My first impression of Beijing was unexpectedly nice. I was a bit wary to visit this city because of what people tell me — that it is very polluted, smoggy and that the people are rude. I was lucky to get there without so much smog and pollution, though. And I found most of the people quite nice and not rude at all, except maybe for the scamming cab drivers.
I was impressed at how huge their airport is. You’d have to take a train after the immigration check to get your baggage. The immigration queue was considerably long but it took a very short time to get past it.
I booked myself transportation in advance to take me to the hotel (since hubby was going straight to work) as I arrived very early in the morning and didn’t really want the hassle of haggling with the non-English speaking cab drivers. There was very thick traffic jams along the way. It took 45 minutes to get to the hotel. But I was impressed by the fact that there were no ghettos along the way. Not like most of the airports in other countries where you immediately see the ugly ghettos on the way to the city.
I spent my first morning in Beijing sleeping half the day in the hotel. I was too tired from the red-eye flight, despite taking Business class. The cabin did not allow for the seat to be laid down flat, instead you just have your legs stretched downwards. It was not very relaxing. And I also made the mistake of getting the 5:30Am breakfast. I should’ve just passed and slept instead had I known that I would get a free one when I arrive at the hotel.
The afternoon was a bit rainy. I tried to go out on my own for a bit, but I really didn’t have the energy to plan my afternoon itinerary and to speak in sign language most of the time since most people did not speak English very well, except maybe for the staff in the hotel and the nice restaurants close by.
The next day though, I had the courage to navigate the city by myself using the subway. We were located in Liangmaqiao, which is quite central. I found the subway easy to use. Although, I had a bit of a problem with the ticket vending machine because it does not accept old bills and it does not seem to give change. Good thing I did not insert a big amount.
On our third day in Beijing, hubby was finally free from work and was able to join me to the Forbidden City. We entered from Tiananmen Square side. We were there around 9 AM and so it was less crowded. There were no queues yet on the ticket counters. I was surprised to find that their automatic audio guides are available in Filipino.
Inside, it was magnificent! And it was huge! Despite the vastness of this Imperial City, it was still crazy crowded. And surprisingly, most of the tourist are actually Chinese people from other parts of the country. I didn’t really see a lot of foreigners in there. I did notice a pattern amongst the crazy touring crowds, though. They all seem to like to walk straight. And so I decided that we should navigate in a zigzag pattern. We managed to find some less crowded corners. I found the really old cypress trees with pronounced striations very intriguing and interesting. And the way they twist and turn and knot at corners seem to tell all the wisdom of the ages they have witnessed.
I find Beijing to be a nice city to visit, surprisingly. I had a great time there. I also found it quite safe. There were no people pestering me or following me around while I was touring around by myself. But beware, if you start to ask the price for something, be prepared to haggle and to be hassled because even if you walk away, they’d think that you’re just pretending to be uninterested so they will keep offering you a lower price. So, it’s best to not ask for the price in the first place if you’re not really interested to buy anything.
Also, the people are usually polite and nice. I think it is a great misconception to think that the people there are mostly rude. Sometimes, the way they behave is just their own unique way of being and living, not necessarily meaning to be rude at all.
Hotel: Kempinski Lufthansa Center, Beijing (Rating: 4.5 out of 5)
This is definitely one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in. The staff are very helpful and friendly. And they all speak English, despite the fact that most of the locals really don’t. I love that they gave us a guaranteed early check-in without charging since hubby is a regular guest. The king size bed was sooo huge, you could get lost in it. I love the bathroom… and the bedroom slippers that fit! The breakfast buffet has a huge variety of food and the service was very good. WIFI was reliable and fast and free.
Jingzun Peking Duck Restaurant (4 out of 5)
Very nice restaurant with a terasse. The peking duck was very good. I had to restrain myself from eating all the fatty crispy skin.
Via Roma (4 out of 5)
Surprisingly good Italian food. We had a very nice cheese and charcuterie platter for starters. The cheese was very good. I had some pasta and hubby had veal. The ambience (right next to the river) and the service was really good too.
Also, next to Via Roma, there was a Japanese Barbecue restaurant that was also very good, which we went to the night before. Unfortunately, I forgot the name.
Spa: Dragonfly Spa (4 out of 5)
I had an aroma oil full body massage right after climbing and trekking on the Great Wall in Jinshaling (will talk about this on my next update). It was very good. I did not have the usual muscle pains from strenuous activities because of this massage.
Airline: Singapore Airlines Business Class (3 out of 5)
Although the service was very good, I did not like the fact that the seat does not allow your legs to lie flat and parallel to the floor. It was not very relaxing for red-eye flights. Also, the food was not as good as usual. And I find it strange that they do not have their own lounge in Beijing.
Other useful tips:
Cab drivers will always insist on not using the meter and give you a ridiculously huge amount (like 10 times the usual price). The bargain shops are like this as well.
Try to use credit cards when paying large sums at shops, as they could give fake bills for change. Tourists are always the targets, being not so familiar with how the bills should look like.
There was one time in the subway where the ticketing lady tried to scam me by pretending to forget that I handed her 100 yuan before giving her an exact amount when she told me the price of the fare (4 yuan). It was difficult to explain to her that she should give me back the 100 yuan I gave her before… although, she might have really forgotten about it. But after trying my best to explain in sign language, she finally gave it back to me.
The summer can get a bit rainy. While I was there it rained almost every day in the afternoon. But it didn’t usually last very long. It will be useful to have rain coats or umbrella with you.
Finally, it helps to keep an open mind. Do remember that you are in a foreign country where you have to adapt yourself into and not the other way around.