China: First Stop On My 9-Week Asia Adventure

Cat Smiley Fitness Trainer

N? H?o, Beijing!

When I kicked off my Asia adventure? in W Beijing Chang?an, Beijing a few weeks ago the most common response from friends was –

?You?re going to Beijing? What about the smog??

And yes? I know. I?ve been that person scrolling through nightmare looking pictures? and that swore they?d never go. Yet China is such an important country, and as a fitness expert who prides herself on truly having the full background knowledge of various cultures who?ve influenced the lessons I teach to my clients? I really felt compelled to see for myself what China was all about.

You Might Also Like: Hiking The Great Wall Of China!


W Beijing Chang?an

Promoted as a new hotel with opulence and class, the W Beijing Chang?an is definitely one of Beijing?s most luxury hotels. First opened in 2014, this 350-room lifestyle hotel is in the city?s hub. From my room on the 22nd floor, I could literally see into Beijing infinity. It really gave me the full travel experience. W Hotels are known for elegance, trendy decor, and chic. From its fa?ade to the lobby and in-house entertainment, W Beijing Chang?an is for guests who party and enjoy a good cocktail. That?s not me – and the neon-light-vibe makes me uneasy (I think I associate it with alcohol and the pickup scene of nightclubs) so booking my stay here felt like a gamble. It also felt a little too trendy for my taste.


  1. Turned the neon lights off in my room. You?ll need to get the electrician to come up and do it. It was so worth it.
  2. Everything is connected electronically and that?s a bit intimidating. I did the old lady thing and had someone come up and show me how everything works!
  3. Requested that all the alcohol and alcohol glasses be removed from my room. Nothing makes me feel less healthy than being surrounded by pay-as-you-go vodka.
  4. Stay out of the lounge. It’s techno all morning?all day?all night. So is the lobby. Need to chill? Hang in the downstairs restaurant. It?s outside in a beautiful garden.
  5. Workout during daylight hours. The gym is neon everything once the sun goes down.
  6. Found fresh squeezed juices, nuts and soymilk at the Seven Eleven. Basically lived off that for the week, an unplanned detox.

Yet there?s always a way to make something your own, and good things are really based on perception ? how you choose to see things. I really believe that. While most guests enjoy the style and music lifestyle of this hotel, I chose W Beijing Chang?an for other reasons. It has to have really good health club ? when I?m away from home this long, I need my ?piece of home? that is the gym. Located in the heart of Beijing, everything is a short cab away with quick access to visiting anywhere in the city. That?s a win right there as walking around in the smog really makes you feel sick.



3 Places You Shouldn?t Miss When in Beijing

As one of the cradles of early?civilizations, walking tours and cultural tours are must-dos when in the capital of China. Formerly known as Peking, the city?s main attractions are as old as?China?as a unified nation. With my hotel’s central location, it was easy for me to visit Beijing?s top attractions, treat myself to a massage, or just find a shady place to stretch out and exercise under a tree.

TIP: Cab it as much as you can. You feel lazy not walking even the 10 minutes to get places, but the smog really isn?t worth feeling sick over.

1. The Forbidden City

Situated at the city?center?is the Forbidden City, the seat and symbol of Chinese imperial life. Known as Palace Museum of Gu Cong in Chinese, the Forbidden City is a massive complex covering 74 hectares. It was named “Forbidden City” because back in the day, commoners are not allowed to enter even the Imperial Palace grounds. Come as early as 8:30am to avoid the rush as the Forbidden City receives up to 80,000 visitors everyday from international visitors like me to local schoolchildren. From its massive and grand halls, the delicate paintings and intricate details of the complex will awe you.

NOTE: If you get overwhelmed easily or have anxiety, make sure you come really early (and go by taxi). Plan your water intake so you don?t need to use the disgusting toilets. I could have done it in one hour and been fine ? not trying to disregard the fascination of culture but I?m not a big history buff. For me, power walking through the 9 ?cities? would have been an incredible workout that I?d remember forever? instead, I got stuck behind a train of tours at midday (they allow 80,000 people to enter per day) and I felt nausea? and stressed trying to find the exit.


2.Tiananmen Square

Located just south of the Forbidden City is Tiananmen Square in the middle of Chang?an Avenue and that is quite close to the W Beijing Chang?an. Like the Forbidden City, it is an ultra-spacious complex housing different attractions like Tiananmen Tower and Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. While the Forbidden City shows the grand imperial history of China, the Tiananmen Square showcases the birth of a modern powerful nation. Note: China fiercely monitors the online information surrounding the protests in 1989, blocking everything on it on the internet. There’s no wikipedia or google available, and you definitely don’t want to ask anyone in China to educate you! It’s really, really horrendous and I couldn’t physically bring myself to do anything except drive past this place in a taxi. I just felt sick to be so close to it… I could sense the terror.

?3. The Great Wall of China

Of course, a trip to Beijing without visiting the Great Wall of China would be madness. Topping the wonders of the world list, this really is a bucket list day. More than 2,000 years old, the Great Wall is a human marvel of walls and fortifications to protect China?s northeastern borders. Spanning more than 21,000?kilometers, there are certain areas of the walls for visitors to visit.?Read my post here!?

The most popular ones are?Badaling, which is easily accessed from downtown and is pretty much the Disneyland of the wall. Avoid it unless you really have no other option. The trains and buses of the city go straight there, so imagine how many locals from the 32 million population of Beijing head up there for 25 cents after a day at work. Yep! Quite a few. You?ve come this far, so go just a bit further by doing the wall as well as you can.

The most restored, and best if you?re a beginner walker, is Mutianyu. Speak to your concierge about best options to get there. Only 60?kilometers?from Beijing, this is a favorite day trip for those visiting Beijing. See watchtowers and discarded cannons, and immerse yourself to the stunning scenery around the Great Wall.?I visited the Jinshanling in Luanping, 130km to the northeast of Beijing.

?More Nearby Attractions??

If, like me, you love trees, nature and being healthy, ditch the traditional tourist hubs on the map and instead head to the gorgeous Ri Tan Park. This is a free park near the?W Beijing Chang?an (cab there). Over 20 hectares of Zen where you feel like you?ve gone back in time.


Expect a few annoyances ? being prepared will minimize them!

– Some of your favorite apps won?t work. I like to stream yoga from Beach Body and YogaGlo sites, but the videos don?t play. Youtube and vimeo are two of the 8000 banned sites in China. I wish I?d downloaded the workouts to play offline so I could have kept up my yoga.

– You?ll feel a little detached and isolated at first, without your normal websites, food and language. You also can?t watch Netflix ? for the same reason above. And watching Chinese TV probably isn?t going to cut it. I was so grateful for twice daily talks with my amazing man back home, 7am and 7pm? I looked forward to them.

– The food. I felt that the W Beijing western dishes on the menu were poorly designed and priced higher than Marriot Resorts in North America, which was pretty uncomfortable. Yes, I could have eaten Chinese, yet there weren?t many vegetarian options. I had$40 pasta once but instead used the situation to detox (fresh juice is available most stores close to the W Beijing Chang?an).

– Only about 4 staff in the W Beijing Chang?an spoke conversation English. This can get frustrating. I tried to be patient but found my limit was tested. Here?s an example (true story at 3.45am)

?Hello, can I please have to-go cup for my coffee??
?You need a coffee??
?No. A paper cup, to go. I?m late and need to bring my coffee with me?
?Ohhh. Ok you need a paper car??
?No. A to-go cup. A cup to go.?
?Ok miss, I order you a pay car.?

Six visits later, I had coffee, paper, cup, and taxi booking. I realized that the ?whatever whenever? service was best done in person, with one of the (very helpful) staff who spoke English, instead of struggling on the phone.

– Get up really early and go walking. By 8am it?s not much fun to walk around as it?s super busy, hot and smoky but if you go early it?s very interesting.

Great Place To Start My Journey

I thought that China might be the most challenging destination on my 10-week trip (especially as a vegetarian), so wanted to do it first.

My goals were to walk 15,000 to 20,000 steps daily and kick off a routine of waking up before 5am. It was a really interesting place to walk – I bought the fanciest smog mask I could find, with breathing compartments, and it felt really comfortable.

The 24-hour gym and fitness facility had an excellent kick box corner which I used quite a lot. Added bonus, an espresso machine in my room plus opportunity to stretch out with the gorgeous cityscape sunrise.? Loved also W Beijing?s heated indoor pool. Didn?t use their sauna or steam room.


– At Jade-Long Massage near Ri Tan Park, the family who owns the place pre-paid the taxi on their app to make sure I got back to my hotel without inflated pricing. Boy, what a nice gesture.

– The kindest most amazing experience was hands down the driver of my Great Wall day.

– The 100-year-old lady who took time to teach me Tai Chi in the park when I was rookie-ing it up in the back of the class.

– I ordered a limo pickup at the airport – so worth it. It came with a super helpful teenager who took me through customs and security. He greeted me off the airplane! Felt like a diplomat. The customs are a little scary? poker-faced you certainly don?t want to crack any jokes the wrong way.

FINAL THOUGHTS I wouldn?t change how I did this trip, except if you?re a picky eater (or vegetarian/lactose intolerant/gluten free) you?ll need to figure out a better meal situation than I was able to.

Hey, I’m Cat Smiley. I’m a fitness, nutrition, weight loss and life coach. Hire me if you want results! Click here to learn more about my 1-to-1 phone coaching services, upcoming weight loss retreats, and personal workshops.

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