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Critique My Beijing Itinerary

Critique My Beijing Itinerary

Old May 12, 07, 8:58 am
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Critique My Beijing Itinerary

All right China experts....I'm trying to figure out my plan for Beijing, but it's so big and there's so much to see, I'm not sure what I can squeeze in. I'm arriving late Friday and leaving on Monday, and this is what I came up with as a rough plan. Let me know what you think!

Day 1 (Saturday)
Great Wall

From what I read, I think I definitely want to go to the Simatai section of the wall. My guidebook suggested a hike from Jinshanling to Simatai, but it sounds kind of far, and very hilly. Has anyone done this before? I'm up for a walk/hike, but don't want to get stranded in the middle of the wall.

Lonely Planet suggests that it takes 4 hours to go from Jinshanling to Simatai, so with that in mind, is it worthwhile/advisable/possible to squeeze in Mutianyu? Badaling sounds completely overrun with tourists and souvenir shops, but if anyone has been and thinks it's worth a stop, let me know.

Day 2 (Sunday)

Plan for Sunday is to do Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, explore some of the Huthongs, and hit some street markets.

I was going to go to Panjiayuan Market in the morning, but I didn't see much mention of it here. Any comments? Also, I'm definitely going to stop by the silk market, but I remember someone here mentioning another market (possibly near the toy market) that had more *real* clothing. Of course, I didn't bookmark it, and now I can't find the post, but does anyone know what I'm talking about?

Also, do you think it's possible to squeeze in the Summer Palace? Reading some previous posts, I couldn't tell whether or not this is a must see--it certainly sounds interesting in my guide book. On a typical Sunday afternoon, how bad is the traffic heading out there and back to town?


Day 3 (Monday)

My flight leaves at 3, so I think I have to be in a cab on the way to the airport by 12-12:30. Plan is to go to Temple of Heaven in the morning, do some general wandering around and then head back to Japan.

What do you think? Am I missing anything amzing?

Thanks for your help,

Alex
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Old May 12, 07, 11:51 am
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question for you: will you be returning to Beijing anytime soon?

The reason why I ask, and I know some people will disagree, is that I think you should hit the "tourist" stuff if this is a first/last for a long time/maybe never again trip. If a person is going back/forth then there is time for the nuanced trips to better areas of the Great Wall, not making ANOTHER trip to the Silk Market or skipping on the Summer Palace. However, I think some of us experienced China travelers often unfairly spit on the plans of excited first timers.

So I say do all the cheesy crap and have fun. So I can give you my take...
* what time are you scheduled to land at PEK on Friday - overseas flight or intra-China flight?
* Where/in what part of town are you staying?
* How many people?
* Do you speak Mandarin?
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Old May 12, 07, 1:03 pm
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Of course you are missing a lot



I just left Beijing and climbed/hiked the Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai last week. Allow for four hours, although it took us less as we kept going when others rested. There are some very steep sections and also some areas with very poor footing. I would not call it unsafe, but I also would recommend it only to those who are conditioned or under 30 and in reasonable shape. I walk about 10 km flat 4x week, and found the climb/hike to be vigorous and sometimes challenging exercise. Was it worth it? Of course, as this might be the only time I get to experience the Great Wall, and I wanted to see many vistas from it. So, Alex, it depends on your desire. While Badaling was overrun by tens of thousands of people during the May Golden Week, I found the amount of people at the Jinshanling-Simatai section to be fairly sparse. I could take many pictures with no other people showing.

You are right in blocking the whole day for the Great Wall. Including the ride to and back, you are looking at 10 hours minimum, and you will be tired when you return, even after the long ride. Plan on a great hearty dinner that night, having made pre-arrangements with your concierge for a typical Chinese restaurant, not one of the group tour stops. I had great luck with several vegetarian restaurants in Beijing.

As for your remaining time, be prepared that many sites are partially closed for Olympic's preparations. Some buildings are covered in scaffolding and mesh fabric, and at others you may not enter the buildings because officials fear increased tourist visitation will damage the historic structures. (But many were open as recently as a year ago.) The National Museum is totally closed as is Mao's mausoleum. So Tian'an Men Square is just a "look-see", and you can spend the time admiring what you can see in the Forbidden City.

The Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven are already highly restored, and thus very beautiful in near-mint condition. Our driver took us to a back door of the Summer Palace, maybe 10-15 minutes from the Financial District.

After we took the rickshaw ride through the tourist hutongs, we then explored some others on our own. The latter were more fun as typical Chinese lived on them, not the Mercedes set. Take a break and relax at one of the many cafes along nearby Hou Hai lake.

Your schedule is ambitious but do-able. It sounds as if you are fitting in a long weekend from Japan. However, if you are flying a long distance to Beijing, I would suggest you move the Great Wall to Sunday to allow further time to adjust to jet lag. Then you can stay close to home base on Saturday in case you become fatigued. Also carry water with you everywhere, as it helps if you are affected by the air pollution, and summer can produce insufferable heat and dehydration.
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Old May 12, 07, 6:48 pm
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Thanks for the feedback. I'm going by myself, and speak zero Mandarin. My plane gets in at 9PM, but I'm just coming from Japan, where I currently live, so I'm not so worried about being jet laggy

I was in Hong Kong in February, but this is definiely going to be my last trip to Beijing for a while, and probably also my last trip to China for at least the next three years (starting law school in the fall).

Still haven't decided where I'm going to stay. I'm leaning towards the St. Regis, but could also wind up at the Sheraton, and the rates at the Park Place Wangfujing are very tempting...

I'm not so interested in fake watches/handbags, but I find the whole market atmosphere a lot of fun, and like seeing just how good the copies are. Are there any other markets you'd check out in addition to the Silk Market?

rploehn thanks for the feedback on the hike--I'm very excited! These are probably beyond ridiculous questions, but do you know if there are any facilities (ie. bathrooms, snack shops, etc.) along this stretch of the wall? Also, since it's a wall, I'm assuming you're fairly limited in the directions you can go, but is the route fairly clear/well marked?

That's a bummer that a lot of the sites are closed, but it sounds like there's still plenty to see in the Forbidden City. I think I'll just see what happens on Sunday, and if I feel like I've finished seeing the Forbidden City early, head over to the Summer Palace. If not, no big deal.

One more question about SIM cards...Any recommended brands and places to buy? Since I don't speak any Mandarin I'm sure I'll get ripped off, but I'm not so concerned about getting a "lucky" phone number. I think moondog at one point recommended China Mobile. Are they still the ones to use? Also, do you need to show your passport to get one, and can someone give me an idea of what dollar value one I should buy for just a weekend?

Thanks again,

Alex
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Old May 13, 07, 1:18 am
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I did the hike a couple of years ago. Having also been to Badaling a few years earlier which was a bit packed, the Jinshanling to Simatai hike was great - few people and really atmospheric. But it was hard! I would do some training on the stepper machine at the gym if you can before you get there. It took us 5 1/2 hours including stops.

It was a very hot day which slowed us down. There's little shade so put on suntan lotion regardless of how it looks when you set off and perhaps take a hat too.

I don't remember any signs but it'd be hard to get lost. Just turn left at Jinshanling and keep going.

We had a car take us from the Peninsula to Jinshanling then pick us up at Simatai. We took a packed lunch from the Peninsula with us (transferred it from their packaging into a small rucksack). I don't think any food was sold along the way - definitely no snackbars or anything similar - but there were many vendors selling bottles of water - check the seals before you buy them. There are toilets at Jinshanling and Simatai but nothing in between.
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Old May 13, 07, 7:41 am
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Originally Posted by AlexS View Post
is it worthwhile/advisable/possible to squeeze in Mutianyu? ...if anyone has been and thinks it's worth a stop, let me know.
Mutianyu is very impressive and has a lot of unique features you won't find at other sections (like the 22 watchtowers). Although I've not been to Simatai, the descriptions I've read would seem to suggest Mutianyu is less strenuous. We hiked Mutianyu in early July and it was deserted.

I was going to go to Panjiayuan Market in the morning, but I didn't see much mention of it here.
Great market. On weekends it opens at 4:00 AM. Huge variety of stuff: bird cages, propagada posters, terra cotta figures, art work, photos of old Beijing, military artifacts, jewelry, etc. Well worth a visit

Also, do you think it's possible to squeeze in the Summer Palace? Reading some previous posts, I couldn't tell whether or not this is a must see--it certainly sounds interesting in my guide book. On a typical Sunday afternoon, how bad is the traffic heading out there and back to town?
I would consider it a must see as the buildings are very impressive and it's a great place to stroll, take a dragon boat across the lake, etc. However traffic, particularly on the weekend, can be terrible. We went on a Saturday and the taxi driver gave up trying to get us to the southern gate and dropped us off at the northern gate (I think this is what rploehn referred to as "a back door of the Summer Palace"). If you can't get there, maybe you can squeeze in the Temple of Heaven?

Enjoy Beijing. Can't wait to get back.
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Old May 14, 07, 4:34 pm
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First, i am sorry if i was too negative. The Forbidden City was well worth it, even with the mesh and scaffolding.

Second, you are walking on top of the Great Wall, varying from maybe 12 feet to four feet wide (very little that narrow). As northorsouth said, you cannot get lost as long as you head left at Jinshanling. No signs to that effect, so we asked twice to make sure. There are lots of native entrepreneurs along the way selling you water, soda pop, but do not expect anything cold. At the start, before you pay, you will find some little shops that have frozen water bottles. After two hours or so, they are still cold and refreshing. Bring your own energy/protein bars. When I go anywhere in China, I carry some wet wipes in my little Lonely Planet camera/shoulder bag just in case along with tissue. No rest rooms, what you see is what you get. At many points you can find somewhere private to relieve your overloaded bladder.

The best guidebook I carried with me to all sites was Eyewitness Guide Shanghai & Beijing. (Much lighter than the complete China Guide. The others [Frommers, etc.] are great for hotels, restaurants and shopping.) There are several official 2008 Olympics stores on Wangfujing. The best is the stand-alone store on the west side of the street. Good gifts for sports fans.

PS There is a small northern gate to the Summer Palace, but our driver took us to the far southern gate. No buses there.

Last edited by rploehn; May 14, 07 at 4:36 pm Reason: add Summer Palace gate comment
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Old May 19, 07, 9:12 pm
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Alex, your plan sounds pretty good. I hiked from Jinshanling to Simatai with the Great Wall Adventure Club:

http://greatwalladventure.com/aboutus.htm

I was able to cover Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace in one day. I woke up early in the morning and travelled everywhere by bus or metro.

You may also want to check Confucius' Top Ten Tips on How to Do Beijing:

http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/363ee/#TL
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Old May 19, 07, 11:04 pm
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Also, check out the very very cool article on the Great Wall in the current "New Yorker".
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Old May 20, 07, 8:25 am
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Nothing against the Great Wall Adventure site and program, as I have not taken it. However, you can do much better price wise. A tour guide is not needed, as long as you read your guide books. A private taxi for one, two or three people is a maximum of $80 total, not per person, usually less. Make sure it is a new looking taxi, as you will be in it for 6 hours. Negotiate hard.
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Old May 21, 07, 11:32 pm
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Originally Posted by rploehn View Post
Nothing against the Great Wall Adventure site and program, as I have not taken it. However, you can do much better price wise. A tour guide is not needed, as long as you read your guide books. A private taxi for one, two or three people is a maximum of $80 total, not per person, usually less. Make sure it is a new looking taxi, as you will be in it for 6 hours. Negotiate hard.
I paid just RMB 90 ($11.5) for transport to the Great Wall with the Great Wall Adventure, but maybe their prices have changed by now.
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Old May 22, 07, 12:04 am
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Originally Posted by krzysz View Post
I paid just RMB 90 ($11.5) for transport to the Great Wall with the Great Wall Adventure, but maybe their prices have changed by now.
Yeah, the prices on their site are pretty crazy (I'm guessing they know this because they're burried 3 pages deep). I've gone on a few hikes with Beijing Hikers this year, which, in spite of its attempts to brand itself a "club", also appears to be a profit making entity. But, they go to some pretty cool places and, at y200, represent a good value for solo travelers and even pairs. Although the fact that you ride in a tourbus makes you feel like you're on a "tour" (bad ), that's where the similarities between those guys and junkets end.
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