Side Trips from Beijing

TRAVEL TIPS

Side Trips from Beijing

Getting Around

Taxi Travel

Taxis, which in Beijing are both plentiful and reasonably priced, are a good way to get to sights outside the city. Set a price beforehand; the metered fare can add up quickly (generally, rides start at Y13 for the first 3 km (2 miles), with an additional Y2.3 for each additional km and another Y2 per every five minutes of waiting time during rush-hour (Y1 otherwise). Also make sure that this covers the return journey, or face the prospect of haggling with illegal cab drivers on the way back—and they will fleece you! At the time of writing, a Y1 fuel surcharge is added for all trips. A small surcharge is also added between 11 pm and 5 am. Private-car services are available, and even if they aren't always cheap, they're in most cases worth the investment for the comfort, reliability, and ease of dealing with English-speaking operators and drivers.

Beijing Limo. A variety of cars and buses, complete with English-speaking drivers, are available. Prices range from Y900 for four hours of rental within the city to Y1,500 for trips farther out into the countryside. 010/6546–1588; www.beijinglimo.com/english. Mon.–Sun. 9–8.

Train Travel

Some day-trip-worthy sites, such as Yesanpo, Tianjin, Beidaihe, and Shanhaiguan, are accessible by train. Plan to get to the station at least 30 minutes before your train leaves, as stations are huge and often confusing for visitors (as well as being crowded). It's easy to buy train tickets once there, but these sell out fast on peak dates, so if you're on a tight schedule and can't afford a delay, buy a ticket beforehand.

If you decided to take the train to Chengde, most hotels will help you buy tickets up to four days in advance for a fee (typically Y5 to Y15 per ticket). There are also small train-ticket windows scattered around the city: look for the China Railways logo and make sure to bring your passport.

The Great Wall

The easiest and most comfortable way to visit the wall is by private car. Though taxis are occasionally willing to make the trip to more accessible sections like Badaling and Mutianyu, most hotels can arrange a four-passenger car and an English-speaking driver for eight hours at around Y500–Y700. Settle details in advance, and remember that it’s polite to invite your driver to eat meals with you. To ensure your driver doesn’t return to Beijing without you, pay after the trip is over.

Timing

It'll take you several days to see all the sights outside of Beijing, and visits to the various sites require separate, often day-long excursions. If you only have time to see one site, you’ll want to go to the Great Wall; if you go the section at Badaling, you can also work the nearby 13 Ming Tombs into one outing. If you want to treat yourself to seeing several sites in one outing, and get an eye full of temples, head west, where you can make stops at the Fahai Temple, about an hour's drive from the center, as well as the tomb of Tian Yu, and the Jietai and then the Tanzhe Temples, all in one day if you’re touring by car. Another rewarding day’s outing takes you east to Zunhua, and the elaborate Qing Tombs complex. Wear walking shoes and bring a lunch to enjoy the surrounding countryside.

If you have time and inclination to go farther afield, consider a four-hour train trip and an overnight in Chengde, where in the 18th century Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi established a summer retreat of temples, gardens, and monasteries. If you’re looking for a little summertime relaxation, take a day and a night (or, for real relaxation, two days) at Beidaihe, to bask on the beach, chow down on seafood, or see where the Great Wall meets the sea at Shanghaiguan.

What to Wear

The weather in Beijing and neighboring areas is notoriously fickle, so make sure you dress appropriately. In the summer it's hot; travel with sunglasses, sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed hat. It gets terribly cold in the winter, so dress in layers and pack gloves, a hat, and a scarf. And if you plan to do any hiking, make sure to bring sturdy, comfortable shoes.

Also, checking the weather forecast before an excursion is always a good idea for last-minute wardrobe changes. Don't carry too much cash or expensive jewelry. Other things to bring along? A camera, a change of clothes if you're staying overnight, and your common sense.

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