Many people told me it is not easy traveling in China and I should definitely go with a travel agency. I, on the other hand, took this chance as a challenge because I enjoy the pre-travel research and planning as much as travel itself. Luckily, I have a couple of good friends from Beijing, the capital of China, who provided me with some top tips for visiting Beijing which proved to be very valuable during my trip.
Avoid the crowds
The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, and Peking duck are the three things every first-time traveler won’t miss, and I was no exception of course.
Most tourist groups (guided tourist groups) only visit the middle lane of the Forbidden City, where all the major palaces are located. I entered the Forbidden City at about 1:30 after lunch and took my time in the side palaces (which used to be the emperor’s concubines’ residents) and spent my time in the beautiful gardens. At about 3:30-4pm (about an hour before the Forbidden City closes), I made my way to the main palaces. By then most of the tourist groups were gone and only very few visitors were still around, so I took my pictures and lingered around without much distraction.
For my visit to the Wall, instead of going to the most popular sections (Badaling or Mutianyu), I decided to check out a very unique section of the Wall, Huanghuacheng Great Wall. It might not be the highest, longest or most challenging stretch of wall, but Huanghuacheng’s water features create a variety of scenery, unlike any other section. Getting on to the wall was quite easy but in order to get a better view over the reservoir and the mountains I had to hike up to an unsorted section of the wall. The stairs were quite steep and tricky to get around, but being able to see both the restored and wild wall was truly a highlight of this trip.
Best duck in the city? NOT Quanjude! My friends warned me before my visit to Beijing: going to Quanjude for Peking duck is a big No No in local people’s eyes. Most of the experienced chefs had left Quanjude over the years and started their own duck restaurants. Jiuhuashan’s owner was one of them. He joined Quanjude in 1976 and has been roasting ducks for over 40 years since. Today as an owner, he oversees Jiuhuashan restaurant and their roasted duck was mouthwatering, and most of the people eating there were local families.
Getting around the city
Although taxi fare in Beijing is fairly cheap compared to other cities, my favorite way to get around the city is still by subway. You can get a pay-as-you-go metro card at any station customer service center, and all you need to do is pay a refundable deposit of CNY 20 and top up as much as you need. My suggestion is for 3-5 days stay CNY 100 top-up should be enough. Of course, you can get your money refunded once you return your card.
Beijing’s subway is clean and safe, with most of the sightseeing destinations in the city located near a subway station and there is no traffic underground! Isn’t it the worst getting trapped in traffic on your vacation? Well, I thoroughly enjoyed my traffic free time in the city, taking line 1 going to the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square and Lama Temple, taking line 4 going to the Summer Palace and Hutong area. The trains were always on time and easy to navigate. The only thing you need to be careful is to avoid morning and afternoon peak time (8am-9:30am in the morning and 5pm-7pm in the afternoon), otherwise be prepared to fight your way to get on and get off!
For late evening taxi rides, always make sure you get a licensed taxi instead of a black cab. Some drivers might suggest not to use the meters and provide you with a fixed price, but in my experience, that’s always more expensive.