To escape my job in Tokyo, I visitedBeijing June 8-13, 2000 and July 20-23, 2000. I loved it. Thehistory is outstanding and the people/culture are very unique. Theseare my hints and tips in order for you to have successful trips likeI did. I assume that the reader has a Beijing guidebook so thesewill just be some of the tips that weren’t in the guidebooks Iused.
I think “Fodor’s Citypack – Beijing” is great. It is paperback and encased in heavy plastic and fits in a large pocket. Take it everywhere you go. The map that is included even has bus lines on it. I got it from Amazon.com for about $9.00. I also checked out “Frommer’s China” and used the Beijing chapter. It is good for general background, but for daily use, Fodor’s Citypack is much easier. I also purchased “The Pocket Interpreter – Chinese” by Lydia Chen and Ying Bian. It is out of print but Amazon.com found it for around $9.00. I found it very helpful in order to point to the right Chinese characters to correspond to what I wanted at restaurants and stores. Don’t try pointing to English. It needs to be Chinese. You can also get good English/Chinese translation books at the Friendship Store in Beijing. The Swissôtel will give you a good, free tourist map in case you don’t bring one.
Chinese Visa – Getting one in Tokyo
You need a visa in order to travel to China. It is easy to get. Go to the Chinese Embassy (03-3403-0995; 3-4-33 Moto Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan) between 09:00 and 12:00 Monday through Friday. You need to have your passport, a completed application (get it and complete it at the embassy or print it from http://www.china-embassy.org/Visa/vform1.gif[*1] and take it with you already completed), a passport picture (the embassy has a machine that will take four pictures for ¥700) and ¥4,000 for each one-visit visa that is good for ninety days. A two-visit visa costs ¥6,000. Each visa application takes around three business days for the Chinese embassy in Tokyo to process.
Go to the embassy and go to the third floor. Use the line that is on the far left since it is the only one that serves English-speaking people. It usually doesn’t have a line, either. You will drop off your passport and application (with attached picture) and then three days later you will need to go to the first floor and stand in the far right line. You will need to put your ¥4,000 in a machine and punch the correct button to get a “ticket” and then you will need to go to another line on the first floor. Hopefully someone will be standing there to tell you which button to punch. (It is like one of those ticket machines that are outside some restaurants.) In total, you will spend about 15-20 minutes in the embassy for both visits. It is painless.
Airfare from Tokyo
You can get to Beijing from Tokyo via roundtrip, non-stop flights on JAL using 20,000 American Airlines miles. It is around 3.5 hours each way and the JAL flight times are very convenient. Instead of using miles, the cheapest roundtrip ticket I could have purchased for June 2000 was $900. If you have visitors coming from the US, they can add a roundtrip to Beijing to their US <–> Tokyo trip for about $200 which is what my sister and niece did in June 2000. It is another quick, easy and cheap trip to add to Tokyo and gives visitors a much different view of Asia.
Stay at the Swissôtel Beijing, No. 2 Chao Yang Men Bei Da Jie, P.O. Box 100600-9153, Beijing, People’s Republic of China 100027. (+86) 10 6501-2288; FAX (+86) 10 6501-1548. In June 2000, the rate for three people in a room with three beds was $105 + 15% surcharge for the twin rate plus $25 for an extra bed. In July 2000, the rate for one person was $90 + 15% surcharge per room per night. Of course, you pay in Chinese currency (yuan), not dollars. To make a reservation, email stella.yu@Swissotel.com. Reasons to stay at this hotel include:
- It is right next to a subway stop (Dongsishitiao). This is very important since traffic in Beijing is very bad. I found it easiest to take the subway as close as I could to my final destination and then take a cab the rest of the way.
- It has an ATM on the 2nd floor.
- It is considered 5 star which you will appreciate after being out and about in dusty, “foreign” Beijing. However, you still can’t drink the hotel water.
- It has an English speaking Chinese staff. This is critical since you will have to get your destinations and other items written in Chinese before leaving the hotel. This will allow you to show a taxi driver the Chinese characters and you will get to the right place. It will also allow you to show a shopkeeper “high quality jasmine tea” in Chinese characters and you will get it. Don’t think that you will be able to communicate with anyone without the use of written Chinese!
- It has a deli which means you can buy a sandwich every morning for your picnic lunch. (Have them cut it in half and ask for it to go in a plastic bag with napkins.) You will soon realize that you won’t find many “user friendly” restaurants when you are out sightseeing during the day. And, you definitely won’t find anything tasty at the Great Wall.
- The deli has ½ price pastries and other leftovers after 21:00 which means you get incredibly cheap and tasty desserts every night! (And muffins for tomorrow’s breakfast without having to leave the room in the morning!)
- Every morning complimentary copies of China Daily are put by the elevators on every floor.
- It is located within one block of a large grocery store (fruit, chips, cookies, drinks, plus things that you won’t recognize) and a bus stop.
- The Hong Kong Medical clinic is on the 9th floor of the adjacent building and the doctor, pharmacist and receptionist speak English. My 16 year old niece needed Dramamine for the trip to the Great Wall. After a 20 minute consultation with the doctor, receptionist and pharmacist, I received a prescription for something that worked for $.15 per pill! I was very impressed.
Airport Arrival /Getting to the Hotel
Immigration and passport control are quick and easy. You can take a cab to the hotel for about 100 yuan plus 15 yuan toll (around $14 total) and can try to bargain for less. At the very least, find out if the 15 yuan toll is included in the driver’s quote. All of the drivers yelled 100 yuan to me but since I took the bus, I didn’t negotiate. Or, you can take the public bus for 16 yuan per person ($2/person). The bus is easy as long as you don’t have a lot of luggage that you have to carry (rolling luggage is okay).
To take the bus, go outside door 11 and buy your ticket to Dongsishitiao (“dong see she tao”). Cross the street and go a little ways left to a big yellow sign. (It looked like a temporary sign to me.) Walk by the sign, still on a sidewalk, into the garage. Show the ticket to anyone standing in the garage and they will get you on the right bus. The bus for Dongsishitiao leaves every 30 minutes, although the longest I had to wait was 10 minutes. The walk from door 11 to the bus is less than 100 meters.
Show your ticket to the driver and he will make sure you get off at the right place. It will be either the first or second stop. The driver only stops if someone needs to be let off. You need to get off at Dongsishitiao. After going through the toll booth near the airport, the bus will drive straight for a long time. Then it will take a left (south) and you will be around 5 minutes from your stop. Look out the left side bus windows and you might see the Swissôtel.
When you get off the bus, you will be on a busy “highway” at the base of some steps. You should be able to see the Swissôtel in front of you and to your left. Walk up the steps (there is a ramp to wheel your luggage). When you get to the top, turn left. Cross the street (it is an entrance ramp to the highway [Dongzhimen Dajie], I think) and then cross the other street (Dongsishitiao). Try to find some Chinese person to cross with since you will be intimidated by the traffic and lack of driving rules! But, you can make it. If you get too paranoid to cross Donsishitiao, there is an underground passage to your left farther down Dongsishitiao.
If this sounds hard or confusing, it is not. Trust me. And, this takes no more time than a cab since it is a straight shot from the airport. It should take about 45 minutes. You will be the only foreigners on the bus, but that’s okay. (On my second trip to Beijing, a Chinese woman asked me where the French Embassy was. I pulled out my guidebook and was able to show her. I guess I look French!) I would recommend taking a cab only if you have too much luggage to handle for two blocks. (Don’t bring too much luggage since you will take home much more.) Save those extra yuan for bargaining at the markets!!!!
An ATM machine is located against the far left wall of the luggage area. You can only get 2,500 yuan at a time (or roughly $300). There are also automated money exchange machines throughout the airport, but I never used them. I think you just put in your yen or dollars and yuan are automatically returned. My trick every time I travel internationally is to get enough local currency from the ATM to cover my hotel bill. That way I can shop a lot and at the end of my stay, any money that I have left I apply to my bill and pay the rest with a credit card. Beijing is a totally cash society except at the hotels.
Always carry soap, toilet paper and paper towels (or wipes). Most bathrooms are pay and they employ three people. One person sells you a little paper ticket and then there is a person at each entrance to take the ticket. The entrance is usually only 5 feet from the ticket seller, but I guess this guarantees full employment in China! I paid anywhere from .1 yuan (or 1 jiao) to 1 yuan. Price does not indicate quality and only half of the places were equipped with western toilets. Don’t be surprised if people don’t close the doors on their stalls. Don’t be surprised if someone opens up your stall door. Some of the bathrooms were all western and some were all squat. Unlike in Japan, there was never a mix of the two.
There are 3 types of cabs. They all start at 10 yuan for a set distance (6 kilometers I think?) and then additional kilometers are either 1.20 yuan, 1.60 yuan or 2.00 yuan. The ones at the hotel are always the 1.60 or 2.00 yuan kind. I always caught my cab on the street to get the 1.20 yuan cab going in the correct direction. All of the ones I used had air conditioning. Both the 1.20 and 1.60 cabs are red. The 1.20 is like a small 4 door Escort and the 1.60 is a small 4 door hatchback. I didn’t notice any space difference between these two. The 2.00 cabs are definitely bigger. In all of the cabs, one person should sit in the front since that is what the Chinese do. Unlike in Japan, the doors do not open automatically! Don’t tip.
Pedicabs are also available. I took one from Hong Qiao market to Chongmenwen subway just because. He started the bargaining at 20 and I said 10. He wanted more, but since I knew that the cab would charge me 10, I said “no”. I read that these guys try to make 100 yuan per day, so I am sure that I was “overcharged” but since it is what I would have paid a cab, it was okay.
Subways are 3 yuan regardless of distance. There are two lines – the loop line and the straight line. I only took the loop. The stations are similar to Japan – arrows showing which way each track is going, names in English, exit signs that tell you which exit to use (these are green and white and are on the platform). You buy a ticket from a person behind a glass window and then cross the open space and give it to the person sitting at the top of the stairs. Contrary to all of the guide books, I did NOT run into any crowds and was usually able to get a seat by at least the first stop. They weren’t as clean as Japan’s, but they were probably as clean as Chicago’s or New York’s! There were kiosks at the top of the stairs (before you handed in your ticket) and on the platform where you could buy drinks, chips, yogurt and ice cream.
Buses seem to be around 1 yuan. There are some that cost more, but the ones I always took were 1 yuan. Get on the bus at the bus stops (bus stops usually have large billboards with ads along with small bus signs under a roof) and give the ticket taker behind the roped off area your 1 yuan. If you can’t get to the ticket taker, pass your money through the crowd and it will get there. I was always able to get to the ticket taker. I only got a seat once, but the busses were not uncomfortably crowded. Show someone your Chinese destination and that person should be nice enough to indicate where you should get out.
Save your walking for the sites. Take subways, cabs, and busses as much as possible. I read that you could rent bikes, but I was not brave enough. Bikes usually ride in the streets (or on bike paths in the streets), NOT on the sidewalks like in Japan. That was very nice.
These are the sites that I visited along with the amount of time that I think they took. I also put a reference number next to the site (i.e., either a (1) or an( 11)) that corresponds to the Chinese business cards that are (in the PDF file linked at the beginning of the article). My rating system is 4 stars = must do (****) to 1 star = skip (*).
(1) Great Wall (full day – ****) – Bargain for a cab at the entrance of the hotel to take you there and back. The bellboy will translate, but have your Chinese destination card ready. You will want to spend at least 2.5 hours on your own after getting out of the car at Mutianyu. It takes about 2 hours to get to Mutianyu which is the section we went to and would highly recommend. We paid 500 yuan for the 3 of us in an air-conditioned cab from the hotel and back.
We did NOT tell the driver while we were at the hotel that we wanted to spend 2.5 hours on the wall and had to accomplish this during the trip. Save yourself the headache and have that written on the Chinese card. Once we got to Mutianyu, we agreed with our driver to come back to the car at a certain time. But, I hadn’t thought about it and didn’t know how much time we would need so I agreed to two hours when we should have asked for at least 2.5. Also, there was some kind of garden or museum where we bought our Mutianyu tickets but we didn’t have time to see it. So, think about how much time you want to spend between leaving the car and getting back in the car and make that part of the bargaining process. Things to do include: spending time on the wall itself, shopping at the base of the wall, taking a break with a snack/drink at the base of the wall, going to the garden/museum thing, using the bathrooms at the base of the wall. We really only had time for spending time on the wall itself along with some very quick shopping. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and take a picnic lunch with you and eat it on the wall in one of the sentry houses.
At Mutianyu, it looked like there were two different sections of the wall to explore. We went to the one on the left (or the one farthest from the parking lot). We didn’t see the other one until we were on the wall. Take the cable car up and when you get on top of the wall, go to the left and walk as far as you can. There will be a lot of stairs to climb at the very, very end in order to get a great view of the wall and this climb is definitely worth it. The stairs are still part of the wall. When you get to the top, you’ll see some of the wall that hasn’t been restored with signs saying “do not walk”. I paid attention to these since I couldn’t really see the wall due to the weeds and rocks! I think we probably walked around one mile (~1.6 km) from the cable car to the end of the wall and then we had to walk a mile back to the cable car. But, this was the highlight of my trip to Beijing.
There will be vendors at the base of the wall and just a few on the wall. Bargain, bargain, bargain if you want to buy anything. I bought a medal (Christmas tree ornament) that says “I climbed the Great Wall” engraved with the date and my name for 10 yuan ($1.25)! The entrance fee to the Great Wall was 20 yuan and a round trip cable car ticket cost 50 yuan. You can’t bargain for these.
After I got back to the hotel, I realized that we should have included the Ming Tombs and the Sacred Walk of Animals on our trip back, but I forgot to tell the driver. I have been told not to waste time on the Ming Tombs or any of the museums located at the Ming Tombs but to definitely go to the Sacred Walk of Animals. The driver can simply drop you at the north entrance of the walk and meet you at the south exit on the return to Beijing. Make sure you include this in the written Chinese if you want to do it. It might increase your round-trip price since it will make for a longer day for the driver, but I don’t know. I wish I would have done it, regardless of the time or price.
Forbidden City (4 hours – ****) – Take the subway and get off at Qianmen and walk north all the way across Tian’anmen Square. I didn’t realize it at first, but in Fodor’s Citypack, items 8 – 13 (of the top 25 things to see in Beijing) are part of the Forbidden City. Take a lunch and just sit on the stone ground somewhere in some corner of one of the great courtyards and imagine what it was like during the emperors’ times. You will NOT be able to find much to eat otherwise other than drinks and ice cream.
The basic admission ticket is 30 yuan or you can purchase a 50 yuan ticket that includes admission into extra buildings (i.e. the old theatre, a jewelry museum and something else). Get the 50 yuan ticket. At the entrance to the extra buildings, you will need to buy 2 yuan slippers that go over your shoes (and that easily come off by mistake). Don’t ask, just do it! An audio guide is 30 yuan (plus a hefty deposit that I don’t remember) but WELL WORTH IT. Roger Moore narrates.
Buy your 50 yuan ticket for the Forbidden City and extra buildings after walking north through the Meridian Gate (look on your map). We bought our tickets on the east side after passing through the gate. While standing in a short line to buy the tickets, you will probably have beggars approach you, postcard vendors and independent tour guides. I said “no” to everyone. (Although if you need postcards, go ahead and buy them for NO MORE than 10 yuan per pack. Try to get them for 5 and let me know if you are successful!) Then use the ticket entrance that says “Foreign Visitors” and after getting your ticket punched, rent your audio equipment. I don’t know if they have Japanese, but they definitely have English tapes.
After we were done with the Forbidden City, we walked back to the south entrance of the Forbidden City, through the Tian’anmen Gate and through Tian’anmen Square to catch the Qianmen subway, but you can exit at the very north end of the Forbidden City and catch a cab.
Tian’anmen Gate (30 minutes – ***) – We actually thought we were buying our Forbidden City tickets when we were really buying tickets for the Tian’anmen Gate. It is 15 yuan and is worth it. You must turn in your purse, bags, etc. before entering Tian’anmen Gate, unlike the Forbidden City which allows you to take anything in that you want. I think this is because when you are at the top, you are overlooking Tian’anmen Square and they want to make sure that no one starts shooting people or throwing things. The baggage check area is ½ way between the Tian’anmen Gate and the Meridian Gate on the west side. Buy your Tian’anmen Gate ticket and go up the Tian’anmen Gate in order to see Tian’anmen Square and to see where some of the state meetings are held, but don’t make the same mistake we did and think you are buying your Forbidden City ticket. Go to the Forbidden City first since it will be what you are wanting to do and you will be very eager to see it. Save the Tian’anmen Gate to see on your way back from the Forbidden City if you know you are going to catch the Qianmen subway. Don’t forget to return to the Tian’anmen Gate baggage check to get your parcels before going to the subway.
Tian’anmen Square (****) and Mao’s Tomb (***) (2 hours total) – There isn’t that much to see on Tian’anmen Square other than the great expanse and the school children playing “honor guard” at the base of a memorial, but it is amazing. Take the subway and get off at Qianmen which puts you on the square. It is huge! Mao’s Tomb is something to see if for no other reason than to see all of the Chinese act so reverent to this dead man.
To see Mao, you must first store all of your bags (belly bags, backpacks, purses, camera bags, etc.). If it can’t fit in your pocket, you can’t take it. Store the stuff in a building that is across the main street (6 lanes?) east of the square. There is a crosswalk at the middle of the square. Cross the street and look for a building that says “Bag Check”. Consolidate your bags and pay your 10 yuan or so. It is safe. (You often have to store your bags at some of the tourist sites. I never had a problem with theft.) The line for Mao is on the east side of the mausoleum and you enter the mausoleum from its north side and exit the south. It moves fairly quickly and is free. It is supposed to be open from 08:00-11:30 and 14:00-16:00 but it is not open in the afternoons on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays. As you get closer to the steps and the entrance, flowers are for sale and people will also be selling 1 yuan English brochures. Buy a brochure. We didn’t buy flowers. We stood in line for about 25 minutes and saw Mao for about 1 minute. After Mao there is the obligatory gift shop selling all sorts of Mao stuff including cigarettes (but no chocolates)! While at Tian’anmen Square, I also went to the Museum of Cultural Revolution (northeast of the bag check building), but it was closed for renovation so I only saw some kind of special exhibit. The exhibit wasn’t worth it since everything was in Chinese, but supposedly the full museum is supposed to be a good place to visit.
Dazhalan Jie (1 hour – ***) – This is a shopping area that shows a side of Beijing that is fast disappearing. It has the oldest tea store in Beijing (maybe China?), a famous old fabric store (lots of silks by the meter), an old pickle shop and a pharmacy that sells 600,000 yuan ginseng ($72,000) on its second floor. It is an interesting place to walk around and since it is just south of Tian’anmen Square, it is easy to get to. Head south down Qianmen Dajie from Qianmen subway station and keep on the right side. After a string of stalls look for a blue-glassed building on the corner and “Billy’s Shop” across the street. Turn right down the pedestrianized hutong (alley) here. Down the first alley on the left is a centuries old pickle shop, while back down Dazhalan Jie are the old department stores with grand architectural facades, and an ancient pharmacy. Look on the right for the arched entrance (red lanterns outside) of he old fabric store.
Summer Palace (4 hours at least – ****) – An absolute beautiful area (garden/park) with numerous buildings, temples and statues that used to be the summer home of the imperial court. Take the subway to (2) Xizhimen and then take a cab the rest of the way. I think it was 25 yuan for the cab and it was about 25 minutes in the cab due to traffic. Once again, take a lunch.
Before you buy your ticket, there will be independent guides offering their services and independent people selling English maps. You definitely need a map since there are basically none on the grounds. Bargain! I think I paid 10 yuan for a map and a pack of postcards. The ticket to get in the Summer Palace grounds was 25 yuan plus 4 more insignificant charges inside for admission to other things: ferry across the lake, theatre museum (the old one that was used for the emperor), Suzhou Street and something else. I would suggest doing all of the extra charge items. You might save the ferry for last and take the ferry across the lake and just exit the Summer Palace from that piece of land. Walk to the street and catch a cab back to Xizhimen subway.
There is also the Old Summer Palace that is supposed to be a short cab ride from the Summer Palace but we were too tired to go to it. The Great Bell Temple (see below) is between Xizhimen subway station and the Summer Palace and takes about 1 hour to see it. So you could combine the Great Bell Temple with the Summer Palace and Old Summer Palace, too. Just have all of these written in Chinese so you can be flexible and decide how you spend the rest of the day after seeing the Summer Palace.
Great Bell Temple (45 minutes – **) – Take the subway to (2) Xizhimen and then a cab which will probably be around 14 yuan for the fare. The temple grounds cost 10 yuan to enter. 20 yuan is charged to gong the big bell that was cast in 1406. If you pay the 20 yuan, the lady will also let you step under the bell and look up and touch it. (It wasn’t obvious to me what she was telling me to do and then I figured it out.) Have someone in your group take your picture gonging the bell if you pay. You get to gong it once and she doesn’t let you dawdle in the bell or gonging it! It costs 2 yuan to climb the bell tower (and you are given 1 yuan in the form of 10 jiao to throw from the top of the bell tower to try to get them in the bell) and 1 yuan to rub an interesting bowl that makes a noise and creates a fountain. This temple might not be worth a special trip on its own since it is in the northwest corner of the city, but if you can combine it with the Summer Palace, the Old Summer Palace or the zoo, do it. When I was there, there were no other tourists in sight! 08:30 – 16:30.
(3) Jingshan Park (1 hour – ****) – 2 yuan to enter. Closes at 21:00. This is directly north of the Forbidden City and a hill in this park was created with the dirt from the Forbidden City. As a result, after a short climb up some stairs, you get an excellent view of the Forbidden City. Fabulous! If you arrive at your hotel the first day around 16:00 or so, quickly unpack, get in a cab and immediately come here. Then, after you are finished here, just keep walking west and you will run into Beihai Park. These two parks make an excellent introduction to Beijing! There is no easy subway access.
(4) Beihai Park (2 hours or as long as you want to walk around and explore – **) – 5 yuan to enter. If you want to enter the attractions (buildings of some kind), they close around 16:00 or 17:00 but you can still see them from the outside. The park itself closes at 20:00. I didn’t make it in time to see the attractions, but I don’t think I missed that much. I still had a nice walk around the park. One of the famous restaurants, Fangshan Restaurant, is here, but it didn’t look that good to me. There is no easy subway access.
(5) Tiantan Park (Temple of Heaven and Imperial Vault of Heaven) (2 hours – ****) – Take the subway to Chongwenmen (14) and then a cab. My sister and I got here at 07:00 on a Sunday to see all the people (mostly elderly) doing tai chi, flying kites, walking with their birdcages, playing cards, dominoes, badminton, etc. It was pretty interesting since it seemed like different activities were held in different locations in the park (all the kites were being flown in one section, birdcages hanging from trees were in another, etc.). The actual sites open up at 08:00. It costs 4 yuan to enter the park and 10 yuan for a ticket to get into the Temple of Heaven and the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Get there early to see the tai chi and stuff!
After you are done with this, if you are interested in freshwater pearls (the kind that aren’t perfectly round), the (6) Hong Qiao market (*) is across the street from the (5) Temple of Heaven. It opens at 09:00. Go up to the top floor (fourth floor) and when coming out of the staircase, turn left. Ask anyone for Sharon Tong. Her company’s name is Beijing Yong Hong Pearls and Jewels Co. Ltd. and it is located on the left side of the corridor. Tell her “Sandi from Boeing sent you from Tokyo”. She has pearls in every price range. She will show you a “bunch” and you can choose the strand or strands you want. She will double-knot them and put on the clasp. Ask for a gold clasp, and she will tell you the additional price. It is worth it as their clasps are not great. Sandi wouldn’t trust any other vendor. I did NOT buy anything and did NOT search for this specific vendor. But, I did go to the Hong Qiao market and left after 10 minutes. There was everyday stuff (like a K-Mart) on the first 2 floors and all sorts of pearls on the top two floors. Unless you really want freshwater pearls, skip this market.
(7) Lama Temple (Yonghegong) (1.5 hours – **) – Take the subway to (7) Yonghegong station. The temple is right there. This temple costs 15 yuan to enter. At the rear of the complex, you can also buy a ticket for 6 yuan for 2 additional buildings. It is open from 09:00 – 16:00, although I think they might let people in at 16:00 for the last entrance. Have the hotel tell you the exact closing time since you might want to consider doing the Lama Temple, then Ditan Park and then dinner at Rosie’s Restaurant (see below).
Or, walk to Confucius Temple (or take a cab or pedicab) from the Lama Temple for more temple sightseeing. I didn’t go here but it is supposed to be a good sight to see.
Ancient Observatory (45 minutes – **) – Take the subway to Jianguomen station (13). The observatory is right there. It cost me 5 yuan but it was supposed to be 10 yuan. But, since they were fixing the ancient platform and I couldn’t go up it, they were giving people a discount. It is closed Monday and Tuesday. I think it is open from 09:00-11:00 and 13:00-17:00. Visit this observatory just because it is so convenient to the subway station and then go to the Friendship Store and then Silk Alley (see below).
Beijing Zoo (as little or as long as you want – *) – This is not worth going to (like the guidebook said), but I wanted to see pandas in China so I did! Take the subway to Xizhimen and then a pedicab (try to bargain for less than 10 yuan since a cab would be a minimum of 10 yuan) or a regular taxi since it is a long walk from the station to the zoo. It costs 7 yuan to enter which includes the panda house and 2 yuan for a worthless brochure. Don’t buy it! There are restaurants here (one of the few tourist places that had food that I would consider eating and hassling for – remember that there is limited English and no plastic food models!).
Hutong Tour (3 hours – ****) – The hutong tour is well worth the money (180 yuan per person). There are two a day (09:00 and 14:00). I did the 09:00 one on the morning of my 14:50 departure flight and finished by noon. Then a quick cab ride back to the hotel and I was on the road by 12:30 in a cab that I negotiated for 100 yuan which got me to the airport in plenty of time. Buy these hutong tours in the Swissôtel at the tour desk located to the left of the registration desk. Otherwise, the phone number is 6615-9097 or 6400-2787. The Beijing Hutong Tourist Agency is the only certified company for these. You ride in a pedicab (2 per cab) through the hutongs and visit someone’s actual home, a Buddhist temple, the Drum Tower and Prince Gong’s Mansion for a Chinese tea ceremony. This is the only organized tour I took while in Beijing.
Acrobats (1.5 hours – ****) – We attended the China Acrobatic Troupe at Chaoyang Theater, 36 Dongsanhuanbei Lu, Chaoyang District, 6507-2421. Every night the troupe performs starting at 19:15. We bought the most expensive tickets (80 yuan each, I think) about 15 minutes before the show started and sat in the 4th row. No one was in front of us. The sides were full of tour groups with cheaper tickets. They sell snacks and drinks in the theater and you can eat/drink during the show (unlike the U.S.) , but if you want your own brand (i.e. Diet Coke) bring it with you!
There is a Peking duck restaurant close to here (around 90 yuan per duck meal, I think) that the Swissôtel recommended and made reservations for us. For the most part, the restaurant only served duck. Get to the restaurant by at least 17:30 if you want to eat duck before the show. You will still be a very short cab ride from the theater. We didn’t allow enough time and couldn’t see the show after our duck dinner. But, since the acrobats perform every night and you buy tickets at the door, it didn’t matter.
(8) Ritan Park (1 hour or as long as you want to spend – **) – Jianguomen subway. This is just another one of Beijing’s nice parks to see. You won’t really want to spend much time in any of the parks (Tiantan, Beihai, Ditan or Ritan), but they are very nice to walk through since they are all quite different. And, you can spend as much time as you want or as little as you want. They are not as serene and simple as Japanese gardens but are unique in their own right. This one is very close to the Friendship Store, Silk Alley and Russian Market. You could go to the Ancient Observatory, then the Russian Market (waste of time), then walk through Ritan Park to Silk Alley and end at the Friendship Store before returning to Jianguomen subway. 2 or 3 yuan. 06:30 – 20:30.
Ditan Park (1 hour or as long as you want to spend – **) – Yonghegong subway. This is also another one of Beijing’s nice parks to see. This one is close to the Yonghegong Temple (Lama Temple) and on your way to Rosie’s Fang Cheng Restaurant (see below). 5 yuan. 06:30 – 21:00.
Friendship Store – **** – Get off at Jianguomen subway then walk east and cross the major street after the CVIK Shopping Center. The Friendship Store has fixed prices. Go here first to get an idea of what things cost. Other than a fabric store you might run across, this is the only place you will find fabric by the meter. (You won’t find fabric by the meter at any of the other places listed under “Shopping”.) If you want to buy something, you need to find a person to write up your ticket and then you go to the cashier with the ticket. Pay the cashier and then you get your receipt. Then return to the original person to get your item. There is lots of inefficiency in China! This is open from 09:00 – 20:30. There is a western grocery store in it along with a Starbucks. There is also a western grocery store with a better selection in the basement of the CVIK Shopping Center. Stop there on your way back to the Jianguomen subway station to get your lunch items for the next day.
Silk Alley – *** – Very close to the Friendship Store. Bargain, bargain, bargain! Silk Alley only sells new items and not used. It is open until dusk. Its inventory includes sweaters, polo shirts, Gap stuff, Nikes, Prada bags, pashmina scarves, silk scarves, Timberland jackets, Dockers pants, etc. If you show an interest in something, the vendor will immediately ask you to buy it. Ask him “How much?”. If he starts at 100 yuan, you better not pay more than 50 and you can probably get it for a lot less. Be willing to walk away especially since you will probably find the same thing at a stall two or three down the lane. Get an idea of the price at the first place and then get ready to bargain at the next ones you see. If you can walk away if they don’t meet your price, you will end up getting things for cheap.
(9) Sanlitun Lu – **** – This is 3 bus stops from the Swissôtel. (See “Restaurants” below for directions.) It is open until dusk. I found this area to have almost the exact same inventory as Silk Alley (but no pashmina scarves and only one stall selling silk scarves instead of 10 stalls selling silk scarves), but much, much, much more relaxed and possibly larger. I could actually touch merchandise here and no one would yell “How much?” or “Buy it” to me like they did at Silk Alley. Go to Silk Alley for the experience (and since there are a couple of unique things there), but do most of your shopping here. Remember that there are no dressing rooms at any of these shopping areas but the merchants have tape measures and might let you go behind a curtain.
(10) Pan Jia Yuan – **** – This is the “antique” market. There is no clothing and no name brands. Half of the stuff was old (or made to look old). The new stuff was the crafts stuff like scrolls and painted bottles. I loved this place but it was filthy. You won’t realize it while you are there, but when you blow your nose back at the hotel, you’ll realize it! This is open on weekends. Get there by 7 AM. I went on a Saturday morning and on a Sunday morning and couldn’t tell a difference even though the guidebook recommended Sunday morning. This is where you can get scrolls, pottery, Mao stuff, painted snuff/perfume bottles, etc. Take the subway to Chongwenmen and then a cab.
(6) Hong Qiao – * – see above by Tiantan Park.
Russian Market (11) – * – Skip it. The guidebook said it sold “gaudy” things that people from the West wouldn’t wear and I should have gone by what the guidebook said. Close to the Friendship Store and right across the street from Ritan Park which means if you go to Ritan Park, your curiosity will get the best of you since you are so close and you will probably walk the 5 minutes to the Russian Market and spend 15 minutes there! But, just remember that I warned you.
I did not go to any of the fancy restaurants that were mentioned in a lot of the guidebooks. The fancy restaurants seemed to exist only in the hotels. Instead, I went to the following places that had English menus and served a more local clientele:
*** Ding Tai Zhen – 116 Dongsinan Dajie, Chaoyang District, tele-6525-7578. This was listed in Fodor’s Citypack and had decent Chinese food for cheap (average 15 yuan per dish). It was a short cab ride (10 minutes) from the hotel and afterwards I strolled on the street that it was on since it seemed to be a “hip” part of Beijing. We ordered 6 things from the menu (way too much, but at the cheap prices we wanted to try them all) and enjoyed eating with the locals.
*** Berena’s – Chinese food (average 40 yuan per dish) within walking distance of the hotel on Gongti Donglu (across the street from Workers’ Stadium). To get to it, turn right out of the main entrance of the Swissôtel and just walk east on Donsishitiao. When you come to your 2nd light, continue walking and cross the street, turn right in front of “City Chains Hotel” (there is a big CC on the building) and walk down the street (a main thoroughfare). You will see Frank’s Place (a bar and grill with great hamburgers and an English menu – ) on the left and Berena’s is next to it on the right.
**** Rosie’s Fang Cheng (12) – I took the subway to Yonghegong and walked north through Ditan Park. When I was done with my casual stroll, I got a cab and showed the driver my Chinese card that said “China Daily/University of International Business and Economics”. You want to be dropped off in front of China Daily (15 Huixin Dongjie). China Daily is the English newspaper in China and if the cabbie doesn’t know where that it, it is across the street from the University. Anyway, when you get out in front of China Daily, walk north and take the first hutong to the left after China Daily. Rosie’s Fang Cheng Restaurant (“Fragrant City”) is located half a block on the south side off Huixin Dongjie. It has a large front window with Rosie’s and other English written on it. This is easy to find.
You will probably be the only tourist there, but she has an English menu since some writer from the newspaper translated it for her. This was the best meal I had (and very cheap)! Walking through Ditan Park before dinner made it just that much better. Take a leisurely stroll back south on Huixin Dongjie until you decide to catch a cab to the subway station (make sure you have your Chinese card with Yonghegong Subway station written on it). Buy some fruit from the local vendors for tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch (but wash it with bottled water first).
*** (9) – There are also many restaurants located in the Sanlitun Lu area. I ate at an Italian one and had a great very thin cheese pizza for 45 yuan ($4). You can walk from the hotel (probably 1 mile), but the easiest way is to catch a bus. Leave the main entrance and take a right (east). After 100 meters or so you will come to the bus stop. Catch bus 115 or 118 going east. Pay your 1 yuan and get off at the third stop and walk north across the street. This is also the area of a great market for Nikes, polo shirts, sweaters, purses, etc. Although the market closes at dusk, the restaurants are still open. After dinner, catch the 115 or 118 bus back to the hotel. The third stop will be directly in front of the grocery store that is closest to the hotel. It closes at 9 PM, but if you get there before then, you can buy your drinks and cookies for tomorrow’s lunch after dinner on your way back to the hotel!
Prices Snookums got while bargaining:
- Limited knockoff cotton sweater twinset = 130 yuan ($15.85)
- T-shirts = 27 yuan ($3.25)
- Scarves = 10 yuan ($1.25)
- Pashmina scarf = 430 yuan ($52)
- Scrolls = 100 yuan for 4 (I thought I was bargaining for 1!!!) ($12)
- Scroll = 50 yuan ($6)
- Antique working Mao watch = 100 yuan ($12) I just not have paid this much.
- Antique working Mao alarm clock = 20 yuan ($2.50)
- Painted perfume bottle/snuff bottle (the inside is painted with a scene) = 10 yuan ($1.25)
- Painted globe (like the bottle) = 60 yuan ($7.25)
- Prada knockoff microfiber backpack = 80 yuan ($10)
- Pack of postcards = 10 yuan ($1.25)
- Cotton/lycra blouse for work = 70 yuan ($8.50)
- Underwear = 5 yuan ($.60)
- McDonald’s large shake = 6.3 yuan ($.75)
- Dairy Queen shake = 16 yuan ($2)
- Bottled water on the street = 3 yuan ($.36)
- Bottled water in a store = 2 yuan ($.25)
- Asahi beer in a store = 4.5 yuan ($.55)
- Diet Coke in a store = 3.5 yuan ($.42)
- Coke in a store = 3 yuan ($.36)
- Ice cream bar in a store = 3 yuan ($.36)
- Public bathrooms = .1 to 1 yuan ($.01 to $.12)
- Yogurt = 2 yuan ($.25)
- 4 bananas = 12 yuan ($1.50)
- 4 large breakfast rolls = 8 yuan ($1.00)
- Pack of cookies = 3 yuan ($.36)
The exchange rate in July, 2000 was $1 = 8.2804 yuan or 1 yuan = $.1208. It is very stable.
The only Chinese I used was “ting” which means stop. I used this in the taxi on the way back to the hotel so I could get dropped off on Dongsishitiao instead of in front of the hotel which would have added several minutes to the trip. “She she” means thank you. “Knee haw” means hello.
There is no easy way to take the bus back to the airport so you will have to take a cab. You have two choices: either a metered cab or you can bargain for a flat rate.
You can bargain at the hotel for a “nice” cab to take you to the airport for 100 yuan with your luggage in the trunk. When he comes to the tollbooth, he might ask for 15 yuan. I told him I didn’t have it since I honestly didn’t have any extra. I figured 100 yuan was the total. I don’t know what I really bargained for or not, but have the Chinese characters be specific to say 100 yuan including tolls.
If you want to take a metered cab, go out to the street and catch one. I did this the second time I was in Beijing. I wanted to get a 1.20 yuan cab, but mistakenly waved over a 1.60 yuan one. I got to the airport from the Swissôtel with 45 yuan on the meter and 15 yuan for tolls for a total of 60 yuan. I only had carry-on luggage so I didn’t need him to open the trunk. (I’m not sure the small cabs open trunks but I guess they do!)
Doing the negotiated 100 yuan thing is nice since you know that you will only need to keep 100 yuan plus your 90 yuan departure tax and can put the rest of your Chinese currency towards your hotel bill. The metered cab is nice if you like to play “guess the meter”. I took 70 yuan (plus 90 yuan) with me for the metered cab and spent the extra 10 yuan on candy at the airport. I felt pretty good that I estimated it so closely! Of course, if it would have been more than 70 yuan, I would have had to change yen at the airport to get money for my departure tax.
Each ticketed person will need 90 yuan for departure tax. After you enter the airport, and before going through any kind of security or baggage check area, look for a counter along the far wall (halfway down the airport entrance hall) that says “tax” or something like that. Give your 90 yuan and you will get a blue and white coupon. Now you can proceed to the gate and through the airline check-in, security, immigration, etc. It took about 25 minutes for everything – from buying my tax coupon to getting to the gate.
Things to Take
- Empty suitcase/duffel bag for the items you purchase
- Diarrhea medicine (just in case – we didn’t need it!)
- Plastic shopping bags since things you buy while you are walking around might not come in bags
- Dramamine if you get car sick (for the trip to/from the Great Wall)
- Clothing – Dark colors. Whites will get dirty and stained. China is VERY casual. Shorts and pants are fine everywhere you go.
(See the PDF for some photos and copies of the address cards mentioned in the text.)