It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of Beijing, but Gina of the Beijing Expat Guide is ready to assist, with plenty of helpful advice and suggestions for visitors arriving in China’s capital.
As Gina acknowledges on her website, “making the move from a western country to a city of over 20 million in China is a huge change, even if you have moved to other countries and experienced different cultures before.” As someone who made the move herself in 2011, Gina is well-placed to guide other newcomers around one of the most populous cities in the world.
“Beijing is a rather safe city and people are friendly and helpful,” notes Gina. She adds that while “all signs, announcements, and ticket machines are in Chinese and English … maps in travel guide books are often outdated.” The subway system is one of the best methods of getting around the city, as long as you have an updated map that covers the recently revamped and expanded network.
Beijing taxis are cheap, but not abundant. Gina recommends that you “take a card with your hotel or next destination written in Chinese characters with you, in case you get lost and need to ask for directions.” You’ll also need to correctly pronounce your destination’s name in Chinese, as your driver is unlikely to speak English. For more detailed advice, read through her dedicated blog post on the subject.
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The Dongyue Temple is a renowned Daoist temple in Beijing’s Chaoyang District. Gina suggests spending time visiting “the many rooms around the courtyards that depict the Daoist departments.” Although the plaster statues have faded over time, each department has a descriptive sign to give you more information. Look out for unique and bizarre titles like the Department for Suppressing Schemes, Department for Implementing 15 Kinds of Violent Death, Department of Instant Rewards and Retribution, and the Department for Bestowing Happiness.
Just north of the Forbidden City, clambering up up Jingshan Hill will treat you to “great views over Beijing on a clear day,” says Gina. The hill, one of very few in the city, is actually artificial, and was constructed by laborers during the Ming Dynasty.
Located within walking distance of Dongyue Temple, Gina describes this as “a lively public park with typical Chinese features like small hills, a lake, and locals playing cards, singing or dancing.”
Gina describes this flea market as a “photographer’s paradise,” thanks to its huge collection of art, porcelain, jewels and calligraphic paintings, with Communist mementos sold alongside Tang Dynasty-style furniture. This treasure trove is located just a 20-minute drive from the Radisson Blu Hotel, Beijing. While weekends are generally crowded, it’s also the time when most stalls are open.
“From my own experience, getting lost on purpose is a great way to explore a new city,” says Gina. “If you see people with bags of fresh vegetables, follow where they are coming from … fresh markets are sometimes a bit hidden, but a great place to explore.” Gina also recommends taking a leisurely walk through a Chinese neighborhood, “either the Hutong areas or an older residential area, just a little further away from the tourist hotspots, to observe the daily lives of many Beijingers.”