Alright, so you are thinking of going to China, and wonder what to do, and how long to stay in the capital – Beijing. As a previous resident, and regular visitor I have a few suggestions to help you along the way (my last stay was in july 2015). First of all, Beijing is a big city, with a lot of cultural sights and things to do. As such I would strongly suggest to stay at least one week in the city to get anything remotely meaningful out of the stay without getting so exhausted it’s not enjoyable.
You need a visa to go to China, and you should generally fix that between three to one month before departure (they don’t like it if you apply to early either). It is straight forward, except that you need to know where you are staying before you apply for the visa, so book you hotel first (see next paragraph). Do also note that if you intend to leave the country and return (going to Russia, North-Korea, Hong Kong etc.) you have to apply for a double-entry visa. If you mess this up you are in for a bureaucratic marathon that I don’t recommend. Hotelprices in Beijing are quite normal, and on hotels.com you should get a good double-room for about 600 RMB in the very core of the city. There is absolutely no reason to pay 1000+ for a hotel in Beijing. Aim for a hotel slightly to the east of the city-center for an optimal location. In general, water costs about 3 RMB, or 0,5$ a bottle, and you get a fair meal for about 7$ per person. China is also a country with a culture for shared eating, so the more people eat together the more epic the food-experience will be. Also note that most shopping centers have a food-court in the basement, so check that out before you end up in McDonald’s. Also, do remember to bring good shoes! Even with a great subway you will walk a lot in the city.
When you land
When you land in Beijing, make sure to take out some cash at the airport. You need that in the subwaysystem. Do also note that from the airport you should take the Airport express train all the way downtown, as it is super-cheap and faster than a cab. Once you arrive downtown get familiar with the subway-system as it is super efficient and easy to understand, especially compared to the endless grind in the streets. Once in the subway-station, ask for an IC-card and fill it with around 100 RMB. A single ride with the subway costs between 2-5 RMB, and the IC-card makes taking it smooth. The card itself costs 25 RMB or something in that ballpark (=nothing). Now that you somehow found your hotel, assuming you have somewhere between one and two weeks in the city I would recommend the following.
As mentioned, Beijing is an old city with a lot of things to see and do. I still think sights is overrated though, and you should spend more time just walking in the streets and checking out the regular life than running from one ancient temple to another. A few things are worth checking out though.
The summer palace is probably my favorite tourist-spot in the city. It is located outside the city center, but as of lately there is a subway taking you right to the entrance. Its a good place for extended walks along a massive lake in an otherwise buzzling city. If possible, check it out mid-week for a less crowded experience. The later you go the less people, so in the evening it is a great place to chill out.
Tian An’men square
The famous square in the city center is not really that much of a view, but it’s next to the forbidden palace so why not check it out when you are on location anyways.
The ultra-famous forbidden palace is the city center, and it is massive. expect to spend at least 3 hours here. It is literally a mini-city.
Temple of Heaven
If you ever played chinese chess, this is that building on the cover! More than anything this is a large green lung in the city, which you will likely appreciate after a while 🙂
The great wall is by far the least interesting sight, but also the one everyone knows about. Chances are you go there, take your photos and leave spending a lot of time on transportation. I would advice against going to the wall unless you have 2 weeks in town, as there are a ton of other more interesting things to see and do.
China is a heaven for those interested in food, and Beijing is even better since you get all the international food in addition to the local cuisine. Chinese food is so much more than the strange sweet/sour things we get elsewhere, and here are a few of you main suggestions in Beijing:
The local joint
Beijing is a city with massive hotels along the major roads, but if you just walk for 2 minutes behind the big buildings you generally enter some local residential areas. This is where you want to try Chinese food! The local restaurants generally have a menu with most of the classic Chinese dishes and it is very nice to eat alongside the locals. It is naturally cheap too. Order 1-2 dishes for each person at the table depending on hunger and gender etc. The safest dish you can order is called Kung Pao chicken. Every restaurant makes it, and anyone with a soul loves it.
If you are not familiar with Ramen from Japan, do check it out at Ajisen Ramen in Beijing. This is noodles made epic.
when you are first in Beijing you might as well try the famous Peking duck (Peking=Beijing). It’s good, and served in most mid-tier Chinese restaurants.
While Sushi is Japanese, Beijing have lots of sushi-restaurants, and its cheaper in Beijing while still tasting really well. Since I am a big-eater i recommend trying sushi buffets that cost between 100-200 RMB, and allows you to eat as much sushi and other stuff you want for a couple of hours. Free beer and juice is usually also included. Take caution though, scandinavians with free bar at the middle of the day turns very interesting very fast. My favorite sushi-place is Matsuko.
Just as with Japanese sushi, Chinese people love their Korean barbecue. Try to find one of these and try the self-grilling experience. It is not only a social experience, but a very tasty one too. If you crave meat this should do the trick.
The muslim restaurant at BLCU
As a previous student of Beijing Language and Culture university I was lucky enough to have a well reputed chinese-muslim restaurant on-location. This place is actually good enough to warrant taking the somewhat tedious subway trip all the way to Wudaokou just to have a go at it. Expect more meat than usual, and its a great place to travel with a large group so you can try out as many of their great dishes as possible.
The night market at Wangfujin
have you ever wanted to eat scorpions? The night market has it all. Scorpions, Sea horses, beetles, tarantellas. Whatever you need to get your thing going!
Generally Beijing is like New York, just with a massive low-market on top. Somehow I never find anything on sale in the brand-market, so i never buy much of that in Bejing. I basically only spend time at the tailor-shop since that is where I get what i want, and what I cannot get at home. The other thing you find in Beijng are markets selling fake stuff, and that is worth checking out. If you do so, I recommend never buying shoes since they mess up your foot eventually, and never buy anything electronic. Non-brand sunglasses are cheaper on ebay, and fake underwear sucks. Apart from that, use these markets to practise your bargaining skills. Its a useful skillset all over the world 😉
It is no secret that I go to Beijing every third year or so to get my clothes-fix. The reason is simple, Beijing have cheap tailors (if you know how to bargain), and they deliver quickly and good work. My only complaint is that they don’t have really high-quality fabric, so if you want that you might want to bring it with you to China. With that said, I do my tailoring at the silk-market. I have tried other venues and local shops, but the convenience of english speaking staff that knows what italian-style means, is a good enough reason to go here. The prices are negotiable, and not similar in every shop. One shop might say you have to pay 1000, while another says 600. For your convenience I here list the prices I have reached after extensive bargaining in my 2 favourite shops within the Silk market namely XinXiu Tailor shop (Tony-Tailor) and Zhang Hong Jian tailor (John Tailor). These two are next to each other.
Prices at the two shops as of june 2015:
- Shirt 100 RMB
- 2 piece suit 600 RMB
- Blazer 450 RMB (in retrospect I think this might get even lower)
- Pants 250 RMB (Suit-style, or linen Kung-fu pants or whatever you design)
- Coat 650 RMB
Next to the shops are also some smaller stalls selling ties etc, and here are the prices I pay there:
- Tie 15 RMB
- Set with cufflinks, bowtie and hankerchief 20 RMB
To ease the bargaining you might find Alice at John tailorshop and Lisa at Tony’s and refer to me, as Rasmus, the tall Norwegian guy making kung-fu pants. They should know.
As an avid fan of dancing and music it is always a pleasure to go to a city large enough to have proper bars and clubs. While Beijing might not have the best of most famous clubs in the world there is a rather large selection for those interested. The nightlife is also located at very spesifical places, which is one of the reasons i suggest you find a hotel on the eastern part of town – you want to get out and home again without too much hassle.
First and foremost you want to check out Sanlitun. Sanlitun is not a bar, its an area near the embassy-area where there are tons of bars stashed together. Expect more foreigners than locals, but if you don’t speak a word of Chinese that might be just what you want.
In addition to Sanlitun Beijing has a major bar area called Houhai, enclosing a small lake. As opposed to Sanlitun, this area is mostly visited by local chinese, and feature an endless array of differnet bars. If you want dancers, karaoke, food or whatnot, Hou Hai can deliver. Among the many bars one can also find the jewel called East-Shore Jazz Café.
East-Shore Jazz Café
East Shore is run by a well known jazzplayer and teacher. It is an absolute must-see if you are into jazz. Try to go here around 21.30 between thursday and sunday for live performances.
If you want to go out for real, as in dance instead of hang around you should check out some of the major clubs in Beijing. Although I would never call Mix or Vics “good” clubs they are sort of landmarks. Mix was one of the first big clubs in the city and play hiphop/rnb for a primarily chinese crowd. Right accross the street is Vics, which is is primarily crowded with foreigners. if you have no particular taste in music, and just wnat ot have fun you might as well go here. Mix has a 50 RMB cover charge, while Vics has a 100RMB cover charge. These two clubs are located very near to the Village in Sanlitun, and inside the area called “Workers Stadium”.
Other things to do
Apart from the usual stuff above there are a few other things you want to do in Beijing.
China is famous for its massage, and there is a reason for it. You can get it expensive, and you can get it cheap. i prefer to go into a local residential area to get the prices down to around 150 RMB for 90 minutes, and then you choose foot-massage, full body or whatever you want really. I prefer a blend between foot-massage and ordinary body massage. If you are into trying out other things, cupping is fun, and quite relaxing.
798 art district
If you want to see the high-end art of Beijing you should check out 798 art district. 10 years ago it was a poor-artists area, but it have evolved into a high end expensive, but very interesting place. Personally I also have a thing for Soye leatherware, a shop in the area that sell hand-made leatherware such as bags, belts and shoes at very reasonable prices!
Some simple words and phrases
Last of all, here are a few common words and phrases you might want to know. The writing is totally off, but as close as i can imagine to let you pronounce it somewhat correctly.
Ni hao – Hello
Duo Shao Tjien? – How much does it cost?
Sje Sje – Thank you
Doe Bo Tji – Excluse me
Wo bo jao – I don’t want it
- I – One
- Ar – Two
- Sann – Three
- Se (Sø for the scandinavians) – Four
- Woo – Five
- Lio – Six
- Chi – Seven
- Baa – Eight
- Jiao (Jiå for scandinavians) – Nine
- Shii – Ten
- Bai – Hundred
And after that is goes like this San bai ar shii woo = 325 (3 *100 + 2 * 10 + 5)
Wo bo dong – I don’t understand
Djega – That one (point on something and say this)
Tai guey la – That is too expensive
Shuey – Water
Pigjiyou – Beer
ZZZ sai naar? – Where is ZZZ?
Di Tie – Subway (So you ask “Di Tie sai naar?” if you want to know where the subway is)
I will try to expand this little guide as I remember more stuff, and please let me know if you think I should include something in particular, or you find any errors 🙂 Happy travelling! – Rasmus