Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Roaming through Beijing

I initially thought that being a first-time visitor in Beijing will be a dreadful experience. This is mainly because of language barrier as most Chinese are speaking Mandarin (the official language of China). Moreover, street signage are mostly in Chinese characters which is difficult to learn overnight especially for those travellers who get used to standard alphabets. So I thought roaming around Beijing will be difficult and a challenging travel experience. But when I arrived in the city, it was already revolutionized with a very tourist-friendly mass transportation system. Now, roaming in Beijing is never a problem as it is easy as counting 1-2-3!

If you know Mandarin, it will be an advantage when roaming around Beijing. But if not, you will really find it difficult to converse with the local people as they are mostly not fluent in English-speaking. But do not fret, if you have a printed pinyin translation of the place you want to see just show it to a Chinese and they help you find the direction. When talking to a Chinese, do not be afraid when most of the time their tone of voice seems strong and high. That is just their way of speaking but they are kind and will help you find your way in the city. This kind of asking direction is extremely helpful when you are using taxi as a mode of transportation to go to a specific place in Beijing like locating the hotel you want to stay. Just show the translation to the cab driver and he will bring you to the place.

The street at Dongcheng District - the start of our roam in Beijing.
Though there are few taxi scams in Beijing, just be sure that the meter is on. Just beware on taxis that have no meter. It is not a scam or it could be one but those taxis are engage in contracted fares which is expensive than metered taxis. It is also important to know that taxis in Beijing had a compulsory 2RMB fuel surcharge require to pay if the journey is over 3 kilometers aside from the metered rate. You will know these taxis when you see a sticker of 2 sign stick around the vehicle. But I wouldn’t mind giving extra 2RMB in taxis as most of the taxi drivers I encounter in during my entire trip to Beijing were kind and fast-drivers. Beijing taxi flag fall rate is 10RMB for the first three kilometres.

Beijing Taxi - one of the modes of public transportation in Beijing.
On my second day in Beijing, I tried riding their subway train with my travel companions. I think subway is the “real friend” of tourists when wandering around city. Fare is cheap. For just 2RMB fare, it is valid on all subway line stations as long as you don’t exit especially in transfer stations. Most of their subway train stations are also near the places of interests and tourist sites around Beijing. All you need is a subway map and printed information for the correct exits to the place you want to see in Beijing.  The printed map I had was so helpful during my entire trip around the city! It was handy along with the printed information about the correct exits in subway stations so we weren’t lost during our roam in the city. But there are times that we go out on the wrong exit. Like when we are in Wangfujing, were take the wrong exit that we thought is near to our hotel but end up exiting to The Malls at Oriental Plaza where we had to take a long distance walk to reach our hotel. So having a printed map and subway exit information was really helpful in using Beijing’s subway transportation system!

Ticket booth to Beijing's tourist-friendly mass transportation 
system - Beijing Subway.
In addition, station names and signage in Beijing subways have English names and directions. Plus each station has a map of a particular subway line where the train goes. Inside the train, aside from the route map of the train and track where it is going, there is an English announcement about the station location of the train and the next station stop of the train. Beijing’s subways are numbered and color coded on a specific line number. This makes it easier to identify the specific train line to ride on and destination station where to get off as well as transfer stations to get to the next line of subway. So, tourists and visitors who go on do-it-yourself tour of Beijing won’t have a problem in roaming around as the subways are tourist-friendly, cheap and easy to use.

The subway is probably the most popular mass transport system in Beijing that’s why locals and visitors are frequently riding it. As much as possible although it can be avoided is to ride subways during rush hours between 7am to 8am and between 5pm to 7pm. During these times, subway lines are very much crowded. Be aware that during this period pushing in to get inside the train and crowded train cabin in every corner is common and normal. Don’t be afraid if you’re pushed while entering inside the train doors and marches in high volume of crowded people inside the premises of the subway stations. Those scenarios are just common in Beijing subways at rush hours.

Searching for a space inside the subway?
Airport Express at Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 3 Station.
 Be ready to take long walks and taking long stairs up and down in the subways. Some underground subways take long walks to reach the platforms. Especially in stations with line transfers, it is easy to follow the next lines’ location by following the signage and arrow directions but it takes long walks to reach the next line’s platform like in Dongzhimen Station going to Airport Express line. Some stations like Beigongmen and Dengshikou Stations have long stairs up and down to reach the ticket booth and train platform. Now this is a caution for those traveling with kids, senior citizen and anyone who has weakness in long walks. This will be definitely a dreadful experience for them. I myself at times felt tired with all these stairs up and down and going on every corner of the subway to catch the next train. I also had muscle pains in my legs after long and fast walks just to reach my intended destination aside from walking through the place that I visited in Beijing. But with patience and a mind-set that everything is for the sake of discovering Beijing, I survived the challenge of roaming around the big city!

Cheap fares via Airport Shuttle Bus going to Beijing city proper.
I also had a chance to try their buses when we used the Airport Bus Shuttle to return to the city from the airport to spend our idle time after missing our flight back. Commuting using buses going to Beijing proper is cheaper by almost 10RMB compared to Airport Express Line subway back to the city proper (25RMB per passenger per way). Airport Shuttle Bus has a standard fare of 16RMB per person and the standard fare for any bus stop destination (regardless near or farther stop) that the bus is routing. City Bus has a standard rate of 1RMB. My travelmates also used the bus system of the city going to Huairou County to see the Great Wall of China. Fare for this route is currently 12RMB since it is out of the city limits.

Beijing buses are also systematic like the subways. It is numbered for commuters to remember as this specific number has only a specific route as where the bus goes and stops. Information pamphlets about the bus and its routing can be found at the airport’s arrival halls. I also find it easy to use the bus as a mode of transportation in Beijing. Aside from cheap fares like their subways, it is also tourists-friendly with tracking route map, English announcements of bus stops and location and friendly and helpful driver and conductor that eases your travel throughout the city.

Walk if you must... just to explore Beijing.
Rickshaws are also ideal to roam around the city. The rickshaw is a traditional vehicle that was popular in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai nearly a hundred years ago. Now, modern rickshaw travel is an excellent way to experience old Beijing culture by mostly catering to tourists in touring Hutongs (small alleyways with courtyards). The rickshaws in Beijing are painted a golden yellow color. Secure a good deal of price to pay with rickshaw drivers first before a hutong tour as some might be overcharging you or scams only. Their rates are often higher than taxi rates especially during holidays for the busy traffic of automobile cars.  Bargain for an exact price prior to climbing aboard. Some were pesky tout drivers but deal them away nicely. After paying an agreed fee, the rickshaw pullers will take you through the narrow lanes. Most of the rickshaw pullers can give their passengers detailed explanations on the history and culture of Hutongs, though not all can this in English. Rickshaws are found around some communication centers but they are mostly at travel hotspots.

Even if you don’t speak Mandarin, wandering in Beijing is now easy. With all these wide choices of mode of transportation in Beijing along its tourist-friendly locations and features, roaming around the city for the first-time is not a problem anymore! If you’re lost, ask a local they won’t hesitate to help you even if it means doing a charade to each other just to help you! Whether you choose a bus, a taxi or seeking your space inside a crowded subway train – going to hike the Great Wall, exploring the historical Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square, strolling the grounds of Summer Palace or shopping for a night market in Wangfujing is now not far from doing when visiting Beijing for the first time. So let’s hop on as all these must-see and must-do are all possible with Beijing’s very tourist-friendly mass transportation system!

Roaming through Beijing is part of my Beguiling Beijing.Captivating China series where I share my birthday trip adventures, travel stories and first-time experiences in Beijing, China last March 20-24, 2012. You might also like the other parts of the series:   


  1. i miss walking on beijing streets,nakakapanibago kasi na kalbo yung mga puno during spring.kakaibang view for filipinos.

  2. beijing is one of the places i plan to go to pag nag out of the country na rin ako, i'm sure it's more interesting than hk :)

  3. @Melvin: Me too! Gusto ko ng bumalik sa Autumn sana at maglakad-lakad sa mga mga kakaibang view sa paligid.

    @Christian: Yes, miles interesting than HK of course its mainland China. Although, HK gives a different offer to travelers as well.

  4. i believed you had a great time there...sana makabisita din ako in the future..thanks for the visit Ian! ingat!

  5. glad to know that directions in English are provided now. ang hirap kasi dati sa Shenzhen pa lang kahit police ang hirap kausapin. =(


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