With a population of over 20 million people, Beijing is one of the world’s largest cities. A dazzling mix of ancient and modern, China’s historic capital city boasts culture and character by the bucket-load, with numerous world heritage sites attracting visitors from far and wide.
If you’re planning on taking a trip to Beijing, or indeed China, for the first time, here are some helpful tips and things you need to know to ensure you are prepared:
Before travelling to China, make sure you have all of your appropriate documents in order, including a valid passport and visa. Visas are required for most visitors in order to enter the country, so ensure that you have researched what documentation you need and have got your visa and passport before you fly – you cannot buy one on arrival.
China is predominantly a cash society, although ATMs accepting only foreign bank cards (which will be signposted) are becoming more common in Beijing.
Credit cards are also becoming more widely accepted, however even at major tourist destinations there are no guarantees, so it’s a good idea to carry cash where possible.
Outside of major hotels and tourist attractions, English speakers can be hard to come by, so it is a good idea to learn some basic Mandarin to get by, as even a little will go a long way. Carrying a tourist phrase book and a guide book with the tourist attractions written in Mandarin can be very helpful.
It is also a very good idea to pick up the hotel business card to show to taxi drivers in case you get lost.
The majority of taxi drivers speak no English and Beijing is a big city, so again, you must carry the name of the hotel or destination you want to travel to in Mandarin to show the driver.
Although the most expensive way to get around Beijing, taxis are very cheap compared to the UK. However, make sure you only get in a taxi where they use the metre, and if they refuse to switch the meter on, get another cab.
If you’re in a hurry the subway is a much quicker way to get around town, particularly at rush hour when traffic is at its busiest. The subway is inexpensive and easy to navigate, with signs and announcements in English.
Going to see the Great Wall of China is a must if you are in Beijing. Most tourists go to the most popular part of the wall, Badaling. However, if you travel further to a less popular part of the wall, it is well worth it as you may well get stretches of the wall all to yourself instead of being crammed alongside a sea of tourists.
For the glitzy night life, pay Sanlitun a visit - an area in the Chaoyang District offering a variety of restaurants, bars and nightclubs popular with foreigners.
For a cheaper night, head out to Wudaokou – otherwise known as Beijing’s student zone, where you can expect cheap beer and beer pong.
Due to censorship laws, be aware that most websites you use every day in the UK have been blocked in China, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the BBC.
As in other Asian countries, bargaining is expected in Beijing’s markets, even by foreign tourists.
Begin at a quarter of the price and calmly and politely work up from there until you reach a mutual ground. You can write down or type numbers on your phone to help if they don’t understand much English.
Other things to know...
- The colour red is associated with happiness and good fortune, and the numbers 6 and 8 are considered lucky numbers. On the other hand, 4 is a very unlucky number – this is because it sounds almost identical to the word for ‘death’.
- When you meet someone for the first time, the appropriate greeting is a firm handshake in a business setting or a polite nod for more social occasions. You should also come bearing gifts – preferably wrapped in red packaging.
- Travelling for business? If you are handed a business card by a new acquaintance, make sure that you take care to receive it with both hands, taking time to read over it and put it away somewhere safe such as in your wallet, where it won’t get damaged.
- Visitors to China will need to master the art of eating with chopsticks (unless you are prepared enough to carry plastic forks with you). Never leave chopsticks standing upright in your rice bowl – as this is taken to symbolise that someone has died (with ricebowls and standing chopsticks offered to the deceased).