CHINA: Our 3-Day Adventure in Beijing

In my Batanes write-up, I posted a few photos of my grandmother when she was in Batanes 20 years prior. Upon checking old photo albums again, I was surprised that my grandmother also went to Beijing 20 years before us. It’s really amazing seeing travel photos side by side with a 20 year gap.

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1996 & 2016 shots of the Temple of Heaven & Forbidden City

Did my grandmother feel the same way we did when we experienced the Great Wall?

Were the tourist attractions restored since then?

Was she as grateful as we were?

My love for travelling started 2 years after my grandmother died. I know somehow this passion for travel ignited because of her. She loved travelling and one day, I hope to visit all the places she did. Stand on the same ground she stood in. Take a photo at an angle that she took. I miss my grandmother a lot and it’s moments like these that I feel grateful for. I know she’s up in heaven smiling at me, reliving a place she’s been to, and gratefully watching her granddaughter experience the same things that she did.

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1996 & 2016 shots of the Forbidden City & Great Wall of China

I’ve always wanted to go to China ever since I was 8 years old. This is solely because of MULAN. Who wouldn’t want to go to the wall that Shan Yu invaded? Or visit the Emperor’s palace where thousands of people kneeled before the savior of China? It was a travel dream back then. But in the recent years, travel has become so overwhelming that China took a seat back in my ever growing travel bucket list.

Chancing upon a seat sale for me and my mom for her birthday this year, I finally got to fulfill the travel dream of 8 year old me. Here is a detailed guide, itinerary, and a few travel tips if you’re planning on travelling to Beijing any time soon.

TRAVELLING TO BEIJING

Travel dates: October 23-26, 2016

(1) Flights to/from Beijing

During an airline seat sale last December 2015, we got to book Beijing roundtrip flights for only P4,099/person. A one way flight to/from Beijing takes around 4 hours. A travel tax of P1,620 was paid at NAIA and no fees are paid at Beijing Capital Airport.

(2) Chinese Visa

Philippine passport holders touring China need to apply for a visa. We applied for a single entry visa that allowed us a valid stay of 14 days. We compiled all our requirements and had an authorized representative (make sure you sign an authorization letter) submit and pick up the documents at the Chinese embassy. We applied for the visa in September 2016 and were allowed to enter China before December 2016. Lowest application fee is P1,400/person and processing time is 4-5 regular working days.

The embassy provides a complete guide on the visa application process here, http://ph.china-embassy.org/eng/lsfw/visas/t960523.htm

(3) Accommodation at Inner Mongolia Grand Hotel, Wangfujing

My mom wanted an accommodation of convenience so she asked me to find a hotel with average prices that would not require too much transportation to places of interest. I found Inner Mongolia Grand Hotel through Agoda. Here are points to consider before booking this hotel:

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  • If booking through hotel discount websites, lowest price for 1 night per room is around P1,800/person (without breakfast) and around P2,500/person (with breakfast).
  • Dongdan Station Exit G is just a minute walk away from the front of the hotel. From this station, almost all popular Beijing tourist attractions can be reached just by using the subways.
  • A Family Mart convenience store is located at the back of the hotel.
  • Check-in is at 3:00PM and the latest check-out is 1:00PM.
  • During check-in, a RMB500 (P3,575+) deposit will be asked from you. This will be returned during check-out. If you wish to extend your stay, they provide half day rates until 6PM and will be deducted from the deposit.
  • Breakfast is served buffet style with a variety of choices – Chinese, Western, & Mongolian. You’ll feel like you’re having a buffet for lunch or dinner. Even though there are a lot to choose from, there are hits and misses with the taste of the selections.

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  • The rooms are clean and each day, all amenities are replaced or restocked. The bedroom is very clean but if you look closely at the interiors of the bathroom, there are a few rusts and molds but this can be overlooked because the overall feel was tidy.
  • Most of the staff only know a handful of English words and will refer you to other employees who speak more English if they do not understand you.
  • Wangfujing Street is only a 5-10 minutes walk from the hotel. There are so many restaurants and malls there where you can eat and shop.
  • The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square is around a 15-20 minutes walk from the hotel. It is an easy straight walk. You’ll know when you reach the Forbidden City when you see tourists lined up for the security check.

This is one of the best hotels I have stayed at. All essentials for tourists were accessible. The amenities were complete and clean. All our belongings were safe as well. The bed was one of the most comfortable beds I have slept on during my travels.

SOBRANG LAMBOT NG BED! It felt so luxurious! GRABE!

Even though I loved exploring during the day, it was a great thought knowing that at the end of the day, I would get to rest ON THAT KIND OF BED! It was an amazing sleep every night! Overall quality was really commendable.

Visit their website at http://www.innermongoliagrandhotel.com/ or inquire through their official email, vivi1008566@hotmail.com

(4) Transportation

Since our hotel was already near tourist attractions, we were able to limit our transportation to a few subway rides and airport transfers (car & taxi) only.

Subways in Beijing are easy to navigate but buying the ticket was a little challenging. When we were buying tickets at the gate closest to our hotel, they didn’t understand what we were saying. They just kept pointing to their signs which were all in Chinese which of course, we couldn’t understand. When I said “card”, the subway official finally understood and said continuously “IC Card, IC Card, IC Card” and pointed me to the direction where we could buy the smart card.

The IC card requires a deposit of RMB20 (P144+) and just add the amount you need. After using the card, you can get a refund of what’s left including the deposit. Subways are relatively cheap. The maximum rate we paid was RMB5 (P36+) wherein we had 3 subway transfers, lowest rate was RMB3 (P21+) where we only stayed on one subway line.

As I said, subways are easy to navigate. Signs and voice announcements for departure and arrival at subways stations are translated in English. Most of our subway rides were on a Sunday and surprised at the crowded coaches. I felt like there was subtle MRT Ayala-like traffic at some stations and this was during the middle of the day.

The stations were clean and there are strict security checks at every entrance. Your bags need to pass through airport-like luggage checking conveyor belts too. We avoided the rush hours so we did not get to experience the extreme conditions of subway traffic.

Our airport transfers were pre-booked so the rate was more expensive than average. We had a car transfer from the airport to the hotel which cost us $40 (P1,900+). This was past midnight so we decided a more convenient option. It took us around 20 minutes to get to our hotel. We booked the standard car transfer service through http://www.beijingwalking.com/. The driver meets you at the arrival area holding up a sign of your name and provides complimentary bottles of water.

On our last day, we availed the regular taxi to the airport provided by the hotel. The rate was RMB120 (P857+). The ride took around an hour and a half because we left during rush hour. We experienced around 2-3 traffic jams on our way to the airport.

 (5) Weather

I received a lot of information from friends or even research from the internet that pollution in China can get pretty bad. The pollution can be in the form of fog or a foul smell. My mom & I were very lucky because prior to our arrival in Beijing, it rained. This resulted to an Air Quality Index average of 60 during our travel days which is rated as “Good” Air Pollution Level in mainland China.

We did not experience any fog or foul smell but we did see this view from our hotel.

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Our stay in Beijing was from Oct 23-25. The late autumn weather was cold but due to all the walking that we did, the overall feel of the cold was comparable to the weather in Baguio. Average temperature we experienced was 8 – 18 degrees Celsius. We did not have to wear a lot of layers – just a top, jacket, pants, thick socks, and comfortable shoes.

EXPLORING BEIJING

Itinerary

We maximized 3 full days in Beijing since both of our flights were red eye. The most important attractions we wanted to visit were the Great Wall and Forbidden City. The rest were personal preferences and suggestions from friends. Here was our 3 day itinerary in Beijing:

DAY 1 (Sunday)

DAY 2 (Monday) DAY 3 (Tuesday)
Airport Arrival

 

Beijing Zoo

 

Temple of Heaven

 

Beijing Hutong Food Tour

 

 

Great Wall of China

 

Kung Fu Show at the Red Theatre

 

Peking Duck Restaurant

 

Dongdan Area

 

Forbidden City

Wangfujing Area

Airport Departure

With the Day 1 & Day 3 schedule, be prepared for a lot of walking. The tourist attractions during these days are pretty massive so it will really require a lot of walking and very comfortable shoes!

DAY 1

Our first day was mostly a DIY day except for the food tour during the end. We rode a few subway trains and walked a lot.

Beijing Zoo

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Since it was a Sunday, upon arrival at the front gate of the Beijing Zoo there were so many people scattered, falling in line, and crowding the ticket booths. We were overwhelmed at first but don’t fret because the line to buy tickets queued really fast.

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The ticket costs RMB20 (P143+) per person to experience both the zoo and the Panda house.

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Our main agenda was to see the pandas. We got to see 4 of them! I’ve never seen a panda before so it was really an awesome moment. They were really a great sight. The conditions they were living in were not very good but it was still an experience to see them. The crowd of Chinese tourists got a little annoying because everyone was pushing just to capture a photo of the animals. No one was waiting for their turn or have the decency to wait. Mostly, people were cutting, blocking, and pushing. The panda house became a mad house to be honest. You really REALLY need a lot of patience at crowded tourist spots in this country.

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Temple of Heaven

Upon arrival at the Temple of Heaven, you will also be met with a long line of tourists buying their tickets. We availed the through ticket costing RMB34 (P244) per person which includes access to the park, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and the Circular Mound Altar.

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The largest temple, the Hall of Payer for Good Harvests, was really a beautiful sight. We stayed there for a while, took a lot of pictures, and did some people watching. Since it was a Sunday, the flow of people was crazy!!! This tourist attraction is pretty massive. Make sure you know the directions you walked from so that you do not walk farther than you have to.

Beijing Hutong Food Tour

THIS IS A MUST TRY IN BEIJING! If you’re tired of the tourist-y food street attractions, try this tour! 😉

I wanted to try going off the tourist-y path with food during our trip to China. My family almost always eats Chinese food in the Philippines so I wanted to visit food locations that would not normally be visited by foreigners.

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My favorite during the Beijing Hutong Food Tour – Meat Buns!!!

After research and a few inquiries, my mom & I availed the Beijing Hutong Food Tour from Lost Plate which also has services in Xian and Chengdu. The company brings guests to 4-5 tasting locations that pass through Hutongs (small alleys) using a Tuktuk. These food locations wouldn’t be easy to find if you’re travelling on your own. The tasting sites are also some of the most popular places locals eat at.

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With the owner of Lost Plate Food Tours, Brian Bergey 🙂

This was one of the best experiences I had in Beijing. The food was great and the people we met were also amazing. The guide provides a lot of information about each dish and location. They were very accommodating and attend to the needs or wants of each guest.

It was definitely an authentic local food experience. If you want to try something new and stray a little bit away from the tourist-y things to do and eat, try this tour from http://lostplate.com/. The tour costs RMB450 (P3,300+) per person. You can also contact the company directly through info@lostplate.com

For my full experience with Lost Plate Beijing Hutong Food Tours, click https://inspiringgratefultravels.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/series-travel-gratefully-with-lost-plate-food-tours-in-beijing-china/

DAY 2

We availed a private customized day tour from http://www.beijingwalking.com/. We spent most of our day at the Great Wall, watched a show, and ate at a Peking duck restaurant. The rate per person was $185 (P8,970+). The tour included transportation to/from hotel, all necessary fees, chair lift to the Great Wall, a toboggan slide from the Great Wall, Kung Fu show tickets, bottles of water, lunch, driver, and an English speaking guide.

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With our very entertaining guide Tony from Beijing Walking Tours

I had smooth communications with the owner of the tour company, Leo, regarding specific details and other inquiries. He was really proactive. Our tour guide, Tony, added more value to our Beijing day tour experience. He was funny and very informative. He told us the most significant and interesting facts during the whole tour. We definitely learned a lot. For inquiries, you can email the company directly at beijingwalking@163.com

Great Wall of China

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If you think the Great Wall of China is overrated, it’s not! If you need to do one thing in Beijing, it’s THIS! It’s an amazing sight! It’s a beautiful tourist attraction! I can’t stress it enough, experiencing the Great Wall of China is one of the best travel moments of my life.

THIS IS A MUST DO IN BEIJING! THIS IS A MUST DO IN CHINA!

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There are a lot of sections to choose from when visiting the Great Wall. We decided to visit Mutianyu as people told me there are relatively less tourists here. The view here is amazing. There will definitely be a lot of walking and climbing but the view and overall feel of this wonder of the world was worth every effort and breath.

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One of the highlights of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is the toboggan slide going down. If you choose this section, make sure that you do the slide going back to the tourist base. It was one hell of an adrenaline rushed experience. THIS IS A MUST! I promise you’ll have the time of your life!

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Lift to the Great Wall

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Toboggan Slide from the Great Wall

The Great Wall is around 2 hours from the city traffic permitting.

Kung Fu Show at the Red Theatre

There are a lot of popular shows to watch in Beijing. There’s the Golden Mask Dynasty Show, Acrobatic shows, and the Kung Fu show. We ended up watching the Kung Fu show due to time constraints. We spent most of our time at the Great Wall so this was the show available at the end of the day. The Red Theatre is centrally located in the city.

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This Kung Fu spectacle showcased a lot of stunts. The production was excellent. The effects were awe inspiring and the story was culturally refreshing.

Peking Duck Restaurant

A minute walk from the Red Theatre is Bian Yi Fang. It is the oldest Peking duck restaurant in operation in Beijing. We just ordered the Peking duck but the serving was more than enough. We couldn’t finish it no matter how delicious it was. This is a must try restaurant when in Beijing.

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Dongdan Area

After our day tour, we had a night stroll and explored the malls around the area of our hotel.

DAY 3

Forbidden City

This tourist attraction is one of the most popular places locals and foreigners go to and we were able to experience how crowded it can get. We arrived outside the Forbidden City at around 8:00AM on a Tuesday and there was already a long line. We were able to get past security check at 8:45AM.

After the security check, you come across so many Chinese tour groups with different flags and markers assembling in front of the entrance. We felt like we were in a herd flowing where groups of people took us.

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There was no line at the ticket booth for the Palace Museum. The rate is RMB60 (P430) per person. You also need to present your passport upon purchasing the ticket.

The Forbidden City was definitely a cultural walking experience. We had no guide but the feeling of being there was definitely a moving travel experience for us.  It took us around 3 hours to reach the end.

Wangfujing Area

Having explored all the places of interest we preferred, we were ready to eat and shop. The best place to do this was Wangfujing area. About a 10 minute walk from the Forbidden City, Wangfujing is a long wide road of malls, shops, restaurants, street food, and many more. This is definitely the place to go for eating and gift shopping. We were able to explore a few stores like H&M and Forever 21 and ate at Din Tai Fung at one of the malls.

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TIPS FOR FIRST TIME TRAVELLERS TO BEIJING

I have been to a few Asian countries like HK and Taiwan before so I thought travelling to China for the first time would somehow be easier. China is really different and here are just some things that you should know if you’re travelling there for the first time:

1. There is a language barrier. Most of the people we communicated with did not know how to speak English. A few can speak and understand some phrases but we really had to make an effort for them to understand us. If we ask questions in English, they will answer in Mandarin. When we respond and say we do not understand, they will still reply in Mandarin. Gesturing or pointing to words or images was also a struggle.

Aside from Thank You (Xie Xie) and Hello (Ni Hao), try learning these phrases as well — No Need (Bu Yong), I don’t understand (Wo Bu Ming Bai), Sorry/Excuse Me (Bu Hao Yi Si), and No Spicy (Wu Xiang Liao). Even if you don’t say it in the correct tone, they will understand that you’re a tourist.

2. Expect a lot of lines, crowds, and traffic. If you feel that going on a weekday or a Sunday will lessen the crowds, think again. Try going to tourist attractions earlier than opening time to avoid bigger crowds. Avoid commuting during rush hours on subways and roads as well.

3. Be patient! My mom & I were really surprised at the attitude of some locals we had encounters with. People pushed us, blocked our views when we really had good shots in taking photos, and cut in long lines. While walking, men would spit anywhere they wanted. It was really annoying at first but we got used to it.

4. The Great Wall and Forbidden City are two of the best places you will ever travel to. Maximize your time at these places, appreciate the history and culture of these wonders, and cherish every minute of your experience!!!

Beijing was an unforgettable experience. I was really amazed at the richness of their culture. They honor their past and instill it in the present. They are not easily influenced. If they learn something from other countries, they infuse it with their norms. China was really a different travel experience, a country that people should definitely travel to!

I am very grateful for the money paid for these travel blessings (amount is for 1 person)

Cebu Pacific Flight to/from Beijing P4,099
Chinese Visa Application Fee P1,400
Travel Tax P1,620
Transportation (Airport Transfer to Hotel c/o Beijing Walking Tours, Regular Taxi to Airport, Subway IC Card)  

P1,629+

Accommodation at Inner Mongolia Grand Hotel  (3.5 Days) P10,000+ (Discounted & Upgraded by Inner Mongolia Grand Hotel)
Lost Plate Food Tour Sponsored by Lost Plate Food Tours
Private Day Tour c/o Beijing Walking Tours (Mutianyu Great Wall with lift & toboggan slide, Kung Fu Show, Private Car)  

P6,540+ (Discounted by Beijing Walking Tours)

Beijing Zoo Entrance Ticket P144+
Temple of Heaven Through Ticket P244+
Forbidden Palace Museum Entrance Ticket P430+
Food & Miscellaneous Expenses P4,000+
TOTAL P30,000+

NOTE: Philippine Peso amounts may vary depending on exchange rate. As of NOV 2016, $1 = P48,52 and RMB1 = P7.16; For sponsored & discounted write-ups, all are inspired by my experiences and nothing else.

 

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