I just got back yesterday from a 38 hour Mileage Run Vacation to Beijing. Since I wasn’t in transit to a third country, I had to obtain a 10 year Chinese Visa for $140 beforehand from the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles. My first time to China was two years ago when I went to Shanghai and I loved the cosmopolitan city. This time around, I went to Beijing and I didn’t know what to fully expect. Here are 10 Things I Learned From My Recent Trip to Beijing China.
1. The Bejing Airport Express is the best way to get from PEK Airport into the city – As you may know, I dislike taking taxis from the airport because of the taxi cab mafia. I heard Beijing is notorious for taxi scammers with counterfeit 100RMB and 50RMB notes and they will long-haul you around the chaotic ring roads. I only take taxis as a last resort if public transportation is shut down or if there’s no other viable option.
For only 25RMB ~ $4.03 USD, you can get from Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) to Beijing City Center (Sanyuanqiao or Dongzhimen) on the Airport Express train which only takes 30 minutes from Terminals 1 and 2. From Terminal 3, it’s 5 minutes longer because the train stops at T1/T2 before heading to Sanyuanqiao subway station and then continuing to Dongzhimen metro station. From Sanyuanqiao or Dongzhimen, you can navigate yourself to your destination using the Beijing subway.
2. The Beijing subway is awesome – The Beijing subway is easy to use, inexpensive, and it’s the best way to get around Beijing. There are a lot of ring roads in Beijing that get stuck in gridlock traffic during rush hour, but there’s none of that underground using the metro. I highly recommend using the free app ‘Explore Beijing Subway map’ which gives you access to the Beijing Metro map right at your fingertips.
3. There’s a lot of prostitution in Beijing – Massage parlors are everywhere in Beijing and they’re fronts for sex services. There are also barber shops, KTV, strip clubs, and underground brothels in Beijing. There is no specific red light district in Beijing, but you can usually find girls dressed in skimpy clothing during the night time on lonesome streets waiting to be picked up. I found quite a few of them unexpectedly while walking in Beijing at 4am in the morning. You might ask what I was doing at 4am in Beijing, but I was walking to the metro station from my hotel since I needed to get to a specific line and the Beijing subway station doesn’t open until 5am.
There were also pimps standing outside of the Sheraton Great Wall hotel soliciting escorts to come to my hotel room. He whipped out his phone’s calculator and asked me for 800 Chinese Yuan ~ $129.03 USD for a girl to come up to my room for sex and then quickly lowered the price to 600RMB ~ $96.77 USD. I politely declined as I was walking away and he asked “How much you want to pay?” I told him that I was not interested and he asked how much I had with me. I told him that I had 100RMB and then he said that I could come to the KTV bar with lots of girls and have a drink. He said he will give me a free taxi ride to the Karaoke bar and I knew where that was going to go.
The main point of his scheme was to sucker me into buying drinks at an establishment where he will get a commission and the taxi driver will get a kickback for getting me into the Karaoke KTV bar. People who fall for this scheme will usually get a large $500-$1,000 USD bill at the end for buying a few drinks and will be forced to withdraw money from the ATM or pay with a credit card.
4. You can take a train from Beijing to the Great Wall of China at Badaling – The train is probably the best way to get from Beijing to the Badaling Great Wall of China and it only takes an hour and a half which isn’t too bad. It’s better than being stuck in the infamous Beijing traffic on the ring roads which can take up to 3 hours by car. The best part about the S2 train is that it only costs 6RMB ~ $0.96 USD (Yes, only 96 cents!) I wrote a guide on How to Get From Beijing to Badaling Great Wall of China.
5. The Great Wall of China is truly a magnificent sight to see – Even though I went to most touristy section of the Great Wall at Badaling, it was quite a breathtaking experience to finally get to see one of the 7 wonders of the world. Badaling can get crowded fast, even in the early morning because of the vast amount of tour buses. Once you get towards Tower 12, the crowds disperse because of their inability to climb the Great Wall. It does require physical fitness because of the steep inclines. It took about an hour and a half to go up and back down without any rest stops.
6. The Great Firewall of China is for real – When I went to Shanghai back in 2013, the great firewall of China wasn’t so bad at all and the only thing that was blocked was Twitter and Facebook which I got around by using a VPN. This time around, I found out that Google, Snapchat, and all major US news websites was blocked, but again I got around it by using a free VPN called Tunnel Bear. The TunnelBear VPN worked very well for me on my MacBook Air and iPhone 6 which was quite a lifesaver.
7. Don’t ever buy a pre-paid SIM Card from a street vendor – Whenever I travel internationally, I try to buy a local prepaid SIM Card and it’s almost always less than $10 USD for the iPhone nano SIM card. I found a China Mobile pre-paid SIM Card for sale on a street kiosk for $10 and thought that was a steal. It turned out the SIM Card was unregistered and banned from the Chinese government, which rendered it useless. I wrote How I Got Scammed in Beijing from Buying a Prepaid SIM Card.
8. Free Wi-Fi in Beijing is really tough to find – If you thought getting around the Great Firewall of China was tough, finding Free Wi-Fi internet in Beijing is even tougher because of government mandated regulations. I usually go to Starbucks, McDonalds, or a large shopping center for free Wi-Fi whenever I’m travelling internationally.
Free Wi-Fi is advertised at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK), but you’ll be directed to a landing page which requires a phone number to be inputted which will then send you a code via text for authentication and verification. Alternatively, you can generate a password by shoving your passport into one of those airport kiosk machines. Yes, the Chinese government wants to know who is using their Wi-Fi and there’s a lot of hoopla to go through.
Starbucks did have Free Wi-Fi available, but it was only for China Mobile, Chinese Telcom, and China Unicom customers because it generates a unique password on the landing page. I was out of luck there because I didn’t have a Chinese wireless internet provider.
I had some luck at McDonalds because my international SIM card was roaming to Chinese Unicom which in fact automatically authenticated without having me input a Chinese phone number. This was great because the free wireless internet at McDonalds was blazing fast even with my TunnelBear VPN.
9. The People’s Uber is cheaper than UberX in Beijing – I love using Uber and UberPOOL in Los Angeles and I’ve had positive experiences using Uber internationally in Singapore, London, Bogota, Lima, and Mexico City. I didn’t realize Uber existed in Beijing, but I was more shocked to see a ‘People’s Uber’ option. I’ve never heard of People’s Uber until opening up the app and apparently it’s cheaper than UberX in Beijing. The People’s Uber has a zero base fare and it’s 1.50RMB ~ $0.24 USD (24 cents!) per Kilometer and 0.25RMB ~ $0.04 USD (4 cents) per minute. The minimum fare is 10RMB ~ $1.61 USD which is unbelievably cheap.
10. Peking Duck is overrated – One of my biggest expenses in Beijing was having Peking Duck because I was a solo diner. A whole duck can cost upwards of 200RMB ~ $32.27 USD at a moderate Chinese restuarant. Half a duck can cost upwards of 100RMB ~ $16.14 USD. Since you can’t really leave Beijing without trying out its national dish, Peking Duck, I decided to try it out.
I went to a moderately priced restaurant and ordered half a duck with all the condiments (scallions, cucumbers, pancakes, plum sauce) and I didn’t think the Peking duck tasted any different than the ones in LA. Being Chinese myself, I usually have Roast Duck at least once a month (and more if it’s a banquet, wedding, special celebration). I’m guessing that it’s a culinary delight for foreigners because they might not eat duck every so often, so they rave about it.
Fine dining restaurants like ‘Dadong’ and ‘Made in China’ charge a ridiculous amount, but it’s supposedly the best of the best. It’s a whole culinary experience because they carve the Peking duck right in front of you. I’ve heard some restaurants let you take the bones home to make soup as well.