A guide to Beijing, China
After a recent visit to Beijing I thought I would share some information and images taken during my trip to help anyone else who wishes to visit Beijing or possibly other parts of China. Whether you enjoy Chinese food, history, art or calligraphy, or Chinese culture, there is something for everyone. I would however say that Beijing is not a family destination but some may disagree. The reason I say this, is that it is an incredibly busy city with over 15 million residents. The roads and pavements can be dangerous to get around on due to motorcycles and vehicles that do not seem to give any consideration to pedestrians. The food can also be a little risky as in you may order food which may contain parts of an animal that may make them throw up.
Also as a note, roads and public transport are not designed with the disabled in mind. Pavements and roads are full of pot holes, buses are incredibly busy and really don’t have allocated wheelchair space.
The currency used in China is called ‘Yuan’ (pronounced UN) but you will see it written as ‘RMB’ or ‘CNY’ but they all refer to Yuan. 1RMB = £9-10 depending on the ever changing currency exchange rate.
Getting around on the tube is relatively straight forward. As with most large cities, tube maps are usually written in English as well as the native language and Beijing is no exception. If possible print out a copy of the tube map before heading to Beijing. You can grab a PDF map from many websites but here is a link to one that is pretty good. Buses however are a different kettle of fish. You cannot get hold of English bus maps and timetables. But if you speak Chinese or have the time to translate Chinese with the help of Google translation for example, then here is a link to a good website with bus routes and bus information.
Taxi’s are very honest and cheap. Just make sure you grab an official taxi which are yellow with either a blue or a green stripe down them like shown below. The cost of a taxi from Capital airport to Central Beijing for example will cost you around 100 Yuan. Which is around £10-11 for a 18mile trip, which is much cheaper then cabs in the UK.
[image title=”Beijing Taxi” size=”full” id=”414″ align=”center” linkto=”full” ]
To take the tube for a single trip will cost you 2 Yuan.
The bus costs 1 Yuan for a single trip or 0.40 if you have a travel card. Which is around 5 pence which is ridiculously cheap. You should be able to purchase travel cards from your hotel or your local metro station.
People and Culture
There are some obvious culture difference between China and the western world. For example we all know that they eat using chopsticks. But most restaurants will have other cutlery if ask for it. However one thing that may not be as apparent is the lack of English speakers in your average restaurant. So one big word of advice would be to either learn some basic mandarin or write down the Chinese translation. If you have a smart-phone such as an iPhone. Install Google translation, translate words or sentences that you feel you will need to use often and ‘star’ them. By doing this, you can use your phone when abroad to bring up the translations without paying for Internet data charges. You can also use the app to say the Chinese translation in mandarin, which is a bery handy tool to have.
One brilliant thing you will see often in Beijing, is people singing, playing instruments, and dancing in the streets or in parks. One park in particular called Jinshang park, is full of various artists. Large groups will joing together for a sing-a-long, or smaller groups will join together and sing-a-long with Chinese instruments such as a Fiddle. You will also see locals congregate outside metro stations such as Xisi station and just spend the evening dancing. This occurs every night. The first time I saw people dancing outside of the station, I was under the impression that it was possibly a Chinese holiday or something. But after finding someone who could speak English, he informed us that they dance every night for good health. Also it’s something to do which is completely free. If you arrive early you will see people teaching others the dance moves. People there are friendly and would be more then willing to teach the foreigner should this be someone of interest to you.
Along with singing and dancing, you will also see people practicing the art of Tai-chi, and sword practice in local parks. Also expect to see older people playing one of the two below games. I am sorry but I cannot remember the Chinese name for them, but if you head to Jinshang park you will see plenty of them. Get there early though as a tip.
[image title=”Chinese game” size=”full” id=”423″ align=”center” linkto=”full” ][image title=”Chinese game of great skill” size=”full” id=”424″ align=”center” linkto=”full” ]
Before leaving the UK for China. I was under the assumption that the Chinese to not eat the same type of food that you will find from a Chinese takeaway in England. I expected the dishes to be more dryer rather then swimming in sauce, and also I expected people to eating dogs and cats, etc. Well, to my surprise, there are a lot of dishes which are the same as your takeaway dishes. Also, I struggled to find a restaurant with dog or cat on the menu.
The food is really good in taste, the only downside I found was the lack of good quality meat. For example chicken dishes would be full of bones. We even ordered one chicken dish which contained chicken feet and the head. This was not written on the menu and to be honest but me right off my food. Another dish we ordered was made from the chicken knees. But 2 bad experiences out of many good is not bad.
Beijing has many night markets which are full of various Chinese appetites. This is where you are likely to spot your more adventurous foods, such as fried scorpions, spiders, and even testicles. Definately not for me, after speaking with a few locals, I also found out that they too do not eat them. They are simply for the tourists.
If you really enjoy Chinese food then you may want to learn how to cook from a Beijing local. During out stay we did a day cooking lesson and learnt how to use a cleaver effectively, managing the wok, and how to create lovely Chinese sauces. If you also wish to learn then I recommend the Hutong cuisine cooking school.
Top places to visit
1. The great wall of China (Mutianyu area)
There are many tours that you can do to visit the wall. I visited the area known as the Mutinyu section. This area of the wall has been renovated which makes it nice to walk on, but if you take the ski lift up to the top of the wall, walk towards the right where you will be able to see the condition of the original wall. Although I think it is a must see, the renovated section is obviously much more pleasant. This area also offers two ways to get down from the wall. You can either take the ski lift again, or you can go down on a toboggan. Which is great fun.
Cost = £35 (which included a visit to Ming tombs, lunch, visit to a jade factory and visit to a silk market.
Time = 1 day
[image title=”The great wall of China” size=”full” id=”435″ align=”center” linkto=”full” ]
2. Summer Palace
Summer palace is a vast area covering nearly 3 square km and is located north-west from the centre of Beijing. It consists of a large lake, pavillions, statues, towers and colourful beamed corridors,
Price = 60 Yuan
Time = 1/2 day if rushed or a full day for steady viewing.
[image title=”Summer palace temple” size=”full” id=”436″ align=”center” linkto=”full” ]
3. Lama temple
Lama temple is one of the largest Tibetan monasteries in the world. There are 5 halls which all contain Buddha statues. The halls are separated by courtyards which contain areas which allow worshipers to burn incense. A must see temple in Beijing.
Cost = 40 Yuan
Time= 1/2 day
[image title=”Worshippers at Lama temple” size=”full” id=”437″ align=”center” linkto=”full” ]
4. Forbidden City
An obvious must see in Beijing. Was originally the Chinese imperial palace but is now fully open to the public. It is a large site with multiple buildings which are full of old Chinese artifacts from the Ming and Quing dynasties.
Cost = 40 Yuan
Time = 1/2-1 day
[image title=”A view of Forbidden City” size=”full” id=”438″ align=”center” linkto=”full” ]
5. Jinshang park
A park located opposite to the exit of Forbidden city. Again contains a Buddhist temple which is located on top of a hill. From here you can see great views across areas of Beijing including great views of Forbidden city and also the drum and bell towers towards the north. At Jinshang park you have the chance to see people singing, dancing, people practicing tai-chi, sword practicing, and people playing Chinese instruments such as the fiddle.
Cost = 20 Yuan
Time = 1/2 day (advise you to go in the morning where you are more likely to see people doing tai-chi)
[image title=”Chinaman in Jinshang park” size=”full” id=”439″ align=”center” linkto=”full” ]