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9 days in Beijing, what to do?

9 days in Beijing, what to do?

Old Apr 9, 04, 4:06 pm
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9 days in Beijing, what to do?

OK, so playing the frequent flyer game, I managed to end up with some tickets that have me and family (4 people, all adults) arriving in Beijing at 8pm on Thursday, July 8, and departing at noon on Monday, July 19.

I have never been to China, but I guess I wouldn't want to spend the whole time in Beijing. What would the gurus of Flyertalk recommend that we do/go/see?

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!
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Old Apr 9, 04, 7:16 pm
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4-5 days in Beijing should give you enough time to see the most famous sites, so you can think about visits to one of two other cities. Shanghai is of course a huge commercial center, but within a few hours of train-ride you can go to Suzhou or Hangzhou, both famous for their "South of the River (Yangtze)" scenery.

Or you can go to Xi'an, the capital during parts of the Han and Tang dynasties, with more ancient artifacts. Two days is usually enough.

Or Guilin in the Southwest - for its distinctive scenery along the Li River.

From Beijing, you can fly to any of these cities; and from Beijing to Shanghai/Hangzhou or Xi'an, you can also take one of the several overnight trains, and both trips take about 14 hours. The A/C'ed "soft sleeper" sleeps four in a cabin.
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Old Apr 10, 04, 12:00 am
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while 9 days could be a little on the long side, there is definitely a lot to see/do in pek (certainly more than the 5 days many tourists allocate).

for starters, i would go to one of the better great wall sites -- simatai or huanghua -- the latter only if you are in very good shape and don't panic easily.

you could also spend a day doing the summer palace, xiangshan (fragrent hills), and maybe the ming tombs.

i gotta make a break for brunch now, but i'll try to write more later.

in short, given the choice between extra time in pek and xian, i'd choose the former any day.
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Old Apr 10, 04, 12:30 am
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If you don't want to go too far from Beijing, at least go to Chengde. It's ~250km NE of the capital, 4 hours by the fastest train. Chengde is the location of a large summer palace, and there are a whole series of extremely interesting and significant Tibetian-Buddhism temples surround the city built about 350 years ago. Worth two night stay there.
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Old Apr 10, 04, 2:00 am
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Some interesting ideas for starters -- I should add that my company is opening an office in Shanghai which I will have plenty of business reasons to visit in the future, so I am disinclined to go to the Shanghai area on this vacation.

I am worried that if I hire a guide for our smallish group, there is a good chance I won't get a good one. I am an experienced traveler and would quickly replace any guide who kept touting us into his friends' places, but we don't have that much time and it would be a waste to go through the selection process multiple times. Should I be worried about that? Is a guide even a good idea?
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Old Apr 11, 04, 11:44 am
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Originally Posted by RichardInSF
Should I be worried about that? Is a guide even a good idea?
i just posted once and was rejected so here's a summary of the previous post.

-use guides only as needed; hire a taxi driver (i have many referrals; one used by an fter who reported good results) for farway places
-rent bikes and explore hutongs (no guide require; just a map); my late SU prof mike oksenberg swore that this was the single best way to learn about beijing
-per the previous poster's suggsestion, spend a day+ on a side trip such as inner mongolial (ride horses), the beach, or some other random place

email me if you want more advice.
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Old Apr 11, 04, 12:07 pm
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Thanks, will do as the date gets a bit closer. In fact I just realized we arrive the night of July 8 and leave July 19, which is more like 12 days, so I guess we need to make one-two field trips from Beijing?

Maybe one of them should be to Chengde, which sounds interesting (although it seems to have no good hotels, any thoughts?), maybe the second to Xian? What's in Inner Mongolia and how do you get there?
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Old Apr 11, 04, 12:32 pm
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Richard - I don't think there are any 5* foreign-branded hotels in Chengde, but a few google search show these two 4* over and over: Sheng Hua (a highrise in city center) and Qing Yang (a lowrise near the summer palace). I haven't been to Chengde for a while, so can't tell you more about those hotels.
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Old Apr 11, 04, 9:40 pm
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as long as you're willing to jump on an airplane, why not go some place nicer than xian, chengde, or inner mongolia? (since you asked, inner mongolia is pretty much just like you'd expect it to be; vast grasslands, horses a plenty, opportunity to sleep in mongolian yert, eat wierd lamb dishes, etc).

off the top of my head, kunming, chengdu, and dalian could be good options,... but it really depends on what interests you (history, mountains, relaxation, food, etc).

i suggest you buy a lonely planet, do some research on your own, then post here for feedback.
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Old Apr 12, 04, 12:31 am
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I will of course research more, admittedly, I thought of FT first!

Have to confess I am mildly anti-Lonely Planet, especially after reading an article online (which I can no longer find) called something like "The Prisoners of Tony Wheeler." But that often means I read Lonely Planet in the bookstore and buy "Rough Guide."

However, the first guidebook I have bought is (surprisingly) the just updated Frommer's guide to Beijing which impressed me by containing no-nonsense comments on the uselessness of both the Chinese National Tourist Office and the "official" hotel rating system.
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Old Apr 12, 04, 7:17 am
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I have to admit that I'm also anti-LP, plus it is unquestionably geared towards the budget set. Having said that, it hard to dispute the fact that LP is leagues ahead of the pack insofar as China is concerned. When I first started coming to China in the early 90s, I found it to be an absolute necessity. (I find Fodor's particularly useless.) If you don't want to buy it, I suggest you borrow one from a friend/library (there are tons floating around).

Regarding the star system, just knock one star off and you'll be ok. For true 5-stars, stick to the brands you know and trust. (I find Shangri-La, though not always 5-star, to be fairly reliable.)
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Old Apr 16, 04, 5:05 pm
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Just a quick word about shopping.....

Which I am presuming you will do at some point. The "traditional" market in Beijing is the silk market next to the Friendship store on Jianguomewai, and its huge. However, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Lido, and there is another, smaller market opposite here, but where the prices were much cheaper (the starting point of haggling is much lower at this one...). Just something to bear in mind

Jenbel - a confirmed LP fan, who thinks the Chinese version is the most amusing of the books I own so far - authors have a very dry way with words...
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Old Apr 16, 04, 11:44 pm
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Originally Posted by Jenbel
Which I am presuming you will do at some point. The "traditional" market in Beijing is the silk market next to the Friendship store on Jianguomewai, and its huge. However, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Lido, and there is another, smaller market opposite here, but where the prices were much cheaper (the starting point of haggling is much lower at this one...). Just something to bear in mind
IME there are lots of places to buy that stuff and the Lido is a of a schlep unless you happen to be staying up there. Frankly Beijing is not a good market in general (you can get comparable merchandise in Guangzhou/Shenzhen for a fraction of Beijing prices). On the other hand, nothing in China is going to break your bank so shop liberally and have fun.
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Old Apr 18, 04, 8:08 am
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We're just finishing two weeks of Beijing-Xi'an-Guilin-Shanghai-Huangshan-Hangzhou-Suzhou. Great trip, especially if you like architecture, art, older-ancient culture, scenery, etc. We did no shopping. Stayed in major Western hotel chains for the most part, many of which were very nice. Most inter-city travel was by plane.

If you have similar interests, I recommend a similar itinerary.

While we booked guides in advance, you don't need one.
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Old Jun 8, 04, 2:05 am
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In no way would I hire a taxi driver to go more than 1 mile in Beijing. I got ripped off once. It happens a lot. The driver took the long way to the Temple of Heaven thinking I did not know the route. Hah! More importantly the taxis are small and drivers can be careless at the wheel. [Right, not so different here in D.C.] Do you really want to spend your vacation careening around the city & countryside worried about the safety of your family? Plus Beijing is super crowded on the roads (not to mention the myriad of bikes mixing in).

This is why I recommend hiring a driver! Seemed like sheer luxury at first, I now consider the $100/day a necessity. No stops at "friends stores" or anything. Plus once we got to know the driver, we hired him "privately". That is, we negotiated the price.

How this came about. We wanted to visit the Great Wall, etc. but not on a tour. I asked the Concierge to set something up. The driver was great & spoke very good English. Turns out the "Red Car Service" is actually some arm of the Chinese government. (Yes, I kept looking for a microphone or camera in the car ;D) so he technically works for the government. It's China, what can I say? Besides tourists aren't allowed to rent cars there. I also assume there is a high standard for those driving for the gov't service - the government likes to put on it's best face for the Westerners. i.e. Driver should be Educated. Knows where he's going (and the secret back entrance to the Summer Palace which shaves time off waiting in line). Polite. Doesn't try to rip you off. The car is clean (we had a roomy new Mercedes-like sedan). Versus this: Many of the taxi drivers are fresh from the countryside (read: farmers) trying to make some fast cash. This doesn't necessarily mean they know their way around Beijing or even to Mutianyu.

When the driver doesn't have a job (assignment) from the gov't, he freelances. On the second trip, we sketched out our needs. Airport pickup (too good to be true after a 13 hour flight); day of tooling around Beijing to lesser known sites (sidenote: skip Prince Gong's Mansion; Lama Temple = a must see) & shopping - bonus: he carried my bags & was quite helpful negotiating! At the end of the trip, he quoted us some fee that was much lower than had we booked him the "official" way. We did tip generously. Not that tipping is sanctioned by the gov't but it's my own little way of thanking him for driving safely & being so kind + knowledgeable. And he was happy to take US$ as payment.

Dick, if any of your party is keen on shopping pick up "Born to Shop China (Beijing etc.)" by Suzy Gershman. My own little bible with many valuable non-shopping tips as well. I find her advice quite accurate & humorous.
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