As times goes by, I find myself again in the midst of he People’s Republic of China.
Last time when I visited the country it was in the year of 2011 during my university semester abroad. This time (in June 2018). it is work that brings me back.
The itinerary was basically planned by me together with one of my colleagues and I hope I can share not only my vivid experiences with you but give you inspiration as well as useful tips for your next or first trip to beautiful China.
Get there faster: Skip the text and see my summary of the tips at the bottom of this page!
Chapter I: Beijing
With Beijing Capital International Airport as one of the biggest international airports in China (along with Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Hong Kong) my journey to China starts off here. The wheels of the aircraft touch the ground and I feel a great relief coming all over me. It’s shortly after 3 p.m. local time. I know that once I am on Chinese territory, a part of me will be coming back home.
The security check procedure goes as usual and it takes around 30 to 40 minutes to proceed to the exit, where a driver and a guide await me. Both are very friendly and help me to carry the luggage to the car – a modern Buick sedan with comfortable leather seats and air conditioner. It takes another 1,5 hours to get from the airport to the old hutong, where my hotel is located. Cars of non-residents are not permitted to enter most hutongs in Beijing, hence, the guide shows me the way to the hotel and helps me with the check-in. As for me, I am comfortable doings all this things on my own since I speak Chinese. But I highly recommend to all of you, who don’t speak Mandarin or are not very familiar with the culture, to always print out the booking confirmation and download a mobile dictionary. In China, even in bigger and more popular hotels, you can’t expect the staff to speak or understand English or any other language except Chinese. So rather be prepared!
By the time I have arrived, checked-in and unpacked, it’s almost time for dinner. The weather is fairly hot for early June, it’s over 30 degree centigrade and a huge contrast from outside and inside the hotel, where air conditioner is running 24/7. The small hutong between Dongsi station and Dengshikou station is silent during today’s afternoon. Locals go to the nearby park areas to enjoy some time off in the shadows of the willow trees.
I have an appointment for dinner with the manager of a Chinese travel agency my company cooperates with. Still jet laggeed after a 12 hours flight, I get ready for early dinner. Angie (the mentioned manager) picks me up the lobby of the hotel. Together we stroll around the nearby streets not ready to decide where to have dinner. Finally, we go for the traditional spicy Sichuan boiled fish (shui zhu yu, 水煮鱼).
In China, it is very common to bring small gifts from your home country for friends, working colleagues and people you will visit and meet. Never come with empty hands! That’s simply an unwritten rule. I have chocolates and little key fobs for Angie and the office team with me, which immediately breaks the ice. The atmosphere is more casual than at the beginning with us talking not only about work, but also private matters, family, hobbies and of course travelling. Is is a nice and warm evening in the small restaurant in the hutong, and we stay out longer than planned before we head back to the hotel in the dark after 9 p.m. The hotel lobby is dark by the time we arrive there and only few Chinese lanterns are glowing in the dark.
I feel overwhelmed by emotions while standing in the small courtyard alone as if I was set back in time to the last era of a long-forgotten Chinese dynasty.
My heart fills with deep gratitude to being here in Beijing again. A feeling of coming back home.
Summary of my tips to Beijing
- private transportation such as taxi as well as public transport (metro, bus, subway, railway) is comparably cheap throughout China. But there are some things to consider before you go on the big journey: Check out also my post on Transportation in China.
- Most museums and also the Forbidden City Zǐjìnchéng 紫禁城 (which is considered to be a museum as well) are closed on Mondays. Plan a tour outside Beijing such as to the Great Wall for that day or just take some time off.
- Especially during high tourist seasons (first day of May or the “Golden Week” in October) it is recommended to book tickets for the Forbidden City in advance. This website is available in Chinese only though. If you can avoid this busy weeks, I highly recommend you travel Beijing some other time!
- Beijing’s center is huge and so much bigger than most of you would imagine. So walking can be tiring. On an average map a walk from a small Hutong to the Forbidden City sometimes seems to be only a stone’s throw away. Look out for zú liáo 足疗 (foot massage) or ask a taxi driver to take you to the next place, if your feet get tired on the way. I enjoyed 30 minutes to an hour of a good treat for my feet!
- The equivalent to a foot massage is the traditional Chinese àn mó 按摩 (classical massage). Popular in China are máng rén àn mó 盲人按摩 (massage done by blind people). For most Westerners, this sounds controversial, but in China a job as a masseur is among the most popular job positions among blind people (they hardly find jobs anywhere else). This kind of massage are also done by men and are really good as these people have a much better sense than normal masseurs. Sometimes massage parlours are hidden in small buildings and you would not expect anything like this behind its walls. But don’t be afraid – those parlours are usually for locals and hence much cheaper than the fancy and glassed high street parlours.
Whatever you are up to during your visit to China’s capital, don’t forget to treat yourself! Beijing has a lot to offer from nice restaurants to amusement parks, silent and traditional hutong areas, beauty parlours and shopping centers!