My name is Raymond and I am currently debating between taking a tour of China (which would include Beijing) and backpacking.
My girlfriend and I will be in China for 11 days in May.
Here's the thing, I've backpacked through Europe a couple of times (both times for about 3 weeks) and also Australia (couple of weeks). And I love the whole concept of being immersed in the culture and just exploring the "off the beaten" path. Yet, given that I am a pretty good planner, I still got to see the major touristy stuff.
Of course, I also understand that it's very easy to do that in Europe. What's it like in China? Beijing will be our headquarters and if feasible and if we have time, we'll visit neighboring cities/towns.
The thing is... she's never gone backpacking before (only done tours) and am not so sure about backpacking in China. She's a bit apprehensive and afraid that we'll miss out on a lot of things on top if it just not being a very clean and easy place to travel as tourists (without a guide).
I want to make sure she has a good time too.
What are your thoughts? Is Beijing "backpackable"?
[ Edit: Edited on Dec 28, 2007, at 9:41 AM by IronHell ]
My boyfriend and I (now my husband so cant have gone too badly!) backpacked independently around china in 2005. Previously we had been in thailand, cambodia and vietnam doing the same but other than that had no experience of backpacking holidays or tours.
Anyhow, we did china for 4 wks then spent 5 days in HK. Its all doable. We visited many un-touristy places which of course spoke no english but still managed to get by with good acting and a basic phrasebook. In Beijing of course, you will find more people who speak english but still not many outside of hotels and tourist shops. I would say do it indepenently. The very fact that we may only see 1 other westerner a day in some places in china was great and if ur in a tour group u see the same faces every day without the satisfaction of going it alone.
In china, unlike many other places in asia, people tend to leave u alone and u do actually feel safe (well we did). Difficult things were ordering food. We tended to point to what looked good on other peoples plates or go to restaurants with pictures of food. Finding accomodation without booking was difficult cos we did not know from looking at the outside of buildings which symbols meant hotel/hostel. I would book all accomodation prior, take the address then get in a cab...easy! Booking trains/buses can be tricky but again a phrasebook, a smile and alot of pointing can go a long way. Also...dont assume that the art of queuing is understood in china...its not! so be politely bolshy in standing your ground in line.
Any othe QQ's let me know. Can reccmend a good/clean/modern hostel in Beijing if needed but otherwise be brave...do what u both feel happiest doing but ultimately u will experience Beijing in a completely different light if travelling on a tour. In beijing, we did alot of walking and hired bikes to get around town...easy.
Wow, that's great info, thanks Louise!
One of my concerns (and I need to do more research) is transportation. In Europe, it was fairly ease to get around, given that things are more compact and the public transportation system was easy to use. What's it like in Beijing?
How would we best go from point A, (say our hotel) to point B, (say the Forbidden City or some other touristy spot)?
Oh, also, I forgot to mention that my girlfriend speaks Cantonese and I speak Mandarin... albeit I am not too sure how different the accent in Beijing is from my accent (I was born in Taiwan).
Oh well thats a better start for the two of you than we had.
Local train system is good from what i can remember, it cant have been too bad cos we used it and coped fine although i cant remember the specifics. Choose a fairly central hotel/hostel and you can go by foot to may tourist spots. We walked to the forbidden city. Lots of people cycle around and thats what we did to get to other temples and tourist shops. Other than that we may have got a taxi on a few occassions too. Providing you have a good city map, you will be fine. Most roads had cycle lanes so fine even for the inexperienced bicyclist.
I'm jealous of your trip. This will be the first time in 5 years that I haven't been to China. I started off doing organized tours and as I got more comfortable then I did my own thing...perhaps not backpacking but certainly independent travel. The past 3 years I've led student groups to the Three Gorges area and Yunnan Province.
Beijing is great but not for 11 days. backpacking can be easy but there are certain backpacking meccas that make it really easy. If I were you, I'd spend 3-4 days in Beijing (several good backpackers hostels just southwest of Tienanmen Square) and then take a train or flight to some other place. Yangshuo in southwestern China is fairly easy to get to (flight to Guilin may cost $100-150 each) and is completely set up for backpackers. Yunnan Province is the same, especially Kunming, Dali, and Lijiang (I'd recommend Lijiang). Flights can be booked online before you go fairly easily.
If you are only going to stay in the Beijing area then I'm not sure what to do for 11 days.....sure the Great Wall is noce, but that's one day. You might want to take a train somewhere like Hohhot in inner Mongolia. But personally I think it would be a shame not to spend a bit of time in Beijing and than go somewhere completely different.
If your girlfriend doesn't want to stay in hostels then 3 star hotels in Beijing are good and easy to come by for about $50 per night. If you have the money then it's well worth doing that. Hotels get cheaper away from the major cities.
As for travel around Beijing I usually take taxis. A 10 minute ride will be less than $2.
If one of you speaks Mandarin and both of you read, no problem. I did it with a year of Mandarin from HS, and could hardly understand a word but I could read pinyin and basic characters and could put together sentances when I had a phrase book. My problem is when things out of the ordinary happened, like our first night in Beijing my roommate flushed the toilet and it backed up and kept going and going. We threw our luggage on the bed and I ran out to the maid service and all I could think to say was the toilet was very bad, big water. I think they thought I was nuts. By the time we got it fixed you needed an ark to get around the room. We needed a room switch and the keycard wouldn't work. We stayed at a chinese hotel and not one person spoke one work of English. It was our first night in Beijing and I don't think I will ever forget it.
Thanks a lot for the feedback!
These posts are really helping my girlfriend and me in structuring how we want to do this trip. At the very least it's helped us to be more optimistic and positive
How doable would day tours be and would you recommend it? We are looking at two options:
1. Do a 5 day tour then spend the rest of the trip traveling by ourselves.
2. Go on our own planned schedule but take day tours.
How feasible would #2 be?
One of our fears is that we would waste loads of time standing in line trying to get tickets etc. What are your thoughts?
Oh boy, I missed the part where between you and your girlfriend you speak both Mandarin and Cantonese.
If that's the case I wouldn't bother with anything package or group tour. Do your own thing. Book hotels and train tickets before you go.
Group tickets will cost you way more than if you can figure it out for yourself. For example, a trip to the Great Wall at Badaling (the touristy place) will cost you $30-50 if booked through your hotel and you will visit the wall with hoards of people. I was approached by a guy outside the Forbidden city a few years ago who offered me a tour of the Forbidden City for $5, and he spoke excellent English. The tour was fantastic and the guy was genuine, so I said how about taking us to the Great Wall the next day. He turned up at our hotel, we took public transport and taxis to a part of the wall that was stunning and completely untouristed. There was no-one else there for miles (it's about 5 km southwest of Badaling a couple of miles up a dirt track but I can't remember the name of it...you'd never find it on your own). He charged us $12 each for the day, including transport.
If you speak the language, definately avoid the package tours.
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