Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Beijing Traveller's Tips

I first went to Beijing 17 years ago when I was 11. I don't remember a lot, only that it was one of the most humid places I had ever been to and that everyone spoke a weird language that I didn't understand. Now while I’m half Chinese, I actually don't speak a word of it and this means most of the places I’ve visited on my own are western hotspots such as Shanghai and Hong Kong. Other places I’ve visited for business such as Shenzhen, Guangzhou, hangzhou and Fuzhou have all been with supervision. To be honest I probably could have gone to these place alone as it’s fairly easy to travel around China if you have a bit of common sense and accessible data but I’ve been really lazy about it all.

Last week I went to Beijing with my brother to see family and while most of the trip was planned with tourist activities, we did manage to get a couple of days to explore the city ourselves. As I ended up taking a lot of pictures and picking up plenty of tips I decided to compile them all into a couple of posts for those of you wanting to visit the Chinese capital. I think China itself is one of the most underrated travel destinations in the far east. A lot of people opt for other places such as Vietnam and Thailand because of their tropical climates but China also has tropical regions as well as cities lined with skyscrapers, mountainous regions, countryside and lots of islands dotted around its coastline. Don’t forget that China borders so many other countries such as Russia, India, Korea, Mongolia, Nepal and Vietnam which has created numerous cultures and ethnic minorities across the border.
If you’re considering travelling to Beijing in the near future then here’s a few essential tips that you might find very handy.

If you don’t already know, many of the apps and social networks we use on a daily basis are actually banned in China. These include facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat and search engines such as google. This is because the Chinese government likes to monitor international influence and news.  In response to the growing use of social media, China has its own social media platforms such as Wechat and Weibo. For those who can’t resist being away from their social media channels you can download a VPN app which breaks through the firewall. Many chinese people are starting to use VPN connections for things such as internet shopping on international websites and because they want to have their own social media accounts unregulated by the Chinese government. Now before you use a VPN to browse banned websites you do need a good internet connection. The best way to do this is to buy a chinese sim card if you don’t want to spend a small fortune using your UK data.  Alternatively just log onto FREE wifi connections which are in abundance all over the city.
*I recommend downloading the betternet app as its the best connection I’ve found.

Public Transport
I’ve found the best way to get around the city is to use the Beijing Subway. The subway has 22 metro lines which are simply named and coloured as Line 1, Line 2... etc. The names of the stations are written in English characters as well as chinese and all of the tube announcements are in both languages. There are many transfer stations where you can transfer from line to line and all carriages are air conditioned. The Beijing Subway is owed and heavily subsidised by the Chinese Government. This means that travel only costs 3 Yuan (35p) per journey.  This really gives the poorer people in Beijing a chance to travel to work without the heavy costs. A far cry from the London Underground which costs commuters thousands a year! Make sure you buy a travel card so you can top up to get the cheapest price. These cards can also be used on the buses.

The second best way to travel is to grab a Beijing Licensed taxi. The fares are flat rates depending on your destination and most of the places we went to cost around 13 Yuan (£1.50) which is a bargain. The only downside is that the taxi drivers rarely speak English so ask your hotel receptionist or a concierge to write down the names of the places you want to go in Chinese which you can hand to the taxi drivers. There are also private taxis all around Beijing with drivers who do speak English but they will charge you about 4 times the amount if you look like foreigner.

Lastly Rickshaws are a good way to see the city as you travel. One rider tried to charge us 80 yuan to get to a nearby hotel but once my dad spoke to them in Chinese it ended up costing 30 Yuan (£3.50). I would simply avoid these completely for health and safety reasons. One thing you will notice in Beijing is that there is not much difference between the green man and the red man, people drive and stop when they want to!
Paying for Items
Wechat is the most used social network in China. Most chinese users use this app to pay for goods, video chat friends and family and also as a search engine. There are countless QR codes around the city which can give you information about tourist attractions, however most are in Chinese so its not beneficial unless you actually speak the language or have someone in your party that can understand. Most shops now accept wechat Pay as payment for goods. There are lots of vending machines and fridges in malls and hotels that allow you to just take the item and pay by scanning a QR code.These vending machines are actually unlocked or the items are on a shelf without security tags or shop assistants. You would imagine that people would just simply take the items without paying as it’s that easy but I never saw this once. Most of these machines accept ApplePay and alipay so make sure to link your phone and debit card to one of these payment applications because your life will be a whole lot easier as these machines don’t accept cash or non-chinese debit cards.
Obviously all shops accept cash. I actually have a Chinese bank account and debit card so I don’t need to change any currency but I would suggest changing currency in China rather than in your home country as you’re likely to get a better rate.

Street Sellers

One thing that you will see constantly in Beijing is the vast amount of street sellers who are just average people, often very poor people selling goods such as bottled drinks, fruit and gadgets, often for extremely cheap prices. If you need a drink or fancy something to eat please choose to buy from these sellers. There are so many poor people in China and while there is a benefit system, it is in no way as generous as the UK benefit system. Benefits in the city range from around 400 yuan (£45) a month and those living in rural areas can receive about 261 yuan (£30) a month. A good quality of Chinese people is that they do not want handouts and therefore entrepreneurship is encouraged. Street traders are not  prosecuted for illegal trading or told to move, they’re simply trying to make an honest living so that they can support their family. This is why you will never see beggars, begging is shamed upon, instead people will try to offer you their services or products and they won’t hassle you or try to cheat you.

Try something NEW!

There are many international food chains in China, especially Starbucks and Mcdonalds. While these are slightly cheaper than UK prices, it’s much cheaper to eat at Chinese restaurants and Chinese chains! It’s also good to just try something new. The cuisine in Beijing is old and new and innovative. Try street food vendors, old school, no frills canteens and futuristic cafes because a big part of the Beijing experience is the food.

In my next blog post I’ll be introducing you to places I’ve visited and what to eat, drink and do in the Chinese Capital.

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