Travelling in China can be really challenging if you can’t understand Chinese (whether written or verbal) because not everyone can speak English. It was difficult but Karla and I had were able to survive 🙂 Our little adventure was back in September 2012.
Beijing has changed a lot since I was there back in 2000. It became more populated, more traffic jams and lesser people riding bicycles. As you know, bicycles are a common means of transportation for the locals there. According to our tour guide, many Chinese have gone rich and therefore had more money to buy cars. Ever since the Olympics held in Beijing back in 2008, there were efforts done by the Chinese government to make Beijing a bit tourist friendly.
Beijing roads are very wide. The main roads can have 5 – 6 lanes of cars and buses. Beijing main highway roads divided into 8 rings (loops). The entire place was built according to Feng Shui standards so that everything will be in harmony. Our hotel is located at the 6th loop (near Happy Valley Beijing) while downtown area are within 1st to 3rd loop.
We only stayed for 5 days but we experienced travelling in 4 ways. I’ll share you some of our experiences below. By the way, conversion rate when we were there was RMB 1 = PHP 6.50+.
1) Private Car
During our first two and a half days in Beijing, everything was convenient because we booked a private tour. Our tour guide would pick us up in the morning and show us tourist spots around Beijing. This was the easiest part. No hassle. All we need to do is just follow the tour guide.
Although we’ve already research on the places we want to visit, we still did some last minute changes. Our hotel has free wifi at the cafeteria and lobby but as you know, China blocked websites such as Google Maps, Twitter and Facebook. We could only rely on safe websites, blogs and the actual printed map for information.
2) MRT (Mass Railway Transit) / Subway
Riding the Subway is an easy thing to do. Currently, there are 15 lines travelling around Beijing (within the city and suburbs). They open at 6 am and close until about 11 pm. You can buy single way tickets through the machine. Cost for a single ticket is RMB 2 (approximately PHP 14.00) and it will not matter how far your destination is or whether you will be transferring lines in between (except the Airport Express line). You don’t need to worry because the ticket machine, maps and the train announcements have English translation.
The train stations are clean, well ventilated and relatively secured. It wasn’t difficult to transfer lines. You must always be alert and walk fast (people here tend to be in a hurry all the time). They don’t segregate men and women here unlike here in Manila.
The subway map in the station is in Chinese however you can research before your trip to download the English version.
3) Cab / Taxi
You thought that riding a cab can be a breeze but with our experience when we were there, it was not as easy as it seems. Our hotel is located far from the Central Business District hence our only choices to go to the CBD are to ride a cab going to the MRT or ride the bus. Imagine Ortigas to Sta. Rosa, Laguna. That’s how far we are from the CBD.
Our tour ended early, then returned to the hotel to rest then went out for the first time as lone travelers at around 3 pm. We hailed a cab from our hotel and told the driver to bring us to Guomao MRT Station because we want to go to Wangfujing Shopping Street (Line 1). We paid only about RMB 17 (approx. PHP 120). It was very easy. We thought of doing that same strategy to go home in the evening but it was a big mistake.
After strolling around Wangfujing, we first planned to eat dinner at Da Dong Roast Duck as suggested by our tour guide. It was only about 2 – 3 blocks away from Wangfujing but whenever we tell the driver to bring us there, they would ask a fixed rate of about RMB 100 – 150 (approximately PHP 600 – 800). With that amount, we could have already went straight to our hotel. To our dismay, we just decided to have our Peking Duck dinner at Quanjude Peking Duck Restaurant in Wangfujing for convenience.
We finished eating dinner at around 8 pm. Rode the subway from Wangfujing station back to where we started – Guomao Station. We expected that getting a cab would be a breeze as we were told that rush hour ends around that time. We stood there for 2 – 3 hours and no cab wanted to bring us back to our hotel.
- If there are drivers driving black cars that approach you, be careful because these are private cars. They charge more than the typical Beijing yellow cabs. They are not legitimate taxis and will give you an overpriced fare.
- The typical cabs (the ones with yellow paintings) would charge
- Daytime (5:00 – 23:00)
- RMB 10.00 (approx. PHP 70.00) for the first 3 km
- Additional RMB 2.00 (approx PHP 14.00) for additional 1 km after 3 km
- Additional RMB 3.00 (approx PHP 21.00) for additional 1 km after 15 km
- Night time (23:01 – 4:59)
- RMB 11.00 (approx PHP 77.00) for the first 3 km
- Additional RMB 2.40 (approx PHP 16.00) for additional 1 km after 3 km
- Additional RMB 3.40 (approx PHP 23.00) for additional 1 km after 15 km
- Taxi drivers issue receipts. If they hesitate to give you receipts, it is your right to complain.
It was already almost 11 pm and still no luck in getting a cab. While waiting at the area near Guomao Station, a pedicab driver stopped in front of us, spoke to us in Chinese and asked us where we’re going. We showed him the hotel address in Chinese. He wasn’t sure where it was and even tried to call the hotel to ask where it is. I guess he was already noticing that we are already tired of waiting for a cab so he agreed to bring us to our hotel for only RMB 50 (approx. PHP 300). We laughed at him because we know that our hotel is about two highway loops away and with our size?! He was also laughing but I guess he hasn’t reached his quota for the day. What the hell, we rode his pedicab and passed through the bike lanes at the main road. Karla and I were both laughing but it was one of the best experiences I had in China. I was almost teary-eyed because I never thought that although we don’t speak the same language, kindness can still be expressed. I knew that he was struggling because we’re a bit on the heavy side but he still pedaled :D.
Our pedicab adventure in Beijing
The pedicab driver brought us to an unfamiliar territory. He was asking us through sign language if this was our hotel. He asked around and the other guy said that it’s still far from where we are. He finally gave up on us but I wasn’t mad of him because I know that he was tired of pedaling from CBD to a certain commercial district outside of the CBD. I was actually grateful that he brought us out of that area. He dropped us at a commercial district with a 24 hour KFC. We asked a KFC crew if our hotel is near and if we could walk. She said that it’s far from where we are. Luckily, there are empty cabs in that area and finally we were able to get a cab driver that agreed to bring us to our hotel. We paid about RMB 25 (PHP 170). We arrived the hotel at about 1 am. Tired but relieved.
Because of that experience, we became very eager to learn how to go back to our hotel by bus. Our hotel is just beside a bus station and it would be very convenient if we would learn this. So the next day, we rode the subway going to Qianmen Shopping Street. Before we went home in the afternoon, we dropped by the tourist information to ask on the bus route going back to our hotel. Tourist information people don’t know how to speak English! Good thing there was a Chinese girl standing there together with her Caucasian husband and gave us the bus route. We felt relieved and almost jumped for joy. We could finally go home peacefully and yes we did. Our travel experience while we were in Beijing became smooth sailing.
For the bus stations, unfortunately, they don’t have English translations. Even its official website BJbus.com does not show English version of the bus route. There are more than 900 bus routes and it’s really difficult to know the route if you don’t have a map. If you get used to riding the bus, you’ll be able to save a lot of money because this is the cheapest way to go around Beijing.
- Bus numbers are from 1 – 900+. The lower the number (e.g. bus # 1, 2, 3, etc), it means that it goes around the CBD. Bus numbers below 300 will go around until the 3rd ring.
- When you hop on a bus, just tap your Smart Card ticket. You can get up to 60% discount if you buy the Smart Card Ticket. You can also buy tickets on the bus. If there’s a conductor, just approach them and tell them your destination and pay RMB 1.00 (approx PHP 6 – 7). They have a flat rate for buses traveling around the city. If you’re going far, of course the fare increases but very minimal (only .50 per 12 km). If there’s no conductor, just drop RMB 1.00 onto the clear box beside the driver.
- Just like the MRT, they announce the name of the bus station both in English and Chinese. They also have an LED screen that shows where you are.
- When entering a bus, you have to go to the front door (if it’s a 2 door bus) or back door (if it’s a 3 door bus). You cannot exit at the front or back doors, you will have to go towards the middle door when your bus stop is near.
- Buses travel until about midnight.
If you are a first time traveler in China, it will really be challenging if you do not do enough research. As you know, there are a lot of blocked websites when you’re already in China soil (unless you’re connecting the internet through VPN) so make sure that you have all the information that you need. It’s also important to get the Chinese name of your hotel (business card) whenever you go out of the hotel.
Of course, beware of pickpockets ( I think this is common in populous cities). Secure your belongings and be alert of your surroundings.