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Beijing, China

Beijing (北京) is the capital of the most populous country in the world, the People's Republic of China. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. As such it is rich in historical sites and important government institutions.

The city is well known for its flatness and regular construction. There is only one hill to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of the famous Forbidden City). Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis.

The International Olympic Committee has decided that Beijing will serve as the host city for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, the Summer Olympic Games of 2008.

Beijing literally means "northern capital", a role it has played many times in China's long history. While various small towns and warlord capitals have been traced back as far as the 1st millennium BCE, Beijing first served as the capital of a (more or less) united China in 1264 when Kublai Khan's victorious Mongol forces set up the city of Dadu (大都, "Great Capital") to rule their new empire, from a northern location closer to the Mongol homelands.

After the fall of the Mongol Yuan dynasty in 1368, the capital was moved back to Nanjing ("southern capital"), but in 1403, the 3rd Ming emperor Zhu Di moved it to Beijing again and also gave the city its present name. This was Beijing's golden era: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and many other Beijing landmarks were built at this time. Beijing remained the capital into the Qing era and into the revolutionary ferment of the early 1900s, but in the chaos following the abdication of the last Emperor, Beijing was beset by fighting warlords. The Kuomintang thus moved the capital to Nanjing again in 1928, renaming Beijing as Beiping (北平, "Northern Peace") to emphasize that it was no longer a capital. However, the Kuomintang was eventually defeated by the Communists, who in 1949 proclaimed the People's Republic of China with its capital at Beijing.

Many tourist areas in Beijing are under renovation for the 2008 Olympics. The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Summer Palace all had sections under renovation as of the middle of March 2006. Sources say some of the renovations have been completed and moved onto other sections. As a plus ticket prices were reduced for these exhibits because of the closed off sections. Just be aware before the Olympics there may be continued renovations.

* Forbidden City (故宫 gù gōng) (also known as the Palace Museum) get there when the gates open (around 8.30am) if you want to walk through the vast and spectacular courtyards in relative peace. This is truly the spot to appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in Ming and Qing dynasties. Despite the transformation of the city around it, the Forbidden City remains mercifully relatively untouched. A few years ago there was a lot of local fuss when a Starbucks coffee shop opened in the Forbidden City, some interpreting this as a return to the bad old days of colonial domination. Despite the fuss it is still there, on an inconspicuous corner, and still serving coffee. Only 2/5 area of the palace is opened, but some places are under restorations and will be opened before 2008.

Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square

* Tiananmen Square (天安门 Tiānān mén) (largest square in the world!) Built by Mao to impress; his riposte to the Forbidden City, the square is surrounded by Soviet-style monuments and government buildings, and houses Mao's mausoleum at the end opposite the entrance to the Forbidden City. It remains an astounding place and a spot to linger and see visitors from all over China, many visiting their capital for the first time. There is a flag raising and lowering ceremony at dawn and dusk. There are 4 marble lions in front of the Tiananmen gate, the northwest one has a bullet hole on its stomach.

* Temple of Heaven (天坛 Tiāntán), south east of Qianmen and the Tiananmen Square. Not only a fine sight, but also surrounded by a lively public park, filled with local residents practicing tai chi, dancing and so on in the mornings and at weekends. A must-see in Beijing.

Summer Palace [March 2006]
Summer Palace [March 2006]

* Summer Palace (颐和园 Yíhé yuán) extensive gardens and the ruins of palaces constructed by the Qing emperors. Most visitors stay in the front hill area, but if you prefer quiet places, the west bank and back hill areas are good choices. There are some quiet and secret ruins, caves, and other fun stuff in the back hill area.

* Zoo (北京动物园) (they do have Pandas, but displays are not great, your best bet is to go to the Panda Breeding Centre in Chengdu, Sichuan Province). Some think the Zoo is one of the worst you will ever see (partly because of the way they treat animals), BUT the aquarium is one of the biggest in the world, and very impressive. The Zoo was built on the sites of some ancient gardens, has lakes, pounds, pavilions and other beautiful old buildings. The Soviet revival Beijing Exhibition Hall is located nearby and has a Russian restaurant, "Moscow Restaurant".

* Winter Palace (北海 Běihǎi) - Beihai is a good place to take a glance at Zhongnanhai (中南海 Zhōngnánhǎi), heart of Communist China. There's a big island and white pagoda which was built in the 17th century. The giant buildings westward outside are PRC's Ministry of Defence and General Staff, which, to be honest, ruin the scene of the west bank. On the north bank, you can visit some small but beautiful gardens.

* Yonghegong (雍和宮 Yōnghégōng) - (also known as Lama Temple or Palace of Peace) The temple was built by Chinese emperors who harbored a deep fascination for the Tibetan (Tantric) version of Buddhism. Over the years many Tibetan and Mongolian monks lived and taught here, and there are still monks in residence today. The temple is famous for its 18m statue of Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood.

* Prince Gong's Mansion(恭王府 gong1 wang2 fu3) - The garden is fulled with Chinese tourists, and the mansion will be opened as a museum before 2008, which will display the life of princes during the Qing dynasty

* Legation Quarter - east of Tiananmen Square, once famous in the Boxer Rebellion, the legation quarter is now occupied by government offices and army offices but can still be seen from outside. There's a wonderful bakery store called "Sapporo" near the legation quarter, famous for its breads and cheesecakes.

* Beijing Botanical Garden and Fragrant Hill(香山 xiang1 shan1) - good place for weekend outings and picnics. The Fragrant Hill was a Qing imperial garden, burnt in 1860 but restored to its original grandeur, and famous for its mountain paths through the gardens as well as the Fragrant Hill Hotel, designed by I.M. Pei, designer of the Louvre Museaum Pyramid. The Beijing Botanic Garden, steps away from the east gate of Fragrant Hill, has a silent and beautiful retreat area called Cherry Glen. Sir Johnston, last emperor Puyi's teacher, had a villa in Cherry Glen and is available to visit.

* The Hutong Villages (胡同 hú tòng) of Beijing most represent the traditional housing of Chinese locals. Some of the streets in the Qianmen Hutong (前门胡同) have a history around 500 years, with unchanged street layouts. The Qianmen area is undergoing aggressive restoration and gentrification that will continue through 2010. As a result some of the streets are blocked by construction. The Hutongs are the perfect place to get a glimps of Chinese daily life. The majority of Hutongs have been demolished to make space for modern buildings. For these reasons, the Hutongs are considered very valuable and are a popular tourist attraction. Rickshaws carrying tourists weave in and out of the narrow streets of the Hutong Village to give individuals an up-close look at these homes.

* China Aviation Museum is a must see for all aviation fans. It is located about 50 km outside Beijing in Changping District and is probably better known by the name Datangshan. Best way to get there is to arrange a taxi from your hotel. The other more adventurous way is to take bus 912 from Andingmen bus station, just remember that 912 has some branch lines and not all of these go via museum. Museum hosts over 200 exhibits, many of them very rare. Entrance fee is ¥45.

[edit] Do

* Rent a bicycle and traverse some of the remaining hutongs. Companies like The Bicycle Kingdom [2] rent bikes for foreigners.
* Visit Temple of Heaven(天坛) early in the morning to see thousands of Beijingers starting the day with tai chi.
* Have a highly enjoyable and relaxing foot massage and/or pedicure etc. (for a fraction of the price in the West) from any of the respectable and professional offerings in central Beijing (in the vicinity of the Beijing Hotel for example).
* See a Beijing opera at the Laoshe Tea House (老舍茶馆) near Qianmen station. There always are short displays in the afternoon (about 40 min). They are free of admission, but you should buy a cup of tea. Long displays are in the evening. You should book a seat in advance, since the place is always crowded.


* Throughout nearly all markets in Beijing, bargaining is essential. Especially when browsing through large, "touristy" shopping areas for common items, do not put it beneath your dignity to start bargaining at 5% to 10% of the vendor's initial asking price. After spending some time haggling, never hesitate to threaten walking away, as this is often the quickest way to see a vendor lower his or her prices to a reasonable level.
* The true clothing market where the Chinese buy, is located in Xizhi Men, next to the Zoo. directions: in front of the Zoo there is a new huge building, which is just another big market, BUT behind it, there is the wholesale market, with the best prices, almost no need to bargain, and a lot of genuine goods (clothing).
* The Malls at Oriental Plaza (东方新天地) - East of Tian'anmen Square, next to Wangfujing Street. Shopping area (expensive) but provides you with a lot of buying opportunities from diamonds, to real (affordable) DVD's, (international) Music CD's and food.
* Wangfujing (王府井大街)- where most of the higher end shops are located
* Xidan(西单) - West of Tiananmen square. Several large malls near a substation, and look for the market, it's quite good - bargaining is a must (sellers even enjoy it)!
* Golden Resources Shopping Mall near Yuanda Bridge / Yuanda Road -- Located by West Fourth Ring Road (Xisihuan) in Haidian District, Beijing, the mall covers 680.000 square meters, the second largest in Asia. Multiple stories, snaking alleys, infinite shopping opportunities... you get the gist.
* China World Trade Center (Guomao) -- here you will find a lot of expensive stores and some international convenience stores.
* Silk Street (秀水街) -- 8 East Xiushui Street Jianguo Men Wai Dajie. This building is located east of Tian an men square. It was reopened in March 2005 as a 5 story air conditioned building selling entirely for foreign visitors with 'export' quality goods. You can find luggage, leather bags, clothing and Chinese artwork. This location caters entirely to foreign customers. The place stocks higher 'export' quality merchandise and out-of-season clothing.
* SanLiTun YaShou Clothing Market -- Located at 58 Gongti Beilu, this is very similar to Silk Street (see above) with slightly better prices. Its less touristy than Silk Street, and prices will start far closer to a reasonable sale price. The net result is the bargaining is far less agressive and you will probably feel more comfortable with your purchases here.
* For the more technologically-oriented tourist, Zhong Guan Cun (中关村)is a must. Located a couple miles from Tsinghua University, this area is dubbed "Silicon Valley of China." Sells everything from speakers to computer parts at an astonishingly low price. There are many salesmen who will try to make you go take a look at their shop, it is best to avoid them. If one looks around at the small shops inside the large malls, they may find a box filled with pirated CDs and DVDs, usually selling at 5 to 10 Yuan. Don't have too high an expectation of the quality, though, many of them are 'gun versions' filmed in the cinema with a camcorder. If you really want to buy it, look for '英文' (yingwen) which means English language.
* Sanfo is the leading outdoor gear stores in China and their stores in Beijing are located at Building 4, Entrance 5, Nancun, Madian (Metro 2 to Zhishuitan, bus 315, 344 or 345 to Madian, store is located southside of Bei Sanhuan, west of Madian intersection) and at Jinzhiqiao Dasha, Guomen, Chaoyang District (west entrance of China International Trade Center, continue west along northside of street to east side of second block of buildings).


The best way to eat good and cheap in Beijing is to enter one of the ubiquitous restaurants where the locals are eating and pick a few different dishes from the menu. Truth be told, anyone familiar with Western currency and prices will find Beijing a very inexpensive city for food, especially considering that tipping is not practiced in China.

Some of the cheapest and delicious meals can be had on the streets. Jiānbĭng guŏzi (煎饼果子) is one of the most popular street snacks, eaten from morning till night. This delicious pancake is cooked with an egg on a griddle, a fried dough crisp is added, and the whole thing is drizzled in scallions and a savory sauce. Hot sauce is optional. Diehard fans often go on a quest for the "best" jiānbĭng cart in the city. This ubiquitous treat only costs ¥2, with an extra egg ¥2.50.

Lamb kebabs (羊肉串 Yángròu chuàn ) and other kebabs are grilled on makeshift stands all around Beijing, from the late afternoon to late at night. Often, the worst looking grills offer the best taste, so be brave and try them all. Wangfujing has a "snack street" selling such mundane fare like lamb, chicken, and beef, but the brave can also sample silkworm, scorpion, and various organs all skewered on a stick and grilled to order.

A winter specialty, candied haw berries (冰糖葫芦 bīngtáng húlu) are dipped in sugar and sold on a stick. You can also find variations with oranges, grapes, strawberries, and bananas, or dipped in crumbled peanuts as well as sugar. This sweet snack can also sometimes be found in the spring and the summer, but the haw berries are often from last season's crop.
[edit] Beijing Roast Duck

This famous Beijing specialty is served at many restaurants, but there are quite a few restaurants dedicated to the art of roasting the perfect duck. Expect to pay around ¥40 per whole duck at budget-range establishments, and ¥160-¥190 at high-end restaurants. Beijing duck (北京烤鸭 bĕijīng kăoyā) is served with thin pancakes, plum sauce (甜面酱 tiánmiàn jiàng), and slivers of scallions and cucumbers. You dip the duck in the sauce and roll it up in the pancake with a few slivers of scallions and/or cucumbers. The end result is a mouthwatering combination of the cool crunchiness of the cucumber, the sharpness of the scallions, and the rich flavors of the duck.

* Quanjude (全聚德), 32 Qianmen Dajie (前门大街32号), ☎ 6510 9608, [3]. 11:30am-2:30pm and 4:30-8pm. The oldest and most venerable of the roast duck restaurants, Quanjude is slipping these days, but its fame still brings many customers, mostly tourists eager for the "classic" experience. Ducks cost ¥168 each, and quality varies by location. The most reputable of Quanjude's 14 branches is the listed Qianmen location. Other branches are at Hepingmen (south of the subway stop), the east side of Tian'anmen Square, and Qinghua Science Park near Wudaokou.

* Guolin Restaurant (郭林家常菜). This well-kept secret among Chinese people has some of the tastiest and inexpensive ducks in all of Beijing. Half a duck is just ¥28. And all its other delicious, innovative dishes at a fair price keep its customers coming back: be prepared for a bustling, noisy atmosphere. Locations all over Beijing—look for a sign with two little pigs—including at Fangzhuang, Zhongguancun, Wudaokou, Xuanwu, and more.

* Dadong (大董烤鸭店), Tuanjiehu Beikou Bldg. 3, East 3rd Rind Road, southeast corner of Changhongqiao (团结湖北口3号楼,东三环长虹桥西南角), ☎ 6582 2892. 11am-10pm. Considered by some to be the best Beijing duck in the city, this upscale restaurant also delivers on a nice atmosphere. Reservations suggested. Also at Dongsi Shitiao 22A, Bldg. 1-2 of the Nanxin Cang International Tower (东四十条甲22号南新仓国际大厦1-2楼).

* Bianyifang (便宜坊), 36 Xingfu Dajie, Chongwen District (崇文区幸福大街36号), ☎ 6711 6545, [4]. Other locations at 73 Tiantan Dong Lu (天坛东路) and 2A Chongwenmen Wai Dajie (崇文门外大街甲2号).

[edit] Hot Pot

The other culinary specialty of Beijing is hotpot. Unlike the Southern Chinese and Thai variants of this dish, you cook the meat yourself in a spicy boiling broth. Raw meat is purchased by the plate, as with any vegetables or noodles you would like to add. A thick sesame dipping sauce is usually also served. While "raw" sounds dangerous, boiling the meat yourself is the best way to ensure that more risky meats like pork are fully cooked and free of germs. In the city center, hotpot can run as much as ¥40-¥50 per person, but on the outskirts it can be found for as little as ¥10-¥25.
[edit] Other Chinese cuisines

Indeed, Beijing provides an ideal opportunity to sample food from all over the Country. Sichuan, Hunan, Cantonese, Tibetan, Yunnanese minority cuisine, and many other region-specific cuisines are found in Beijing. Many, such as Makye Ame (11A Xiushui Nanjie Jianguomenwai Beijing Tel: +86 (10) 6506 9616) and Dai Nationality Restaurant feature live dancing and performance, and are not to be missed.

For vegetarians, Beijing's first pure vegetarian buffet restaurant is located on the Confucius Temple on Guo zi jian street, west of the famous Lama Temple. No English menu so far, but one can just ask for the buffet, which contains a large variety of delicious vegetarian dishes, as well as a vegetarian hotpot, and a large selection of dessert.


Foreign visitors often are "restricted" to staying in high-priced official hotels, that restriction being less and less obvious as a great majority of accommodation now takes place in the form of low-cost hotels and hostels. Zhaodaisuos (招待所) are more difficult, and may be fully inaccessible altogether to the foreign community.
[edit] Budget
Red Lantern House hostel
Red Lantern House hostel

* Red Lantern House, No.5 Zhengjue Hutong, Xinjie Kou, Xicheng District. Absolutely adorable hostel with a genuine Chinese feeling. The courtyard in the middle is a great place to hang out, talk to new friends or just sit by yourself and read. Its location in a classical Hutong adds to the feel of experiencing the real China. Dorm beds from 45 Yuan, singles from 130 Yuan, doubles from 140 Yuan. They offer airport pickup for 160 Yuan.
* Qiao Yuan Fandian: Located not far west from Beijing South trainstation. About 20 yuan from Beijing Zhan (Beijing Train station) by taxi, or take buses 744 or 20; best from Qianmin near Tiananmen Square. There's a whopping 200 ya jin (key deposit) but 4 bed dorms with a/c are reasonabley priced at 31 yuan or 260/360 for standard suites, the more expensive option in the building in the back (newer). Level 6 has a laundry, kitchen, and travel agency. Internet access located towards the train station (look for the fish net character on the signs, or ask for 'wung ba') or a few blocks away to the west near KFC, McDonalds and a supermarket. Plenty of eating is nearby, and also don't miss the Art Deco interior of a hotel/restaurant when its lit up at night (head towards KFC).
* International Youth Hostel: Located directly across from Beijing Zhan (Beijing train station). Dorms 60 yuan (4-8 beds).
* Beijing Saga International Youth Hostel, No. 9 Shijia Hutong, Dongcheng District. Tel. 86-10-65272773, 65249098, Sagayangguang. This place is about a 15 minute walk from the Beijing Main Railway Station. From the station, follow the road North past the Beijing International Hotel. After about a ten minute walk look for the hostel sign with an arrow pointing down one of the hutongs on the left side. The hostel is very popular with backpackers. They charge 180 Yuan for a triple room, 160 Yuan for a double room and 40-50 Yuan for a bed in a dormitory (the price depends on how many beds are in the room). There's a restaurant on the top floor. The staff speaks some English.
* Beijing Far East Youth Hostel Far East Youth Hostel, 90 Tie Shu Xie Jie, Xuan Wu District. Tel. 86-10-51958811. It's in a traditional Chinese courtyard, about 10 minutes walking from Tiananmen Square. The Far East Youth Hostel has become very famous after having been added to major travel guides. During summer time you should book one week in advance.
* Leo's HostelLeo's Hostel is a good alternative to the Far East and is just around the corner. Leo's Hostel is in the same road as the Far East, has a free Playstation 2, Internet, Pool, lockers, maps, guides, magazines etc. It is well known for its friendly staff and lively bar atmosphere. It has a beautiful courtyard, with dorm rooms (45-70rmb) as well as private rooms (160-200rmb) Tel: (10) 63031595 or (10) 63033318.
* Changgong Hotel is one of the cheapest places in the Qianmen Hutong. It has an traditional arichitecture and is just next door from Far East and Leo's. Don't try to find any of the narrow roads on the map. Navigation is only possible by asking or in a riksha. Dormbeds are 35, a triple room is 210. Tel: (10) 63015088 or (10) 63032665.
* Eastern Morning Youth Hostel is a great budget option if price is your primary concern. The hostel is located in the basement of the Oriental Plaza shopping/office/residential complex next to Wangfujing. Private rooms cost about 90 RMB per night - book in advance. The staff does not speak much English but are friendly. Internet access is available at 10 RMB per hour. The hostel is located on Dongdan Santiao (which runs behind Oriental Plaza). It is a 5 minute walk to the Dongdan or Wangfujing subway stations and about a 15 minute walk to the International Hotel airport shuttle stop. Tel: (10) 65284347

Beijing is a very safe city. However, tourists are often preyed upon by cheats and touts. Be especially cautious in the inner city, around Tiananmen Square, and on the tourist-crowded routes to the Great Wall.

* For tours to the Great Wall, be wary: the driver might just stop and set you off before your destination. Only pay afterwards if you are absolutely sure you are at the destination. Do not go for organized tours to the Great Wall in the 100-150 Yuan range that are advertised by people handing out flyers around the Forbidden City (or in the latest scam, masquerading as the real bus service to the Great Wall which only costs 20 Yuan, but is guaranteed to waste your entire day). Conveniently you are picked up from your hotel (so they know where to get back at you, in case you will not pay), you end up on a shopping tour through many many Chinese art, China, Chinese medicine, etc. shops and afterwards you have to pay upfront to get back to the city. Of course, there are exceptions, and people showing letters of recommendation from their previous travels and pictures are usually ok, as are people offering trips to the wilder parts of the Great Wall (ie. not Badaling or Juyong).
* Do not follow any "students" wanting to show you something. They are most likely scammers or semi-scammers. Examples include "art students" who bring you to their "school exhibition" and pressure you to buy art at insanely inflated prices. Tea sampling is another scam. It is free to sample tea for locals, but for tourists...you should ask. In one incident, after sampling 5 types of tea with two "students", a group of tourists were confronted with a bill for 1260 Yuan! They even produced an English Menu with the extortionate prices for sampling. Young attractive female "students" also try to lure male tourists to shops, restaurants or night clubs. The prices at such places can be extremely high for basically nothing.

* Take care when offered a ride in a rickshaw. Make sure you know where you are going to be taken in advance, and agree a price in writing. you may well end up dropped off in a deserted alleyway and extorted for a large amount - 600 Yuan or more.

Be wary of fake money. You may observe Chinese people inspecting their money carefully, and with a reason: there are a lot of counterfeit bills in circulation. The most common are 100's and 50's. A few tips for identifying counterfeit bills:

* Be very careful if someone wants to give back the largest currency bill (50 and 100 Yuan) by the excuse of "no change". In an attempt to pass you a counterfeit bill they may tell you that they have lowered the price in your benefit. Or, they may ask you to contribute an additional sum in order to pass you the 100 Yuan. If they give you back all the change money plus the coins on top (though coins are rare in Beijing) take your time to check each bill carefully.

* Another version of the above trick is when a vendor refuses to accept your 100 Yuan bill claiming that it's fake. The truth is most likely that he took your genuine bill and discretely changed it for a fake one which he now is trying to give back to you. Hard to prove unless you see the swap.

* To check any 50 and 100 Yuan bill you get, do this: most importantly, check the paper. If its torn, thin or very slippery, ask for a different bill. Next, check the watermark, it should blur out softly. If there are hard visible corners in the watermark, reject the bill. Last, check the green "100" imprint on the lower left corner. It should be clearly painted on the bill so you can both feel and see a relief. If its missing or not feelable, reject the bill also. Rejecting bills is not considered impolite. If the colouring of a banknote is faded, it does not necessarily mean it is fake.

* Great Wall (长城 Chángchéng) (about a 1.5 hour bus ride from the city, recommended (but be aware of bus scams!) Two or more sections near the city have been restored and are available for tourists to walk upon. One section even has a ski lift up and a toboggan (or ski lift) down. The Wall is on top of mountain chains. You may want to bring a jacket against the wind or cold in the chillier season - in the summer you will need lots of water, there are vendors on the wall. The Badaling section is the most famous, but also the most over-restored and crowded. Jin Shan Ling, Huang Shan and Si Ma Tai are more distant (several hours drive) but offer a better view of the wall in a less restored state with fewer crowds. Mutianyu is well restored, but far less crowded than Badaling. Crowds are a definite issue with the great wall. At popular sections at popular times, it is not the Great Wall of China, but rather the Great Wall of Tourists. It is possible to rent a taxi for a day to take you to these sites. Renting a taxi should cost 400~450 yuan. For this price the driver takes you whereever you want, and will wait for your return.

permalink written by  garisti on May 1, 2008 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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