Saturday, May 5, 2012

Useful tips on Beijing DIY

If this is your first time to Beijing, i bet you would get culture shock in a way or another.

So, i would like to share some tips on surviving Beijing, taking into consideration my personal experience.

1. Taxi

Taxis are cheap in Beijing. 

From the airport to town, it will probably cost around RMB80 - 100 (including toll of RMB10). Once, i was stuck in a jam for an hour, but the cab fare only came up to about RMB40.

There will be touts lingering around airport arrival hall and wanting to help you with your luggage and telling you that they will bring you to the taxi. Do not follow them and do not let them lay their hands on your luggage. 

Getting a cab in airport couldnt be easier. Taxi stand is located at on Basement of the airport. You can take a lift down from arrival hall. 

We travelled for quite a bit for 6 days (we were staying in Chaoyang District), and on average, it will cost abt RMB30 to 40. There were 3 of us, so it made most economical sense to take cab to everywhere. 

The flagdown price for cabs is RMB10, this will cover the first 3km of your journey and every subsequent km will be RMB 2. 

I m really surprised how all the cabs we took were super clean, better than some we have in Singapore.

Now, it is important to learn how to identify a legitimate taxi. All legitimate taxis in Beijing have car plate that starts with "京B". 

Always insist on meter, unless you are travelling out of city, to the Great wall for example, you will be quoted a fix price as it will be considered as chartered taxi.

However, the tricky part is, taxis are not readily available. Its a chore to flag down a cab in some tourist places. E.g. Sanlitun, Forbidden City and worst of them all, Wang Fu Jing.

We were stuck there twice, once about 11+ pm after later dinner, another time was 4+ pm on a saturday. We were stranded for more than half an hour each time, and there will be cabs, but they will not be willing to take you or stop for you.

Note the following tips for better cab experience (tried and tested) :

* Look out for cabs that is stopping near you with passenger getting off. Once they are paying, dont be shy, run to the cab and open the door. If you are more thick skinned like me, hop on the cab first. Locals are very used to this, so most likely, they wont stare at you like you are a freak. 

* Try not to ask the driver if he knows how to go to the place that you want to go before you board. Just hop on and don't get out. Once, we were rejected by a cab, but a group of locals just hop on the same cab when it was waiting at the traffic light and they succeeded :( But if you want to do this, you must be very sure to know the address of where you are going. 

A famous tourist spot may not be whats famous to locals/drivers, and Beijing is so big, its impossible for them to know the exact place you are going if you are just going to tell them the building name. Print out address in Chinese, and best, maps. 

* Try to know the direction you are going. We were rejected a few times one night after dinner at Guo Mao area, although there were plenty of cabs. Later we found out we were  at the wrong side of the road, and we had to cross over and got our cab in no time. At some places, cab drivers are unable or take a long route to do a U-turn.

* Best to break your notes for cabs, for a RMB20 cab fare, they may insist that you get the change for them. To minimise trouble, keep loose change in 10s and 20s. 

* No calling to book taxis, they will ignore the request. Once we were stranded, and called the hotel to arrange a cab to pick us up, the response i got from reception was, we are not able to do it because the driver will not be able to find us. -.-

* If you are unable to get a metered taxi at tourist spots, do walk a street or so and try. Works for us many times, although some of them will tell you its not possible to get a cab, but we insisted on trying to flag one. If you do not wish to engage their service, just smile and say no then walk away.

* Cab experience are generally nice in Beijing. We have met a few drivers, who are blunt and fierce and grumble at you for something that is not your fault, but they are all really harmless and brought us to where we wanted to stop. So its all cool. If they offended you, pay them and quickly get off at your destination and do not attempt to argue with them. 

* If all the above fails, and you really need to get back to hotel after a long day. You may consider what they call the "black taxi", but do be very careful. They will quote you a sky high price, like RMB100 for a RMB 30 ride, do bargain and make sure the price is per trip, instead of per person.

If all else fails, you can learn how to take a train, which i will cover in the next point. 

 2. Train

Train could be the cheapest mode of transport to anywhere in Beijing. RMB2, regardless of transfers or destination. 

Most of the tourist attractions like Tian Tan and Wang Fu Jing can be easily accessible by train.

It is also easy to get a ticket at the ticket automated machine, most of the time they will have an officer there helping you to get your ticket or break your notes. 

However, one big problem is, the train is usually super duper extremely crowded. 

Get ready to alight asap after the train departs from the stop before your destination. Squeeze and push your way out and you gotta be fast, chances are the stops you will be alighting will have lots of people getting up as well. 

Another point to note is that when you need to transfer lines, it could be a long 10 mins walk.

3. Food

An average meal in restaurants are reasonably price. On the average, all the meals we had in chinese restaurants cost about RMB200 for 3 pax, RMB60 per pax.

Fast food meal at Macdonald cost abt RMB20.

But if going to small eateries, one decent meal can cost as low as 10RMB. 

It all depends on what you want to eat.   

4. Toilets

I am sure a lot of people are worried about this issue, just like me. 

I have heard horror stories about dirty toilets and those w no doors.

Nothing of such happen to me. I mean, the no door toilet.

Throughout the trip, i think i only encountered one really unbearable toilet. the rest was surprisingly clean. 

Try to stick to toilets in restaurants, cafes and avoid public toilets, and i m very sure you will be just fine.

Do remember to bring you own toilet paper though, some of them do have it, but just in case. :)

Also, not all the toilets are squatters, so not to worry if you child doesnt know how to use the squatter!

5. Bargain

SMILE. No matter how high a price they try to quote you or pressure sell you their stuff. Always remember they are just trying to make a living.

Its only natural that they are offended if they are willing to meet your buying price but you decided not to get it in the end. Its just not a nice thing to do. So only bargain if you are really interested in the item. 

Set a maximum price that you are willing to pay for the item and honour it if they are willing to relent. Basic guideline is to bargain at 20% of the starting price, but this is subjective to where you are going. A more touristy spot may have a higher starting price, you may bargain to 20 - 30%, but if you are in a wholesale market, chances are the prices is already very low, you prob wont get much discount at all. 

Thank them even if you win the bargain war (which usually you will) to make the deal a pleasant one. 

Yashow is a good place for bargain as compared to Silk Market as the sales person can be really aggressive. If you are one who doesnt like to be pressured to buy something, Yashow or Hong Qiao Pearl Market will be a good place to shop. 

Always check your merchandise before you leave the shop or stall to avoid dispute. A "brand new" piece may or may not be better than the one you saw on display.

6. Drinking water

If you are one with weak stomach, i would suggest you to buy bottled water from convenience store for daily consumption.

But what i did was boiling water in the hotel every night and fill up my bottle.

Convenience stall, however, is not readily available. At least i dont think there is plenty of it around town.

Bottled water cost abt RMB3.

7. Souvenirs

From "ObaMao" tee shirt and mugs to packed snacks can make good souvenirs for friends and family.

I got the ObaMao tee shirt from the Great Wall Village at RMB20. 

Got some snacks from YuShiYuan, its supposedly famous for local snacks. Bought a bag of Lv Da Gun (Rice rolls with assorted flavours) & Ai Wo Wo (Glutinous rice balls with assorted flavours) and other snacks to bring back for my colleagues. 500 grams for 28 RMB. 

These can be found in Airport as well. 

Highly recommend Lv Da Gun, as its supposed to be a traditional sweet snack. 

If you are more adventurous, the famous Quan Ju De also have vacuum packed Peking Duck for you to bring back home. :)

Thats all for now. Will be updating pics of my trip soon. Stay tune :)

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