Buying a round of drinks for thirty people would typically be cost-prohibitive. But there we were, in a Beijing hostel, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder around a gigantic, wooden, horse-shoe shaped coffee table. The beer was Tsingtao, and it was only available in 22-ounce bottles. Each of us took turns buying rounds, and even though each green bottle cost twenty cents, and even though the total for a round of thirty beers cost $6.00, we felt generous. We toasted to new friends and good fortune.
That, and sneaking onto the Great Wall at 3:00 a.m., remain my favorite memories of Beijing. And while it’d been fourteen years since my first visit, I was happy to return.
If you’re considering a trip to Beijing soon, I noted some things that may be of value:
1. Consider getting a VPN before your visit. This will help you get around “The Great Firewall” so that you can access sites you might normally rely on, like Google Maps or Gmail. I used Express VPN for this trip, and it worked well. (I used it previously for a trip to Shanghai, and it was effective there as well.)
2. T-Mobile gets great coverage in Beijing. This is helpful so that you can text family and friends, access the Internet, etc. without having to get a special calling plan (as you’d need to do with AT&T or Verizon). I’ve written about T-Mobile before, but their basic cellular plan covers almost every country on the planet. (Phone calls cost extra, but sending text messages and surfing the Internet are included.)
3. Download the Didi app before you go. Didi is like Uber, and we used it several times a day. (There is a subway in Beijing, but we found that the prices for Didi were so low—$3 or $4 per trip—that we didn’t mind “splurging.”) Also, just as you can with Uber, you can attach your credit card to the Didi app.
4. If you are susceptible to mosquitoes, bring mosquito repellent. August is especially humid, and it seems conducive to mosquitoes. I returned with several bites.
5. If you don’t have a driver collecting you at the airport, and if you don’t speak Mandarin, make sure your hotel name and address are written out in Chinese so that you can present them to your taxi driver. Our taxi (we did not use the Didi app at the airport) from the airport to the Sheraton Grand Beijing cost CNY80 (approximately $12).
6. Go on a Food Tour. We went through Lost Plate Food Tours. We did the Beijing Hutong Evening Food Tour. This food tour was especially great, as we were transported via tuk-tuk, with unlimited cold beer—both felt essential, given the oppressive August heat. (Just look at how hot these guys are!)
Despite the lack of a “no shirt, no service” policy, the restaurants chosen by Lost Plate Food Tours provided us with gastronomic delight!
7. Go to Bao Yuan Dumpling Restaurant for delicious, multi-colored dumplings!
They also serve cold Yanjing Beer, cucumbers, and noodle dishes!
8. A variety of noodle and soup options seem available throughout the city. Instead of looking for a specific restaurant, you might just follow your nose, have a look at the photos in the menu, or see what people have on their tables. We did not have a bad meal in Beijing.
9. Once you’re ready to depart, regardless of which cabin you’re flying in, a Priority Pass will get you into the Air China First Class Lounge (certain credit cards include a Priority Pass Membership. Contact me if you’re curious). While it’s a bit warm in the lounge, Beijing airport (PEK) always seems warm to me. Anyway, here’s a thorough review of the Air China First Class Lounge. They serve made-to-order noodle dishes, dumplings, fresh tea, etc. It’s an oasis.
10. If you’re considering booking airfare to China, and if you’re based on the West Coast, you might try positioning in Las Vegas. (That’s what we did!) The fares from Las Vegas-San Francisco-Beijing are approximately 50% less than the fares from San Francisco-Beijing. The same seems true of flights to Shanghai.
11. If you score a great fare, as we did via United’s Polaris Class, make sure to request pajamas.
12. Upon arrival at SFO, if you don’t have Global Entry, make sure to enter your information into the Mobile Passport App. It’s a free, fast way to get through Passport Control, and it’s available at many US airports.
13. Assuming you flew Polaris Class via United, the Polaris Lounge at SFO, ORD, and EWR grant access for those departing and for those arriving! We were able to enjoy showers and a nice breakfast before catching our next flight.
14. Regardless of which cabin you’re flying in, a great move is to pick up a gift for the flight attendants. Just grab a box of candy or chocolates at the airport, and give it to the Purser (the head flight attendant). The law of reciprocity suggests that the flight attendants, in turn, will take extra great care of you.
Okay, I hope at least one of those suggestions was helpful. Ideally, I’ll learn some new things from the next trip, which is the annual trip with my mom! Last year was our holiday in St. Petersburg and Moscow. This year we are headed to . . . .
United Airlines 737-900, 777-300 LAX-LAS-SFO-PEK First Class, Polaris Business Class
United Airlines 777-300, 737-900, PEK-LAS-SFO-LAX Polaris Business Class, First Class
Sheraton Grand Beijing
And of course, should you have any questions, feel free to contact me.