Where to visit in Beijing:
There are endless attractions to visit in this ancient capital city. The most well known sites are Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City located in the center of Beijing. The Forbidden City is the world’s largest palace complex and Tiananmen Square is the largest city square in the world. Another large attraction to visitors of China is the Great Wall. There are six major sections of the Great Wall near Beijing: Badaling, Juyongguan, Mutianyu, Gubeikou, Jinshanling, and Simatai. The most visited is Badaling, which is 47 miles outside the city center. The Summer Palace also draws a lot of praise for it’s beautiful scenery and untouched architecture. Beijing boasts some amazing temples such as the Lama Temple and Temple of Heaven that are a unique combination of history and spiritual importance. Other notable attractions include the 2008 Olympic venues (Bird’s Nest and Water Cube), the Hutongs, Beihai Park, and the Ming tombs.
Generally speaking, the most visited tour attractions in Beijing are: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Great wall, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Ming Tomb and Hutong.
How long to stay in Beijing:
A trip to Beijing can be any length. If you are not able to spend a lot of time visiting but want to see the main sights that Beijing has to offer, a minimum stay of four days and three nights is recommended. This allows enough time to see the well-known sites of the city and experience a bit of Chinese culture. If a longer stay is possible there are many more hidden treasures to be explored in and around Beijing.
When to go to Beijing:
In terms of weather, fall is the best time to visit Beijing. The autumn (September- November) climate is pleasant with warm days and crisp cool nights, making it perfect for outdoor activities and sightseeing. Late summer (August) is also an enjoyable time in Beijing but usually the peak of tourist season due to holiday schedules. Summer can be a nice time to visit but a combination of rain and the sweltering heat can quickly ruin a trip. Winter leaves the tourist attractions empty but also provides miserable conditions for climbing the great wall. Times to avoid visiting China are during the National Holidays. These are the first seven days in October and the Spring Festival/Lunar New Year (end of January or early February).
Passport and Visa:
When foreigners enter China they need both an official passport and a visa. You must carry a passport with at least six months of validity after the date you enter. To visit Mainland China a visa must be obtained before departure from your home country. There are many different types of visas that a visitor can get, the most common one being a Tourist (L) Visa. This is issued to any alien coming to China for tourist or personal reasons that plans on staying in China from 3 to 12 months. Other common visa types include: Business(F) Visa, Student(X) Visa, and Employment(Z) Visa. A Visa must be completed in person at the nearest Chinese Embassy or can be done through mail by a visa service company. They often take over a week to get if done by mail, so consider this when planning your travels.
Language/ English ability:
In comparison to the rest of the country, people in Beijing have a better command of English than most. Chinese children start to learn English around age 7, but it is still difficult for most Chinese people to speak verbally. If you need help on the street, most young people can communicate in simple words and phrases and are usually eager to try out their English skills. In addition, most staff in high-end hotels and nicer restaurants can speak a higher level of English.
When calling back to your home country while in China, “00” should be added in front of the country code. For example, the country code of the United States is 1, so you would need to dial “001” followed by the area code and seven digit number when calling.
Unlike in the 1960’s or 70’s when Chinese people all dressed in uniforms of green jackets, China has exploded into a world of color. Especially recently, Beijing has become one of the most fashionable cities in the world, with large brand designers having a strong presence, such as Louis Vuitton, Gianni Versace, and Giorgio Armani. Because of the broad spectrum of tastes, most kinds of dress can be seen in the city.
Many visitors ask whether they can wear shorts when taking tours in China, and the answer is definitely yes. You may wear any type of clothing that is comfortable on a tour, though it is advised to consider wearing layers and good walking shoes.
When attending performances like concerts or operas business casual dress is the norm, though attire will vary widely. For Kung Fu or Acrobatic shows, people dress casually in t-shirts and jeans. You will find that, in general, China is much more informal than the West. Your Western tour group may set more of the dress code than the Chinese culture will.
People should feel free to take pictures at most Beijing attractions to remember and share their China experience. However, there are a few places where photography may not be advised. One is Tiananmen Square, where many soldiers work to maintain strict security and do not allow tourist take pictures of them. Photos of the square are allowed but not of the security. Another place is in the Hutong area. Many elderly people still live a traditional lifestyle here and do not approve of tourists taking their photo. It is best to not take pictures with any locals in them unless you have received permission to do so first.
Dos and Don’ts of a Beijing Traveler…
First time in Beijing? Let us give you some tips to help avoid the classic China-Rookie mistakes.
DO bring a Convertor.
The electronic output in China is 220V; Americans need to be aware of this since it differs from the United States. A converter will be necessary when using electronics and appliances such as hair dryers in China. Most new electronics, such as laptops and digital cameras have build in convertors; check your product to be sure. If you are not taking a convertor, ask your hotel for one, most hotels can supply them. If your appliance has a build in convertor system you will not need a plug adapter, most Chinese outlets work with many different plug types, including American and European.
DON’T Drink the Tap Water.
The tap water is not potable in China. Therefore, only bottled water should be consumed. Bottled water and mineral water are widely available in most convenience stores, and the quality of this kind of water is excellent. Most mineral water costs roughly 2RMB/ $0.25.
Note: You do not need to be concerned about using tap water to wash your face or bathe; it is only harmful if ingested. Most hotels (4 star and higher) provide two bottles of water in their rooms for free daily use.
DO know local Emergency Phone Numbers.
Local emergency numbers are 110 (police) & 120 (medical). These are important to know should a dangerous situation occur. The city 24-hour tourist hotline is 65130828 or simply call Beijing impression at 64000-300(service in Chinese, English).
DON’T Buy anything in a market at the First Offered Price.
When buying items in markets or from street stalls, it is expected that you will haggle to get a good price. Vendors will often first suggest a price that is outrageously expensive in the hopes that you will pay without question, do not feel obligated to pay the stated price. Bartering is a cultural custom and is necessary to negotiate a price that is fair for both parties.
Note: In department stores, retail malls or grocery stores, prices are marked and bargaining is not permitted. Price negotiation only applied in markets such as the silk market, Pearl market or Yashow market.
DO Try Chopsticks.
If eating Chinese food it is almost certain you will be served your meal with a pair of chopsticks. While not customary in Western countries, with a bit of practice, they can be easy to use. Yet, if the task seems too daunting, most restaurants have forks available upon request.
There are many different genres of food available all over Beijing. Varying from Sichuan, Shandong, Guangdong, Hunan, and Jiangsu flavors to Italian, German and English, so there is bound to be something to satisfy your taste buds. If you have specific diet restrictions, such as being a vegetarian, vegan, or gluten free, it is wise to learn how to say your restrictions in Chinese to be sure you will not have health issues.
Tipping is not a custom in Beijing culture, but is a western standard. Tipping in cabs or Chinese restaurants is not expected. Yet, in up-market or western style hotels, nightclubs, and restaurants, a tip may be expected. Also, when taking tours with tour guides and drivers, a tip is necessary.
Here is some information for your reference:
If you travel alone or in a group of less than 5 people:
$20-$10/per person/per day to your tour guide. $10-$5/per person/per day to the driver.
If you travel in a group of between 5-10 people:
$10-$5 to per person/per day your guide. $5/per person/per day to the driver.
If you travel in a group of more than 10:
$5//per person/per day to your guide. $3/per person/per day to the driver
DO Be Aware of Street Vendors and Beggars.
Like other big tourist cities, in Beijing there are many street vendors surrounding major tour attractions, namely Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Summer Palace. Most vendors are respectful but some can be aggressive. If you are not interested in their products, it is best to ignore them and continue walking. Beggars are not often seen on the streets in Beijing, but some flock to the places they know tourists will be.
DON’T Count on using your Credit Cards.
Most local restaurants and shops do not accept foreign credit cards. Larger stores and western or high-end restaurants are more likely to process cards, though a service fee is often applied. However, it is always a good idea to ask about payment options before any services are exchanged.
DO be aware of shopping traps.
Nothing brands you as a tourist more than wandering outside the most famous sights of Beijing. Locals know this and some may chose to take advantage of it. Occasionally a scenario similar to this may occur: a younger Chinese person will approach a small group of tourists claiming to be an “art student.” They may say they want to practice their English with you and begin chatting. Soon they may enlist your help, saying they are a part of an art exhibition and using it to help pay for school. They may ask that you accompany them to another location to see their work. Following them maybe a risk. Many times they will bring you into a gallery and sell you overprices goods. They may seem over-eager and plead with you to make a purchase. Beijing is not a dangerous place at all, but it is wise to be cautious and alert of your surroundings at all times
DON’T Exchange your money anywhere except a bank.
Recently, counterfeit money has become a growing problem in China. If money is exchanged in legitimate banks or at your hotel reception then counterfeit bills should not be an issue. People often hang around outside banks and in tourist centers offering to exchange currency. If you chose this method, it is almost guaranteed that you will be ripped off in one way or another, whether it is being given fake notes, a poor exchange rate, or no money at all.
DO Bring your own toilet paper.
Restroom facilities in China are very different from those in the west. Public toilets are usually squat style and most Westerners are surprised to find that there is often no toilet paper supplied. Because of this it is a good idea for ladies to carry their own stock of tissue. Often, if there is a handicap stall, it will have a sitting toilet similar to the western style. Also, China’s public restrooms are not known for their cleanliness so if you can, use the facilities in a hotel or restaurant before you venture out.
DON’T Assume cars will stop for you on Crosswalks.
Be sure to look both ways before crossing any street. Traffic in Beijing almost never yields to pedestrians, even if they have the right-of-way. Driving is a new phenomenon and there is a serious lack of experience. In addition, be sure to be aware of bicycles in the city. Check for bikes before crossing streets or getting out of taxis.