Great Beijing Public Transport
My son and I were in Beijing during the weekend of 13 September 2008. After checking into the hotel, we hit the road immediately and our first stop was the nearest Metro station where a local was kind enough to tell the ticket seller in Chinese that we wanted the Public Transport Card (light blue plastic card) that sells for CNY 20 each and can be loaded in multiples of CNY10. You can use the same card for more than one person since the fare is deducted when scanned at entry and exit. The same card can be used for the public bus (charges only CNY .40 instead of CNY 1 if paying in cash). You can also buy solo rides at CNY 2 per ticket but that's a hassle when you are rushing or when you run out of small notes for the vending machine. The stations are well-lighted clean, spacious and so are the trains although the trains could get very crowded during rush hour (but so do the Tokyo and New York subways). Police visibility is quite high and all bags are x-rayed at the entrance of all stations. The signs are bilingual, quite clear and simple and it is hard to lose your way. There are also many volunteer guides in major stations with basic English knowledge. Most public buses have conductors, just stand at the exit door and signal to the conductor when you want to get off. Since we stayed at the north end of Wangfujing, we saved a lot of walking by taking Bus 103 and 104 that pass Wangfujing where you can catch the Metro Line 1 (red) at the Wangfujing Station under Oriental Plaza. When you exit at the north end of Forbidden City, you can take Bus 103 or 104 to bring you back to the Wangfujing Metro station under the Oriental Plaza.
Chair Lift up Great Wall at Mutianyu
You can take the Chair Lift up and down to the Great Wall at Mutianyu.
At the wall, you will be closer to the Fortress Tower than if you take the cable car.
For those who have a fear of height, the cable car may be a better option than to have your legs dangling out.
Driving in Beijing
In Beijing and China, you drive on the right. Unlike in USA, most tourists do not rent cars but rent a taxi or a car/van with a driver.
The signage have limited English and traffic jam during the rush hours must be expected.
There are many ring roads around Beijing which is longer but faster. Good news, there are no inner city toll gates except for the airport express road and roads outside Beijing.
Cable Car (Gondola) up Great Wall at Mutianyu
At Mutianyu Great Wall, you can buy one way or cheaper two way going up to the Wall by Cable Car. This is the easiest option rather than hiking up or taking a more scary chair lift.
It goes to the highest point and you can walk down along the wall to a lower point to take the luge or chair lift down. If that is the plan, then buy only one way.
You can still change your mind and buy the cable car ticket down when you are up there.
Taking the luge at Great Wall at Mutianyu
At the Mutianyu Great Wall, there is an exciting way to get down from the wall using the luge.
It at first looks easy scary but is actually easy and a piece of cake.
For young children, there is a double seat. You push down to speed up and pull up the lever to slow down. After the first two turns, you will realize that there are staff sitting at major corners telling you to slow down or quicken the space.
There is a optional 1 yuan insurance beside the 40 yuan charge. Go for it unless you have a bad back.
Boating on the lake
There are many recreational boating in the different lakes all over Beijing.
You can boat in Chaoyang Park, Beijing Zoo, Houhai/QIanhai Lake, BeiHai, SUmmer Palace, the list goes on.
Keep track of the time especially near closing time.
Take a ferry boat across to the island
At some of the large gardens like Bei Hai Park and Summer Palace, it is great idea to use the ferry boat to get from one side of the lake to the other, especially to the island in the lake.
You can enjoy great view, save time and save your legs for climbing and other distances.
Many of the ferry boats have roofs that looks those of imperial temples. Fare is usually 5 or 10 yuan and it is worth the money.
Walking the best way to see Beijing
Walking is definitely the best way to see Beijing but Beijing is so large.
So it is important to plan your walking tour whether is Wangfujing-Tiananmen Area or exploring one of the large lake areas - where to enter and exit without having to walk back the same way.
Found that the locals are very helpful to tourists in giving directions although some will point the direction even if they don't know. So a bilingual map is a useful reference. And a good idea to have your destination written in Mandarin.
Besides able to see the local Chinese at street level, it is good exercise so that you can try more dishes.
Pedicab - Beijing style
In the Old Beijing, rich folks are pulled on rickshaws or ride on pedicab (trishaws).
So you can play tourists with the many pedicabs around Hou Hai Lake/Qian Hai Lake tourist area for a standard 2 hours tour.
How much you pay depends on where you go and for how long. Besides going around the scneinc lake and famous historic buildings and gardens, there are the hutongs, souvenir shops as well eating places.
Bicycling in Beijing
Until the eighties, bicycling was the most common mode of individual transport and freedom.
Today, one can still bicycle around Beijing. The roads in Beijing are flat, wide and straight and there are special bicycle lanes. The only thing is that Beijing is very large in size and you cannot carry your bicycle onto the bus or subway but have to ride it all the way.
Nobody seems to wear any bicycle helmets and if bicycle is your thing, it is fun to pedal pass Tiananmen Square or around the hutong area in Hou Hai Lake and historic area.
There are many ring roads around Beijing. So it is easy to get around different parts of Beijing by taxis if you are travelling in a group or on business.
Taxis are metered starting with 10 yuan and if after 11pm, it start at 15 yuan. Important to have your destination written in Chinese for the driver unless you speak flawless Mandarin.
After the trip, ask for a printout of the receipt which would have a record of the taxi and your fare for your claim, any complaint or keepsake.
After 11pm when the buses and subways stopped, taxi is the only option left. You may have to compete with others in hailing down a taxi.
Beijing has excellent bus transportation. After all, there are more than 8 million Beijingers in the city and taking the bus is the most common mode of transportation.
Cheap too at 1 yuan. Using the prepaid bus/subway card, it is only 40 fen. You need to swipe upon boarding and in some buses, swipe again before getting off.
As Beijing city layout is in the grid nort-south and east-west road, it is quite easy to ascertain that you are on the right side of the road. There are pedestrian road, tunnel and overhead bridge crossings to get to the other side.
Expect to walk 200m - 400m to a bus stop. Most buses are air-conditon but often windows are down and can be fully packed during rush hours.
Some further distance buses can stop running as early as 8pm while most buses stop after 11pm. So make sure you know the last bus departure which is often stated for that bus number at bus stop.
With the new lines added just in time for the Olympics Games, Beijing's major tourists destinations are easy access by subway.
It is the fastest way and you can walk, take a bus or taxi from the subway exit.
Fare is cheap at two yuan no matter where you go including changing from one subway line to another.
You can buy a subway/bus prepaid card to have easy swiping without waiting to buy tickets at the automatic dispensers. The prepaid card is minimum value of 20 yuan and a refundable deposit of 20 yuan.
Beijing South Train Station
This new modern train station looks like an airport. Tickets can be bought at the counter or automatic dispensing machine with English option.
Boarding is announced and for fast trains to Tianjin, it is 15 minutes before departure.
There are waiting areas with ample of chairs with special areas if you are VIP or have first class train ticket.
At the moment, there are no subway connection and you have to take taxi or connecting intercity bus.
Beijing Capital Airport - Terminal 3
When flying to Beijing, verify if your airline is landing the new Terminal 3 or the older Terminal 2.
Thai International Airways, Singapore Airlines uses Terminal 3 while at this time of writing, Malaysian Airlines uses Terminal 2.
Terminal 3 exterior has the "scales of a dragon" and is one of the largest and most modern airport terminals. There is a replica of an ancient astronomy bronze structure as well as a fountain in the tranist of the departure hall.
There is a post office that sold philatelic stamps, postcards at the arrival hall before immigration. So not too late to send a mail before you leave Beijing.
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