Beijing is the capital of the most populous country in the world, the People’s Republic of China, and also its second largest city after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. Beijing is the political, educational and cultural centre of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.
The city is well known for its flatness and regular construction. There are only three hills to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of the famous Forbidden City). Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric “ring roads”, which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis.
Beijing is characterised by its vastness and large distances between locations. Until recently, the city was almost entirely made up of hutongs with narrow lanes and single story buildings. Now, many of the hutongs have given way to broad boulevards and modern buildings, contributing to an airy, sprawling feel, in sharp contrast to cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Beijing is the political centre of the country with official buildings and embassy areas dominating the city. Beijing is also the historical and cultural centre of China with many historical buildings and sites – especially within Ring Road Two. The city has undergone rapid modernisation in recent years, with improvements of institutions, business environment and work conditions.
Given their city’s historical, cultural and political heft, Beijingers are justifiably proud to be citizens of the capital. An attitude known as 大北京主义 or “Great Beijing-ism” is often used to describe their attitude toward people from other regions of China. They are often much more interested in politics and willing to talk about current events than people elsewhere in China. Beijingers also seem to focus on not losing face and often use humor in order to do so. However, many Chinese from other provinces find Beijingers very friendly and straightforward comparing with people from Shanghai especially.
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Beijing’s climate is a monsoon influenced continental climate with hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters. The best time to visit is in September and October, the “Golden Autumn” (金秋). Spring is the season for dust storms. Summer can be oppressively hot and the tourist crowds tend to be the largest as well. Winter is cold and dry with infrequent, but beautiful, snow.
Demographics and geography
Beijing has a population of 17.55 million people (30% migrants) living on 16,800 km2 distributed in 18 districts. The city borders Hebei Province to the north, west and south and Tianjin Municipality to the east.
There are plenty of airlines offering flights to Beijing from major UK airports including London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, New Castle, London Gatwick.
Beijing Capital International Airport is located to the northeast of the central districts, 26 km from the city centre. The airport, which was expanded at a furious pace to be ready in time for the 2008 Olympics, now has three terminals, broadly speaking divided as follows:
- Terminal 1: Hainan Airlines.
- Terminal 2: China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Skyteam.
- Terminal 3: Air China, Shanghai Airlines, Oneworld, Star Alliance， Air Finland.
Travel between Terminals 1 and 2 is via a long corridor with travelators. A fit person can make the route in about 10 minutes. A free shuttle bus runs between Terminal 2 and the new Terminal 3. It departs every ten minutes or so and the journey time is about 10 minutes. Terminal 3 is huge: it alone is bigger than all five of Heathrow (London)’s terminals. Additional time should be allocated when flying from here. Terminal 3 check-in closes 45 minutes before flights depart.
Facilities on arrival include ATMs and money changers. Be aware that upon departure, porters may want ¥10 to wheel your bags 50 m to check-in and that most eating options are rather outrageously priced. Before you cross through security, if you want a bite to eat in the Terminal 1, there is a KFC which has lowered its prices a little, and in Terminal 2, there are 2 KFCs, and the restaurants in the basement have relatively low prices compared to what’s above. A meal at any of these places should be around ¥20.
Many people use taxicabs to reach town from the airport. Try to get the Chinese name in characters of your hotel so that you can let your taxi driver read where you want to go. It is important to do this as most drivers cannot read English and many are recent arrivals from the countryside who might not know the city well. A taxi from the airport should cost ¥70-120. You will have to pay the fee shown on the meter (make sure the driver uses it) plus ¥10 toll for the airport expressway. Traffic jams are common.
The Airport Express train to the airport opened in July 2008. The train runs in a one-way loop from T3 to T2/T1 then Sanyuanqiao (transfer to subway line 10) and Dongzhimen (lines 2, 13). A one-way fare is ¥25, and the trip takes about 20 minutes from Dongzhimen to T3, 30 min to T2. Don’t take the train just to get from T3 and T2, as this will cost you the full ¥25; use the free shuttle bus instead.
A number of youth hostels and luxury hotels run their own complimentary shuttle buses services – ask the place where you are staying if they have one.
Nanyuan Airport (南苑机场 Nányuàn Jīchǎng, IATA: NAY) is a former military airfield 17 km to the south of Beijing, currently used only by army-linked low-cost operator China United (中国联合 Zhōngguó Liánhé) . China United currently fields daily flights to Harbin, Dalian, Sanya, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Wuxi. Free shuttle buses run from China United’s ticket office to and from the Xidan Aviation Building. Times depend on flight schedules.
Since the Olympics in 2008, foreigners are allowed to rent vehicles while in China. Beijing is the hub of several expressways heading in all directions. The following is a list of the expressways and their destinations:
Long-distance buses from areas as far as Shanghai and the Mongolian border connect to Beijing. You can reach areas as far as Harbin or Xi’an on a single bus ride. Beijing has over 20 long distance bus stations, but what you need to do is go to the bus station located on the edge of the city in the direction you want to travel. Most of the buses from the Long Distance Bus Stations will be regular or express buses, which take the expressways; cost from ¥200-600 per trip, have comfy seats, and most rides do not take more than 6-12 hours, but sleeper buses are also available. Sleeper buses, with bunk beds in rows, average about ¥100 per trip, but many go really slowly up hills, avoid expressways, stop at every city or town, provide “meals” which you have to pay extra for, take the potholed National Highways to save money, and a bus ride can take up to 24 hours. The average speed is only 40 km/hr on the moderately fast sleeper buses, and the range could be from 25 to 60 km/hr. It may be a good authentic taste of how less wealthy Chinese people travel.
Though some residents of Beijing know conversational English, especially in the areas frequented by tourists or Haidian District’s university cluster, one should not count on finding a taxi driver or passer-by who knows English well. Neither should a foreigner with minimal experience with the Chinese language put undue faith in his or her ability to pronounce Chinese place names so that a local can understand clearly. Before embarking on a trip around the city, it is best to print out the names of places you want to visit in Chinese characters, or get your hotel front desk staff to write them out for you.
The Beijing Subway is a good way to quickly get around the city and is clearly marked in English for travelers. Long very limited, the network has expanded at a furious pace in recent years, with 9 lines now operational and another 9 to open by 2015. However, be warned that during rush hour trains can be extremely crowded. The subway system shuts down around midnight, and opens again around 5AM.
The most useful lines are Line 1, which runs east to west and passes under Tianenmen Square and goes to many tourist sights; Line 2, which is a loop line following the old city wall and serves the Central and North train stations; and line 5 which runs north-south and also serves numerous tourist sights. Transfers between all lines are free.
Subway station entrances are identified by a large blue stylized letter G wrapped around a smaller letter B. Single tickets cost ¥2 and are only valid on the same day from the station they were purchased, so there’s no point in stocking up. Single-journey ticket machines are very simple to use; just press the numbers along the left side of the screen to choose how many tickets you want to buy, insert cash into the machine and press the green button then collect the ticket and change. The machine does not accept ¥1 bills but if you pay with a ¥10 or ¥20 bill you will be given a handful of coins which you can use for future journeys. You must pass your ticket through the turnstiles upon entering AND exiting the station, so make sure you don’t lose it.
If you plan on traveling a lot, pick up a Yīkātōng (一卡通 ) pre-paid card, which has a ¥20 refundable deposit. Swipe the card at the entrance turnstile and again upon exiting. The use of the pre-paid card does not reduce the subway fare although it does dramatically reduce bus fares. Make sure to find out in advance where to return the card, as not all stations will be able to refund you.
If you are carrying luggage you must pass through the X-ray checks at the stations.
Try to avoid travelling in the rush hour as the stations and trains become very crowded – particularly try to avoid Line 1 & 2 as the old 1970s stations with their narrow passageways and open-edged platforms are not designed for the large numbers of passengers seen today.
Once known as a nation of bicycles, China today has an ever growing number of private car owners. It is estimated 1,200 more cars hit the streets in Beijing every day. As a result, nowadays you are guaranteed to see more bikes in the Netherlands than in Beijing. However, the infrastructure from its days as capital of the “Bicycle Kingdom” means exploring Beijing on a bike is excellent. The city is flat as a pancake and all major streets have bike lanes. Bicycling is often faster than traveling by car, taxi or bus because of the traffic congestion in the motorized traffic lanes.
Four-wheeled motorized traffic in Beijing usually observes traffic signals with the exception of making turns at red lights which is often done without slowing or deferring to pedestrians or bicyclists. Pedestrians, bicycles and all other vehicles (for example, motorized bicycles, mopeds and tricycles) generally do not observe traffic signals. Also, cars, trucks and buses do not defer to cyclists on the road so it is common for a vehicle to make a right turn from an inside lane across a bike lane with no concern for cyclists traveling in the bike lane. Sometimes a right-turning vehicle crossing a bike lane will sound its horn as a warning, but not always. Cyclists also need to be on the lookout for wrong-way traffic in the bike lanes, usually bicycles and tricycles but sometimes motor vehicles, too. Wrong-way traffic usually stays close to the curb so you move to the left to get by them, but not always. Bicycling Beijingers tend not to wear helmets, nor do they use lights at night. Few bikes even have rear reflectors. The moderate pace and sheer numbers of bicyclists in Beijing appears to make bike travel safer than it would be otherwise.
While you will see cyclists use many creative paths across wide, busy intersections in Beijing, the safest way for cyclists is to observe the traffic signals (there are often special signals for cyclists) and to make left turns in two steps as a pedestrian would. But if you spend any significant amount of time cycling in Beijing, you will probably start adopting more creative approaches. These can be learned by finding a local cyclist going your way and following him or her across the intersection.
Beijing’s bus system is cheap, convenient and covers the entire city—perfect for locals but, alas, difficult to use if you do not understand Chinese or Mandarin. The bus staffs speak little English, and only a few bus lines in the city center broadcast stop names in English. Bus stop signs are also entirely in Chinese. But should you speak Mandarin, have a healthy sense of adventure, and a fair bit of patience, a bus can get you almost anywhere, and often somewhere that you never intended to go. It is a great way to see parts of the city that tourists normally do not visit.
Most bus fares are relatively cheap, around ¥1, and if you get a public transportation card from a metro station (a card that acts as a debit card for the metro and buses) you can get a 60% discount on all fares.
Many shiny new buses arrived on the streets in preparation for the Olympics. Many buses now feature air-conditioning (heating in winter), TVs, a scrolling screen that displays stops in Chinese, and a broadcast system that announces stops. If you are having problems navigating the bus system, call the English-speaking operators at the Beijing Public Transportation Customer Helpline (96166).
Minibuses are very common in the countryside outside the urban areas. Privately operated, most trips cost less than ¥10 per short journey and only a little more for longer journeys.
Taxis are the preferred choice for getting around, as they are convenient and are fairly inexpensive for travellers from Western countries. The only downsides are that Beijing’s congested traffic often results in long jams, and taxi drivers are often recent arrivals from the countryside who do not know the city well. Vehicles used as taxis include the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra, Volkswagen Santana and Jetta (the old model, designed in the 1980s), and Citroëns manufactured in China. These taxis are dark red, or yellow top with dark blue bottom, or painted with new colours (see picture). Luxurious black executive cars (usually Audis) can also be found, usually waiting outside hotels.
In the more remote places of Beijing, you might not be able to find any official taxis. However, in these places there will most likely be plenty of unofficial taxis. These might be difficult to recognise for travellers, but the drivers will address you if you look like you are searching for a taxi. Remember to negotiate the fare before you go. Local people usually pay a bit less for the unofficial taxis than for the official ones, but the asking price for travellers will often be much higher.
Taxis charge a starting fee of ¥10, and an additional ¥2/km after the first 3 km. Taxi meters keep running when the speed is slower than 12 km/hr or when waiting for green lights; 5 min of waiting time equals 1 km running. Outside of rush hour, an average trip through the city costs around ¥20-25, and a cross-town journey about ¥50 (for example, from the city center to the northern side of the Fourth Ring Road). Since 25 November 2009, there is a ¥1 gas surcharge on all trips. Note that this surcharge is not displayed on the meter, so if the meter says ¥18 the price is ¥19.
Driving in Beijing can be quite complicated, language difficulties included, coupled with seemingly perpetual traffic jams. Many hotels, however, rent cars that come with drivers, for those who can afford it, up to ¥1000 per day. Nevertheless, public transport will get you to most of the main tourist sites, and you should use them as your primary mode of transport.
You are not permitted to drive a car using the driver license issued by countries other than China. Even Hong Kong and Macau licenses are considered to be foreign and are not accepted. But for short visa holders (< 3 months), it is possible to get a provisional driver’s license at the PEK airport or the transportation police stations in the city in minutes. You need to provide your passport as well as your foreign driver’s license, and do a small examination(just to confirm you don’t have physical or visual disability that effect the driving security), then you can get the provisional driver’s license in minutes. With this license, you can legally drive cars in China. Ask any information desk at the airport for the direction of applying such a provisional driver’s license.
At the arrival hall(maybe domestic only) of T2, PEK airport, you can find the counters of many car rental companies, but their English is usually not good. You had better contact them in advance by phone.
Places to see in Beijing
The centre of the city and most important landmark is Tiananmen Square in Dongcheng District. This is the world’s largest public square and a must see for all visitors from abroad and from elsewhere in China. The square is surrounded by grand buildings including the Great Hall of the People, the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Qianmen Gate and the Forbidden City. It is also home to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and the Monument to the People’s Martyrs.
The National Stadium or Bird’s Nest in Chaoyang District is a new major landmark and the symbol of the 2008 Olympic Games. Two contemporary buildings in Chaoyang District are remarkable landmarks: the CCTV Building (sometimes called The Underpants or Bird Legs by locals) and the World Trade Center Tower III. Both are outstanding examples of contemporary architecture.
There are also a number of remarkable remains from the medieval city including the Ming Dynasty City Wall Site Park (the only remains of the city wall) in Chongwen District, the Drum and Bell Towers in Dongcheng District, and Qianmen in Chongwen District.
Palaces, temples and parks
The city’s many green oases are a wonderful break from walking along the never ending boulevards and narrow hutongs. Locals similarly flock to Beijing’s palaces, temples and parks whenever they have time. The green areas are not only used for relaxing but also for sports, dancing, singing and general recreation.
The most important palace, bar none, is the Forbidden city in Dongcheng District. The Forbidden City was home to the Imperial Court during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Unlike many other historical sights, the Forbidden City was relatively untouched during the cultural revolution due to the timely intervention of premier Zhou Enlai, who sent his troops to guard the palace from the over-zealous Red Guards. The Temple of Heaven (天坛) in Chongwen District is the symbol of Beijing and is surrounded by a lively park typically packed with hordes of local people drinking tea, practicing calligraphy or tai-chi or just watching the world go by. The Yonghegong (Lama Temple) in Dongcheng District is one of the most important and beautiful temples in the country.
Other parks are scattered around Beijing. Some of the best are Zhongshan Park (中山公园) in Xicheng District, Beihai Park (北海公园) in Xicheng District, Chaoyang Park (朝阳公园) in Chaoyang District and Ritan Park (日坛公园) in Chaoyang District. The Beijing Zoo (北京动物园) in Xicheng District is famous for its traditional landscaping and giant pandas, however like many zoos, the conditions for the animals have been questioned.
Haidian District is home to the Summer palace (颐和园), the ruins of the Old Summer Palace (圆明园), Fragrant Hills (香山), and the Beijing Botanical Garden (北京植物园). All are quite close together and worth a visit.
Museums and galleries
The museums in Beijing are generally not yet up to the standard seen in cities such as Paris, Rome and New York. However the city contains one of the largest and most well known museums in Asia, the Palace Museum also known as the Forbidden City. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. China’s government is determined to change the backward perception of its museums and has invested heavily in their development. It has also made most of them (not the Forbidden City) free to visit. However, for some museums tickets must be reserved three days in advance.
One of the most well-known museums in Beijing is the National Museum (国家博物馆) in Dongcheng District, which has been closed for renovation since 2007 and is expected to reopen in 2010. The Military Museum (军事博物馆) in Haidian District has long been a favorite with domestic and foreign tourists. The Capital Museum (首都博物馆) in Xicheng District is a new high profile museum with historical and art exhibitions. Finally, a number of restored former residences of famous Beijingers, especially in Xicheng District, give a good insight into daily life in former times.
The contemporary art scene in Beijing is booming and a large number of artists exhibit and sell their art in galleries around the city. The galleries are concentrated in a number of art districts, including the oldest and easiest accessible, but also increasingly commercial and mainstream, Dashanzi Art District in Chaoyang District. Other newer and perhaps more cutting edge art districts include Caochangdi in Chaoyang District and Songzhuan Artist’s Village in Tongzhou District.
The language of Beijing is Mandarin Chinese. Standard Mandarin itself was the administrative language of the Ming and Qing dynasties and was based mainly on the Beijing dialect. For language students this makes studying in Beijing an excellent chance to learn the language in a relatively pure form. That being said, Beijing dialect contains nasal “er” sounds at the end of many words. Hence the ubiquitous lamb kabobs (羊肉串 yáng ròu chuàn) become “yáng ròu chuànr“. In addition, the Beijing dialect consists of many local slangs which have not been incorporated into standard Mandarin. Beijing taxi drivers are famously chatty and will gladly engage students of the language offering excellent chances to practice the language and get a feel for the changes in the city and country from an “Old Beijinger”.
English is spoken by staff at the main tourist attractions, as well as at major hotels. Otherwise, English speakers are not common, so always get your hotel’s business card to show the taxi driver in case you get lost. Likewise, have staff at your hotel write down the names of any tourist attraction you plan to visit in Chinese, so locals can point you out in the right direction.
Things to do in Beijing
Walks and rides
- The Great Wall of China (长城 Chángchéng) about a 1 hour train trip or 1.5 hour bus ride from the city. The Badaling section is the most famous, but also over-restored and crowded. Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng and Simatai are more distant but offer a better view of the wall away from the crowds. Mutianyu has been restored, but is far less crowded than Badaling. Crowds are a definite issue with the Great Wall: at popular sections at popular times, it becomes not the Great Wall of China, but rather the Great Wall of Tourists. It is possible to rent a taxi for ¥400-800 for the round trip including waiting time. You may want to bring a jacket against the wind or cold in the chillier season – in the summer you will need lots of water, and it will be cheaper if you bring your own.
- Hutongs (胡同 Hútòng). Beijing’s ancient alleyways, where you can find traditional Beijing architecture. They date back to when Beijing was the capitol of the Yuan dynasty (1266-1368). Most buildings in hutongs are made in the traditional courtyard (四合院 sìhéyuàn) style. Many of these courtyard homes were originally occupied by aristocrats, though after the Communist takeover in 1949 the aristocrats were pushed out and replaced with poor families. Hutongs can still be found throughout the area within the 2nd Ring Road, though many are being demolished to make way for new buildings and wider roads. Most popular among tourists are the hutongs near Qianmen and Houhai. The hutongs may at first feel intimidating to travellers used to the new wide streets of Beijing, but the locals are very friendly and will often try to help you if you look lost.
- Rent a bicycle. Traverse some of the remaining hutongs. There is no better way to see Beijing firsthand than on a bicycle but just be very aware of cars (Chinese driving styles may differ from those you are used to). See above for bike rental information.
- National Centre for the Performing Arts in Xicheng District was finalised in 2007 and finally gave Beijing a modern theater complex covering opera, music and theater. This is worth a visit even if you do not go to a performance.
- The Beijing Opera is considered the most famous of all the traditional opera performed around China. This kind of opera is nothing like western opera with costumes, singing style, music and spectator reactions being distinctly Chinese. The plot is usually quite simple, so you might be able to understand some of what happens even if you do not understand the language. Some of the best places to watch Beijing Opera are found in Xuanwu District including Huguang Huguang Theatre and Lao She Teahouse. There are also a number in Dongcheng District including Chang’an Grand Theatre.
- Acrobatics shows are also worth a visit if you want to see some traditional Chinese entertainment. Some of the best shows are found in Tianqiao Acrobatics Theatre in Xuanwu District and in Chaoyang Theatre in Chaoyang District.
- Drama plays has had a slow start in Beijing and is still not as widespread as you might expect for a city like Beijing, and you will most likely not be able to find many Western plays. However, some good places for contemporary Chinese plays do exist including Capital Theatre in Dongcheng District and Century Theater in Chaoyang District.
- Classical music has got a much stronger foothold in Beijing than drama plays. Some of the best places to go are the National Centre for the Performing Arts and the Century Theater both mentioned above as well as Beijing Concert Hall in Xicheng District.
- Foot massage. Have a highly enjoyable and relaxing foot massage and/or pedicure etc (for a fraction of the price in the West) from any of the respectable and professional offerings in central Beijing (in the vicinity of the Beijing Hotel for example).
Beijing is the center of higher learning in China. In fact, Beijing University and Tsinghua University have been consistently ranked among the top universities in the world in recent times. As such it attracts the top talents from across China and is the destination for thousands of foreign scholars each year. Most of the universities are clustered in Haidian District in the northwestern part of the city. Nearly all of the universities in Beijing accept foreign students. Most foreign students are on Chinese language programs which can last from a few weeks to a couple of years. If you have a sufficient HSK level you can enroll in programs to study other subjects.
Food in Beijing
The best way to eat well and cheaply in Beijing is to enter one of the ubiquitous restaurants where the locals are eating and pick a few different dishes from the menu. Truth be told, anyone familiar with Western currency and prices will find Beijing a very inexpensive city for food, especially considering that tipping is not practiced in China.
Some of the cheapest and most delicious meals can be had on the streets. Savory pancakes (煎饼果子 Jiānbĭng guŏzi) are one of the most popular street snacks, eaten from morning till night with most carts operating during the morning commute and then opening again at night for the after-club crowds and night-owls. This delicious pancake is cooked with an egg on a griddle, a fried dough crisp is added, and the whole thing is drizzled in scallions and a savory sauce. Hot sauce is optional. Diehard fans often go on a quest for the best cart in the city. This treat should only cost ¥2.50, with an extra egg ¥3.
- Lamb kebabs (羊肉串儿 yángròu chuànr) and other kebabs are grilled on makeshift stands all around Beijing, from the late afternoon to late at night. Wangfujing has a “snack street” selling such mundane fare like lamb, chicken, and beef as well as multiple styles of noodle dishes, such as Sichuan style rice noodles, but the brave can also sample silkworm, scorpion, and various organs all skewered on a stick and grilled to order.
- A winter specialty, candied haw berries (冰糖葫芦 bīngtáng húlu) are dipped in molten sugar which is left to harden in the cold and sold on a stick. You can also find variations with oranges, grapes, strawberries, and bananas, or dipped in crumbled peanuts as well as sugar. This sweet snack can also sometimes be found in the spring and the summer, but the haw berries are often from last season’s crop.
- The most famous street for food in Beijing is probably Guijie
- Beijing Roast Duck is a famous Beijing specialty served at many restaurants, but there are quite a few restaurants dedicated to the art of roasting the perfect duck. Expect to pay around ¥40 per whole duck at budget-range establishments, and ¥160-200 at high-end restaurants. Beijing duck (北京烤鸭 Bĕijīng kăoyā) is served with thin pancakes, plum sauce (甜面酱 tiánmiàn jiàng)，and slivers of scallions and cucumbers. You dip the duck in the sauce and roll it up in the pancake with a few slivers of scallions and/or cucumbers. The end result is a mouthwatering combination of the cool crunchiness of the cucumber, the sharpness of the scallions, and the rich flavors of the duck.Guolin Home-style Restaurant (郭林家常菜 Guōlín Jiācháng Cài). This well-kept secret among Chinese people has some of the tastiest and most inexpensive ducks in all of Beijing. Half a duck is just ¥28. And all its other delicious, innovative dishes keep customers coming back: be prepared for a bustling, noisy atmosphere, though the interior is often quite nice. Locations all over Beijing—look for a sign with two little pigs—including at Fangzhuang, Zhongguancun, Wudaokou, Xuanwu, and more.
- Beijing is also known for its mutton hotpot (涮羊肉 shuàn yáng ròu), which originally came from the Manchu people and emphasizes mutton over other meats. Like variations of hotpot (general name 火锅 huŏ guō) from elsewhere in China and Japan, hotpot is a cook-it-yourself affair in a steaming pot in the center of the table. Unlike Sichuan hotpot, mutton hotpot features a savory, non-spicy broth. If that’s not exciting enough for you, you can also request a spicy broth (be aware that this is flaming red, filled with peppers, and not for the weak!). To play it safe and satisfy everyone, you can request a ying-yang (阴阳 yīnyáng) pot divided down the middle, with spicy broth on one side and regular broth on the other. Raw ingredients are purchased by the plate, including other types of meat and seafood, vegetables, mushrooms, noodles, and tofu, so it’s also perfectly possible to have vegetarian hotpot. A dipping sauce, usually sesame, is served as well; you can add chilis, garlic, cilantro, etc, to customize your own sauce. While “raw” sounds dangerous, boiling the meat yourself is the best way to ensure that more risky meats like pork are fully cooked and free of germs. In the city center, hotpot can run as much as ¥40-50 per person, but on the outskirts it can be found for as little as ¥10-25. Low-budget types may reuse the spices or cooking broth from previous guests, although it has been boiling for several hours.Beijing provides an ideal opportunity to sample food from all over the country. Some of Beijing’s best restaurants serve food from Sichuan, Hunan, Guangzhou, Tibet, Yunnan, Xinjiang, and more.
For vegetarians, Beijing’s first pure vegetarian buffet restaurant is located a Confucius Temple, see Dongcheng District for further detail.
- Origus has numerous locations throughout Beijing, and offers an all-you-can-eat pizza/pasta buffet for ¥39, including soft drinks and dessert bar. If you’re in the mood for Texan fare, head for the Tim’s Texas BBQ near the Jianguomen subway station. They’ll happily provide you with your favourite American food and drink. Tony Roma’s has a location in Wangfujing (in the Oriental Plaza). 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.
- All luxury hotels have at least one restaurant, which can be of any cuisine they believe their guests will enjoy. You will find French, Italian, American, and Chinese restaurants in most hotels. Restaurants that serve abalone and sharkfin are considered the most expensive restaurants in the city. Expect to pay upwards of ¥800 for a “cheap” meal at one of these restaurants, much more if splurging.
Despite its size, Beijing is a very safe city, and violent crime is extremely rare. However, tourists are often preyed upon by cheats and touts, who attempt to pull a number of scams on tourists. Be especially cautious in the inner city, around Tiananmen Square, and on the tourist-crowded routes to the Great Wall.
- 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 range that are advertised by people handing out flyers around the Forbidden City (or in the latest scam, masquerading as the real bus service to the Great Wall which only costs ¥20, but is guaranteed to waste your entire day). 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 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). Shopping tours are also advertised from certain hotels, ask in advance for a tour without shopping to be sure.
- Do not be tricked by students or young adults offering to go out for a beer or coffee to practice their English. Some scam artists will run up a elaborate bill by ordering food or alcohol and then expect you to pay for it or even half whether or not if you do or do not eat the food they order. Traditionally when someone asks you to come out with them, they would pay for the bill. If you are feeling this situation is about to happen shift credit cards out of your wallet by going to the bathroom or while sitting at the table. The scam artists can be working with the restaurant and the restaurant will ask you to pay with a credit card. Another sign if it is a scam is if they ask to follow you to a bank or back to your hotel to get additional money to pay them back. These people can come on very nice and come off as very nice people. If they want to follow you back to your hotel or hostel have them wait in the lobby and do not return. These people will likely avoid confrontation and eventually leave.
- Do not follow any “students” or Chinese “tourists” wanting to show you something. They are most likely scammers or semi-scammers. Examples include “art students” who bring you to their “school exhibition” and pressure you to buy art at insanely inflated prices. Tea sampling is another scam. It is free to sample tea for locals, but for tourists…you should ask. Always get prices in advance and keep the menu if you are concerned. In one incident, after sampling 5 types of tea with two “students”, a group of tourists were confronted with a bill for ¥1260! They even produced an English menu with the extortionate prices for sampling. Young attractive female “students” also try to lure male tourists to shops, restaurants or night clubs. The prices at such places can be extremely high for basically nothing. The rule of thumb here is that if anyone of East-Asian descent approaches you at a tourist spot speaking any language other than Chinese, do not go into any building of their choosing.”
That all being said, fears of scams have led many foreigners to be overly dismissive of Chinese people who approach them. Many Chinese are tourists in their capital for the first time as well. They are genuinely curious about foreigners and may just want to practice their English and get a picture with you. Be friendly but don’t feel pressured to go somewhere you hadn’t planned on going in the first place.
- Take care when offered a ride in a rickshaw (pedicab). Make sure you know where you are going to be taken in advance, and agree a price in writing. If not, you may well end up dropped off in a deserted alleyway and extorted for a large amount – ¥600 or more. If you do know your way out, just firmly drop ¥5 or ¥10 on the seat and walk off.
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) 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. 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.
- Another version of the above trick is when a vendor refuses to accept your ¥100 bill claiming that it’s fake. The truth is most likely that he took your genuine bill and discretely changed it for a fake one which he now is trying to give back to you. Hard to prove unless you saw the swap.
- To check any ¥50 and ¥100 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. It is perfectly acceptable to hand back a bill and ask for a different one. If the vendor gets upset, you should consider cancelling the purchase and moving on. If the colouring of a banknote is faded, it does not necessarily mean it is fake.
Driving is crazy in Beijing, and reckless driving is the norm. Be prepared for drivers to violate traffic laws even to the extent of going in reverse on highways to back up to a missed exit. Also expect occasional road debris (a piece of wood or torn out tire) to be laying in the roadway. Pedestrians should be very careful crossing the street — drivers, especially taxis, will not stop for you and will anticipate the traffic light before it turns green. Be very careful when crossing any street. Take an overpass or underpass if possible. Otherwise, keep an eye on the locals and cross with them — there is strength in numbers. Cars will also often drive on sidewalks.
Free emergency telephone numbers:
- Police: 110.
- Fire alarm: 119.
- Medical care: 120.
Remember these three telephone numbers, and they are valid in almost entire mainland China.