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Beijing

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China : North China : Beijing
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The southern gate of the Forbidden City, known as Tian'an'men, after which the square is named

Beijing (北京) is the capital of the most populous country in the world, the People's Republic of China. It was also the seat of the Qing dynasty emperor until the formation of a republic in 1911, so it has rich historical sites, and important government institutions.

The city is well known for its flatness and regular construction. There is only one hill to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of the famous Forbidden City), and like the configuration of the Forbidden City, it has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis.

The International Olympic Committee has decided that Beijing will serve as the host city for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, the Summer Olympic Games of 2008.

Administrative Divisions

Beijing has a total of 16 districts and 2 counties.

Districts

8 districts are close to the city centre:

  • Dongcheng District (东城区)
  • Xicheng District (西城区)
  • Chongwen District (崇文区)
  • Xuanwu District (宣武区)
  • Chaoyang District (朝阳区)
  • Haidian District (海淀区)
  • Fengtai District (丰台区)
  • Shijingshan District (石景山区)

The other 8 districts are further afield:

  • Mentougou District (门头沟区)
  • Fangshan District (房山区)
  • Tongzhou District (通州区)
  • Shunyi District (顺义区)
  • Changping District (昌平区)
  • Daxing District (大兴区)
  • Pinggu District (平谷区)
  • Huairou District (怀柔区)

Except for Mentougou, all of these eight districts switched from being counties to districts from 1988 to 2001.

Counties

The two counties lie very far from central Beijing:

  • Yanqing County (延庆县)
  • Miyun County (密云县)

Understand

Get in

By plane

Scams at the airport
Arrival: Take your taxis from the stand outside, not the touts or desks inside, and insist on the meter.

Departure: An exit fee of Y90 must be paid before checking in. Pay at the counter in the hall and get a receipt, and ignore any people walking around offering to sell you one.


Beijing Capital International Airport (北京首都国际机场, PEK) is located to the northeast of the central districts, 26 km from the city centre. Opened in 1999, the terminal is still new and shiny, and being expanded at a furious pace to be ready in time for the 2008 Olympics. Facilities on arrival include ATMs and money changers. On departure, porters want Y10 to wheel your bags 50m to check-in; beware that, once you cross through security, any eating options are rather outrageously priced.

Most people use taxicabs to reach town from the airport. Get your travel agent to get you the Chinese name of your hotel so that you can let your taxi driver read where you want to go. A taxi from the airport should cost between 70 - 120 RMB. You will have to pay the fee shown on the meter (make sure the driver uses it) plus 10 RMB toll for the airport expressway.

A bus also runs from the airport to the city centre, stopping in such places as the central train stations. The cost of the bus is much more moderate than that of taxis.

By train

Beijing West Railway Station
There is a major train station in the heart of Beijing (Beijing Railway Station, 北京站), but it has fierce competition from an equally large (if not larger) railway station to the west (Beijing West Railway Station, 北京西站). If you arrive in Beijing by train, odds are, you will land in one of the two large stations. There is also a northern station (Beijing North Railway Station, 北京北站), but it's very small compared to the other two - you might end up here if you are coming in from Inner Mongolia. The southern station (Beijing South Railway Station, 北京南站) is also very small;trains heading to regions around Beijing or Hebei province often go through here, as well as several long distance trains from outer regions such as Inner Mongolia.

By car

The Jingcheng, Jingtong/Jingha, Jingshen, Jingjintang, Jingkai, Jingshi and Badaling (Jingchang) Expressways (高速公路), as well as 11 China National Highways (国道), link into Beijing.

By bus

Long-distance buses from areas as far as Tianjin connect to Beijing.

Get around

By bus

The bus system is one of the hidden treasures of Beijing. It is cheap, convenient and has a huge offering. Unfortunately it is hidden because of the lack of information about it. The staff often understand no English. The buses range from beautiful tourist buses with a wonderful wooden interior from which you can view the lake to overpacked buses with broken seats and bad suspension.

Bus lines are numbered from 1-1000. Most Beijing buses have routes between the two red points that have the bus number written in a small box, and you can often see them going in both directions. The buses will take you almost anywhere if you can master their complexity. Unless you are a native speaker, or have a good ability to remember the Chinese letters, you will find yourself often frustrated not being able to quickly write down or remember the names in Chinese.

Bus stops have signs stating the lines that pass by and their destinations, but many times you cannot read the signs, because they are damaged. Bus signs are often helpless victims of advertising material pasted over it, the signs can be very flimsy and are often destroyed or vandalised. Then you need to be able to look up the name you have just written down of the stop you just saw. This can be referenced against the map. Alas, full maps of the system are available only in Chinese.

City public buses run from 5:30 till 23:00 daily, and can get very crowded during rush hours (6:30-9:00 and 17:00-19:00). Normal buses charge starting from only 1 yuan, but those equipped with air-conditioning or running on express lines are charged according to the distance. Aircon buses at the airport will charge around 16 yuan.

By minibus

Minibuses are very common in outside the core city, they are private drivers and cost often only 1-10 RMB longer distances. Often you will get picked up on the highway bus stops for 1 RMB.

by train / subway

Subway station in Beijing.

Beijing now has four subway lines:

  • Line 1 (一号线) runs from the industrial Pingguoyuan (苹果园) area in west Beijing to Sihui East (四惠东) in eastern Beijing. It has 21 stops.
  • Line 2 (二号线) is the loop line running under the interior 2nd Ring Road (二环路).
  • Line 13 (十三号线) does an extended northern semi-loop from Dongzhimen (东直门) via Huilongguan (回龙观) through to Xizhimen (西直门).
  • The Batong Line (八通线) extends from Sihui (四惠) through to Tuqiao (土桥) in eastern suburban Beijing.

More are under construction in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.

The subway station entrances are identified by a large blue stylized letter B wrapped around a smaller letter D.

The subway is an excellent way to quickly get around the city and a traveller can easily figure it out through the station maps and English signs and language. The subway fare is now 3 yuan and you have to buy the ticket at a window. Just push the equivalent of 3 yuan (or a 5 yuan bill) through, and hold up your index finger, signaling that you want just one ticket. Then take it to the ticket tearer opposite the booth, and go downstairs to your platform.

Extension or transfer tickets are available for Line 13 and the Batong Line. The newest Beijing light rail line, the Line 1 Extension or the Ba Tong Line, is the simplest of the two. The Line 1 Ext. ticket can be bought as a single entity (pictured right) for 2 RMB from any station on the Line 1 Ext., or can be bought from any station on line 1 as a combination transfer ticket.

The transfer ticket for the Batong Line costs 4 yuan, and is used in a similar way except that on the first use the ticket checker will tear off one of the colored ends. Each end represents a different line. The blue end will be collected when you enter the Line 1 or 2 platform, the red end will be collected when you enter the Line 1 Extension (Ba Tong) platform.

Line 13 in the north is a little more complicated. Beijing, in preparation for the future Olympics in 2008 is modernizing many of its infrastructure systems. To this end, new magnetic tickets and automatic barriers are being tested out on the 13 line. The 13 line can also be utilized using a single use ticket (3 yuan) or transfer ticket from Lines 1 and 2 (5 yuan). The single use ticket can be bought from any station on the 13 line. The transfer ticket can be bought from any station on lines 1, 2 or 13.

You use the transfer ticket in the same way as described above, except for the fact that when you have the orange end to the ticket collector, they will exchange this for a single use magnetic ticket. You need this in order to pass through the automatic barriers. When you transfer from lines 1 or 2 you will be first met by people who will exchange your ticket, and then you proceed through the barriers.

Taxi

Taxis are the preferred choice for moving around, and are fairly inexpensive. Taxis charge standard rates per km in three bands. The cheap and nasty ones cost 1.20 Yuan per km (in 2004). These are generally in pretty poor condition and often not clean at all. Check they have a working seatbelt before you go for it. The next band of taxis cost 1.60 Yuan per km. These are usually slightly nicer, often with seatbelts. The third band are luxurious executive cars and cost 2.00 Yuan per km.,which is still very reasonable for a western budget. They usually waiting outside hotels.

If the taxi driver "forgets" to switch the taximeter on, remind him by politely saying "qing da biao" 请打表 (pronunciation: qing slightly like "ching", da like "Dalai Lama", biao= b(b in "blue") -i(y in "yen") -ao(au in "Austria") (means "Run the meter, please"). Get your receipt (in case you want to make a complaint later or for business reimbursement purposes) by saying "Fa Piao" or gesturing at the meter and making a writing motion.

The red "Xiali"s (CNY 1.20/km taxicabs) are being gradually taken off the roads. Replacing them are the somewhat more elegant Hyundai Sonata, Citeron and VW Jetta (CNY 1.60/km). The newer cars come in a variety of colors (including blue, green, white, and black) usually with a yellow stripe across the middle.

Taxis are also relatively cheap, but communicating with the drivers can be a problem, since most do not speak English. You can ask that your hotel write your destination on a card for you to give to the driver. Make sure also to take a card from the hotel (and a map) which lists the hotel's address in Chinese. This can be a 'get out of jail free' card if you get lost in the city and need to get back to the hotel via taxi.

Taximeters keep running when the speed is slower than 12km/h or waiting for green lights, 5 minutes waiting equal to 1 km running.

In some places like Summer Palace or Great Wall, there are some fake taxis which have meters too. It's easy to identify them: real taxis have license plates started with a letter "B", like "京B - *****", and those fake ones' started with other letters, usually "E", "F", "G" or "J". It might charge you high amount of extra money and sometimes they drop foreign tourists in wrong places. If you find you hired a fake taxi and be overcharged, don't argue if you are alone, pay the driver and remember the car's license plate number, then call police later.

To avoid being taken advantage of, it is a good idea to know the rough direction, cost, and distance of your destination. You can easily find this out from asking locals before calling a cab. Verify these values with the taxicab driver to show them that you are in the know, and are probably too much trouble to cheat. Keep track of the direction of travel with a compass and/or the sun. If the cab goes in the wrong direction for a long distance, verify the location with the taxi driver. For scamming drivers, that is usually enough for them to go back on the right track (without ever acknowledging that they were trying to cheat you). For honest drivers, they will explain why they are going that way. Keep in mind that central Beijing can be off limits at certain times, forcing cabs to reroute.

See

  • Forbidden City (also known as the Palace Museum) get there when the gates open (around 8.30am) if you want to walk through the vast and spectacular courtyards in relative peace. This is truly the spot to appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in Ming and Qing dynasties. Despite the transformation of the city around it, the Forbidden City remains mercifully relatively untouched. A few years ago there was a lot of local fuss when a Starbucks coffee shop opened in the Forbidden City, some interpreting this as a return to the bad old days of colonial domination. Despite the fuss it is still there, on an inconspicuous corner, and still serving coffee. Only 2/5 area of the palace is opened, but some places are under restorations and will be opened before 2008.
  • Tiananmen Square (largest square in the world!) Built by Mao to impress; his riposte to the Forbidden City, the square is surrounded by Soviet-style monuments and government buildings, and houses Mao's mausoleum at the end opposite the entrance to the Forbidden City. It remains an astounding place and a spot to linger and see visitors from all over China, many visiting their capital for the first time. There is a flag raising and lowering ceremony at dawn and dusk. There are 4 marble lions in front of the Tiananmen gate, the northwest one has a bullet hole on its stomach.
  • Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan) extensive gardens and the ruins of palaces constructed by the Qing emperors. Most visitors gathered in the front hill, but if you prefer quiet places, the west bank and back hill are good choices, there are some quiet and secret ruins, caves, ruined docks in the back hill area.
  • Temple of Heaven, south east of Qianmen and the Tiananmen Square. Not only a fine sight, but also surrounded by a lively public park, filled with local residents practicing tai chi, dancing and so on in the mornings and at weekends. A must-see in Beijing.
  • Great Wall (about a 1.5 hour bus ride from the city...recommended!) Two or more sections near the city have been restored and are available for tourists to walk upon. One section even has a ski lift up and a toboggan (or ski lift) down. The Wall is on top of mountain chains. You may want to bring a jacket against the wind or cold. The Badaling section is the most famous, but also the most over-restored and crowded. Jin Shan Ling, Huang Shan and Si Ma Tai are more distant (several hours drive) but offer a better view of the wall in a less restored state with fewer crowds. Crowds are a definite issue with the great wall. At popular sections at popular times, it is not the Great Wall of China, but rather the Great Wall of Tourists. It is possible to rent a taxi for a day to take you to these sites.
  • Zoo (they do have Pandas, but displays are not great, your best bet is to go to the Panda breeding centre in Chengdu, Sichuan province). Some think the Zoo is one of the worst you will ever see (partly beacuse of the way they treat animals), BUT the aquarium is one of the biggest in the world, and very impressive. The Zoo was built on the sites of some ancient gardens, has lakes, pounds, pavillions and other beautiful old buildings. The Soviet revival Beijing Exhibition Hall located nearby, which has a Russian restaurant, "Moscow Restaurant".
  • North Sea (Beihai) - Beihai is a good place to take a glance at Zhongnanhai, heart of communist China. There's a big island and white pagoda which was built in the 17th century. The giant buildings westward outside are PRC's Ministry of Defence and General Staff, they ruined the scene of the west bank. On the north bank, you can visit some small but beautiful gardens.
  • Lama Temple - This is an interesting spot, built by Chinese emperors who harbored a deep fascination for the Tibetan (Tantric) version of Buddhism. Over the years many Tibetan and Mongolian monks lived and taught here, and there are still monks in residence today. Also famous for its progessively bigger buddha statues. Very cool.
  • Gong Wang Fu (mansion and garden of Prince Gong), the garden is fulled with Chinese tourists, and the mansion will be opened as a museum before 2008, which displays life of princes of Qing Dynasty
  • Legation quarter - east to Tiananmen square, once famous in the Boxer Rebellion, the legation quarter now are occupied by government and army. Tourists could see those legation buildings from outside. There's a gorgeous baker store calld "Sapporo" near the legation quarter, famous for its breads and cheesecakes.
  • Beijing Botanic Garden and Fragrant Hill - good place for weekend outing and picnic. The Fragrant Hill was a Qing imperial garden and was burnt in 1860, famous for the mountain climbs and the Fragrant Hill Hotel, designed by I.M.Pei, designer of Louvre Pyramid. Beijing Botanic Garden is steps away from the east gate of Fragrant Hill, has a silent and beautiful retreat called Cherry Glen. Sir Johnston, last emperor Puyi's teacher, had a villa in Cherry Glen and it still stands there.

Do

Learn

Work

Most of the commercial areas are in the following areas:

  • Guomao (国贸)
  • Dawang (大望)
  • Eastern 3rd Ring Road (东三环)
  • Chao yangmen (朝阳门)

Wherever you see the acronym CBD, it means it is located near the China Business District. It can be both residential or commercial area.

Like all of China, finding a job teaching English in Beijing is relatively easy for native speakers. In fact, if you are of European descent some employers may assume that you are already qualified enough to teach English to Chinese students. However, more prestigious employers (especially universities and language schools) will generally require an English teaching qualification or a Bachelor's degree (normally in any discipline, although sometimes specifically in English/linguistics).

Check out www.eslcafe.com for jobs and teaching materials for almost anywhere. Caution: there has been something of an "explosion" in English teaching in recent years, but this has brought some attendant problems with unregulated schools who fail to deliver on their contracts with teaching staff. You are advised to check with existing teachers before signing a teaching contract with an unknown school.

For job postings, check out www.thatsbj.com, a local English language publication.

Buy

Bargaining As a tourist, every vendor is going to try to make you overpay. To get a good idea of accurate pricing, pick an item that you want, and is common to many stalls. Call an absurdly low price (like 1-5% of the calling price) for it. When they say "No. Are you crazy?", look at the item a bit longer, and start to leave. They will call out progressively lower and lower prices for the item, the farther you get from them. Remember the lowest price they call out (they may even accept your "absurdly low" price). Go to the next stall, and repeat, with a price that is about 50-75% of the previous lowest. Eventually, you will find a fair price. You can obtain obsenely low prices this way, but don't abuse your bargaining power! Many people depend on making decent margins off of tourists to survive. It never hurts to pay a little more than the lowest price, and it might make all the difference to a poor merchant.

  • The true clothing market where the Chinese buy, is located in Xizhi Men, next to the Zoo. directions: in front of the Zoo there is a new huge building, which is just another big market, BUT behind it, there is the wholesale market, with the best prices, almost no need to bargain, and a lot of genuine goods (clothing).
  • The Malls at Oriental Plaza (东方新天地) - East of Tian'anmen Square, next to Wangfujing Street. Shopping area (expensive) but provides you with a lot of buying opportunities from diamonds, to real (affordable) DVD's, (international) Music CD's and food.
  • Wangfujing (王府井大街)- where most of the higher end shops are located
  • Xidan - West of Tiananmen square. Several large malls near a substation, and look for the market, it's quite good - bargaining is a must (sellers even enjoy it)!
  • Golden Resources Shopping Mall near Yuanda Bridge / Yuanda Road -- Located by West Fourth Ring Road (Xisihuan) in Haidian District, Beijing, the mall covers 680.000 square meters, the largest in Asia. Multiple stories, snaking alleys, infinite shopping opportunities... you get the gist.
  • China World Trade Center (Guomao) -- here you will find a lot of expensive stores and some international convenience stores.
  • Silk Street (秀水街) -- 8 East Xiushui Street Jianguo Men Wai Dajie. This building is located east of Tian an men square. It was reopened in March 2005 as a 5 story air conditioned building selling entirely for foreign visitors with 'export' quality goods. You can find luggage, leather bags, clothing and Chinese artwork. This location caters entirely to foreign customers. The place stocks higher 'export' quality merchandise and out-of-season clothing.
  • SanLiTun YaShou Clothing Market -- Located at 58 Gongti Beilu, this is very similar to Silk Street (see above) with slightly better prices.

Antiques and Speciality Items

  • Pan Jia Yuan - also called the "dirt market" or the "weekend market" this is China's largest and possibly its most entertaining flea market. It operates from Sunday to Saturday, but most people visit there at Saturdays and Sundays, and it is located near Pan Jia Yuan bridge, on the eastern third ring road. It begins early, around 7am in summer and 8am in winter (4:00 am in weekend). The fleamarket includes antiques (plenty of both genuine and fake varieties) and large sections selling modern porcelain, jade, carved stone and wood, paintings and other decorative items, used books, maps, Culture Revolution relatives (some are copies made in recent years). There are also sections selling Tibetan goods (mostly of low quality, especially the paintings). Ethnic textiles from Yunnan and Guizhou provinces are amongst the more interesting buys at the moment. Well worth a visit, unless you are allergic to crowds. Remember to haggle, try offer 1/3 to 1/10 of the original price, and don't expect too much to find some genuine antiques there (even they got such stuffs, they will prefer sell them to their familiar customers).
  • Liulichang (琉璃厂, stove of coloured glaze) - there are no stoves any more, but all antique stores, sell Chinese painting, handicrafts, used books and other stuffs. This place was the most popular and fantastic place in old Peking, but was closed in the 1960s. Though it was re-opend in thr mid 1980s, the original fantastic stores are state-owned, no longer attactive for local people. But people could still find interesting things there. In Chinese new year, there's a 15-day folk fair there. Liulichang is not far from subway's Heping Men Station.
  • Gu Wan Cheng (Curio City) - on the 3rd ring road, just beyond Pan Jia Yuan, this 4 storey white building houses the more upmarket variety of Chinese antiques, with prices to match. The management have been making determined efforts to stamp out fakes and low quality items in recent years, and to some extent they have succeeded, but the rule that applies to all antique shopping in China still remains in force: let the buyer beware.
  • Hong Qiao - this is not far from the Temple of Heaven, and worth visiting for the state-run silk market, but more especially for the pearl market in the building opposite. The top two floors of this market are filled with jewelry, and this may be the best place in China to buy pearls, coral, turquoise, amber and other semi-precious stones. The presence of a large number of stalls keeps the prices fairly keen, but shop around, keep a smile on your face and bargain hard.
  • Hotel shops and Department stores - not the most characterful shopping in China, but worth a look and generally less likely (but not immune from) selling complete duds. The old style of Chinese retailing is gradually being transformed by shops with better design sense and souvenir items are getting better each year. Silk items (clothing, table settings and so on) such as those sold by Emperor (Kempinski Hotel and other spots around town) are worth a look, as are porcelain, specialty tea and other traditional items.
  • Carpet stores: the carpet business is strong in Beijing and you will find all manner of stores selling silk carpets and other varieties. For Tibetan carpets try Torana Gallery at the Kempinski Hotel, one of the few places selling carpets that are actually made in Tibet.

Almost on every street you can buy (almost real) fake items. Do be careful when you buy these products, since not all countries allow them to be imported. This is especially the case with DVD's. These copied DVD's should be sold at about 5 or 15 yuan. But most often the sellers charge you a 'Tourists price' for 60 yuan. If you really want to buy it, look for '英文' (ying wen) which means English language.

Eat

The best way to eat good & cheap in Beijing - just enter one of the true Chinese restaurant, where the locals eats, and pick randomly a few different dishes from the menu. Beijing Roast Duck is the speciality in Beijing. Be sure not to miss it. There are some very famous restaurant that cater for the hordes of western tourists willing to spend a lot of money to get this famous dish. One of them is Quanjude Roast duck, which is located right at the Hepingmen subway station (One duck 160 Yuan, calculate around 220 Yuan per person). But backpackers and people able to speak a little Mandarin, or at least willing to order a bit longer, should try one of the more local restaurant. For example, when you walk just to the south from the Hepingmen subway stop, after around 500-800m you will see some restaurants on the left side of the street. There are nice ones, one even has relaxing classical Chinese live music and comes at one fourth of the Quanjude restaurant (one duck 38 Yuan, around 50 Yuan per person).

Mongolian hot pot is a kind of fondue, except they use a clear soup broth that is boiling hot. You use your chopsticks to plunge a paper-thin piece of meat or vegetable into the hot, boiling soup. The trays of meat (chicken, pork, beef, lamb, etc.) are stacked high. The meat is rolled into thin rolls. It cooks within just a few seconds.

Bakeries are in general quite good, though the Chinese variety of cakes is just a farce: behind the many different cakes there are only a few kinds of dough, and the variation is not so much in taste as it is in appearance. "Real cakes" are not available, cakes consist out of cream and very soft biscuit. Special Chinese cookies you should try is the Laopobing ("Wife cookie") and Laogongbing ("Husband cookie").

Vegetable flavor ice creams. This is considered normal (and tasty!) in Beijing. Purple Yam is good. Also, you can try green pea flavor. The ice creams are only slightly sweet, so it takes some adjustment. Chinese cuisine often uses red beans and green beans (not like Western greenbeans) to flavor dessert items.

McDonald's has over 100 restaurants in Beijing, followed closely by KFC. As a rule of thumb, whenever there is a McDonalds, a KFC is no more far away than 100m. There are also a fair number of Pizza Huts in Beijing; one of the newest stores opened, in Chaowai, is uncongested and service is very good. Visitors to Pizza Huts should be prepared to take a number and wait in line if they dine around 12:00-13:00 and again from 18:30-19:30 (peak hours).

If you're homesick, head for the John Bull Pub near the Jianguomen tube station. They'll happily provide you with your favourite English food and drink.

For your stay in Beijing, you should have at least once tried the Lamb meat sticks (Yangrouchuan), which are delicious barbecued sticks of lamb meat. They are sold starting from the late afternoon to the early morning all around Beijing on the street out of small street grills by local chefs. Often, the worst looking grills offer the best taste, so be brave and try them all.

Korean restaurants are also very common in Beijing. A frequent meal is the grill-it-yourself barbeque, including beef, chicken, and seafood items as well as some vegetables including greens and potatoes.

Budget

  • Beijing Saga International Youth Hostel No. 9 Shijia Hutong, Dongcheng District. Tel. 86-10-65272773, 65249098, e-mail sagayangguang@yahoo.com. This place is about a 15 minute walk from the Beijing West Railway Station. From the station, follow the road past the Beijing International Hotel. After about a ten minute walk look for the hostel sign with an arrow pointing down one of the hutongs on the left side. The hostel is very popular with backpackers. They charge 180 Yuan for a triple room, 160 Yuan for a double room and 40-50 Yuan for a bed in a dormitory (the price depends on how many beds are in the room). There's a restaurant on the top floor. The staff speaks some English.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Tea, tea, and more tea! It's the best in the world. They have a different ceremony for every type of tea. You should go to a good tea house. Some are in malls, but first ask the price before ordering or else brace yourself for the most expensive egg-sized cup of tea in the world. Very, very relaxing. The tea masters's movements are hypnotic.

Chinese beer can be quite good. The most preferred beer in China is Qingdao beer (normally 10 yuan) which can also be found in the States. It has a distinctive taste due to its mineral water content. Try Yanjing beer (normally 2 yuan), which is main beer brand of Beijing. It comes in very large bottles and has 11% alcohol content. (Yanjing is an antiquated name for Beijing.). Both Yanjing and Qingdao now come in "standard" and various "deluxe" varieties, some of which are significantly better tasting than the regular stuff.

Great Wall is one type of Chinese wine (there are several others). Chinese wines are just acceptable, and it is still not common to drink wine. Giving wine as a gift is not a common custom in most places in China and most people will not be accustomed to wine etiquette or appreciation. Foreign red wines are usually of a much better quality, such as those from California and Oregon, France, Australia, and Chile.

The most common hard liquor to get drunk from is Bai jiu (white liquor). It comes in a large variety everywhere for very cheap prices and should be avoided if you want to have a clear mind for your travels on the next day. Mao Tai is a Chinese hard liquor made from sorghum. A large selection of imported liquor can be found at all bars ranging from tequila to whiskey.

  • Hou Hai - 后海, a hangout with trendy restaurants and bars in the central part of Beijing. essentially snaking around a man made lake. A great place for a beer, and also to watch local Beijingers (of all ages) enjoying themselves.
  • Sanlitun - 三里屯, this is the center of nightlife in Beijing, located beside the embassy area in Chaoyang district, it comprises a main "bar street" divided into north and south sections, a side street with more casual (and cheaper) bars, and several large clubs/discotheque at the north gate of the worker's stadium near by. Sanlitun has near legendary status amongst travelers, but you are just as likely to be irritated by pushy bar-owners or DVD sellers as you are to be charmed by its bars.
  • Da Shan Zi 大山子, Beijing's new trendy art zone, out North of the Lido hotel, this old warehouse and factory district has been taken over by art galleries, art shops and bars. Well worth the trip to experience the cutting edge of the Beijing art scene.
  • Nu Ren Jie 女人街(literally "lady's street) and the streets around. This area is situated off Liang Ma Qiao Lu 亮马桥路, a short distance north of the Kempinski Hotel and embassies of Israel, Japan, ROK and USA. By day it has some fashion shops, as its name suggests, but it is also home to some interesting new bars, restaurants and clubs

Sleep

Foreign visitors often are "restricted" to staying in hotels, that restriction being less and less obvious as a great majority of accommodation now takes place in the form of hotels. Zhaodaisuos (招待所) are more difficult, and may be fully inaccessible altogether to the foreign community.

Budget

  • Qiao Yuan Fandian: Located not far west from Beijing South trainstation. About 20 yuan from Beijing Zhan (Beijing Train station) by taxi, or take buses 744 or 20; best from Qianmin near Tiananmen square. There's a whopping 200 ya jin (key deposit) but 4 bed dorms with a/c are reasonabley priced at 31 yuan or 260/360 for standard suites, the more expensive option in the building in the back (newer). Level 6 has a laundry, kitchen, and travel agency. Internet access located towards the train station (look for the fish net character on the signs, or ask for 'wung ba') or a few blocks away to the west near KFC, McDonalds and a supermarket. Plenty of eating is nearby, and also don't miss the Art Deco interior of a hotel/restaurant when its lit up at night (head towards KFC).
  • International Youth Hostel: Located directly across from Beijing Zhan (Beijing train station). Dorms 60 yuan (4-8 beds).

Mid-range

A number of mid-range hotels are located east of the 东直门 Dongzhimen subway station. From the subway stop, walk around 800m eastwards to the next big intersection. On the northern side of the street, half a dozen large hotels can be found. A double costs 150 to 250 Yuan a night depending on the season. Its worth to haggle and compare with the other hotels around before you book. Although its already placed at the outer ring road, the subway provides for a convenient and quick access to the inner city. Right next to the subway station there is a McDonalds, and - more interestingly - a large shopping center with a food court hidden in the lowest floor.

  • Kaifeng hotel (凯风饭店, Kai3feng1 Fan4dian4), telephone 64651177, ranging between 180-320 Yuan per day per double.
  • Xinxing Hotel: Moderately priced. About $50 per night. Free Internet access, but you need to ask for a room with it (you should also ask in advance too). Staff is friendly, and their English is just acceptable. Mostly Chinese internal tourists and businessmen stay here. Chinese breakfast on Floor 2 in the morning until 9 a.m. Swimming pool is in a separate building. Staff will clean your room twice per day. Hotel is a several block walk from the Gongzhufen subway station (Line 1) which is on the West side of town. Mind the traffic when crossing the street. Address: No.17 the 3rd Ring Road Middle West, Beijing. Telephone: 86-10-68166688
  • Zhu Yuan Hotel (Bamboo Garden Hotel), steps away from the lake district, it is one of the most interesting hotels in Beijing. It located in a large complex of courtyards, was residence of Sheng Xuanhuai, a Qing Mandarin, later residence of Kang Sheng, head of secret police of communist China.

Splurge

Some rather (although not very) expensive hotels are in the city centre and on the eastern 3rd Ring Road. These include:

  • Grand Hyatt Beijing: Privately-owned, exquisite, and expensive. This is a 5 star hotel. Rooms can go for $150 per night. There is an enormous swimming pool in the basement that is decorated in very tropical manner, but the deepest part is only 1.5 meters. The jacuzzi and wet sauna are excellent, but the steam room is hot enough to cook a lobster. Great hotel, if you can afford it.
  • Beijing Hotel: State-owned (and thus presumably less expensive).
  • Great Wall Sheraton Hotel: Less expensive, comfortable, rotating restaurants.
  • Swissotel Beijing: "Budget-level" for a "splurge" hotel, yet very comfortable, provides Web access in every room, and very friendly staff.
  • Kempinski Hotel: near to the Great Wall Sheraton. German-run and efficient, and a good choice for business travelers. The lobby and adjacent Friendship store contain some good shopping opportunities.

Contact

Stay safe

Beijing is a very safe city. However, tourists are often preyed upon by cheats and touts. Be especially cautious in the inner city, around Tiananmen Square, and on the tourist-crowded routes to the Great Wall.

  • Do not follow any "art students". At best you end up in a shabby "art store" and get pressured to buy art.
  • For tours to the Great Wall, be wary: the driver might just stop and set you off before your destination. Only pay afterwards if you are absolutely sure you are at the destination. Do not go for organized tours to the Great Wall in the 100-150 Yuan range that are advertised by people handing out flyers around the Forbidden City. Conveniently you are picked up from your hotel (so they know where to get back at you, in case you will not pay), you end up on a shopping tour through many many Chinese art, China, Chinese medicine, etc. shops and afterwards you have to pay upfront to get back to the city. Of course, there are exceptions, and people showing letters of recommendation from their previous travels and pictures are usually ok, as are people offering trips to the wilder parts of the Great Wall (ie. not Badaling or Juyong).

Be wary of fake money. You may observe Chinese people inspecting their money carefully, and with a reason: there are a lot of counterfeit bills in circulation. The most common are 100's and 50's. A few tips for identifying counterfeit bills:

  • Be very careful if someone wants to give back the largest currency bill (50 and 100 Yuan) by the excuse of "no change". In an attempt to pass you a counterfeit bill they may tell you that they have lowered the price in your benefit. Or, they may ask you to contribute an additional sum in order to pass you the 100 Yuan.
  • If they give you back all the change money plus the coins on top (though coins are rare in Beijing) take your time to check each bill carefully.
  • To check any 50 and 100 Yuan bill you get, do this: most importantly, check the paper. If its torn, thin or very slippery, ask for a different bill. Next, check the watermark, it should blur out softly. If there are hard visible corners in the watermark, reject the bill. Last, check the green "100" imprint on the lower left corner. It should be clearly painted on the bill so you can both feel and see a relief. If its missing or not feelable, reject the bill also. Rejecting bills is not considered impolite. If the colouring of a banknote is faded, it does not necessarily mean it is fake.
  • Take care about meeting "students" who direct you to tea sampling shops. It is free to sample tea for locals, but for tourists...you should ask. In one incident, after sampling 5 types of tea with two "students", a group of tourists were confronted with a bill for 1260Yuan (126Euro). They even produced an English Menu with the extortionate prices for sampling.

Traffic-wise: Legally, pedestrians have the right of way on zebra crossing, although just a few drivers will actually go the mile and stop for them. It is better to cross via an underpass or an overpass. There are now several self-service traffic lights; pedestrians wishing to cross the road push a green button, wait for the words 等待 (please wait) to appear on the traffic light (for pedestrians), and cross when the lights turn green. However, it is not rare to see a few drunkards or reckless drivers drive through when vehicles get a red light, especially at night and on roads with relatively sparse traffic. Care must still be taken.

Cope

Bring a corkscrew for opening your wine.

Swiss Army knives are a big help too (but remember to put it in your checked luggage).

Poor air day in Beijing.

Air pollution is a BIG problem. Car exhaust, coal burning, and dust storms from the Gobi desert combine to make some of the worst city air on the planet. You may want to bring extra Vitamin C and other antioxidants (grape seed extract, etc.). A white surgical face mask may help with the occasional dust storms...the dust is very fine. Don't be surprised if your throat and nose ache soon after arriving.

Drinking lots of the local green tea (hot) will help you resist sickness from the bad air. Green tea has antioxidants, some vitamin C, and the hot water helps to moisturize your throat. Winter is the worst time...cold air creates an inversion layer and traps the pollution in the city.

Diet tips. Bring fiber supplements (such as Metamucil). Beijing food can be constipating due to high meat/low vegetable content. Chinese don't usually eat salads, but boil their vegetables for sanitary and cultural reasons. Also, an Acidophilus (yogurt bacteria) supplemental capsule taken daily can prevent G.I. distress from the local bacteria. Bring the type that don't have to be refrigerated, or drink the local yogurt beverages (which must be drunken on the spot as you have to return the glass jars immediately afterwards). The local bacteria can cause vomiting or diarrhea (or both) if you don't take precautions beforehand. Remember the 3 P's for food: Peeled, par-boiled, or piping-hot. The good news is that the Chinese preference for fresh food, cooked in a wok at searing hot temperatures means that stomach problems are rare. If you are eating "local" you tip the odds in your favor if you stick to traditional, local food, since the chances are that the chef will know what he/she is doing with this type of food, which is not necessarily the case with (eg) a western-style salad.

Bring a pack of your own tissues (or toilet paper) and small bar soap. Many public bathrooms do not have wiping paper, especially if you venture out to the countryside. Alternately, you may wish to purchase an alcohol-based hand santizer for quick clean-ups. Also, pre-packaged wet hand wipes are indispensable.

Try to use the bathroom before you leave for your destinations. Some establishments (even large grocery/department stores) will not have Western style toilets, and many a lady has been shocked and dismayed to find she doesn't know how to use non-elevated (sunken) toilets.

If you do have to use a squat toilet, you may want to remove your trousers or dress first to avoid accidentally defecating on your clothing. Wipe with tissues that you have brought with you and put them in the bin; do not flush the paper because it can clog the toilet. Some toilets are pay toilets.

In dryer months (especially winter), be sure to bring or purchase a heavy moisturizer. Although most hotels will offer some generic brand, the quality varies greatly and you would do well to supply your own. It is advisable to purchase and drink several bottles of purified water a day.

Most Internet news is not censored, but BBC News usually is. The New York Times is sometimes blocked too. Reuters.com is usually not blocked.

Email access through an Internet based email service is very helpful to have. Examples (free) include Yahoo, Google, Hotmail, etc.

Postcard postage costs 4.5 yuan (as of May 7th, 2005).

Get out

  • Hong Kong: Trains depart on alternate days from Beijing West Station to Hung Hom Station in Kowloon, Hong Kong.
  • Shanghai/Suzhou: Train depart everyday from Beijing Railway Station, night train, "Z" title direct train.

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