After our first night in the awesome Tiananmen Sunrise Hostel we visited the Beijing Zoo and Aquarium primarily to see the pandas. We caught the subway which was our secondary means of transportation in Beijing, after our feet.
The subway system is nowhere near as shiny and efficient as the subway in Seoul but it's fairly decent. According to my go-to information source, Wikipedia, all but two of the subway lines have been built in the last decade, with 5 of them opening in December of last year. The names of stations are written in English and there's English announcements when you reach a stop. I splashed out and bought a metro card for 20 yuan ($4) but you can annoy your fellow travellers by just getting a single issue ticket each time you travel and that will set you back 2 yuan (40c). Pretty damn cheap! You also have to get your bag x-rayed every time you ride which made me want to put weird stuff through and freak out the guards.
ANYWAY! On to the zoo. We arrived bright and early after breakfast at the hostel, exited the subway station and saw a man peeing into the garden next to the very busy pavement. We soon came to realise that public urination was frequent in Beijing but at 9am we weren't prepared for it. We walked away from the station in shock for a bit, until we realised that the zoo entrance is actually behind the subway exit - traveller tip!
Entrance to the zoo is Y15 ($3) and I think you pay extra to see the pandas, but we got the combo zoo-aquarium deal which was Y120 ($24). The aquarium on it's own is Y100, a hefty price because it's AWESOME.
We visited the zoo first and like most of Beijing it's huge. It covers 89 hectares and it took us a good 4 hours to walk around. I was a bit reluctant to go to the zoo after our experience in Jeonju - read Tom's blog post about it here - and although it wasn't wonderful, Beijing Zoo is an improvement. I didn't see as many people feeding animals either, except for one moron who was tipping coke into the mouth of a brown bear. People are idiots.
Sadly, many of the animals were in very small, indoor enclosures, but I felt these were in part due to how bitterly cold it is in Beijing over winter. Most of the outdoor enclosures were a decent size, and the animals had water and space and company. Maybe I'm just messed up from our trip to Jeonju, anything is better than that hellhole.
The pandas have a pimped out enclosure - catering for the influx of Western visitors I expect - and gosh darn it, they're adorable. They were munching on piles of bamboo and one of them climbed a slide outside to pose for photo ops. We happily obliged.
The Panda enclosure was packed to the rafters with merchandise, I had difficulty resisting these:
The rest of the zoo wasn't as nice, but there was lots to see. I left Tom and Lauren to take the pictures, so here are some that I've thieved from them:
|Visitors feeding Coke to this bear.|
In the middle of the zoo is a huge lake where the water birds chill out. You can see in the pictures how cold it was! I'm pretty sure they pump lukewarm water into the lake to keep parts of it defrosted. There were lots of locals photographing birds with their flash DSLR cameras, I watched the ducks slide around on the ice and giggled.
Oddly, in a number of the empty outdoor enclosures there were stray cats.