Budget guide: 3 days in Beijing
Here is a detailed guide, itinerary, and a few travel tips if you're planning on visiting Beijing any time soon.
Flights to/from Beijing
During an airline seat sale in December 2015, we were able to book roundtrip flights from Manila to Beijing for only P4,099 per person. A one-way flight to or from Beijing takes around 4 hours. There is no time difference between Manila and Beijing. A travel tax of P1,620 is paid at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), while no fees are paid at the Beijing Capital International Airport.
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 per person and processing time is 4-5 regular working days.
The embassy provides a complete guide on the visa application process here.
Accommodations at Inner Mongolia Grand Hotel, Wangfujing
My mom wanted convenient accommodations 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:
If booking through hotel discount websites, lowest price for one night per room is around P1,800 per person (without breakfast) and around P2,500 per person (with breakfast).
Dongdan Station Exit G is just a minute's walk away from the hotel. From this station, almost all popular Beijing tourist attractions can be reached just by using the subways.
A convenience store is located at the back of the hotel.
Earliest check-in is at 3 pm and the latest check-out is 1 pm.
During check-in, an 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 6 pm and this will be deducted from the deposit. (Note that Philippine peso amounts may vary depending on the exchange rate. As of October 2016, the rate was $1 = P48.52 and RMB1 = P7.16.)
Breakfast is served buffet style with a variety of choices – Chinese, Western, and Mongolian. But even though there are a lot to choose from, there are hits and misses with the taste of the selections.
The rooms are clean and all amenities are replaced or restocked daily. If you look closely at the interiors of the bathroom, there are a few rusty items 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- to 10-minute walk from the hotel. There are so many restaurants and malls there where you can eat and shop.
The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square are around 15-20 minutes from the hotel – 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. Overall quality was really commendable. Visit their website at http://www.innermongoliagrandhotel.com/ or inquire through their official email.
Subways in Beijing are easy to navigate but buying tickets was a little challenging. When we were buying tickets at the gates closest to our hotel, they didn't understand what we were saying. They just kept pointing to their signs which were all in Chinese and, of course, we couldn't understand. When I said "card," the subway official finally understood and pointed me to the direction where we could buy IC cards.
The IC card requires a deposit of RMB20 (P144+), then 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+) when we had 3 subway transfers, while the lowest rate was RMB3 (P21+) when we only stayed on one subway line.
As I said, subways are easy to navigate. Signs and voice announcements for departure and arrival at subway stations are translated into English. We were surprised that some coaches were crowded, however, since most of our subway rides were on a Sunday. I felt like there was subtle MRT Ayala-like congestion 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 conveyor belts for inspection. We avoided rush hour so we did not experience extreme congestion.
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 on 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. Complimentary bottles of water are also provided.
On our last day, we took 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.
I received a lot of information from friends and also through online research that pollution in China can get pretty bad. The pollution can be in the form of smog or a foul smell. My mom and 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 a "Good" air pollution level in mainland China.
We did not experience any smog or foul smell but we did see this view from our hotel.
Our stay in Beijing was from October 23 to 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 City. 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.
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)
Temple of Heaven
Beijing Hutong Food Tour
Great Wall of China
Kung Fu Show at the Red Theatre
Peking Duck Restaurant
Our first day was mostly a do-it-yourself day except for the food tour at the end. We rode a few subway trains and walked a lot.
Since it was a Sunday, there were so many people falling in line and crowding around the ticket booths when we arrived at the Beijing Zoo. We were overwhelmed at first, but don't fret because the line to buy tickets moved really fast. The ticket costs RMB20 (P143+) per person for both the zoo and the Panda House.
Our main agenda was to see the pandas. We got to see 4 amazing pandas. 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 tourists got a little annoying because everyone was pushing just to capture photos of the animals. No one had the decency to wait. Mostly, people were cutting, blocking, and pushing. The Panda House became a mad house, to be honest.
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 of 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.
The largest building, the Hall of Prayer 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
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.
After research and a few inquiries, my mom and I signed up for 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 traveling on your own. The tasting sites are also some of the most popular places locals eat at.
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. Here are the food selections:
Hot dried noodles
Door nail meat buns with side dishes
Mongolian pot BBQ
Unlimited beer (or soda)!
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 through email@example.com.
We took 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 our hotel, all necessary fees, chairlift to the Great Wall, a toboggan slide from the Great Wall, Kung Fu Show tickets, bottles of water, and lunch, as well as a driver and guide.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great Wall of China
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. I can't stress it enough – experiencing the Great Wall of China is one of the best travel moments of my life.
There are a lot of sections to choose from when visiting the Great Wall. We decided to visit Mutianyu as people told me it would have relatively fewer tourists. The view 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.
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 take the slide going back to the tourist base. It was one hell of an adrenaline-filled experience. It's a must! I promise you'll have the time of your life!
The Great Wall is around two 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.
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's walk from the Red Theatre is Bian Yi Fang, 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.
After our day tour, we had a night stroll and explored the malls around the area.
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 am on a Tuesday and there was already a long line. We were able to get past security check at 8:45 am.
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.
There was no line at the ticket booth for the Palace Museum. The rate was 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 moving for us. It took us around 3 hours to reach the end.
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. 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 buying gifts.
Tips for first-time travelers to Beijing
I have been to Hong Kong and Taiwan before so I thought traveling to China for the first time would somehow be easier. But China is really different and here are some things that you should know if you're traveling 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" or "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 visitor.
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 hour.
3. Be patient! My mom and I were really surprised at the attitude of some locals we had encounters with. People pushed us, blocked our view when we really had good shots for taking photos, and cut in line. While walking, some 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 unique travel experience, a country that people should definitely visit. – Rappler.com
Irene Maligat is a grateful traveler. One of her main goals in life is to inspire and empower a lot of people to travel gratefully. Her passions are sports, reading, motivational writing, traveling, and events planning and management. Visit her website at Inspiring Grateful Travels.