Go Ahead Quality Specialist Hannah traveled on our tour of China and was struck by how amazing and different the country is, especially the city of Beijing. “Even seasoned travelers are in for a surprise. China is like no place else in the world,” she says. Read more tips from Hannah below, and see five things you need to know before a trip to Beijing.
Research, asking questions and challenging your expectations is key. As Hannah notes, “If you come to Beijing thinking it’ll be a big city just like New York or London, you’re in for a surprise.” Travelers are often surprised to find English isn’t widely spoken, even in comparison to Shanghai and Hong Kong. “China is very regional, and different areas of the country have totally different character; just like the American South and Northeast have their own feel, even though it’s the same country.”
Your Tour Director and local guides can help with translation while you’re in Beijing, but if you strike out on your own, we recommend a language app like Waygo. Carrying your hotel’s business card is also a great idea, in case you need to show a taxi driver the address or ask for directions.
Some worries travelers have, like pollution and crowds, are realities when visiting many major cities in China—but don’t feel discouraged. Try an app like Airpocalypse (scary name, friendly design) for forecasts and advice on coping with smog in Beijing. As for crowds, expect to be surrounded by lots of people all of the time, especially at famous sites or on public transportation. You’ll have to sacrifice your sense of “personal space,” but it’s a worthy trade-off for such an incredible experience.
Another thing that surprises travelers in Beijing? Believe it or not—it’s the food! “Even travelers who love dinner from their local take-out place are often surprised by the style of meals in China,” Hannah says. At many of the authentic restaurants you’ll visit on tour, meals are eaten family-style, and diners help themselves from large dishes at the center of the table. Many meals feature a starch, like rice or noodles, with meat or fish and vegetables.
If you find you’re hankering for something more familiar, Beijing has plenty of European and American-inspired restaurants to try. One favorite, The Big Smoke, offers up barbecue and Southern comfort foods that would be right at home in Austin or New Orleans.
Visiting landmarks like Tiananmen Square or the Great Wall just outside the city can be a sightseeing experience like none other. “It’s even more immersive than a museum,” Hannah says. “You’re right up close to history. You can see how time has changed these places and China as a whole. “To get the most out of your visits, be prepared to do a lot of walking and climb stairs at the Great Wall and Forbidden Palace—comfortable shoes are a must on this trip!**
Hannah hears from travelers concerned about their flights but has some tips to stay happy for the long haul. Wear comfortable, light layers and shoes you can easily slip on and off. Pack snacks and grab a large bottle of water to stay hydrated. If you wear contacts, bring a carry-on sized bottle of solution in case your eyes feel dry, or opt for your glasses instead. You might also want to bring clothes, a disposable toothbrush and some facial wipes in your carry-on to freshen up right when you land. Anything that’ll help you feel more comfortable, like an eye mask, compression socks or travel pillow, is great to bring along, too.
When it comes down to it, if you’re up for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, China can’t be beaten. Beyond Beijing, Hannah’s other highlights included her cruise down the Yangtze River and the tour extension to Hong Kong. “You’ll never run out of amazing scenery along the Yangtze River, and Hong Kong offers a really unique look at China’s complicated history. It’s definitely a must.” As for her future travels, Hannah adds, “I’d go back to China in a heartbeat.”