Arriving at Beijing international airport the immigration process was quicker than we had expected however there was an incredibly long wait for the baggage. We had a complimentary pick up arranged by our hotel, see below, but the airport has an express link to a couple of subway stations. Our onward travel was by train from the enormous Beijing West station and this was relatively simple with the aid of information supplied by China DIY, www.china-diy-travel.com, from whom we purchased our tickets. Highly recommended their service level was excellent and the additional information they supply really helpful.
Getting around the city using the subway is relatively simple once you have purchased a travel card, subway journeys are very cheap and the card also gives you a 60% discount on bus travel. There are very long interchanges between lines on the subway but navigating your way round is easy, the buses are more difficult because of the lack of any English but if you see a route number you recognise as going where you want then hop on and scan your travel card.
There is security at all stations and all handbags, shopping bags, rucksacks etc. have to be screened but this is usually quick and efficient.
The travel card also covers suburban rail journeys including to Badaling to visit The Great Wall, see the Beijing Blog for information and advice on how to take the train and visit independently.
Guide books mention that taxis are relatively easy to find, our hotel told us this was not the case and especially not for what they would consider relatively short distances. As the subway and buses only run till around 11pm this should be taken into account when planning a night out. Always carry a card from your hotel with the name and address in Chinese.
There are useful tips on various aspects of Beijing on the blog page that I hope will be helpful.
We stayed at the Red Wall Garden Hotel, www.redwallgardenhotel.com 41 Shijia Hutong, Doncheng, a beautiful oasis of calm built round a lovely courtyard. The location is good for exploring the main sites of the city and there are places to eat nearby at all price ranges. The hotel’s Courtyard restaurant is very reasonably priced and offers a lovely selection of dishes from various regions of China as well as beer, wine and cocktails. This was the most expensive of the hotels we chose during our trip but the free airport transfer, available with some on line bookings, and the facilities made it well worth the price.
You can eat at all price ranges in Beijing and armed with a phrase book you can cope even in places that lack an English menu, if you cannot recognise the pictures (if they have them) point at words like chicken or beef in your phrase book – it worked.
We had decided to on a couple of upmarket meals and had booked TRB, Temple Restaurant Beijing, www.trb-cn.com, for lunch, it was slightly difficult to find but it was our first full day in the city and it was so worth seeking out. The service and food were both top notch, more details are on the Blog page.
Dali Courtyard, email – firstname.lastname@example.org , had been high on the list to try and was also recommended by China DIY Travel. Our hotel booked a table for us and we enjoyed a 4 course no choice menu of dishes from Yunnan province.
Close by is Nanluogoxiang Hutong which is a lovely area to explore packed with shops, bars and restaurants. We were pointed in the direction of Saveurs de Coree, a lovely Korean restaurant with very good food and lovely service which turned out to be a really good recommendation.
A must is of course Peking Duck, and after studying at length various reports of the top restaurants for our duck experience I chose Bianyifang, which is reputed to be the original one and one of the more traditional. They have a number of places but we chose the one at the China New World Shopping Mall near the Temple of Heaven. Unable to secure a booking we were told to turn up at 5pm and managed to get a table before it totally filled up with locals. The duck was fabulous and the presentation and show of your own chef carving your own duck made it a feast to remember.
The food stalls along the length of Dong’anmen Dajie are great for a night’s street eating, yes you pay a bit more than in some of the hutong areas, but everything is priced and usually with English translations. The meat skewers are great as are the fruit ones.
The Lakes area of Beijing is beautiful to stroll around and we enjoyed a very good Vietnamese lunch at Nuage, 22 Qianhai Lake East Bank, lovely to sit and look out over the lake and enjoy good and reasonably priced Vietnamese food.
Cafes & Bars
Zuo An Dong Hua, 36 Nan Chi Zi Street, is in the road that runs along the side of the Forbidden City and we found this little gem of a bar on our first evening. A friendly, quirky bar with a good drinks selection, a great find.
Yin, is the rooftop bar at the nearby Emperor Hotel, it is worth the climb up for the view over the Forbidden City but the drinks are on the pricey side, still worth doing once.
Alba Café, 70 Golou Dong Dajie, is on the main road near the Dali Courtyard, we enjoyed it for pre and post dinner drinks but there are reports that the food and service are not as good as before and certainly the service was on the slow side. It was still a comfortable space in which to have a relaxed drink.
On Shijia Hutong between the Red Wall Garden Hotel and Dongsi Street there are a number of small local eating places, we frequented one that was very popular for it’s selection of donkey meat dishes, a local delicacy. The donkey meat sandwich in flaky pastry was delicious and their incredibly reasonably priced cold beer provided welcome relief on many an occasion.
Local beer is mainly Tsingtao which you find outside China, but locally there are variations including Tsingtao Pure Draft. If you pop into your local eating place you may pay as little as 50p for a 600ml bottle, obviously in more upmarket places the prices reflect the surroundings. There are other bottled beers readily available including the Chinese Harbin beer, and China now has many small micro breweries, we tried a lovely honey beer which was brewed in Beijing.
China has overtaken France as the largest consumer of red wine and while historically they have always favoured French wines there are plenty of other imported wines on offer. In supermarkets they tend to be reasonably priced in restaurants the prices vary from similar to home to stratospheric. China has historically produced wine for centuries and joint ventures with French companies started around 1980 and exporting of Chinese wine to countries like the US began far more recently. Experts think that soon the quality may rival wines from Bordeaux.
The amount of preparation for the trip meant sadly I had not done my homework on local wines and given the relatively high prices we stuck with imported wines.
If you are visiting Beijing I am sure that you will already have a long list of things to see and do and there is just so much to see in the city but in our five days we managed to see almost everything on the wish list.
The Great Wall for a day trip, the Forbidden City, the Lama Temple, Tian’anmen Square and the Temple of Heaven were all fantastic. We also fitted in the Lake Area and also the delights of Nanluogoxiang Hutong.
All the above and the great eating choices made Beijing a truly memorable city.