Visiting China and not going to Beijing would be like visiting England and not seeing London. I suspect for some it’s the only part of China that they see.
Beijing in July is no one’s idea of fun. It’s hot, we topped out at 96 degrees most days, its smoggy, and its very, very busy. We spent most days with sweat running down our backs and coughing up smog in the evening. For some reason a lot of other folks decided to be in Beijing when we were there too.
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED AND AFFILIATE LINKS MORE INFORMATION IN OUR DISCLAIMER
As a westerner in China you’re in a tiny minority. While we expected it to be different in Beijing, it was still the same, although there were a few more western faces. There do appear to be some concessions to westerners visiting. The subway for instance is great, mostly in English. It’s very easy to navigate, gloriously air conditioned and cheap, very cheap to use. Its onlyy 2 RMB – or 20pence, 0.30 USD per trip anywhere on the subway system!.
It’s easy to find hostels and hotels where English is spoken well enough for you to feel a little more comfortable. It’s also not hard to find restaurants where the menu has been translated while retaining some semblance of sense.
Beijing is confusing, frustrating, massive and it surprises you.
We tackled the Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City on a Sunday, along with half of China. We experience the security, the lines, the unique Chinese lining up, which involves ignoring any Westerners in a line, unless you want a photo of them.
We frustrated ourselves senseless with the “GPS automatic English Audio Tours” for the Forbidden City, which seem to work intermittently and cut off mid stream. If you’re contemplating spending the money for them there or in the Summer Palace, my advice is don’t and buy a guidebook instead.
We wandered through the famous hutongs of Beijing, with half of the rest of the China still with us, drank a beer at the PassBy Bar, accepted a free beer when the owner wanted to move us to a different table to accommodate a big group and we watched the world go by.
We found the Drum and Bell Tower closed for the busiest part of the season, but the much vaunted pub nearby wasn’t. We ate Peking Duck at the oldest Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing (Peking). We paid handsomely for it to find out that its’ pretty much the same taste as the UK, but just served somewhat differently.
We found peace (eventually) in the Temple of Heaven, but it was hard work, canned music from speakers throughout the park doesn’t help. We yomped through the Summer Palace, not realizing how big the park was, or how hot it was going to be.
At the third attempt we got to see Chairman Mao in his mausoleum. It involved moving swiftly past the comedy moment when you first see him. The bizarre orange glow around his head strange to us. We also avoided paying 3 RMB to lay a white flower in a completely different room to the bad waxwork like body.
We took subways and public buses all over the city, and when we couldn’t find the right stop we walked back to the hotel. Sauntering through a local hutong 30 minutes north of the Temple of Heaven area and ate the “best Tofu ever” from a street vendor for 1/40th the cost of that Peking Duck.
We were waited on by a small Chinese girl in a family restaurant, where we ordered, as usual by pointing and where she painstakingly wrote down the Chinese characters. At another local restaurant where a bowl of hot coals was the centrepoint to our table, the griddle on top where we were supposed to cook our own food, we had the cooking taken out of our hands, by the waitress, who clearly saw that she’d not get the table back before midnight unless she took matters into her own hands.
And when all was frustrating us about Beijing, about no English, about lining up, about the heat and the pollution there was also the Wall. But that’s for next time..
- Read our Common Sense Guide to VPNs – and why you need one especially in China
- Peking Duck in Beijing – Quanjude
- What to see in Beijing
- Temple of Heaven Park
- Bell and Drum Towers
- The Pearl Market
- The Water Cube at Olympic Park
- The Birds Nest at Olympic Park
- Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall
- Forbidden City Palace Museum
- Tiananmen Square
- Summer Palace
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China
If you like visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, then our guides to these Chinese World Heritage sites will be useful
- How to Visit Huanglong National Park [the Yellowstone of China]
- Discover Xian’s Terracotta Army
- How to Visit Kunming, Shilin and Dali
- How to Visit The Great Wall of China – [Independent Public Transit Route]
- The Forbidden City of Beijing
- The Historic Center of Macau
- Jiuzhaigou National Park
- Huangshan National Park and Sacred Mountain
- Wulingyuan and the Zhangjiajie National Park
- The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries
- Tiger Leaping Gorge
Travel Tips for Exploring China
- Considering travel insurance for your trip? World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
- Download and install a VPN BEFORE you travel to China > discount coupon here
- Book Transport and Airport Transfers in China here
- Book the best China tours and guides on Trip
- Save money in China with a Wise debit card
- Book Trains in China with Trip
- Book accommodation in China with Trip
We receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using our affiliate links. We do not represent World Nomads. This is not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
ASocialNomad is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and amazon.ca. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.