Beijing is a remarkable city steeped in history and tradition. From the wonders of the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, to the Silk Market and the Great Wall, you can literally spend weeks soaking up the sites, cultures, history, shopping and food.
But Beijing can also be a bit of a shock to the system if you aren’t prepared for it. From pollution to crowds of people, stepping foot in the city can be an onslaught to all of your sense.
We visited Beijing a few years ago, and here are our 6 tips to help you prepare for your trip to Beijing to ensure you have a comfortable journey.
1. Air Pollution
It’s a sad but true fact that air pollution is bad in Beijing, and it can get really bad (pea soup kind of bad) – especially if there are sand storms in Mongolia.
If you suffer from asthma or other allergies such as hay fever or sinus issues, make sure you pack your inhaler, eye drops, nasal spray and antihistamines so that you are prepared (i.e. buy them in your home country and carry them with you), because the air pollution can really play havoc on your breathing – even if you don’t generally suffer from asthma. A great resource to help you plan your daily activities is the Beijing Air Pollution index.
Also, be prepared to shower every night, and by shower we mean to thoroughly scrub your face, arms and any other bodily part that was exposed to the air. You may also need to wash your hair every night. Most hotels will top up the body wash, shampoo and conditioner in your room every day.
2. Beijing is an unbelievably busy city
The population of Beijing, as of 2013, was 21,150,000 – that’s almost the entire population of Australia!
It is an understatement to tell you that it is one busy city…so try and mentally prepare yourself for the onslaught of people, cars, buses, scooters, bicycles and other modes of transportation. It can be uncomfortable and a little confronting, especially if you are from somewhere a whole lot quieter (which is pretty much anywhere).
Oh, and be sure to hold on when you are being driven around (we recommend not driving yourself), as the roads are utter chaos! And a heads up that people do drive anywhere – even on footpaths (not sure that it’s legal…but it does happen!).
All in all, when in Beijing, just remember to be patient and to go with the flow – even if it’s really fast. It may seem crazy, but it works! You’ll be moving around like a local in no time!
3. Your schedule
Because it’s so incredibly busy in Beijing, make sure you allow yourself extra time to get to places like the airport. If someone tells you it will take 15 minutes to get somewhere by taxi, double it to be safe to allow for bad traffic and general chaos.
4. Book your accommodation in advance
Wherever you stay, make sure to get the address of where you are staying in writing – in both English and in Chinese (Chinese characters). A lot of hotels provide pre-written cards for tourists, which come in especially useful for directing taxi drivers who look at you blankly.
5. There will be language difficulties
Even though people tell you that language wont be a problem in China, the fact of the matter is that a lot of people in China don’t speak or understand English. This can make it difficult to get around, or to order food and drinks, or shop…
The best way around this is to:
- Book airport transfers to and from the hotel – it just makes sense, especially when you first land and you are tired and slightly overwhelmed!
- Book some tours. That way you know you will get to where you want to go when you want to go, be guided around the sites by someone knowledgeable and who speaks English, and – best of all – get back to your hotel!
- If you aren’t into tour groups, book yourself a guide and a driver. They really are quite affordable – just remember to factor in tips for both the guide and driver.
6. Most of all, be prepared
As a seasoned traveler, you learn to be prepared for any situation, and that’s where the good old ‘day bag’ comes in handy. Think of it as your ‘survival kit’, stocked with the daily essentials.
Just like in most countries around the world, be sure to carry hand sanitizer and tissues wherever you go. Many of the toilets don’t have toilet paper or hand wash, especially in eateries and markets. There is also the risk of bacteria such as Giardia, so stay clean!
Stock up on sealed bottled water, and carry a couple of bottles around with you. Most of the hotels actually provide sealed bottled water for you in your room AND stock it up for you every day – for FREE (or part of the room rate), which is just awesome!
If you go to Beijing in summer, be sure to carry a hat and sunscreen. You may not think you need it, as you can’t see the sun, but it can still have a bite to it!
And don’t forget to pack your inhaler and eye drops if you suffer from asthma or allergies, just in case the air quality decreases quickly.
We hope these tips don’t scare you off visiting Beijing, as it is truly one remarkable city that MUST be experienced at least once in a lifetime.