Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 1: Beijing

Departed from Singapore at 0050, and arrived in Beijing about 6 hours later. There was a little...drama just before i board the plane because i had a sleeping pill overdose. -.-

So the flight was really pleasant for once because i m someone who have problem sleeping during flights, i dozed off the moment we departed and i dont even remember how i got on the plane. haha.

If you need to buy prepaid card, theres a telco store on the left side upon you exit from the customs. I didnt get it cos the lady in the store cant seem to be bothered to help me. That's the first not-so-helpful individual i met. And prob one of the very few i met during my trip.

We didnt encounter any touts, maybe it was too early in the morning for them to come touting and the airport was rather empty.

Legitimate taxi stand is located at Basement.

En  route to hotel.

Cab fare + toll cost us 93 RMB and the journey time was approx 45 mins. It was a smooth traffic day.

It was supposed to be summer, but the trees and flowers in Beijing tells us its still springtime :)

Our hotel, Orange Hotel JingSong East is located near JingSong Station.

We chose this hotel because it was near my friend's office, dont really like it because of its location. I would definitely choose Orange Hotel next time, but prob one that is nearer to town. Take us abt half an hour by cab to travel out everyday.

But i must say the rooms are huge and beds are comfy. Theres free wifi and most importantly, its very clean.

Freshen up in hotel room for abit before heading out for lunch.

unlike sg, the drivers seat is on the left.

Arrived at our destination for lunch, however, we were distracted by the nice smelling and steaming buns! Bought one each. And we all agreed that the 三鲜 flavour tasted better than the pork.

one for 1.5RMB.
三鲜 flavour bun. Juicy and nice!

Satisfied with appetiser, now we move on to the main lunch!

 For lunch that day, we setteled for 那家小馆 - A famous Manchu Restaurant.
  • Yonganli / Silk Market 永安里秀水街
  • 10 Yonganli Jianguomenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District
  • 朝阳区建国门外大街永安里10号

We were advised to make reservation before we head over, but as it was already quite late (after lunch hours), we thought it wouldnt be hard to get a table, but we were wrong. We waited for almost 40 mins to be seated. Good thing is that, the food were served quite fast

Service was good, they served us tea while we waited.

As we waited, we saw a group of business man in suits arriving at the restaurant. I thought to myself that this must be a pretty good restaurant. 

 Me waiting w nice tea.
 Interior - reminds me of those inns we see in HK dramas

Their famous dish - 皇坛子. This is referred to as the "流落民间的皇家菜", meaning the dish was meant for the royalties but pass down to the commoners.

The dish is supposed to slow cook for 12 hours with many expensive ingredients like fish maw, sharks fins etc.

The version we saw on the menu cost abt 208+RMB, too expensive for us, we ordered a version without the sea cucumber.

Tasted really nice, broth is rich and fragrant. Cant really describe how it taste like, but definitely not to be missed!

桂花山药. so-so.
皇坛子. yums
辣虾. This is our favourite, fried till crispy and the shells are edible :)

The total bill for 4 dishes came up to abt 200 RMB. Which i think was pretty reasonable, it would have been much cheaper if we didnt order the 皇坛子 but it was well worth it.

Upon a satisfying lunch, we walked over to the LG twin tower (diagonally opposite the restaurant) to take a train to Tian An Men station.

The station is directly beside the Tian An Men and Forbidden City!
You cant miss this no matter which exit you take, its HUGE.
Took some pictures at the Tian An Men Square and went straight to the Forbidden City

Entrance ticket for Peak Period is 60RMB per person.

Take note that there will be vendors trying to sell you maps of the forbidden city at 10RMB. You can buy if you want. But note that you can grab the same map for free INSIDE one of the hall.

If u are going to ask the ticket counter, most probably they will tell you they dont have the maps.
Or if you are a budget traveller like me, just download the map and print a copy. Works well for me :)

If you wan to better understand the palace, you may want to rent a multi lingual guide device just outside the entrance.

For us, we just tagged along tour groups and listen to the little introductions and stories that their tour guide was telling their tour group. LOL.
This is like a dream come true. Like since young, i have always watched HK dramas and movies and i always see the palace, but i have nv imagine to be seeing the real one.

The palace is huge and beautiful, but just cannot imagine anyone staying behind these walls for their entire life back then.

Just imagine how tiring it must be for the maids and eunuch to make their way from one end to another. A buggy would have been useful for them.

A vat that was used to hold water, in case of fire, the vat will be toppled over to put out the fire. doesnt sound convincing~ =X

the one throne that causes so much war and blood shed.

delicate carvings on each and every doors in the palace. impressive.

Imperial Garden

Back door of the palace.
Although there were baricade to prevent cab touts to enter the perimeter, however, there is literally no way you can flag a cab if you need one fast. They will pester you once you exit the barricade, but all u need to do is smile and say a firm no and you will be fine. Walk further up to the (small road up) Jing Shan Park. We managed to flag one in 5 mins.

Decided to head to this highly raved snack place, 护国寺小吃. Man, we were so disappointed.

For one, those famous ones like 驴打滚 (Lv Da Gun), 艾窝窝 (Ai Wo Wo), 奶油炸糕 (Nai You Zha Gao) are all sold out cos we were there in late noon.

We ordered the 炸酱面 (Zha Jiang Mian), 面茶 (Mian Cha), 碗豆黄 (Wan Dou Huang), 焦圈(Jiao Quan), only the 焦圈 and 碗豆黄 was not bad. For 面茶, we really cannot appreciate it, its totally bland, probably we ate it the wrong way and we are really not very accustomed to the taste of the 炸酱面.

What a shame. I am sure it is due to different taste bud. Like things that locals like may not be what we like. I saw the locals had a great time eating all the food, including the 面茶 (something like a gooey mixture of flour & some other powder). I will definitely go back to try their famous 驴打滚 and 奶油炸糕 :)
And the things are really cheap, most of them are like 5 - 10 RMB?
Btw you can get 驴打滚 and 艾窝窝, their traditional snack in prepacked form, in this shop call 御食园 as souvenirs in airport or Wang Fu Jing.

Left to right: 碗豆黄 (bean pastry), 面茶, 焦圈 (fried dough stick)

We then headed over to Wang Fu Jing for dinner.

We then headed over to Wang Fu Jing for dinner.
This 冰糖雪梨 became my favourite drink in Beijing. Do try the freshly made ones with pear fruits and dates in it.

Dinner was at this 24 hour sichuan hotpot place call, 海底捞 (Haidilao). It was super awesome and very reasonably price.

Never a fan of steamboat, cos the steamboat in Singapore (other than those i have at home), uses cheap ingredients and very salty soup base. But this 海底捞 place impressed me to the max.
We ordered the twin hotpot that comes with Chicken soupbase and Spicy soup base (must try)

Bill comes up to about 50RMB per person and we have alot of left over ingredients!

And this place have really good service, they give you apron, phone covers to protect your phone, remove the layer of oil on your mala soup and were very fast in refilling your water!

Thumbs up for the awesome service! This will be my top return list the next time i go.

Must order: Sliced beef, hand made beef balls!

Also note that, this place allows you to order "half" portion, we ordered 1 portion for alot of things, the waiter ended up looking at us suspiciously and reminded us that we could actually order half portion.

And we realised why when the food came, there must be like 20 meatballs in one portion! The ingredients come in very big portion. So we are glad the waiter gave us a friendly reminded, otherwise we will be left with more food!

We chatted at Haidilao till about 11PM and decided to head back to hotel for rest. And then the most terrible thing happened to us!

We were stranded at Wang Fu Jing. Super stranded. There was no car, no cab, hardly even the black taxis! Took us almost 40 mins of waiting and changing 3 different waiting spots. :(

This is not cool.

I have researched on tripadvisor before on cab issues, and only know that it is hard to get a cab during peak hours like 4 pm. but i didnt know it would be hard to get at 11 +! :( SO this is a warning to all of you who decide to walk ard WFJ late night, be prepared to take a black cab or just take a train back!

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 :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beijing. Foreword

:( Cant believe how lazy i have been and totally stopped blogging about Taipei after Day 3.

After Taipei, i went to Bangkok in Jan and and i just touched down from Beijing yesterday. Well, i guess everyone is very familiar w Bangkok.

But i had problems doing research for Beijing before i embarked on the trip. So prob i will just do Beijing and skipped Bkk altogether.

Beijing was a lot more than what i had expected. Like any typical Singaporean, once they hear "China", they go like.. "huh. why u wanna go there? Isnt it like nothing there? Is it clean? How you know the meat in the bun is not dog meat" -.- i get that alot.

Well, the whole agenda for me to visit Beijing was because of this concert. I m a huge fan of Mayday. And they were the first band to perform in Beijing Stadium, Bird Nest. It was a significant milestone for the band, we wanted to be part of it. So a few of us planned this trip together, it was our first trip together and first trip to Beijing. Plus, i have always wanted to visit The Great Wall, for once in a lifetime. And i did. :) it was pretty amazing~

And like i said, i wasnt expecting anything from China. I brought as little as SGD 400 for a 6 days trip. LOL. And i even though that it will be my first and last trip to Beijing.

But i liked the plaec. Apart from the bad traffic and ridiculous cab grabbing. I will definitely want to go back there again :)