First China Trip

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Feb 9th, 2018, 02:10 PM
  #1
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Join Date: Feb 2018
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First China Trip

My family and I are traveling to China for the first time at the end of March. We will be staying in Beijing for 9 days at the Marriott Imperial Mansion between Wangfujing Street and the Forbidden City.

Our family is comprised of 6 people - myself, my wife and our four daughters (ages 15, 14, 10 and 6).

My questions are as follows:

(1) We are flying into PEK arriving at about 6:30PM. Would we be better served to try and hire a car through the hotel, get a taxi at the airport, or take the Airport Express/Subway to reach the hotel? I am leaning toward Airport Express/Subway as we will have some baggage, but I am intimidated about the crowds during rush-hour on the subway. Also, I am not sure if there would be a taxi large enough to accommodate us. Further, I know that having the hotel arrange for our transportation will come at a premium price.

(2) We have heard that it is useful to hire local, private guides for trips to the Great Wall. Are guides necessary/worthwhile? Does anyone have a recommendation for a good guide?

(3) If we do not do a guided tour of the Great Wall, is it possible to reach the Great Wall using public transportation?

(4) We are adventurous eaters, but I anticipate that there will be some times when the children will want Western food. Are Western-style restaurants/chains prevalent in Beijing?

(5) Are buses or subway the best method for day-to-day transportation around Beijing to tourist sites (Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Ming Tombs, etc.)?

Thank you!
leeharveyosmond is offline  
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Feb 9th, 2018, 02:44 PM
  #2
 
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1) The crowding will occur once you change from the Airport Express, and will depend on the exact time you travel and your exact destination. A little later things will be easing. Lines 2 and 10 are both busy, but if at all possible you should avoid changing at Dong Zhi Men (which is always a zoo) and change at San Yuan Qiao instead. If you're familiar with the idea of busy subways nothing to worry about, though. The real hassles are coming in from the suburbs in the morning, where retired family members go out to queue while their children have breakfast and come later to take their places. Note, by the way, that the fee for the Airport Express is separate from fees for the other lines, so a fresh payment is needed when changing from that to the other lines (unless, as should always be said in China, things have recently changed). You should look to acquire an yikatong stored value travel card rather than individual tickets.

You may find, however, that one of the many airport shuttle bus services drops you at or close to your hotel. For details of airport transportation see here: http://bit.ly/2nWWoAX

2) and 3) You have heard entirely wrongly. A guide is not necessary to visit the Great Wall, several sections of which can easily be reached by public transport, and is of little use elsewhere either, if you want accurate information and to avoid overpaying for absolutely everything. Bring good reading materials. Do it yourself. For some of the difficulties with guides, see here: http://bit.ly/2plDGoF

For information on several publicly open sections of Great Wall, options for getting there, walks along some sections, and links to detailed descriptions with transport information, see here: http://bit.ly/2lWeQLl

4) There are 'Western' restaurants all over the place in Beijing, of absolutely every nationality you could possibly conceive of. It is, however, generally far cheaper (and at the fast food end far more nutritious) to eat Chinese. In particular you will discover that you actually have no idea what Chinese food is. In Beijing you'll be eating Beijing, Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanghai, Shanxi, Guangdong, etc. If you can find dishes with familiar names they won't be familiar when they arrive. One of the greatest pleasures of a visit to China (and one of the greatest benefits of not being in a tour group) is that you get to try all this. Pick up one of the free ex-pat-produced magazines in your hotel lobby or any coffee shop, such as The Beijinger, or Time Out Beijing. These aren't exactly always articulate or reliable, but they have extensive food listings. Also look at their websites before departure.

5) Buses make snails look speedy. Subway (metro) is the way to go, with a bit of push and shove where necessary (although typically not as bad as you may have been led to think). In general group sights you want to see that are geographically close together to avoid spending too much time in transport during the day, or at least note ones that are linked without too many changes.

For general information on getting around Beijing, see here: http://bit.ly/2lsMsjz

And while you're at it, consider some walks around back streets. See here for links to some suggestions: http://bit.ly/2e0LMMy
temppeternh is offline  
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Feb 9th, 2018, 04:56 PM
  #3
kja
 
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What temppeternh said -- and do consult the links he so generally provided!

I'll add that completely agree that using Beijing's subway is easy and convenient and that visiting the Great Wall on your own using public transportation is easy and allows you to avoid a lot of unnecessary costs and problems.

Enjoy your trip!
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Feb 10th, 2018, 05:48 AM
  #4
 
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1- Unfortunately you cannot sit 6 people (even without luggage in a taxi). You will need two taxis. Have the name and address of your hotel in writing in Chinese as the driver won't speak English (get this from the hotel website). Cost should be about 100RMB per taxi plus toll.
I would not advise taking the subway. First you have 2 transfers and the transfer at Guomao is an extremely long walk. And to reach the platform at line 1, there are only stairs, no escalators. Airport Express plus subway will cost 29RMB per person, that's barely less than a taxi for a lot more trouble and about 30 minutes more of traveling time.
If you are not on a super tight budget, they have some mini vans at the airport taxi line. Cost is about 350RMB (these run on a flat rate). You can ask about them at the information desk where the taxi queue is.
2+3- Guides are really useless for the Great Wall. All that you need is transportation. Normally you can hire a driver for about 700RMB however this is for a regular car. For 6 people the price will be higher but I am not sure how much. Don't bother with tours. Especially with 6 people, it is more economical to do your own thing. The Wall can be reached by bus but it can be more or less easy depending on the section that you wish to visit. Badaling is the most popular and most crowded as it is the easiest one to reach. Mutianyu is a good compromise if you have a driver. It can be reached by bus but not as easily. Personally I like Jingshanling. There is a tourist bus that takes you there but it only runs during the "tourist season". Go to Youtube and search for video about how to get to the Great Wall by bus and you'll see many instructional videos.
4- The usual suspects (McDonalds. KFC and some pizza chains) are all over the place. Also some nicer western restaurants.
5- Subways are the way to go. Here is a good map, they also have an app if you have a smart phone: https://explorebj.com/subway/ As you are there for several days, you should get a prepaid subway card (Yikatong). It will save you a lot of time.
Have fun.
CanadaChinaTraveller is offline  
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Feb 12th, 2018, 09:12 AM
  #5
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Join Date: Feb 2018
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Thank you all for your assistance with my questions! I truly appreciate your help.

I have a few more questions that came up over the weekend.

(1) I travel to Europe often and usually will just withdraw a few hundred Euros from an ATM and then use my credit card for most transactions. Are ATM machines prevalent in China and is there any difference between a Bank Machine vs. an ATM?

(2) I would assume there are chain grocery stores in Beijing. Which are the most prevalent to look for? We have a kitchen in the apartment that we are staying in and it would be nice to be able to search for store locations before we arrive so that we can get some snacks/staples for the apartment.

(3) In my first post, responders indicated that the subway is the way to go. For a family of 6, would it be cheaper/easier to take multiple taxis or to stick with the subway? I recognize the traffic in Beijing is very severe, so I would think that taxis will be a slower method of travel. Is that assumption correct?

(4) Are peeled/unpeeled fruits and vegetables safe for consumption?

(5) Are street food vendors typically safe?

Thank you again for your incredible feedback! My nerves are quieting a lot since I have received your responses.

Last edited by leeharveyosmond; Feb 12th, 2018 at 09:20 AM.
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Feb 12th, 2018, 02:58 PM
  #6
 
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1- ATMs are absolutely everywhere. Just make sure that your bank knows that you are going to China so that they do not block your card due to suspicious activity. ATMs are owned by bank so I am not sure what a bank machine is. Don't expect to use your credit card in many places. It will be ok for the hotels and better restaurants. Most Chinese pay every day stuff with their phone which is not an option for you. so cash will be required often.
2- There are good international supermarkets in many higher-end shopping malls. You also have Carrefour but there aren't mane. Otherwise you can find a lot of things (but not many "western" products) in Jingkelong which has stores all over. If you are staying around Wangfujing, there is a good supermarket in the basement of the Oriental Plaza.
3- Subways are way better. It is not just a question of cost, taxis are hard to get. Getting two of them may prove nearly impossible in some places and times of day.
4- Sure
5- Generally yes. They cook it in front of you while you don't know what goes on in the kitchen of a restaurant. You need to try Chuan'r (lamb skewers)
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Feb 12th, 2018, 04:24 PM
  #7
kja
 
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1. Like CanadaChinaTraveller, I had no trouble finding ATMs, but rarely used a CC.

3. Go with subways! If you must use a taxi, insist on a metered ride and make sure the meter is on before the car leaves the curb.

4. I did not try them, preferring safety.

5. I thought so – but I want to watch the food being cooked.

Are these things not covered in your guidebook? If not, I strongly urge you to get at least one decent guidebook.
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Feb 12th, 2018, 04:25 PM
  #8
 
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Here's a 'han zi', pinyin and english web site, if you have the time and interest.

Xiaoma Cidian - Chinese character - ?

True, lamb skewers are nice but uncommon. Pork meat everyday and everywhere.

You probably will find dry and dusty air, possibly dust/sand storms raging in from the desert. Good walking shoes a must for all.
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Feb 12th, 2018, 05:37 PM
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1. In major cities, ATMs that accept foreign cards are absolutely everywhere, something you can easily find out for yourself by looking at your bank/card's ATM finder webpage (although these are rarely kept entirely up to date). 'ATM' is merely North American for 'bank machine'. In Beijing the ATM at just about any branch of any bank save Ever Bright (when last checked) will work with your card. Check the back of your card for its clearing system. Union Pay, Visa, Visa Electron, Plus, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, JCB, and American Express cards are accepted. Major foreign banks such as Deutchebank, Citibank, HSBC, all have branches in Beijing that accept just about any card ever heard of, but you may encounter higher charges here if you are not a customer. You should, of course, inform your bank before you travel, but so long as you do that you should have no difficulty whatsoever. There are multiple ATMs in every terminal at the airport. You must ask your own card/bank what charges it will levy (for it's they, not the local ATM that decides except in the case of third party commercial operations), but generally this is the best exchange rate at the lowest cost you're going to get, and you'll pay for most things in cash (which, given the prevelance of the DCC credit card scam you should do even when foreign cards are accepted). Note that ATMs typically only dish out 3000 per time, so if your charge is a flat fee per withdrawal that's all your get. Multiple withdrawals are usually permitted, however, up to whatever limit your card issuer imposes.

Your alternative to having piles of cash is to follow China in leaping ahead, and paying with your phone. Until last week this was impossible, but now ubiquitous multi-purpose app WeChat (social media, messaging, payment system) can now be linked to foreign credit cards. Think ApplePay, but infinitely more ubiquitous so that even the meanest corner shop accepts it and vast numbers of people no longer carry more than the odd note with them. Word has it (I haven't tried myself) that linking to a foreign card occasionally has hiccups, and it may occasionally be necessary to switch to the Chinese interface and back, briefly. But others report it works a charm. The downside is that the Chinese government is able to monitor absolutely everything you do with the app, and use it to load other spyware onto your phone, if it pleases.

2. This isn't about chains, but about what's nearby. There are shops everywhere, and many supermarkets (Carrefour and similar, if you must). There are a few minimarket chains that target expat with overpriced imported goodies, but generally you're spoiled for choice. Look up the location of your apartment on Google Maps and see what's nearby. Any shopping mall or department store has a large market somewhere in the basement.

3. An yikatong per person is the way. See the link you were already given.

4. The water from the tap is not drinkable, and all fruit and vegetables should be carefully washed and peeled. All Chinese do this. Especially if you're arriving with a sensitive foreign stomach to an unfamiliarly dirty environment, and only staying for a limited time, this is no time to be macho and end up with three days'... discomfort.

5. Watch what's done, eat the food that's piping hot only, choose the stalls that seem popular so there's no chance of getting something reheated. Whether at stalls or restaurants there's a great deal happening behind the scenes that you don't want to know about, and isn't worth fretting about.
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Feb 13th, 2018, 03:52 AM
  #10
 
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@jobin - "True, lamb skewers are nice but uncommon." Actually lamb skewers (Chuan'r) is the most common street food in Beijing. You see this all over in residential areas.
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