This summer, while overcoming jetlag, Reina (my 4-year old) and I spent a night in San Francisco. Awaking at 4am, we poked around our hotel room until the sun came up before we made our way out into the city where we caught a cable car from Union Square to Fisherman’s Warf. It is a typical tourist thing to do and I thought Reina would enjoy the experience. We walked around enjoying the morning air and eventually things opened at Pier 39 where Reina got to ride on the carousel, which was all her heart really desired.
When we returned to our hotel at noon via cable car, I did not give much thought to how calm our morning had been and the dearth of tourists for late June. All that changed when we pulled into Union Square and witnessed the massive line of tourists snaking around the entire block. They were all waiting in line for over an hour to ride on the very cable car that we had not waited for at all. Because we left our hotel room early, we avoided the onslaught of summer tourists. For once, jetlag was on our side.
This experience reminds me that in Beijing, it is possible to save some time while taking family and friends (again and again) to visit the “must-see” spots in the city. Going early helps, but there are other ways to avoid lines, if not the crowds. My favorite is the Forbidden City. When I take guests, I explain a bit about the significance of how the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square are laid out and why everyone approaches from the south gate, which usually requires at least half an hour of waiting in line just to buy the tickets. Then I give them the option of approaching from the north gate and saving that time since few people enter from the north gate. So far, all visitors have opted for entering from the north and walking against the flow of the crowds.
So the next time you are visiting the Forbidden City, consider giving it a try. And what to do with the time you saved? You can always squander it by waiting in line for a table at a Peking duck restaurant – unless, of course, you go early.