Beijing Survival Guide
Beijing is the beautiful capital of China, having a population of over 21 million people on a surface of almost 16 thousand km2. Wanderers tend to visit this city quite a lot, for different reasons: because it’s the capital, because of the culture, because you can easily get to the Great Wall.
I have visited this wonder in August 2018 and I must say it was rather a challenge. Of course, there are people that love the city, but I had mixed feelings the whole trip! Maybe I just came unprepared or uninformed, but that’s why I’m writing an article about it. I wouldn’t want you to do the same mistake and possibly not enjoying the city.
I will talk about what I have visited here, what challenges I faced and how I handled everything, I’ll tell you about their food and most important, their tea. Basically I will write a Beijing survival guide.
What I’ve Visited
I will start with what I did in Beijing, so you can understand exactly what I’ve been through. My hotel was right next to Qianmen Street, which is close to the city center, so I could go out any time and check on souvenir shops or restaurants. I have visited the actual center of the city, walking through hutongs, which are the narrow streets in Beijing and also their big shopping area, right next to the Imperial Palace.
Right in front of the Forbidden City is the big Tiananmen Square, the name meaning “Gate of Heavenly Peace”. It is in the top ten of the largest city squares in the world. I’ve seen this square during night and had the luck of witnessing a very pretty light show, along with their dancing front fountains.
Obviously, I couldn’t miss the Great Wall. I didn’t hike it up, instead I used the chair lift to go up and the toboggan to go down. I walked several towers, but the weather was too much for me. The view was amazing, though and even found out about their insects. There are gigantic flies at the Great Wall, making weird sounds, but are harmless – can not remember their name. If you happen to know what I am talking about, please let me know in the comment section.
There is a big park just next to the Forbidden City, having a big lake, on which there are pretty ducks wandering around. It’s always good to enjoy the nature wherever you go. I happened to witness a small live opera here. They also have this concept of late night food market, especially on the Gui Street, where almost all restaurant and shops are open at unusual late hours, and they happen to be very crowded actually.
The very first time I stepped in Beijing, I felt like in a sauna! Given the fact that I have been here in August and the temperature is already very high, I did not take into consideration the humidity. This one is making the trip even harder, so what you’ll need to do is buy a fan and drink a lot of water! I was literally melting!
But that’s not all. You can expect rain anytime, so you will also need to be prepared with an umbrella or maybe a rain coat.
Yes, Google was a big challenge here, as it doesn’t work! And nothing related to it does: Maps, Facebook, Instagram, nothing! The only one that worked was TripAdvisor – thank you universe! Using TripAdvisor, I was able to decide what activities to do. It was a lesson actually, and I have learned that we are so dependent on our phones, that we may not be able to survive without them!
Or could we? People have survived a long time before technology, so, as an adaptable human being, I took a city map and a transport map and went exploring. Another very interesting fact about Chinese people: they always know their cardinal points. They are aware in any moment about them. Wake a Chinese up at 3 AM and he will be able to show you where North is. My recommendation: get a compass and a map and you will never be lost in Beijing!
If you do not speak Chinese, you’ll have a hard time here. I have encountered difficulties since the second I stepped in the city. The hotel receptionists had to use a translation app in order to speak with me. At restaurants, I have to communicate using body language to explain what I needed. But the real problem is when you want to book a tour to the Great Wall. All tours are incredibly expensive if you find their website in English. I was lucky, though. A very good friend of mine, Chinese, happened to be there and helped me find cheaper tours.
I would suggest downloading translate apps before arriving in Beijing (it may not work if you are already there because of Google restrictions) and maybe get a new Chinese friend to help you (I’m not giving you mine). If you can’t find one, there are always guides that you can hire.
Maybe one of the greatest challenges was to deal with money here. Finding ATMs is very difficult, and even when you find one, it may not accept your card. And speaking of those, you will not be able to pay by card at all, anywhere. You have two options: search for an ATM and hope it works with your card, or stay one hour at a bank to exchange money (that is literally the time you’ll have to spend).
What I’ve discovered, though, was that you can pay using an app, called WeChat, but you will need to have mobile data to do so. It is very easy to use, but you decide if buying mobile data is worth it, according to the time you’ll spend here.
There are a lot of people in Beijing and you will feel it, trust me. Maybe the only time that you can experience silence in the city is during the night. Make sure that you are always aware of people around you, take care of your belongings and pay attention to pickpocketers. I did not experience any kind of unpleasant event regarding this matter, but it’s always good to be aware that they may be bad people out there.
The food here is delicious. Several times, I ate so much that I had to roll myself to the hotel. They have the noodles, the hot pot and a lot of other delightful recipes. I can not tell you anything about the pecking duck, if that’s what you’re waiting for, because I am a vegetarian and therefore, I did not taste it. You will find it anywhere though, so don’t worry.
They are famous for their tea and for a very good reason! Do not miss under any circumstance the tea market located on Maliandao Street. You can get high quality tea here for a good price. The sellers are very polite, they will invite you in their shops for a tasting session for sure. If you posses bargaining skills, make sure to use them here, as they can lower the price in the end.
I will always fall in love with a new place. One of the best thing about visiting something new is the feeling, the vibe it transmits. I suggest that you take five minutes to stay in one place and observe how everything happens. Feel the city. I guarantee that you will love it.
In the End
Beijing is a very challenging city, if you go unprepared. I have made a list about what I have visited, so you can have an idea, then I have told you about the obstacles that I have faced and in the end, I spoke about what I have loved. Even though the challenges will outnumber the winners, that doesn’t mean that in the end I regret it. I loved every part of the adventure and it taught me a valuable lesson: Always go to battle prepared!
What about you? Did you visit Beijing? How did you like it? Let me know in the comment section!