03 July, 2018

Some Beijing advices

From time to time, friends and acquaintances ask for travel advices in China and I should know a little at least given my 20 years of living and working in China. So, this post has some recommendations but it's not for everyone and I don't pretend that I know it all so take my advices as input, not final decisions. I'm more of a business traveler than a sightseer/adventurer so bear with me.

First, get WeChat and set up your credit card for payments. You can hardly use international credit cards in China. Cash was King but now all WePay or AliPay. Secondly, download DiDi and set it up with international credit card. Easier to use DiDi to input addresses in english and order taxi as no taxi driver speaks english. Buy a data plan before you come to China. use it wisely, you can upload photos to Instagram and Facebook, etc. when you are back home or at hotel using VPN (i recommend Astrill but ExpressVPN also good).

Always, always avoid people on the street selling you tours or bringing you to teahouse or KTV or whatever. You have no idea what you get into and you'll be easily ripped off. If you want support, order from a tour operator, the hotel or just order a your own driver.

Beijing

Well, here I lived for like 13 years before moving back to Sweden 6 years ago. But have been back to Beijing at least 50 times since moving out. My part of Beijing was East Beijing, centred around Worker's Stadium and Sanlitun. And it's fairly pleasant part of the town, used to foreigners and life is easy around that area. Some tourists but more business travellers and 'locals'. Subway should be used if you can, predictable as Beijing traffic can be anything but fast..

Here's a Google Map (need VPN or your international phone to access) with most places listed below.

Must Do

The Great Wall. Any time of the year but it's most amazing in the winter time where you can the wall by yourself. Avoid Badaling unless you're on a tight timeline. Better to go to Mutianyu. If you have time, I recommend a hike from Jinshanling to Simatai see this tripadvisor or this travelchinaguide post. If you're more adventurous and/or have more time, go Yellow Flower section and stay overnight at a local family. See sunset at the wall, dine in and get up in the morning for the sunset. Good experience. See this post. I don't have any numbers for staying with a local family so take a chance .. 

The Forbidden City. Well, it used to have a great starbucks. You need an hour or two. Easiest access is via subway. 

The tunnels under the city is a different experience but I'm not sure they're accessible anymore. I used to go to a place close to Qianmen. Here's a post.

798 Art District is a different experience that showcases Beijing's creative environment.

Hotels

I personally prefer staying in the North-East part - close to Airport and Sanlitun, easy access to Beijing Railway South (Line 10/14) that takes you to Nanjing/Shanghai. My favourite hotel is Westin Chaoyang but I can also recommend Chao (in Sanlitun), Bvlgari (a bit expensive), Holiday Inn Dongzhimen (great location), Red Capital Residence (courtyard style in Dongsi Shitiao area), Nuo by Kempinsk.

Restaurants

well, you gotta have Beijing Duck. It can only be truly experienced in Beijing and everyone has their own favourite place. Da Dong in Dongsi shitiao is a high-end great experience. You should make reservation but most likely you'll still end up queuing. Instead, go to my favourite, Jing Zun at Chun Xiu lu. Still, ask your hotel to call and make a reservation as it's a popular place. Also, order Chao Bing (fried bread) and dry fried beans.

Hot Pot. Beijing has great options for hot pot. One of my favourites are on the 3rd floor on the corner of Chun Xiu Road and Dongzhimen Outer Street (on top of Pizza Hut). No reservations needed. Order hot pot with Bull Frog. amazing. Yang Hot Pot on the 4fl behind Westin Chaoyang is also good, it's in Jiayi business building.

There's an amazing Inner Mongolian Lamb restaurant, Qing Yi Grassland, close to Jinsong Station on the 3rd ring road. Fresh lamb, great Shaojiu. It's on the backside of the office building. Here's the dianping site. It's bit expensive, like €40-50 for 2-3 people but the lamb is just amazing. The map refers to it as Xueyu Caotang.

In Sanlitun, there's plenty of decent restaurant but more westernized. For Chinese food, go hole-in-the-wall with a crowd. If you crave a burger, go to Fatburger at Liangmaqiao Station, 

Cafes

China has really stepped up and is now serving great crafted espressos and various coffees. Starbucks is always a safe haven but try other places. Moca Bros in Sanlitun (Nali Patio), Luckin Coffee (challenging Starbucks) and just any coffeeshop that has a real espresso machine. Cafe Groove (Korean inspired) at Chun Xiu Road. And On the east side, lots of them. On the south and west, less.. 

Just north of Cafe Groove there's a great food court that has fantastic coffee. A good place for Chinese and asian fast food and a bar as well. On the map, it's the now closed Feitang Yuxiang.

Bars & Clubs

Beijing is a bit limited in the nightlife and doesn't have the same development as Shanghai and Hong Kong. Somewhat limited by the proximity to power. but still, there are some great places. Moonshine Whiskey & Craft Cocktails in Nali Patio, 3F (Sanlitun) has an amazing whiskey collection. (On teh map, the closed Apotechary) Go for Kavalan. Tucked away in an office building behind the youth hostel on Chun Xiu Road, there's an another amazing Japanese whiskey bar but hard to find. You have to go in to the alley, find the entrance to the youth hostel. Opposite, there's an office building. The bar is inside on the ground floor. Another great bar is in Rosedale hotel on East 3rd Ring Road. Pricey but high class.

Infrarouge is a new restaurant/bar/nightclub in North Sanlitun that has good potential. Good DJs. Mesh in Opposite House is a classic bar for good dry martini and music. On Gongti West Road there's a bunch of classic Chinese nightclubs that could be an interesting experience. 

Transportation

DiDi is recommended though all address may not be available in English but it really makes your life easier. From airport, you can take airport train (not express at all as its starts from T3 and makes a stop at T2 before heading downtown). You can order a DiDi but if you can't speak chinese it may be a bit difficult to find him. Taxis? Print the address where you going and be prepared to have limited space for luggages. 

In Beijing, get around with DiDi or subway if convenient access. Cheap and predictable.  Avoid buses and bikes (as traffic behaviour is a bit different from what you might expect)

Outside Beijing

If you have time, visit the gigantic Ikea complex in the south of Beijing. It's quite a different experience from East Beijing and the tourist areas. If you have more time, take the high-speed train to Tanggu to explore a small town (only 2 million people).





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