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China FIT recommendation?

China FIT recommendation?

Old May 9, 05, 11:09 am
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China FIT recommendation?

Need to find a vendor for booking tours a la carte (eg airport transfer/full day/half day tours) for China. Any recommendations? Thanks.
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Old May 9, 05, 12:09 pm
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Originally Posted by seawolf
Need to find a vendor for booking tours a la carte (eg airport transfer/full day/half day tours) for China. Any recommendations? Thanks.
I know its silly to recommend this to an American but

www.graylineofbeijing.com is one of the better operators though its not cheap

Last edited by mario33; May 9, 05 at 12:13 pm
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Old May 10, 05, 3:30 am
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If your group is smallish, I can help you and I won't charge a cent. Feel free to email me any time.
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Old May 11, 05, 1:38 pm
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Don't mean to hijack this thread, but I have the same question and will be arriving in Beijing May 21. I'd like to knock out a few sites my first full day there, a Sunday. I'd like to hit T. Square, Forbidden Palace, Summer Temple and Temple of Heaven. I am trying to decide between doing it on my own (I will be alone and do not speak/read Chinese) or doing it with a group (which I have reservations about since I will probably be jetlagged and like to take my time taking pictures, etc.).

Any recommendations? I will be staying at a hotel that is supposed to be about 20 minutes walking distance from Forbidden Palace and T. Square.

Thanks!
Sabrina
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Old May 11, 05, 3:48 pm
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Originally Posted by sabrina
I'd like to knock out a few sites my first full day there, a Sunday. I'd like to hit T. Square, Forbidden Palace, Summer Temple and Temple of Heaven.
Youre serious? That's probably three days worth, not one. You will spend more than two hours just traveling in a taxi even if you don't hit any traffic. Beijing is very, very big and so are the attractions there. The forbidden city is a day in itself unless you just truck down the middle and leave. I would consider changing your view from "knocking out sites" to visiting and enjoying them. One day, do the Forbidden City and the back lakes. Another, do the Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square. The last, do the Summer Palace and the Lama Temple. Even that itinerary is pushing it for time and could *easily* be extended another day or preferably two.

And for what it's worth, you can do any of them without a group. The language isn't that much of a barrier for the more touristy things. The language is a lot more of a barrier for normal, every-day encounters. The worst experience you will have is getting around since many of the taxis won't take you up to the Summer Palace because of the distance. If you take the subway, which is safe and as comfortable as expected, add about an hour on to your travel time. Taxi from TS/FC to the SP is about 30-45 mins each way without traffic (there usually is) and the subway is 50-70 depending on whether they leave on time (they usually do) and whether you have to wait long for one (you usually do).

Last edited by Darren; May 11, 05 at 3:50 pm
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Old May 11, 05, 3:56 pm
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Interesting. I had taken that itinerary directly from a Gray Line tour, and I even left out the lunch and Pearl Market shopping trip they had included.

Your tips are very helpful!

I will be headed to Hong Kong for a few days, so it looks like I will have to miss out on a few of the sites. Oh well.

This makes me think that the organized tour would be very rushed and I would probably be happier doing it on my own and taking my time.

Thanks!!

-Sabrina
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Old May 11, 05, 8:34 pm
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sabrina: it's possible to do all that stuff in one day, with or without a guide, but why would you want to? i had some friends from hk here a few weeks ago that pursued an itin that was only half as aggressive as your own and they went home less than satisfied, in part because they were exhausted and in part because they didn't leave themselves anytime to absorb the city itself.
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Old May 11, 05, 9:02 pm
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No, you're absolutely right. I didn't realize how far apart those places are and how long it would take. I think I'll just relax and take it easy, doing a few places (Forbidden Palace and T. Square, probably) on my own and leaving the places I miss for my next trip.

-Sabrina
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Old May 11, 05, 9:03 pm
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No problem. If you only have one full day, start very early (6:30 or 7am) with the Temple of Heaven, take a taxi to Tiananmen Square (make sure to give a big howdy to Mao), and then go to the Forbidden City.

I am describing this by memory, but you will see what I mean if you have a map.

The Temple of Heaven is very beautiful. The main temple is in the middle of the park, about a quarter to half mile in from the entrance. I am sure your guidebook will give you the skinny on it. There are also some other interesting halls scattered throughout the complex. In the morning, you will find a lot of Beijingers doing tai chi exercises, all in beautiful unison. Very peaceful place. I think locals get in for free, or at least for a very cheap price, so the area is always filled with people walking, exercising, or doing other things.

Take a taxi to Tiananmen. It's too far to walk.

Tiananmen Square is in three main chunks. Down at the bottom is the Arrow Gate (didn't go in, don't know what's there), then you get to the Mao mausoleum, then into the square itself, then to the Tiananmen Gate. The total distance is probably about a mile so budget time accordingly. The trip to see Mao took me about 45 minutes or an hour and is worth it, imo.

The square itself is impressive but not terribly interesting other than to see the surrounding buildings. In the middle is the Monument to the People. Facing the Tiananmen gate, to the left is the Great Hall of the People and to the right is the Chinese History Museum. Nothing exciting in either except for a countdown in front of the CHM for the 2008 Olympics.

Keep going and you get to the Tiananmen Gate, which (of course) is where the Square gets its name. Facing the square you find the famous painting of Mao and the facade that makes it into every article on the area. Go up into the gate for a few rmb and get some of the best views of the Square, mausoleum, and surrounding buildings. Gives you a perspective of just how big it is. If youre interested, they have to big-screen televisions playing propaganda relating to the square.

Go back to the sidewalk in front of the gate. To the right, facing the Gate, there is a door leading to the Imperial Temple. Costs 2 rmb if I remember right and worth every penny. In the middle is the Ancestral Temple itself, which I remember reading is special because it has three tiers which is reserved for temples with the highest of honor. But the reason it's worth the 2 rmb is that you bypass all the tourist touts, souvenier huts, and other obnoxiousness.

It dumps you out right by the ticket stand to the Forbidden City. I think the ticket was about 60 rmb. You can also get the audio if you choose. It's done by Roger Moore (yes, 007) and gives an interesting glimpse at what youre seeing. You either need to give a 500rmb deposit or your passport, both of which you pick up at the far end. I left my PP because I didn't have 500rmb and things worked out fine.

The trip through the middle is impressive, frustrating, and obnoxious. The relics are amazing and you really get a sense of the history of Chinese aristocracy. But it is frustrating and obnoxious because it is *very* crowded and the people have no manners. I had people physically push me out of the way when I was there, one close to pushed me off the edge of the pedistal or whatever you want to call it. Give up on the photos, steal a glimpse, and move on. Fortunately, the Chinese tour groups stop at the gardens and don't veer too much off (baaaaah!). At the end to the left I believe are the concubine chambers. This is the beauty of the FC, in mu opinion. Head down, poking your head into each part (takes a lot of time) and you are actually backtracking.

Cross over, go to the Forbidden City Starbucks (no, I am not kidding), and go to the other side which I believe is the eunichs chambers. Costs a few extra rmb but worth it. First, you will come to the nine dragons relief. Very beautiful. If you look, I believe, at the second dragon from the left facing the relief, you will see that one of the tiles is wood. Apparently, the tile broke and there was no time to fix it before the emperor would arrive. The emperor didn't have a sense of humor and collected heads of those who crossed him. After peeing their pants, the artisans were saved by the carpenter who crafted the piece out of wood. The emperor indeed didn't notice and they lived to tile another day.

Again, head back up the right side and you eventually come to the end. Pick up your 500rmb or passport and youre on your way. I expect that you won't have time, but if you do and are in good physical shape, head into the park across the road and start your uphill climb. At the top is some of the best views of Beijing that I had the pleasure of being at. On one side of the park is the Forbidden City and all the shiny roofs and on the other are the back lakes. Notice to the east (left facing away from the FC) is a very out of place temple. It looked like the ones I saw in Myanmar, and sure enough, I remember reading that it is a Burmese temple with (I think) a white marble statue. I don't think it's a buddha, but I can't remember.

Youre going to be out of time, but if you go down the other side and keep going, you hit the back lakes district. Actually, one of the more interesting in Beijing. The bell and drum towers are back there and interesting but not crucial. The stairs to each are steep, numerous, and narrow, so if youre afraid of heights or unsteady on your feet then you might give it a miss. Down by the lakes are several hutongs, some of which see tourists and some of which don't so much.

Again, this is a *very* long day and a *very* ambitious itinerary. You will be exhausted. If you only have two days, I would skip the summer palace. It's worth a visit but not at the expense of other places. If you have two days, visit the Temple of Heaven, head up to the shopping area off to the southwest of the arrow gate (the name escapes me but it might be something like Qianmen), and then go to the square. While in the shopping area, wander in the hutongs for a bit. Be respectful of the fact that people live there. The people are friendly and will probably wonder why youre in the area but it's interesting and gives a glimpse of what I have been told life was like for many, many years in Beijing before the new gov't went on the path of destruction that they are on. Again, you might feel uneasy but the area is safe and there isn't much to worry about. Just give a lot of respect to the residents as it is their homes. Then, on your second day, do the FC and back lakes areas.

From the Temple of Heaven to the shopping, I want to say is about 7 or 8 miles. About a 15 minute taxi ride. From the shopping to the mausoleum is a half mile and then another half mile (a bit more) to the Tiananmen Gate. A half mile to the main entrance to the Forbidden City and then another half mile to the other side. So about two miles from the Arrow Gate to the back side of the Forbidden City. Maybe a bit more.

Hope that helps and gives some perspective to the area.

D.

Last edited by Darren; May 11, 05 at 10:05 pm
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Old May 11, 05, 9:09 pm
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sabrina: in rereading your list, i think as long as you scratch the summer palace, your itin is somewhat sane. you would simply take a taxi to the temple of heaven then walk north through qianmen, tiananmen, gugong, jingshan/beihai, and end up in houhai. personally, i would forego the temple of heaven as well (i.e. start at tiananmen instead) and do something else in the morning. afternoons (the closer to closing, the better) tend to be less crowded than mornings at most of the big tourist sites.

Last edited by moondog; May 11, 05 at 9:27 pm
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Old May 11, 05, 9:27 pm
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Thank you both so much for the advice!! Darren -- your tips are better than anything I've found online or in a guidebook, for sure!

I really appreciate the help and am very excited about my trip. Having this info makes me feel a lot better about spending my first day in Beijing by myself.

-Sabrina
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Old May 11, 05, 9:39 pm
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Originally Posted by Darren

From the Summer Palace to the shopping, I want to say is about 7 or 8 miles. About a 15 minute taxi ride.
Darren: It can take 15 minutes, but if you happen to arrive during a peak time in high season, it can also take as long as an hour. I took a few friends up there in June 01 and we have a whole series of pictures of us sitting on our taxi's trunk in total gridlock. Again, later in the day is better. While in the area, it's a good idea to check out some of the universities and Wudaokou (which has turned into quite a happening area).

Also, I agree with you that the lakes are pretty cool. Beihai Park is one of my favorite places in Beijing and there is a useful Houhai entertainment guide in this month's That's Beijing that Sabrina should be able to pick up when she arrives.
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Old May 11, 05, 10:01 pm
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Originally Posted by moondog
Darren: It can take 15 minutes, but if you happen to arrive during a peak time in high season, it can also take as long as an hour. I took a few friends up there in June 01 and we have a whole series of pictures of us sitting on our taxi's trunk in total gridlock. Again, later in the day is better. While in the area, it's a good idea to check out some of the universities and Wudaokou (which has turned into quite a happening area).
Ack! I made a mistake! Yes, an hour to the Summer Palace. No, what I meant to type was "Temple of Heaven"! Its about 15 mins from Temple of Heaven to Tiananmen! Duh... Sorry about that. Yes, it's forever to the Summer Palace. I was staying at Tsinghua so I know all too well. Its an interesting area and certainly gives a bit of a glimpse of the educated and tech side of China, but I agree that it's not worth the time if you are giving up any of the places that you or I have mentioned.

Also, I agree with you that the lakes are pretty cool. Beihai Park is one of my favorite places in Beijing and there is a useful Houhai entertainment guide in this month's That's Beijing that Sabrina should be able to pick up when she arrives.
You know, I didn't spend nearly the amount of time there that I wanted. It was indeed wonderful and became one of my best memories, but I really wish I could have taken more than the two or three hours I was there. Unfortunately, I was there for a reason other than tourism and my responsibilities were considerably more than I expected when I went. If I had another day, I would have gone to see the Wall. If I had two, I would have spent the day wandering around the lakes and the other sights local to the area.

Yes, sorry Sabrina, I made a mistake and confused the SP and ToH. ToH to Tiananmen, it's about 15 minutes (more with traffic). From Tiananmen to SP it's minimum 30 minutes and more likely than not closer to an hour each way. By train, it's about an hour.

D.
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Old May 11, 05, 10:21 pm
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Originally Posted by Darren
ToH to Tiananmen, it's about 15 minutes (more with traffic).
I would actually walk that (and keep the entire day, with the exception of a taxi to ToH and a subway back from Gulou, on foot). There is usually a lot of activity along Qianmen Dajie and only about 1km separates the north end of Temple of Heaven from the south end of Tiananmen Square. Crossing the street between Qianmen and Tiananmen Square can be a bit tricky; you need to use the east subway entrance and cross under. (To do the same in the west entrance, you'd need to buy a subway ticket).

Just to provide a frame of reference, I recently walked from Temple of Heaven to Houhai (via Gugong and Beihai) in just under 2 hours. I estimate that I walk 2-3 times faster than the typical tourist because I maintain a decent pace and don't stop to look around all that much.

It gets dark around 7 here. As long as you make it into the Forbidden city before they stop selling tickets (around 3p), you should be fine. Jingshan, Beihai, and Houhai all stay open late and are beautiful at dusk.

Last edited by moondog; May 11, 05 at 10:25 pm
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Old May 12, 05, 1:23 am
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When I was last in Beijing I walked everywhere. That way I got to see a lot more interesting things. I recall wandering from one of the outer circles to the Forbidden Palace. I found a back alley market that was very interesting. No english spoken at all so I had to haggle with a calculator and hand gestures.

Walking is the best way to learn about a city, if you have the time. You miss too much in a taxi.
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