found myself staying put in Beijing for Dragon Boat Festival – and in the process having the best bank holiday ever. Far from being a wasted week-end, my stay-cation turned out to be a wonderful alternative to an expensive, painstakingly-planned trip. Not only did I save significant time (no long train journeys or hours spent cooped up at Capital airport) and money (hotel prices all over China, rapidly shoot up during public holidays) but I got to see another side to Beijing.

For the fact of the matter is that after a year of living and working in Beijing, I thought that I knew China’s capital pretty well but last week-end proved me wrong. I’ve pretty much ignored Beijing every public holiday, in favour of taking the train to Xian to tick off the Terracotta Warriors or gawp at Guilin’s dreamy Karst landscape – but Dragon Boat Festival made me begin to realise that there is so much to see and do on my own doorstep.

The long week-end afforded me the opportunity to see the Silver Pagodas – a set of five impressive 300 year old pagodas still standing on the site of an old temple – make a trip to Mutianyu section of the Great Wall (China’s greatest engineering triumph and must see sight) ,followed by a memorable meal at The Schoolhouse. The aforementioned are three places that I never normally have the time to visit and, during Dragon Boat Festival, I got to explore and enjoy such sights without the crowds (seeing as so many Beijing residents had escaped the city).

The message? Don’t let others set your agenda. Despite what the media may have us believe, holidays need not be about hotels and far flung travel. Rather a true vacation is about spending more time with friends and family and doing something different. Who knows? A staycation in Beijing might just turn out to be your best break ever.