Tracy and I had wanted to do an overnite train trip in Vietnam but didnt get around to it. So we were determined to do it in China, although we had received many warnings about Chinese Trains. Having done my research on vt and asked many many questions, I had decided to go "first class" and opted for the soft-sleeper tickets. Basically, (as far as I understand) there are 4 classes of tickets, starting with the dearest which is soft-sleeper, then hard-sleeper, then soft-seat and then hard-seat.
Soft-sleeper means there are 2 double bunks in a separate room, the room is not large, but big enough for yourself and your luggage. We were lucky enough to only have one other chinese man in our room, and he spoke good english and was very friendly and helpful.
There are 2 advantages to doing an overnight train trip, and both of them save you money. Firstly, you save on the cost of one nights accommodation. Secondly, the cost of the train trip is a fair bit less than the cost of an internal flight. Alvin was kind enough to buy our train tickets for us, lower berth was 400rmb I think and upper berth was 417rmb, or the other way around. It worked out to about $72AUD each for the train ticket. Our 2 internal flights cost us about $250AUD each, so there is a huge difference in price.
And, furthermore, it is a very pleasant trip, the gentle rocking of the train very quickly lulls you off to sleep and when you wake up, you are at your next destination. Tracy and I both had a great nights sleep on the train, and we would definitely do it again in the future.
Another advantage to booking the soft-sleeper tickets is that there is a special waiting area at the Train station for only people with soft-sleeper tickets. We were glad to discover this, as when we walked into the main waiting area, it was packed to the rafters and pretty unpleasant place to be. The other waiting room had nicer seat, Im assuming the toilets were nicer and not as crowded. This was great, as we had about 4 and a half hours to kill at the Train Station, we ate a bit and played cards for a while. We had to be out of our Hotel by 4pm as there were National Day rehearsals and if we had left any later, the roads would have been blocked. Our train didnt leave until 9.18pm so we had a lot of time to kill at the station.
Our train left from Beijing West Train Station, and when we were approaching the station in the taxi we were like OMG!!! This place was HUGE (I seem to use that word a lot when describing China!) Im sure it was bigger than our main Sydney Airport. Our train was called the Z19 and it was about the only recognisable thing on the HUGE board we saw!
Overall, I would definitely recommend doing an overnight train trip in China, I will be doing it again one day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We used taxis in Beijing several times and always found them to be very cheap. Although very few, if any of the taxi drivers spoke any english, they always managed to get us to our destination. It is imperative that your get your Hotel staff to write your destination on a Hotel card in Chinese to give to the taxi driver, and you then also have the name of your Hotel in Chinese for your return. NOTE - very few taxi drivers knew where our Hotel the Days Inn actually was, as it was in a small alleyway, off a main road.
Taxis always had their meter on in Beijing, and always printed out a receipt, you just need to say "far peow" when you are getting out to get the receipt. Im told the receipt comes in very handy if you actually leave something in the taxi, as it can then be tracked down.
All Beijing taxis were two-toned coloured and their number plate always started with the letter B. We did not use the subway in Beijing at all, so cant comment on that.
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.
Traffic in Beijing is *particularly* bad on Friday afternoons from around 3pm until 7pm.
It can take up to 2 hours to get from Guo Mao to Beijing Xi station, for example - a journey that usually takes about 45 minutes.
Be careful if you are going to the airport for a flight.
At this time, especially, you should avoid the northbound East 3rd Ring Road (Guo Mao to Lufthansa) and use the East 4th Ring Road if ttravelling out to Shunyi or the airport.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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