Although the 2008 summer olympics in beijing are 10 months away, there's not a moment to waste getting tickets or a room. Even if you start right after reading this article, it still won't be a walk in the park. Beijing is ramping up for an estimated 550,000 overseas tourists and 2.58 million domestic visitors streaming into the capital August 8-24 for the Games. While in Beijing—especially if you're a first time visitor—be sure to pencil in some time to see the sights.
The charms of Beijing don't reveal themselves at first blush: A friend refers to the city as "The Newark of China." Take a little time, let it sneak up on you, and Beijing will supply a lot of colorful memories.
Most visitors will want to see Beijing's Forbidden City, the largest palace in the world and the backdrop for Bertolucci's Oscar-winning film, The Last Emperor. Other sights at the top of the list are the Summer Palace and Yuanmingyuan Garden.
While wandering across immense Tiananmen Square you're sure to see people flying Chinese kites, which you can buy from vendors for a dollar (they'll ask for $10, but will come down fast in price). You also won't be able to walk 10 feet without being asked to buy a Chairman Mao watch—the one where his hand waves back and forth. They're a bargain at five dollars, but the hand usually stops waving by the time you get home.
The number-one day trip is to the Great Wall, which is about 55 miles from Beijing.
If you are really thinking of extending your trip, consider going on a multiday river cruise on the Yangtze River. These cruises usually embark from the river cities of Yichang, Chungqing or Wuhan.
One of my favorite memories from a Yangtze River cruise is an evening off-ship in Chungqing, when I happened upon a city square filled with hundreds of people doing aerobics to American disco music.