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Beijing • ???
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"When a man is tired of Beijing, he is tired of life; for there is in Beijing all that life can afford.", Samuel Johnson modified by Third Eye
Where Am I?
Beijing (北京, Běi Jīng) is the capital of the most populous country in the world, the People's Republic of China , (中国人民共和国) and its second largest city after Shanghai. It was the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. Beijing is the political, educational and cultural center of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.
The city is well known for its flatness and regular construction. There are only three hills to be found within 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.
Beijing was host to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
NOTE: This is a very CS-centric summary of things in Beijing that has been cobbled together by community members based on commonly asked questions in the Beijing forum. For a more over-arching description of the city with better-detailed geographical, historical and technical references, check out the WikiTravel  and Wikipedia pages. (You’ll even notice that we’ve stolen a few sections from them.)
Welcome to Beijing
A Quick Intro
Beijing is a dynamic, changing city. There is a mix of old and new all around (especially within the 3rd and 2nd Ring Roads). Here you can see the most modern, envelope-pushing technologies and social innovations butting heads with the most ancient cultural norms and social settings. The people here can seem a bit cold, but once you break the ice you will find that they are very friendly and engaging. Unlike people in rural areas or cities in the interior of China, most residents of Beijing are used to seeing foreigners so visitors will not be subject to too many stares, unless you venture into parts of city where the residents are almost exclusively Chinese, or into touristy spots during high season.
Be aware that a different set of manners exist here that could be very off-putting to westerners. One example is spitting, which is not seen as inappropriate. Also, in warmer months you may see small children running around with “crotchless” pants on and/or going to bathroom in the open. You may notice that the Chinese will stare and point at people who are unusual; don’t be offended if this happens to you. The touching of food with your hands is considered very dirty and uncouth, so try to make do with chopsticks whenever you can. (Consider carrying a fork around with you if you are uncomfortable with chopsticks.) Also, the touching of anything in a bathroom (including one’s own body) is considered very unsanitary, so don’t be surprised if you see people using public restrooms without washing their hands.
Like any place, when in China be prepared for customs and societal norms that are different from yours!
Best Times to Visit
Spring Festival (春节, Chun Jie - Lunar New Year or "Chinese New Year") – Always in January or February (the exact dates are based on the lunar calendar), this period sees Beijing, and all other major cities, empty out of almost all migrant workers and many transplant residents, as most of the country’s population travels home for this once-a-year week-long holiday. Like Christmas for us in the West (and/or Thanksgiving for Americans), this is the one time of year when families traditionally come together. Visiting during the week of Chun Jie will show you a quieter, calmer, less crowded Beijing. You will be able to move around much more quickly and freely. There will be no traffic and few lines at tourist sites. You will be able to see the most sites in the shortest amount of time during this period. The skies will be clear for most of the time and pollution will be at a minimum. The BEST timing for this kind of trip will be to arrive several days before the festival begins and to be in town for “New Year’s Eve”. On this night, everybody in the city will set off fireworks, resulting in the world’s largest uncoordinated pyrotechnic display. Downsides to this period include: 1) A lack of nightlife activity (though the expats who remain in the city do tend to keep busy by planning smaller parties and events). 2) You can’t travel anywhere else because hundreds of millions of Chinese travel during this festival. It’s the largest human migration on earth. (Seriously. It’s like the wildebeests in Africa.) You can’t get train tickets anywhere, and even if you are somehow able to you’ll be in overcrowded trains standing for 13 hours. Airports are packed. (Chinese have even been known to fly to cities outside of China just to get tickets to the cities within China that they’re trying to get to.) 3) This is the coldest part of the year. BBBBRRRRR!
April/May – The weather is warming during this time but the peak travel season has not yet hit so the tourist sites are not too crowded. This is also a high season for expat nightlife as after months of winter temperatures finally become comfortable enough for al fresco dining, hutong excursions and bar street pub crawls. Downsides: 1) Rain starts becoming a factor. 2) Beijing starts seeing dust storms during this period. 3) The May Day holiday (on May 1) is a huge "get out of the house" holiday and all of the tourist sites (especially parks and sites outside of the downtown) will be PACKED with people. Avoid that weekend if you only have a couple of days to visit.
September/October – Hot and humid air is a rarity after August ends and the comfortable temperatures make for great sightseeing. The expat nightlife scene starts to pick up after a summer lull as people come back from vacations and students return from their break. Nights start becoming chilly after mid-September. Downsides: 1) The first week of October is China’s national holiday, and while there’s isn’t a huge migration like during Spring festival, many Chinese will take vacations and Beijing’s tourist sites become very clogged. This will be especially true in parks and outlying sites such as the Great Wall. Avoid this week if you can!
Beijing sits on the northeastern edge of the Gobi Desert and as a result is dry for most of the year. Late spring through summer will see some rain, but the rest of the year is typically arid, with winter only producing small amounts of snow; recent winters have actually seen almost no snow at all. Deep winter isn’t unusually cold, but even those from typically frozen-during-the-winter metropolises (i.e. Stockholm, Moscow, Geneva, Chicago, etc.) will find the ultra dry air + Siberian winds quite bracing. One pair of hearty Russian CSers once called it, “surprisingly colder than it really is.”
The changing of seasons is gradual and spring and fall are easy transitions from the extremes, though late spring is when you can see dust storms start appearing. Summer can get very warm, with July and August being the hottest and most muggy months. The air during these months is usually the worst of the year, with often dangerous air pollution levels combining with the stifling heat to make it pretty unbearable. Many foreigners leave on vacations during this period to escape the conditions – just like the emperors of old.
There’s no easy way to say this: The air in Beijing sucks. One of the most polluted cities in China, it has its good days, but it also has really, REALLY bad days. For the best information on what the air is like on any given day, follow the US embassy’s air quality tracker on Twitter (you’ll need a VPN for this once you enter China). If you suffer from asthma or are sensitive to bad air quality you can get a mask to wear during your stay. You will not stand out if you do this, as many Chinese have resorted to this practice and you will even see lots of stylized masks being worn and for sale throughout the city. The best masks are from RESPRO, which are suited for heavy use and outdoor activities (hiking, biking, etc.); they can be purchased at Natooke, which is in Wudaoying Hutong, right next to Lama Temple.
Keep in mind that once you get outside of the urban center and into the surrounding mountains the air is mostly clear and fresh, except when there are dust storms.
Along with China's incredible economic growth over the past decade, inflation has been on the rise- especially during the last 3 years. Prices for most things in Beijing are high by Chinese standards but still relatively low by western ones. You can still get very cheap street food and meals in tiny "hole-in-the-wall"-type places for surprisingly small amounts of money (i.e. 1 plate of 10 dumplings for 5 RMB), but you can also eat at restaurants that would not be out of place in New York or London in both their décor or their prices. What makes Beijing stand out is that unlike a city like New York or London there is still a huge range of prices available for things. You can choose to travel as cheaply as you want, or you can surround yourself with all of the luxury and creature comforts of home. It's up to you.
Some common things you will buy:
- Taxis start at ¥10 for the first 3 km and then go up ¥2 for each km after that. Without too much traffic you can get halfway across town for ¥25-¥30. You can rent a taxi for a day for only ¥400 or book private cars and a driver through services such as Hertz for a lot more.
- Subway rides are ¥2 each for unlimited distance. Buses are ¥1 for most and up to ¥15 for long-distance rides. (You can get onto most buses for ¥0.40 if you get a pre-paid fare card when you arrive.)
- Most tasty street food will run you from between ¥1-¥5 per serving depending on where you are. (For more details on what kinds of food to expect, see the food section below.)
- Drinks run from ¥5 rice wine and beer from street vendors, to ¥25-¥50 cocktails in mid-range bars to the highest that you can imagine. There's a drink to be had at every price point.
- Lodging costs can vary widely. You can book yourself into dorm-style room at a hostel for ¥60/night and you can go all the way up to the most opulent presidential suites for more money per night than most people make in a month. Cast a wide net while searching.
China controls the value of its currency, but it does shift a bit over time. You can check the current value of your home currency against the RMB here.
Beijing Capital Airport - (北京首都国际机场, Běijīng Shǒudū Guójì Jīchǎng, IATA: PEK) is located to the northeast of the central districts, 26 km from the city center. The airport, which was expanded at a furious pace to be ready in time for the 2008 Olympics, now has three terminals, broadly speaking divided as follows:
- Terminal 1: Hainan Airlines.
- Terminal 2: China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Skyteam.
- Terminal 3: Air China, Shanghai Airlines, Oneworld, Star Alliance, Finnair.
Travel between Terminals 1 and 2 is via a long corridor with travelators. A fit person can make the route in about 10 minutes. A free shuttle bus runs between Terminal 2 and the new Terminal 3. It departs every ten minutes or so and the journey time is about 10 minutes. Terminal 3 is huge: it alone is bigger than all five of Heathrow (London)'s terminals. Additional time should be allocated when flying from here. Terminal 3 check-in closes 45 minutes before flights depart.
Facilities on arrival include ATMs and money changers. Be aware that upon departure, porters may want ¥10 to wheel your bags 50 m to check-in and that most eating options are rather outrageously priced. Before you cross through security, if you want a bite to eat in the Terminal 1, there is a KFC which has lowered its prices a little, and in Terminal 2, there are 2 KFCs, and the restaurants in the basement have relatively low prices compared to what's above. A meal at any of these places should be around ¥20.
Many people use taxicabs to reach town from the airport. Try to get the Chinese name in characters of your hotel so that you can let your taxi driver read where you want to go. It is important to do this as most drivers cannot read English and many are recent arrivals from the countryside who might not know the city well. A taxi from the airport should cost ¥70-120. You will have to pay the fee shown on the meter (make sure the driver uses it) plus ¥10 toll for the airport expressway. Traffic jams are common.
The Airport Express train to the airport opened in July 2008. The train runs in a one-way loop from T3 to T2/T1 then Sanyuanqiao (transfer to subway line 10) and Dongzhimen (lines 2, 13). A one-way fare is ¥25, and the trip takes about 20 minutes from Dongzhimen to T3, 30 min to T2. Don't take the train just to get from T3 and T2, as this will cost you the full ¥25; use the free shuttle bus instead.
A slightly cheaper way to get to the city centre is to take the airport shuttle (机场巴士 Jīchǎng Bāshì), ☎ +86 10 64594375 / 64594376,. Buses for each route leave every 10-30 minutes. There are several lines running to different locations throughout Beijing. Tour-Beijing.com's website has a great route map and guide to finding/riding the buses that you can see here. The fare is ¥16 for a one-way trip.
Beijing City Routes
- Line 01: Fangzhuang (机场 - 方庄)
- Line 02: Xidan ( 机场 - 西单)
- Line 03: Beijing Railway Station (机场－火车站)
- Line 04: Gongzhufen (机场－公主坟)
- Line 05: Zhongguancun (机场－中关村)
- Line 06: Olympic Village (机场 - 奥运村)
- Line 07: Beijing West Train Station (机场－西客站)
- Line 08: Shangdi (机场 －上地)
- Line 09: Tongzhou / Yizhuang Development Zone (机场 －通州 亦庄(开发区) )
- Line 10: Beijing South Railway Station (机场 - 南站)
Long Distance Shuttle Routes
- Tianjin (机场 - 天津)
- Tanggu (机场-塘沽)
- Langfang (机场 - 廊坊)
- Tangshan (唐山)
- Qinhuangdao (秦皇岛)
- Baoding (保定)
The cheapest way would be to take public bus #359, which runs from the airport to Dongzhimen, where you can catch subway 2 or 13, but this is not very fast or convenient. Also, a number of youth hostels and luxury hotels run their own complimentary shuttle buses services - ask the place where you are staying if they have one.
Here's a rundown of the basic information that people ask about most frequently in the Beijing forum. For a much more detailed F.A.Q. on traveling via train in China visit Seat 61. For an interactive timetable and price list, visit China Train Guide.
Beijing has several railway stations. Most trains arrive at the central, West, South or North stations.
- Beijing Railway Station - (北京站 Běijīng Zhàn). In the heart of the city, served by Subway Line 2. Destinations include: Changchun, Chengde, Dalian,Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Harbin, Hefei, Jilin, Nanjing, Qiqihar, Shanghai, Shenyang, Suzhou, Tianjin, and Yangzhou. The trains for Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar), Russia, and North Korea also leave from here.
- Beijing West Railway Station - (北京西站 Běijīng Xīzhàn). Presently the largest station in the city, destinations from Beijing West include: Changsha, Chengdu,Chongqing, Datong, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Guilin, Guiyang, Hefei, Hohhot, Hong Kong, Kunming, Lanzhou, Lhasa, Ningbo, Qinhuangdao, Sanya,Shenzhen, Taiyuan, Urumqi, Wuhan, Xi'an, and Xiamen. Served by Subway Line 9
- Beijing South Railway Station - (北京南站 Běijīng Nánzhàn). The current and future destination for high-speed trains. presently offers 70 high-speed services every day to Tianjin, Tanggu, Jinan, Qingdao, and Shanghai, the last which can be reached in under 5 hours. Served by Line 4.
- Beijing North Railway Station - (北京北站 Běijīng Běizhàn). Small compared to the previous three, but you might end up here if you are coming in from Inner Mongolia. Destinations include Chifeng (赤峰Chìfēng), Fuxin, Haila'er (海拉尔 Hǎilāěr), Hohhot, Longhua (隆化 Lōnghuà), Luanping (滦平 Luánpíng), Nankou (南口 Nánkǒu), Shacheng (沙城 Shāchéng, via Badaling), Tongliao (通辽 Tōngliáo), andZhangjiakou (张家口 Zhāngjiākǒu). It also offers tour train services to Yanqing and the Badaling Great Wall. Served by Lines 2, 4 and 13 via the adjacent Xizhimen station.
- Beijing East Railway Station - (北京东站 Běijīng Dōngzhàn). One daily service to Chengde only.
Huang Cun Railway Station has just opened. It is in southern Beijing on Beijing Subway Line 4. If you are having trouble getting tickets at one of the major Beijing stations, try getting a ticket at Huang Cun Railway Station instead. If taking a night train, you're a bit far, but the subway opens at 5:30 am.
Buying Rail Tickets – All tickets for inter-city trains must be purchased in person at a train station or at a designated travel office. (There is one located in Sanlitun, on Gongrentiyuchang, right across the street from The Den and next to a KFC.) Currently there is NO WAY for foreigners to buy tickets from the rail authority online or from outside of the country. There is a website for buying tickets online but it is in Chinese and you can only make a purchase if you have a domestic (Chinese) online purchasing account through a local bank. You can use a travel agency to buy a ticket for you, but you'll get an inflated price because they will be paying somebody to go to a train station to stand in line and buy it in your name. Because of this they do not guarantee that tickets will be available when you make your selection; you'll have to wait up to a day to find out if you are able to get the seat that you want. They'll also have to deliver the tickets to a hotel, hostel or another address inside of China. The most reputable agencies that provide this service are China Trip Advisor, China Train & Tours and China Train Ticket.com.
Note that tickets can only be bought up to 21 days in advance on most lines and even less on a others, so don't be surprised or disappointed if you're told that you can't get the dates that you want yet.
When you go to buy your ticket, you may not be able to purchase your return seat. Don't freak out if this happens; on some lines you can only buy tickets one-way. If this is the case, don't panic. As soon as you arrive at your destination go straight to the ticket purchasing window to buy your return ticket. (Don't worry about the time, as most ticket windows at most train stations will be open 24 hours.)
Furthermore, some lines (including the high-speed lines) now require that valid ID be shown at time of purchase and boarding. Reports of enforcement of this requirement country-wide are sporadic, but they are pretty strict about it in Beijing. To be safe, make sure that you have your passport with you when boarding a train.
Long-distance buses from areas as far as Shanghai and the Mongolian border connect to Beijing. You can reach areas as far as Harbin or Xi'an on a single bus ride. Beijing has over 20 long distance bus stations, but what you need to do is go to the bus station located on the edge of the city in the direction you want to travel.
Xizhimen Long Distance Bus station - (西直门长途汽车站 Xīzhímén Chángtú Qìchēzhàn), ☎ +86 10 62183454. Handles buses heading north and west. Destinations include Anshan, Baochang (宝昌Bǎochāng), Baotou, Binzhou (滨州 Bīnzhōu), Boshan (博山 Bóshān), Changchun, Chengde (4.5 hrs), Chifeng (赤峰 Chìfēng, 12 hrs), Daban (大阪 Dàbǎn), Dazhangzi (大仗子 Dàzhàngzǐ), Fengshan (凤山Fèngshān), Harbin, Hohhot, Huimin (惠民 Huìmín), Jinan, Jining (Shandong) (集宁 Jíníng, Shandong Province, 7 hrs), Jinzhou, Kuancheng (宽城 Kuānchéng), Lindong (林东 Líndōng), Linhe (临河 Línhé),Luanping (滦平 Luánpíng), Ningcheng (宁城 Níngchéng), Pingzhuang (平庄 Píngzhuāng), Qinhuangdao (7.5 hrs), Tieling (铁岭 Tiělǐng), , Leling (乐陵 Lèlíng), Pingquan (平泉 Píngquán), Xilin (锡林 Xīlín),Shenyang, Shacheng (沙城 Shāchéng, 5 hrs), Shanhaiguan, Shenmu, Shizuishan, Tangshan (唐山 Tángshān, 5 hrs), Weixian (蔚县 Wèixiàn, 8 hrs), Wudan (乌丹 Wūdān), Xuanying 选营 (Xuǎnyíng, 7 hrs),Xinglong (兴垄 Xīnglǒng), Yinchuan, Yingxian (应县 Yīngxiàn), Yulin, and Zhangjiakou (张家口 Zhāngjiākǒu). edit Deshengmen Long Distance Bus Station - (德胜门外长途汽车站 Déshèngménwài Chángtú Qìchēzhàn), ☎ +86 10 82847096. Also handles buses for the north and northwest. Destinations include:Baochang (宝昌 Bǎochāng), Chicheng (赤城 Chìchéng), Dongmao (东卯 Dōngmǎo), Guyuan, Sandaochuan (三道川 Sāndàochuān), Yuxian (芋县 Yùxiàn), and Zhangjiakou (张家口 Zhāngjiākǒu).
Dongzhimen Long Distance Bus Station - (东直门长途汽车站 Dōngzhímén Chángtú Qìchēzhàn), ☎ +86 10 64674995/64671346. Handles buses heading northeast. Destinations include Changyuan (长垣Chángyuán), Chengde (4.5 hrs), Chifeng (赤峰 Chìfēng, 12 hrs), Fengning (丰宁 Fēngníng, 5 hrs), Fengshan (凤山 Fèngshān), Guanshang (关上 Guānshàng), Huairou district, Jiaozhuanghu (焦庄户Jiāozhuānghù), Mafang (马坊 Mǎfāng), Miyun County, Nanzhuangtou (南庄头 Nánzhuāngtóu), Pinggu district (2.5 hrs), Sishang (寺上 Sìshàng), Shunyi district, Wuxiongsi (吴雄寺 Wúxióngsì), and Xinglong(兴隆 Xīnglōng).
Sihui Long Distance Bus Station - (四惠长途汽车站 Sìhuì Chángtú Qìchēzhàn), ☎ +86 10 65574804. Handles buses mainly heading east. Destinations include: Changchun, Chengde, Dalian, Dandong,Liaoyang (辽阳 Liáoyáng), Tangshan (唐山 Tángshān), and Tianjin.
Zhaogongkou Long Distance Bus Station - (赵公口长途汽车站 Zhàogōngkǒu Chángtú Qìchēzhàn), ☎ +86 10 67237328. Handles buses heading south and southeast. Destinations include Cangzhou (沧州Cāngzhōu, 3.5hrs., ¥70), Jinan (5.5hrs., ¥114), Tanggu (塘沽 Tánggū, 2.5hrs., ¥45), Tianjin (1.5hrs., ¥35).
Lianhuachi Long Distance Bus Station - (莲花池长途汽车站 Liánhuāchí Chángtú Qìchēzhàn), ☎ +86 10 63322354. Handles buses heading south. Destinations include: Kaifeng, Luoyang, Shijiazhuang,Taiyuan, Wuhan, and Zhengzhou.
Most of the buses from the Long Distance Bus Stations will be regular or express buses, which take the expressways; cost from ¥200-600 per trip, have comfy seats, and most rides do not take more than 6-12 hours, but sleeper buses are also available. Sleeper buses, with bunk beds in rows, average about ¥100 per trip, but many go really slowly up hills, avoid expressways, stop at every city or town, provide "meals" which you have to pay extra for, take the potholed National roads to save money, and a bus ride can take up to 24 hours. The average speed is only 40 km/hr on the moderately fast sleeper buses, and the range could be from 25 to 60 km/hr. It may be a good authentic taste of how less wealthy Chinese people travel.
Beijing is China's main gateway city, which means that millions of tourists from all over the world flock here to see the famous sights. It seems as if the flood of people on the streets gets bigger each year! While it is incredibly fun and exciting to live in/visit such a crossroads city, this increasing tide of tourists can make it difficult to find a couch. In the event that one isn't available during your visit, hostels can be the next best option.
There are lots and lots of hostels throughout Beijing with reasonable prices and helpful staff. For a comprehensive listing of places to stay, check out Hostel World's Beijing site, or try a search on Hostels.com. You can also find some hostel listings mixed in with regular hotels on SinoHotel's Beijing page.
When checking prices, you should expect to see dorm rooms for about ¥60/night and double rooms with a shared bathroom from around ¥130/night. Private rooms will obviously go up from there, but if you wanted a double room with a private bathroom in a central or very convenient location, a rate of ¥250-¥300/night would not be bad at all.
Below are some of the places that local CSers have stayed at and enjoyed. If you need to look for a room, we recommend that you start with these.
- The Three-Legged Frog Hostel (京一食青年旅馆，铁树斜街27号，大栅栏西街，前门，北京) - A Couchcrash 2012 partner hostel! - This Hostel is ideally located in the heart of Beijing, a short 10 minute walk from Tiananmen square, the Forbidden City and Mao's Mausoleum, among other of the city's most renowned landmarks. It's also close to the subway (Qianmen station - Line 2) giving you easy connections throughout the city.
- CSer Comments: COMING SOON
- Far East International Youth Hostel (No.90 TieShuXie Street, Xuanwu District, Beijing, 100050 // 北京市宣武区铁树斜街90号) - A Couchcrash 2012 partner hostel! - This lovely courtyard, state-owned hostel has a long history and is located in the center of Beijing, just 10 mins from Tiananmen Square, on a very charming and traditional hutong street with the most well-protected courtyard house in Beijing. With 160 rooms it is among the largest in the area with a wide array of types of accommodations to choose from.
- CSer Comments: COMING SOON
- Sanlitun Youth Hostel (No.1 Chunxiu Lu (Gong Ti Bei Lu), Chaoyang District, Beijing) - A Couchcrash 2012 partner hostel! - Smack in the middle of the "Expat Ghetto", this hostel is around the corner form the Workers’ Stadium & Workers’ Gymnasium and sits on the edge of an embassy district (where a huge concentration of foreigners live) and the biggest nightlife area of the city. It has over 100 bars and clubs within a 2.5-block radius, with dozens upon dozens of restaurants spread out among them featuring cuisines from all over the world. In terms of transportation options it really can't be beat, as it lies in between 3 subway stations with connections on 4 lines: Dongzhimen (Lines 2, 13 & Airport Express), Dongsishitiao (Line 2) and Tuanjiehu (Line 10). Dongzhimen is also the largest bus depot in the city and 12 additional bus lines all stop within 1 block of the hostel giving you the best access to the most parts of the city. They offer both high quality hotel-standard rooms and dorm rooms. Singles, doubles, triples and ensuites are all available. A VERY popular hostel. Book early.
- CSer Comments: COMING SOON
- King's Joy Hostel (No.81 Meishi Street, Xuanwu District, Beijing, China // 北京市宣武区煤市街81号,北京西华京兆宾馆) - Just steps from Tiananmen Square and Qianmen subway station this is a super CSer-friendly location and has hoseted several parties for us in their great top floor bar, which overlooks the Qianmen & Tiananmen areas.
- CSer Comments: COMING SOON
- Hutong Inn Tiananmen Courtyard (34 Dongxinlianzi Hutong,Beixinhua Road, Xicheng District, Xi-Cheng, 100031) - A traditional Beijing courtyard hotel located a 5-minute walk from the National Theater and a 15-minute walk from Tian’anmen Square.
- CSer Comments: "The rooms are pretty nice, in an old monastery.”
- Candy Inn (No.31 Beixin Alley, Yonghegong Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing 10000) - A courtyard hostel in the center of the city, just minutes walking distance to Yonghegong and Bexinqiao subway stations, close to Lama Temple.
- CSer Comments: “It’s nothing luxurious, but it’s clean and comfortable.”
- Happy Dragon Hostel (Ren min shi chang xi xiang 29 hao, Dong Cheng Qu, Beijing) - Located north-east of the Forbidden City close to Dongsi Subway station, it is 10 mins walk east to Wangfujing shopping street and further 20 mins walk to Sanlitun Bar Street. The hostel atmosphere is like a big family, being relaxed whilst being super-clean and tidy.
- CSer Comments: “Really great place, and one of the most affordable in Beijing.”
- Beijing City Central International Youth Hotel (No.1-5 BeijingZhanXiJie, Dongcheng District) - A great location with a wide variety of room types to choose from. Located just across the street from Beijing Railway station and the Line 2 subway stop. Bonus: A shuttle bus that runs to the airport (Route #3) stops just outside.
- CSer Comments: COMING SOON
If you can't find a couch and you're also striking out with hostels (or if you're not comfortable in a dorm-style set-up), there are TONS of hotels in the city. While all of the major western brands are represented here and new boutique hotels catering to western travelers are popping up all over the place, don't feel limited by them- or trapped by their high prices. There are several discount hotel chains in China that can provide you with a safe, comfortable place to stay that is a step up from hostels but not overpriced like western chains.
Below are some of the more reputable chains that have locations throughout Beijing. A word of caution: The links provided will most likely be in Chinese (unless otherwise noted), so you'll need a browser with an auto translation program to make heads-or-tails of the pages, but most western hotel booking sites will allow you to make reservations at these places. All hotels located in tourist-heavy parts of town and/or districts with lots of foreigners will most likely have people on staff who speak at least some English or Russian, but anywhere else you'll probably encounter language-barrier problems, so be sure to have everything that you need printed out and in-hand before you arrive.
- 7 Days Inns - The rough equivalent to Comfort Inns in the US, this fast-growing chain is popular with Chinese discount travelers and tourists. They have several dozen locations spread all across Beijing.
- Home Inns - The #2 discount hotel chain in China in terms of number of hotels, they are on the same level as the old Howard Johnson motel chain.
- JinJiang Inn - Link in English!! - China's top discount hotel chain with locations all across the country, they have a markedly smaller presence in Beijing than 7 Days or Home Inn. They don't have many hotels located in areas frequented by foreigners, so you might not find terribly convenient locations (and you'll face language-barrier issues), but in a pinch they'll do the trick and won't break your budget.
Finally, a good resource for finding hotels is to visit SinoHotel's Beijing page here. This site mixes in local hotels, national (Chinese) chains, western hotels and hostels in its results. The page is available in English, several Chinese dialects and Korean so be careful when you book, as the hotel that you end up staying at may not necessarily have any English speakers on staff when you arrive.
In addition to Couchsurfing there are other sites where people list availability in their homes for guests who are looking for short-term places to stay. Of course, unlike Couchsurfing, these sites are based on the premise that guests pay for their accommodation. If you're striking out with a couch search and nothing strikes your fancy among the hostels and you're not able/comfortable booking a Chinese hotel room, you can give these sites a try.
- Air BnB - The most famous online room booking service around. They have the fewest number of listings, but most are from expats and are geared towards expats.
- Wimdu - This site has more listings in Beijing than Air BnB, and you'll see more from Chinese people or local agents on behalf of Chinese owners. A little more variety, but less of a personal touch and way less focus on social interaction.
- Air Izu - IN CHINESE ONLY - This is a Chinese version of Air BnB & Wimdu. Here you'll find the most listings (at least 10x as many as are on Wimdu) and more from the actual owners rather than just from agents. (Though there will be plenty of listings by agents, too.) This site was designed by and for Chinese people, and you can bet that any correspondence that you try to engage in will need to be in Chinese, so polish up your Putonghua before diving in.
Bouncin' 'round the Country
As wonderful as we like to believe Beijing is, we understand that it is not the end-all, be-all of China. One of the largest countries in the world, and with 56 distinct ethnic groups who each have their own customs and food, China has many, many other interesting places to visit. If you’re here and you've decided to trek off to someplace else, there are some China-based resources that you can use to help get where you’re going.
- Rail - As mentioned above, the China Train Guide is a great resource to help you map out a trip through China on the rails. Trans go just about everywhere here and the prices are usually very cheap.
- Air & Hotel - Using western travel sites for trips within China is not the best way to go. If you're here and you want to plan a trip in-country (or even to other countries within Asia) then give CTrip and elong a try. Both have English interfaces and are always offering great deals on flights. They also will give you access to many, many more hotel options than western sites, if that’s the way that you want to go. As a bonus, you won't need a credit card to book, either. In the case of buying airline tickets you can simply order them on the site and have them delivered to wherever you're staying. You pay cash upon delivery.
- Packages - Hostels around town will have tour packages that you can jump on to that run all of the time, so checking out one that is close to where you’re staying (or you can visit any of the hostels listed above) is a good way to find some cheap, well-trod options. Alternately, you can check out the trips that are run by the China Culture Center. For eco-friendly tours, try Wild China.
Here’s where things get a little tricky and where Couchsurfing falls into a legal gray area in China, so pay attention.
All foreigners are required to register their presence at the local police station within 24 hours of their arrival. (Some signs may say 48 hours while others say 24. We’re going to err on the side of caution.) Your host -who should be either the owner of the home or a signee on the lease- must accompany you to get this done. The process is free, quick and painless and you’ll be given a “Registration Form of Temporary Residence”. This is also sometimes called a “Residency Permit” or “Residency Card”, but it is just a slip of paper that you should keep with your passport. You should do this every time you move to a new location. If you’re staying at a hotel or hostel they take care of your registration and you will not receive a paper slip, but you will still be entered into the registration system.
Unfortunately - and this is why Couchsurfing is in a bit of a “gray area” - the law is currently unclear about what is required of foreigners who move from place to place every 24 or 48 hours. For example: If you stay for one day in Beijing and surf a couch, but then move on the next day via overnight train to another city where you surf on a different couch for each of the 2 days you’re there, then come back to Beijing via another overnight train and surf on another couch for 1 night before you fly home, have you broken the law?
Nobody knows yet. And we’re not gonna ask.
Technically, any foreigner can be stopped by police at any time and be asked to show his/her passport. If they check your identity and you are not registered at a hotel and if you do not have a residency slip from a local police station then you could be in for a long day. Keep in mind that while this kind of thing is known to happen in outlying towns and in villages, it is very rare in the big cities, including Beijing.
Finally, if you are thinking of staying in Beijing for an extended period of time, or perhaps even getting a job or changing your visa for any reason, you will definitely need one of these slips of paper when you make your application. So don’t lose it. And remember to re-register every time you move/change locations.
China exercises strict controls on its currency, the Yuan (or "Renmenbi", or "kuai"), so you will find it exceedingly difficult to change your money legitimately before arriving in China. And even if you can, you shouldn’t. (Unless you go to a Bank of China branch in New York, Los Angeles or other major city.) Here’s why.
All of the banks in China are at least partially state-owned and they will all exchange money at the current exchange rate. They will charge a minuscule fee or no fee at all, unlike currency exchange booths at airports. There is a limit on exchanges per-person, per-day, but it’s more than enough to get by on. This limit shifts, as it is a tool that China uses to control the value of its currency, but it is always plenty to last anybody for several days at least. (As of July 2012 it was set at $500 USD -or equivalent amount of another currency- per day.)
In Beijing there are bank branches all over the place, especially in the eastern part of town where most of the expats live. In the expat sections they will all have at least a few staff members who speak English. What’s more, the airport express train ends at Dongzhimen, which is in the middle of an embassy district and there are at least a dozen bank branches within a couple of blocks of the station (including 2 right across the street), so you can get cash easily once you reach the downtown.
ATMs are everywhere and most will accept foreign bank cards so you can access your account back home and withdraw RMB. Bank of China does not charge an out-of-network transaction fee for using their ATMs so the only fees that you need to worry about are your own bank’s. And while cash is always preferred by vendors, and is usually the only form of payment accepted by local shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, Mastercard and Visa are becoming more and more widely accepted so your credit cards will work at hotels, hostels and in most major shopping districts.
Our best advice: When you arrive at the airport change a small amount of cash. Say, 1,000 RMB (@ $160 USD). This will give you enough money to live on for several days in case you run into any trouble. Then once you get downtown and settled, go to any local bank branch and change all the money that you need there. Remember to have your passport with you when you do this. Our one caveat: As in most places, the easiest currencies to exchange are US Dollars and Euros. Once you get outside of the embassy districts you may have difficulty finding a bank branch that can buy or sell any other forms of currency.
UPDATE: You can now find an automated currency exchange machine in Terminal 3 of the airport that charges a minuscule transaction fee! If you arrive into Terminal 3, turn left as you exit the baggage/arrival area. walk about 200 meters until you see a Bank of Beijing branch. The terminal is right in front of this bank. Be sure that you have high denomination notes. NOTE: Currently, this terminal exchanges USD, Euros, GBP, Yen and just a few additional currencies.
China controls the value of its currency, but it does shift a bit over time. You can check the current value of your home currency against the RMB here.
- Will My Phone Work in China?
Probably. But it depends on a few things.
Most cell phones bought around the world use the same communication standards (GSMA) and can be used anywhere you take them just by swapping out the SIM card. China’s major providers all use GSMA for voice & texting and TDMA (2G) and TD-SCDMA (3G) for data. So as long as your phone is not more than 5 years old you shouldn’t have trouble there.
Normally, using your phone in China is as simple as buying a SIM card and inserting it in your phone. However, be aware that some iPhone plans in some countries - and almost ALL calling plans in the US - will tie your phone to a particular network provider when you buy it. If this is the case with your phone, you will need to get your phone unlocked (or “jailbroken”) before it will recognize a SIM card provided by another company. If your phone is locked check with your carrier about their overseas plans (most will have some sort of arrangement with China Mobile) or ask them to unlock your phone. If you don’t want to use their overseas plan (most will be MUCH more expensive than what you can find in China) and if they won’t unlock your phone, you can check here for a primer on how to get your phone unlocked.
- Where Do I Buy A SIM Card?
There are two main carriers in China; China Unicom and China Mobile. China Mobile is generally considered to have an overall better network with the widest coverage across China, while China Unicom tends to have faster internet (3G & 4G) speeds in the major urban areas where those systems have been deployed. (There is a third national carrier, China Telecom, but its coverage is not as extensive as China Mobile or China Unicom and it is harder to find their pre-paid refill cards. Visitors should avoid it.)
If you’re just passing through Beijing and will only be here for a few days, you’ll do well to buy a SIM card at the airport when you arrive. There is usually a kiosk or a stand set up near the immigration stations, or just outside of the luggage claim area. You’ll pay a flat fee and get a basic calling plan with enough credit to last you a few days, with the option to recharge by buying pre-paid charging cards at newsstands around the city. Recharge cards are available in ¥50 and ¥100 increments.
If you’re looking for something more long-term or with a data plan you’ll want to visit a China Mobile or China Unicom office. There are offices spread all around the city so you’re never too far away from one. The two most convenient locations that reliably have English-speaking staff are in the Dongzhimen/Sanlitun area. The China Mobile office is just around the corner from Dongzhimen subway station, where the airport express train drops you off. (Go out Exit C, walk straight. Take your first right. It is the last storefront in first the building on the left side of the street.) The China Unicom office is in Sanlitun, just behind the Ya Show Market, right next to a restaurant/bar called Nearby The Tree. (Map and address here.)
IMPORTANT NOTE #1: China Mobile’s 3G data service does not work on iPhones. Speeds will be markedly slower and data will stream via the 2G Edge network. If you have an iPhone and want to access the web at all times, you probably want to use China Unicom.
IMPORTANT NOTE #2: Be wary of going into shops that have China Mobile or China Unicom signs above their doors, but are clearly not official shops. Many small businesses are licensed phone dealers, re-sellers and pre-paid card vendors, but they most likely won’t be able to help you choose a calling plan or sell you a SIM card. China Mobile or China Unicom stores will be obviously branded as such and the staff will all have uniforms.
- What Are the Plans and Costs?
Sorry, this a Couchsurfing wiki, not a constantly-updating blog that can keep up with the varying plans on offer at any given time and, unfortunately, neither China Mobile or China Unicom publish their plans online on their English language sites. You’ll need to inquire when you arrive. One thing we can tell you is that there will be an initial cost for a SIM card (around ¥50 as of June 2012) and then you’ll have to select a plan. Another thing that you need to be aware of is that there aren't any unlimited data plans on offer here like there are in the West, so if you're looking to use the internet heavily you'll have to pay for a block of data. These will be available in 500 MB, 1GB, 2GB & 4GB increments. You'll have to buy a recharge card to refill if you go over your allotment. (Try to use the ample free wifi as much as possible to cut down on your data usage.)
Both major companies will offer a wide range of plans for you to choose from and you will need to consider your needs before you subscribe. Do you need a lot of talk time? Do you do most of your communicating via text? Will you need to have access to lots of data or are you content with using 2G for mobile data and the widespread free wifi at hotels, bars & restaurants for heavier data usage tasks? These are all things that you need to think about when choosing a plan that works for you.
IMPORTANT NOTE #1: In 2011 the Chinese government began requiring that anybody buying a SIM card or subscribing to calling plans must provide their real name and a valid photo ID. As with many similar kinds of regulations in China, reports of the enforcement of this one have been inconsistent. Non-Asian foreigners getting pay-as-you-go or short-term plans with China Mobile have been able to buy a SIM card without needing to show a passport, while most China Unicom transactions require signing up for a plan of some sort and just about everybody has been required to produce identification. To be safe, be sure to have your passport with you when you go to make your purchase.
IMPORTANT NOTE #2: There are still vendors on the street who can be found selling SIM cards, though there are nowhere near as many as there used to be. They will not require ID and they will even give you the choice of phone number off of a list of available ones. (You will usually see these numbers displayed prominently on the front of their stand.) Use caution if you go this route, as you won’t get to choose plans. You’ll most likely get a simple calling plan with no data service, though you can always change the plan with the carrier once you own the number. Also, don’t be surprised if the vendor wants to charge you more for a phone number with lots of 8s in it, as "8" is considered very lucky in China. Alternately, if you see a number with a lot of 4s in it, try to bargain down, as "4" sounds a lot like “death” in Chinese and is therefore less desirable.
- How Do I Call Home? / How Do People Call Me?
When you get your phone, you can choose a plan that includes international calling, but you’ll probably do better if you buy a Voice Over IP card, as they’ll have better rates. You can get these at any office that sells SIM cards and at newsstands throughout the city. Just follow the dialing instructions on the back of the card to call.
When calling out of China via a phone, just dial 00 + country code + phone number. For anybody calling you, the country code for China is +86.
Internet Access & The "Great Firewall"
By sheer numbers China is the most internet-engaged population on the planet, with 513 million people connected at the end of 2011. And that's only 38.3% of the population! Given these numbers, it's no surprise that China's online culture is vast, deep, active and growing. That said, it is, in many ways, isolated from the rest of the world.
One of the first things that Westerners notice when they visit China is that the internet is S-L-O-W. In most developed countries in-home speeds of up to 50 mbps are available. In China, the fastest speeds offered by home internet providers is just 2 mbps. 3G and 4G wireless technologies theoretically can/will provide much faster speeds, but their coverage and speed outside of big cities is limited. The main reasons for this are a simple lack of robust infrastructure that can handle all of the traffic demands put onto it, as well as the Chinese government's efforts to censor certain websites and monitor others. All of these factors create huge drags on the speeds that are available.
The second thing that most visitors will notice is that many of their favorite websites are inaccessible. Sites that many take for granted – and have even become almost necessary communication tools - such as Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, Blogger, tumblr, YouTube, Vimeo and more, are all blocked by the Chinese government through a series of filters on all servers located within Mainland China. This system of censorship is commonly called "The Great Firewall".
NOTE: Contrary to what you have heard, Google is not blocked! However, certain search results may be blocked if you try to click on them. Google Docs is blocked, while Google+ and photo sharing site Picassa are blocked occasionally. If you use Gmail in China don’t be surprised if you have occasional connection issues, as China and Google are in a bit of a cyber "Cold War" and China often messes with them. For the most part your e-mail should be fine, though.
There are thousands of websites that are blocked by the Chinese government and the list of sites affected is always changing. To see some of the prominent sites that are currently censored, click here. Or, to check and see if a specific site that you're worried about accessing while in China is blocked, search for it here.
While there are relatively easy ways for people to get around the blocks (see below), for most Chinese there is little need, as the blocking of social and multimedia sites from outside of China has helped give rise to a thriving domestic web industry. Sites like Renren, Baidu and Tudou all started out as blatant clones of sites in the West, but they have since begun to develop and innovate on their own, with a laser-like focus on the culture and needs of Chinese people.
For foreigners based in China, and for Chinese who want to access blocked information/sites on the web, the most common tools used to circumvent the "Great Firewall" are Virtual Private Networks ("VPNs"). Basically, these programs mask your location from Chinese servers so they believe that you are not actually logging on to the web from within China and, therefore, they don’t block your access to any websites.
If you want/need to access websites unhindered while visiting China, it is HIGHLY recommended that you get yourself a VPN before arriving. There are lots of sites out there that offer VPNs, both free and paid, but it will be unpredictable whether or not they are blocked in China by the time that you get here. Free VPNs are tempting, but remember that you get what you pay for. Speeds will be slow and the proxies that they generate may not be very nimble/up-to-date and you could find yourself blocked and having to download a new one at some point during your trip.
- Our favorite paid VPNs:
- StrongVPN - With the most virtual server locations and quickest customer service it's probably the most robust VPN provider out there. And nearly the most expensive. Best for dedicated users.
- Astrill - The best value of all of the paid services, they've got good customer service (though they're not available for live chatting 24/7) and a large number of IP addresses available.
- Air VPN - NOTE: This site is blocked in China. You'll need to download it and set it up before arriving! Not as efficient as the previous two, but they have a free trial option so that you can get a feel for how things work. Great for people making short trips.
- Our favorite free VPNs:
- Freeg@te (自由门) - NOTE: This site is blocked in China. This program was developed by Chinese dissidents with the support of the US government and human rights organizations. Probably the best free proxy out there.
- FreeU (逍遥游) - NOTE: This site is blocked in China. Also, the programs listed at this link are in Chinese characters. If you go to this site look for the same characters that we have after "FreeU". (It should be the 4th item down.)
- Hot Sp0t Shield - NOTE: This site is blocked in China. Reliable but slow.
- Non-VPN methods to get around the Great Firewall:
- Try Cool Kids or Free to Browse - These services give you a window onto any blocked web page. You can visit websites without worrying about the Great Firewall, though your interaction with them is limited to reading. You won't be able to log in to a page to view personalized information.
- Sign up for Yahoo, then go to My Yahoo and set up some RSS feeds. You can open windows on this page into your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Once that is set up, you'll be able to view your Facebook and Twitter feeds on My Yahoo without a VPN! It even works on their mobile site (under the "Yahoo Pulse" function). You'll be a bit limited in that you won’t be able to post photos, send messages or click on any links on Twitter, but you'll be able to view photos, post comments and status updates, reply to your friends' status updates, "Like" things and post on people's walls. NOTE: You need to set this up before you come to China, as it requires you to log-in to Facebook and Twitter to authorize Yahoo's access to your profile(s).
- Sign up for TwitPic or other photo sharing services that allow for posting of photos to your social media feeds via e-mail. Since you're just sending an e-mail you'll have no trouble with the Great Firewall. Alternately, photo sharing apps like Instagram are not blocked in China so you can post photos there that then get copied into your Twitter and/or Facebook feeds. NOTE: You need to set this up before you come to China, as it requires you to log-in to Facebook and Twitter to authorize Instagram access to your profile(s).
- Foursquare and other geo-location apps are not blocked in China and when you check in to a place they allow you to include a message for your social media feed, along with photos. NOTE: You need to set this up before you come to China, as it requires you to log-in Facebook and Twitter to authorize Foursquare's access to your profile(s).
- Flipboard is a news aggregating app that also allows you to see your Facebook & Twitter feeds. This app is currently not blocked in China, so you can view your feeds, view stories on websites that people link to and do some simple interactions on your social media feeds ("Like" & reply to posts only). You can even use it to post status updates. It will run a bit slowly at times, and you won't be able to use all of the features (the "view on web" function will often not work because you can't grab the link from social media without a VPN), but it's a great way to stay in touch. NOTE #1: You need to set this up before you come to China, as it requires you to log-in to Facebook and Twitter to authorize Flipboard access to your profile(s). NOTE #2: Once in China you may see a message saying that your copy of Flipboard is not up to date. Ignore this! There is a version that has been "optomized" for China and it does not allow you to access Facebook & Twitter. You don't want to install that.
- Set up a text number for posting to Twitter. It'll cost you per post, but if you're sending via SMS, you don’t have to worry about being blocked at all. (You can also sign up for a free texting app which allows you to send free SMS messages all over the world via the web. That would eliminate the international SMS fees.)
- Like the photo sharing apps, posting to social media and blogs via e-mail works just fine in China. You'll be able to comment on all posts and replies to you on Facebook just by replying to the alert e-mail. You won’t be able to click on any web links contained in the e-mail, however; you'll have to cut and paste them into a browser.
The Beijing Subway is a good way to quickly get around the city and is clearly marked in English for travelers. (For a fabulous introduction to the system, click here.) The network, which began with just 2 lines in 1971, has expanded at a furious pace in recent years, with 13 additional lines becoming operational since 2001 and another 9 set to open by 2015. However, be warned that during rush hour trains can be extremely crowded. The subway system shuts down quite early (around 22:30), and opens again around 5AM.
The most useful lines are Line 1, which runs east to west and passes under Tianenmen Square and goes to many tourist sights; Line 2, which is a loop line following the old city wall and serves the Central and North train stations; and line 5 which runs north-south and also serves numerous tourist sights. Transfers between all lines are free.
Subway station entrances are identified by a large blue stylized letter G wrapped around a smaller letter B. Single tickets cost ¥2 and are only valid on the same day from the station they were purchased. Single-journey ticket machines are very simple to use; just press the numbers along the left side of the screen to choose how many tickets you want to buy, insert cash into the machine and press the green button then collect the ticket and change. The machine does not accept ¥1 bills but if you pay with a ¥10 or ¥20 bill you will be given a handful of coins which you can use for future journeys. You must pass your ticket through the turnstiles upon entering AND exiting the station, so make sure you don't lose it.
If you plan on traveling a lot, pick up a Yīkātōng (一卡通 ) pre-paid card, for a ¥20 refundable deposit. You can buy one at the Dongzhimen station at the end of the Airport Express line. Swipe the card at the entrance turnstile and again upon exiting. The use of the pre-paid card does not reduce the subway fare although it does dramatically reduce bus fares, by 60%. The card's deposit can only be returned at a few stations, so passing it on to a friend may be easier than getting your deposit back. Stations that offer a refund clearly state "Yikatong refund" in the ticket booth; examples include Xizhimen and Haidianhuangzhuang (only near exits c/d).
If you are carrying any bags you must pass through the X-ray checks at the stations.
Try to avoid travelling in the rush hour as the stations and trains become very crowded - particularly try to avoid Line 1 & 2 as the old 1970s stations with their narrow passageways and open-edged platforms are not designed for the large numbers of passengers seen today.
Beijing's bus system is cheap, convenient and covers the entire city—perfect for locals but, alas, difficult to use if you do not understand Mandarin. The bus staffs speak little English, and only bus lines that traverse the city center and areas that were heavily-trafficked by tourists during the Olympics broadcast stop names in English. Bus stop signs are also entirely in Chinese. (However, stops will have their pinyin names displayed and all route maps on the buses themselves will display pinyin as well.) But should you speak Mandarin, have a healthy sense of adventure, and a fair bit of patience, a bus can get you almost anywhere, and often somewhere that you never intended to go. It is a great way to see parts of the city that tourists normally do not visit.
Most bus fares are relatively cheap, around ¥1, and if you get a public transportation card from a metro station (a card that acts as a debit card for the metro and buses) you can get a 60% discount on all fares.
Many shiny new buses arrived on the streets in preparation for the Olympics. Many buses now feature air-conditioning (heating in winter), TVs, a scrolling screen that displays stops in Chinese/Pinyin, and a broadcast system that announces stops. If you are having problems navigating the bus system, call the English-speaking operators at the Beijing Public Transportation Customer Helpline (96166).
Warning: Beijing buses can get very crowded so be prepared and keep an eye on your valuables. Indeed, the overhead speakers on more modern buses will announce a warning to this effect on the more crowded lines. Many pickpockets frequent buses and subways, so carry backpacks in the front, and try to put your valuables somewhere hard to access. Be aware of a scam offering bus rides to the Great Wall masquerading as the real bus service. Instead of directly driving to the Great Wall, you will instead be led to a series of tours to dilapidated theme parks, shops, museums, and other tourist traps before finally reaching the Great Wall near the end of the day.
Bus routes - Bus lines are numbered from 1-999. Buses under 300 serve the city center. Buses 300 and up run between the city center and more distant areas (such as beyond the Third Ring Road). Buses in the 900s connect Beijing with its "rural" districts (i.e., Changping, Yanqing, Shunyi, etc.).
Full maps of the system are available only in Chinese. The Beijing Public Transport Co. website has very little information in English, but both the Chinese version and English Versions have a very helpful routing service with an interactive map. You can input your starting point and your ending point and see all the bus routes that will get you from A to B, look up a bus route by number, or input a place name and see all the routes that go stop there.
Taxis are a great choice for getting around, as they are convenient, plentiful and fairly inexpensive for travellers from Western countries. The only downsides are that Beijing's congested street often results in long traffic jams, and drivers often do not speak English. Licensed taxis will all be clearly marked with a "Taxi" sign on the top of the vehicle and a red or white "For Hire" sign/light in the front window that will be visible if they are available to pick up passengers. NOTE: At night this red light in the windshield will be clearly visible. However, watch out for unlicensed taxis that drive around with red lights in their windshields but do not have a "Taxi" sign on top of the car. (See below for more info on unlicensed taxis.)
Taxis charge a starting fee of ¥10 and an additional ¥2/km after the first 3 km. Taxi meters keep running when the speed is slower than 12 km/hr or when waiting at traffic lights; 5 min of waiting time equals 1 km running. Outside of rush hour, an average trip across the city center costs around ¥20-25, and a cross-town journey about ¥50 (for example, from Sanlitun just inside the 3rd Ring Road in the East side of town to Wudaokou, on the northern side of the Fourth Ring Road in the West). Since the spring of 2011, there is a ¥3 gas surcharge on all trips over 2 km. Note that this surcharge is not displayed on the meter, so if the meter says ¥18 the price is ¥21. Also note that after 11:00pm there is a ¥1 surcharge on all fares and the meter will read "11.00" when you start your trip instead of "10.00".
If the taxi driver "forgets" to switch the taxi meter on, remind him by politely asking them to run the meter and gesturing at the meter box (请打表 qǐng dǎbiǎo). At the end, it is a good idea to ask for a receipt (发票 fā piào) also while gesturing to the meter and making a writing motion. Having a receipt is handy in case you want to make a complaint later or for business reimbursement purposes, and since the receipt has the cab number, you stand a greater chance of getting your possessions back if you forget anything in the taxi.
Communicating with the drivers can be a problem, as most do not speak English. If you’re staying at a hotel you can ask that they write your destination on a card to give to the driver. Also, make sure to take the hotel's card with you, as it will have the hotel's address in Chinese, as well as a map on the back. This can be a "get out of jail free" card if you get lost and need to get back via taxi. A regular city map with streets and sights in Chinese will also help.
If you have a smartphone, your best bet is to download the "Beijing Taxi Guide" app and/or to bookmark "City Fu" and "Mobile Native" on your web browser. All will prove to be invaluable when trying to get around by taxi. (See the "Helpful Resources" section for more details on these.)
Taxis are quite plentiful in the city center and near major tourist attractions, but in the more remote places of Beijing you might not be able to find any cars available other than unlicensed taxis. These might be difficult to recognize for travellers, but the drivers will address you if you look like you are searching for a taxi. Remember to negotiate the fare before you go. Local people usually pay a bit less for the unofficial taxis than for the official ones, but the asking price for travellers will often be much higher.
If you’re staying in a hotel and you want a tour around Beijing and its vicinities, you can ask your hotel to hire a cab for one day or several days. It usually costs ¥400-600 per day, depending on where you go. Also, if you’re on the street you can also ask just about any driver to perform this service as most are more than willing to do so. If you have Chinese-speaking assistance, then bargain down the cost. No matter the cost, the taxi is yours for the day and will wait for you at various destinations.
All official taxis have a "Taxi" sign on the top of the vehicle and license plates beginning with the letter "B", as in "京B". "Black cabs" may look like taxis but their license plates will start with letters other than B. It's nearly impossible to hail a black cab on the streets; they generally hang out around tourist spots like the Great Wall and the Summer Palace or around subway stops. Black cabs will charge you a higher fee for the journey, unless you are a good bargainer, know where you are going, and know what the right fare should be. Sometimes they drop foreign tourists in wrong places. In some extreme cases, the driver may even take them to the countryside and rob them. If you find you hired a fake taxi and are overcharged, don't argue if you are alone; pay the driver and remember the car's license plate number, then call police later.
To avoid being taken advantage of, it is a good idea to know the rough direction, cost, and distance of your destination. You can easily find this out from asking locals before calling a cab. Verify these values with the taxicab driver to show them that you are in the know, and are probably too much trouble to cheat. Keep track of the direction of travel with a compass and/or the sun. If the cab goes in the wrong direction for a long distance, verify the location with the taxi driver. For scamming drivers, that is usually enough for them to go back on the right track (without ever acknowledging that they were trying to cheat you). Honest drivers will explain why they are going that way. Alternately, if a driver gives you an extravagant price to get somewhere and/or tells you that the meter is broken you should exit and find another taxi.
We're going to be a bit brief here and concentrate on giving you a list of what you should plan on seeing when you come to Beijing as well as some information on how to check them out. For more details on history, cultural significance and other background details click on the links to visit the Wikipedia entries or other good reference sites that we recommend.
The Big Ones
The Great Wall
- COMING SOON
The Forbidden City
- COMING SOON
- COMING SOON
Temple of Heaven
- COMING SOON
- COMING SOON
- COMING SOON
The Next Level
Hidden Gems / Off the Beaten Path
- COMING SOON
- COMING SOON
- COMING SOON
Vegetarian & Vegan Eating
Sanlitun: COMING SOON
Wudauko: COMING SOON
CBD-Guomao/Shuangjing: COMING SOON
Gulou/Houhai: COMING SOON
Andingmen/Yonghegong: COMING SOON
Finding A Job
Finding an Apartment
Since Beijing is such a magnet city for foreigners it is not unusual for somebody to find themselves in the position of moving here on relatively short notice and in need of finding a place to live for an extended period of time. But how to find an apartment for more than a few days or weeks without already being there and not speaking the language?
While it can be a challenge, it is not impossible.
First, plan ahead. While some of the resources that we list here may allow you to rent a place in advance of your arrival, unless you know somebody who can physically verify the existence of a space and/or meet the owner/potential rommmates on your behalf, you should plan to surf on some couches or stay in a hostel for your first few days until you can sign a lease in person.
When doing your search, you can do so on your own or you can work with local real estate agencies. Many Chinese who buy property work with agents to handle renting them out and if you just walk around the neighborhood where you want to live you can try going into any real estate office to ask them if they have any apartments available for rent. (If it’s in an area with a lot of expats they will most likely have at least 1 person on staff who speaks English.) While you might not find exactly what you’re looking for by doing this, it is a good way to get a feel for what’s out there and what prices are like. Keep in mind that no agent should charge you for finding an apartment. Agents get paid by charging their clients (apartment owners) a 1-month fee.
As for rental terms, you should expect leases that require you to pay 3 months' worth of rent up front, in addition to any security deposit. This is because almost all landlords prefer to receive their rent in quarterly installments instead of monthly. This can make "getting your foot in the door" a bit more pricey than in other countries, but it is pretty much the norm, so don't be shocked when that requirement is laid out to you.
If you’re working on your own, here’s a list of resources that you can use to search around.
- Craigslist – Popular in the west, this is not used much by Chinese people. They have their own services that they prefer (see below). However, agencies know that western people use this site so you WILL get a listing of places. Keep in mind that they’ll be mostly higher-end, often in fairly exclusive compounds that are popular with expats and will always be posted by agencies and not by apartment owners themselves.
- eChina Cities – Another mostly western-facing site, it has more traffic from Chinese people than Craigslist does, but the listings that you’ll find there will still trend towards the higher end.
- Couchsurfing – We’ve got a sub-group within the Beijing forum for people looking for rooms and/or roommates. It’s not the most dynamic or up-to-date place, but it never hurts to check it out. The best way to find a place to live in almost any city is by word of mouth and if anybody knows anything then it'll end up here eventually. On the plus side, if you find a roommate there you probably won’t have to worry about whether or not your new housemate is open to hosting people.
- The Beijinger and City Weekend – These are the two top expat lifestyle magazines in Beijing and they both have real estate sections. Just about everybody who speaks English or who is interested in advertising to a western audience will post ads there. You’ll find the widest range of places in the most neighborhoods. You’ll also be able to search for roommates... among other things.
- Chinese websites – If you’ve got a Chinese person helping you out (or if you can already speak/read Chinese) then you’ll find lots of ads on sites such as Baixing, Ganji, Haozu and 58.com. Here you’re much more likely to find listings from actual apartment owners as well as agents.
WARNING: We are not legal experts or immigration consultants. In this section we’re going to give you an overview of some of the things that you need to know when planning your trip to China, as well as a summary of some of the common issues that we’ve all encountered and discussed on the forums. Entry requirements and processing fees can (and do) vary from country to country, so be sure to consult the relevant websites linked herein, your local Chinese consulate and/or a proper visa agency before making your final plans!
Any foreigner visiting China must receive permission to enter the country in advance. This requires applying for a visa from an embassy or consulate. You can do this in any country where an embassy exists as well as from within Hong Kong.
You can get a complete list of every Chinese embassy and consulate location here. Check here to see if your country is on the list of 170 countries whose citizens can enter Hong Kong without getting a visa in advance (i.e. you only need to get your passport stamped when you arrive).
Keep in mind that no matter what the rules on any website say (including embassy websites), or what any visa agency tells you, when it comes to visas the final word will always rest with the local issuing authority. If you get to an embassy/consulate and they tell you that you’re missing a document that wasn’t listed on their website, don’t complain and make a fuss. Visa rules (and the enforcement thereof) can shift quickly, especially in times of stress and tension. It’s not a terribly uncommon occurrence.
Types of Visas
Visas have letter designations that identify what kind of permissions they grant to a foreigner. If you’re not familiar with them they can get a little confusing. For a complete list of which visas are offered you can refer to this website. Here are the most common types and what you need to remember about them:
- Tourist (L) Visa – For visitors. Depending on your home country you can get visas that are valid for up to 2 years, which allow you to stay in the country for 30- or 60-day increments. This means that you’ll be required to exit Mainland China and re-enter once every month or two. (Most people do this by traveling to Hong Kong, Mongolia or South Korea for a day.) This visa does NOT allow you to legally work in China. It also does not legally allow you to sign a lease for an apartment, as you are not permitted to become a resident. You can, however, open up a bank account.
- Student (X) Visa – For those looking to matriculate here. Most often used by students heading to university, you may come across “language schools” that offer this visa to people who sign up for classes. Be wary of these, as they are sometimes little more than fronts for people who want a visa that allows them to get residency. This kind of visa does NOT allow you to legally work in China, but you can sign a lease for an apartment. It also allows you to stay without having to exit and re-enter the country. Requires paperwork from a school in China, including a letter of invitation.
- Business (F) Visa – For people traveling on, well, business. Permits one to do business and be temporarily employed (though methods of payment get tricky and you might have to settle for direct deposits to an account in Hong Kong or your home country). Allows for residency. Requires a letter of invitation from a company in China.
- Work (Z) Visa – For cogs in the machine. This visa allows you to be employed and reside in China. Almost always given out in 1-year increments. Requires lots of fancy forms that need filing to multiple agencies. Hopefully your company handles this for you.
- Residency (D) Visa – For people living in China permanently. Allows for 10-year stays. Only given out to people with family in China or those who own large businesses. (Usually big bank account balances are required.) You’re not getting one.
This is a bit of a misnomer. A "Resident Permit" (also sometimes called a “Residency Permit” or “Residency Card”) is just a slip of paper that you get when you register your presence with the local police and that you should keep with your passport. However, sometimes a working visa is referred to as a "Resident Permit" as well, since in addition to giving you permission to hold a job, it also allows you to be a legal resident. Basically, "Resident Permit" can = the visa itself or the slip of paper that the police give you when you register with them.
I Wanna Work Here!
Many people come to China with the intention of getting a job and sticking around for a while. There are lots of opportunities here and the visa process is relatively easier/less restrictive than in many western countries (though bureaucratically it can be a real pain in the ass). The rules for granting visas to people will vary from country to country; some countries will have an easier time than others, though the restrictions and inconsistencies are not as vast as those surrounding tourist visas. Most people who come for work get visas from their companies because they are classified as essential workers or they've already come here on a tourist/student visa and have found a job. In essence, they've already met the entry requirements that the Chinese government has placed on people from their country so little more in the way of roadblocks are put in front of them.
Almost all foreigners, in addition to any nationality-specific requirements, will need to complete a health exam and have a university degree before they can get a work visa.
IMPORTANT NOTE #1: Some countries' citizens may not be allowed to apply for a work visa from within China. This means that they have to return to their home country and file their application at their local embassy/consulate. (This will be 100% true for anybody who is here on a student visa.) Be prepared for the possibility of having to make a trip home before you can start your new job.
IMPORTANT NOTE #2: If you’ve found a job and the company says that they’ll sponsor your visa but they tell you that you must handle the application and processing yourself, be wary! While this does happen, it is a little bit shady. The company and job may be totally legitimate, but placing this burden on you indicates a few possibilities: 1) They don’t really care about the people that they’re hiring or have very little experience working with foreigners, 2) they’re not well-managed enough to handle the sometimes-complicated process on their own or 3) they don’t have the resources to keep a visa agency on retainer. If you find yourself in this situation don’t immediately discount your opportunity, but you should consider these factors before joining up.
IMPORTANT NOTE #3: We’ve seen several questions in the forum asking if you can get a work visa by finding part time work. The Short answer is “No.” A little explanation: Visas cost money to obtain and they are often limited in number based on a company's size and the kind of operating license they have. Companies are not going to waste their time and money sponsoring a visa for somebody who isn't going to be working full time for them. (Would you?) Furthermore, working visas are supposed to be limited to jobs that can't be done by a local Chinese. It's pretty hard to justify that you need a foreigner so badly that you need a visa, but that you don't need them to work full time…You might be able to find a job that offers a work visa that has limited working hours, but that's very rare. Even then the work wouldn't be classified as "part time". The closest thing that you'd probably be able to find that falls into this category would be to sign a contract to work at a school that perhaps only has a requirement of 20 hours of teaching plus a set number of office hours (usually at least 10). But that's not always as great a deal as it sounds, AND those positions are pretty tough to get unless you're already here and know where to look.
You may have heard of somebody who “extended” their visa. Or somebody may suggest that to solve whatever problem you have without having to leave the country, you can just “extend” your current visa at the Public Security Bureau (PSB) office. THIS IS NOT ACCURATE!
The PSB does NOT "extend" visas. If you go there and tell them that you need to stay in China longer than your visa allows they will cancel whatever visa that you currently have and issue you a new one. This sounds like semantics, but it is very important to consider. If you have a visa with lots of time left on it, then you might want to think twice about going to the PSB, as you'll lose the old one and be starting off with a new one. Most likely it'll only be a tourist visa that is valid for just 30-60 days and will not allow you any exits/returns. They will also require you to show proof of bank deposits. This means that you’ll need to get a slip of paper from a bank verifying that you have a certain amount of money in a Chinese bank. The amounts required will vary and you may get conflicting numbers, but the most it would ever be is $100 USD per day for the length of your new visa.
When you consider that you'll probably have to exit China eventually anyway to get a new visa, the fees that they charge + the cash that you have to tie up in your bank account might cost you more than a flight or train ticket. Do the math before you go that route. It may not be worth all of the time and effort.
If you need to go there, the Beijing PSB office is open 7 days a week (except for public holidays) from 08:30-12:00 & 13:00-17:00. It’s located right along the 2nd Ring Road, close to Yonghegong subway station (Line 2 & Line 5). Just go out of exit B and turn right. It’s about a 5-minute walk, halfway between the station and the Russian embassy. You can also use this address if you want to take a taxi:
Exit and Entry Management Section, Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau (Visa & lost report Division)
Address: No. 2, Dongdajie, Andingmen, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Agencies can be a great help navigating China’s seemingly byzantine visa rules and regulations. Getting a tourist visa at your local embassy/consulate is a relatively painless and simple affair, but for anybody who is currently in China and wants to change their status, the “where”, “when” and “how much” of the process can get very, very confusing. Agencies can cut through all of the red tape for you and make the process much simpler.
And if you think that “cut through all of the red tape for you and make the process much simpler” sometimes means paying bribes and circumnavigating around restrictions, then you’d be absolutely right. But that’s not always as nefarious as it sounds. Sometimes there is outright bribery, but that’s just how business is done in China. Also, different immigration offices in different provinces sometimes follow different rules, or apply them in different ways based on local needs. For example, if security has been tightened in Beijing due to a political event (like the yearly meeting of the People's Congress) or a security alert (like in response to a thwarted terrorist attack), you may be able to go to Hong Kong and work with an agency there that processes visas with the security office in Shenzhen, which may not be under the same restrictions. Or they just might know the right official to bribe.
Whatever your circumstances, do your homework. If you’re in China and need to change your visa status always check with the local PSB office first and then consult an agency. If you're in Hong Kong and just need to re-enter the country on a new Tourist (L) visa, then it's no sweat, as there are lots of agencies there who can help you.
Some agencies that CSers have used and been satisfied with include:
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