Beijing

I found myself in Beijing a couple of times a year, since I flew in and out of Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) from/to Amsterdam and (occasionally) from/to London. For the first few years in China, it was also useful for flights elsewhere. Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX) didn’t open until after I left, probably for the last time, in 2018. See Airports in Beijing for a quick guide to same.

My first arrival (like most of the rest) was early in the morning, and I was met by the agent, who had helped organise my new job, and some teachers from my new place of employment, Ocean College of Hebei Agricultural University, in Qinhuangdao, to be driven to Qinhuangdao. There wasn’t time to take in much of the surroundings, as we just piled into a car and set off on the road, but I would be back, by car, by bus, and by train.

PEK is not the best airport for non-Chinese speaking travellers – although most signs are also in English, announcements often are not. It took me a couple of visits to become familiar enough with it to be able to help the lost! And to discover that the best (and cheapest) food and drink were a shuttle-bus ride away from the terminals, out to where the staff dormitories are located. OK, if you have plenty of time, but not much use, if you don’t.

These days, the best way into the city from PEK is by express train (frequent) and the subway (with which it connects) – unless you prefer to sit in slow-moving traffic, in which case take a taxi.

From Qinhuangdao (QHD) to Beijing city I always travelled by train after almost missing a flight, because the direct bus from QHD to PEK was delayed in traffic for several hours. I didn’t have to be warned twice, and after the near-miss, I took the train-subway-express route. QHD trains connect to Beijing Railway Station, which is an experience all of its own. Not the most enjoyable, but not terrible either, despite the best (worst?) efforts of the station staff – be sure to smile at them, or you’ll get nowhere – not even out of the station.

Speaking of trains, there are several different kinds, and different tickets. Have a look at this link: Confused? You will be. However, it’s not really as bad as it looks – just pick your preferred arrival time and work back to the fastest (or cheapest) trainfare to get you there on time. First class on the D and G trains is pretty luxurious, with lots of legroom – there’s not a lot of that in standard class, though there’s still about the same as in the UK (possibly slightly more). The slower trains are more like trains used to be – in China – so well worth using for the experience, if you’re not in a hurry, or on a low budget.

There is a lot to see and do in Beijing, with many tourism sites and a good public transport system to help you get to them. Despite the frequency of my visits, I don’t claim to be an expert and I probably missed a lot, but I did visit most of the famous places.
I deliberately stayed away from the main Great Wall site at Badaling, because it is just too busy to be enjoyable, and there are plenty of better (or at least, far less crowded) sites on the Great Wall closer to Qinhuangdao.

The Forbidden City
Jingshan Park
Beihai Park
Tiananmen Square
Chinese National Museum
Science Museum
Botanic Gardens
The Summer Palace
Yuanmingyuan – Old Summer Palace
Wangfujing
Hohai Park
The Temple of Heaven
Tanzhesi
Garden Festival Opening day and five years later
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