Exploring Beautiful Beijing
Some people may scoff at the headline, but Beijing has made serious efforts to clean up its overall environmental act since the summer Olympic Games in 2008. Today, the city’s air and visible skyline are as clear as any city I’ve visited in the last couple of years; in fact Beijing’s air is much cleaner than that of my home city; Bangkok.
Booking ahead, we searched for a hotel that was not too far from the airport, but also close enough to the city centre that we wouldn’t have to be taking taxis everywhere. Our three prerequisites were location, value for money and brand awareness and Novotel Beijing Sanyuan ranked at the top for us. The hotel is less than a minute’s walk from Sanyuanqiao subway station, which is also a stop on the Airport Express Train service. Price wise, it was under US$100 per night, including breakfast for two, and being a Le Club member I could also collect and redeem my points – double bonus.
My six-day visit was one-sixth business and the rest tourism, shopping, eating and drinking. On the first day, I attended the Beijing International Book Fair, now one of the largest events in the world for books with more than 2,500 exhibitors and over 300,000 visitors, many of whom were under the age of 20. China has rapidly become the second biggest market for books after the United States and well ahead of Germany and the UK. China’s annual turnover for all types of reading materials topped US$13 billion in 2018 with books aimed at children and adolescents outselling all other genres.
With business now out of the way, we were free to reacquaint ourselves with the city also known as Peking, but not before having a full buffet breakfast at Novotel Beijing Sanyuan. Throughout our stay, the breakfast spread was amazing with an array of Chinese and western favourites such as omelettes, bacon and sausages cooked to perfection. A healthy salad bar, fresh fruits, yogurts and fruit juices were provided daily and guests were encouraged to take an apple or banana with them.
It’s a good idea to purchase a subway travel – Yikatong card – card after clearing airport formalities. The card can be bought at the ticket office, a short walk from Terminal 2, and it’s good to use on the Airport Train, the entire Beijing subway, all city buses (but don’t forget to scan the card getting on and off) and at some supermarkets.
From our base at Novotel Sanyuan, we were able to visit all the top tourists sites in central Beijing – the Great Wall of China is further away – including the main temples, Tiananmen Square, the Olympic Park, Wanfujuing Street, Sanlintun, Hongqiao Pearl Market, Liulichang Antique Street, Silk Street Market and Panjiayuan Flea Market.
Wherever we went, food was always readily available from street food and shops selling simple snacks to restaurants serving delicious Chinese cuisine and some non-Chinese dishes. In fact, all the global fast food brands have a presence in Beijing, but we didn’t travel thousands of miles for a Big Mac. No, we wanted Peking Duck and pancakes, freshly pulled and cooked noodles, Dim Sum and many other delectable Chinese dishes made to order, served piping hot and washed down with cold Chinese beer.
Right on the doorstep of Novotel Beijing Sanyuan is the Phoenix City Galleria with lots of fashion stores, coffee shops, a basement supermarket, food court and lots of standalone restaurants. It’s a great place to hang out if the weather is not too good and also a good place to head to for a meal if you don’t want to travel too far. There are also a couple of cool outdoor beer gardens and restaurants in the vicinity. Take a short tour of the local area by turning left out of the hotel, then turning left at the next junction, then the next and then a left at CITIGo hotel and you’ll arrive back at the hotel.
On a totally different note, one rather disgusting Chinese habit you’ll have to come to terms with pretty quickly is spitting in public. Wherever you go, you’ll hear people clearing their airways and spitting out the phlegm. It’s pretty gross, but everyone does it. I once turned around to see a smartly dressed lady coughing up a nasty surprise and she didn’t even bat one of her perfectly styled eyelashes as she spat it on the ground.
As we were visiting Beijing just before the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, security in and around Tiananmen Square was particularly heavy with checkpoints and guards checking bags, body searches and identity checks. You can also expect security checks at all subway stations with scanners and body checks. You might even have your bottle of water taken off you and examined for what I presume was traces of explosives.
If I were to recommend three things to do while in Beijing it would be a visit to the Temple of Heaven followed by a walk around Tiananmen Square and finally an evening stroll along Sanlintun where you can find excellent restaurants, music clubs, drinking pubs and all the shops and markets to keep anyone happy.
Beijing has changed immensely since our first visit and I guess in another five years it will have changed again. I really love the fact there are no stray dogs crapping on pavements, no testosterone fuelled boys riding noisy motorbikes (all two wheel transport in Beijing is electric) and no dual pricing. Overall, Chinese people generally respect each other and the millions of foreigners who visit. Now, if they could only stop spitting!
Basic 5-Trip (all starting from Novotel Beijing Sanyuan)
Day 1 – Chaoyang Park (Tuanjiehu Station, Line 10), Skyscraper tour – CCTV Building, China Zun and China World Trade Centre – (Jintaixizhao, Line 10), Silk Street Market (Yong’anli, Line 1).
Day 2 – Temple of the Earth, Confucious Temple, Yonghe Lama Temple (Yonghegong Station, Line 5), Wanfujing Street and Food Street (Wanfujing Station, Line 1).
Day 3 – Temple of Heaven, Hongqiao Pearl Market (Tian Tan East Gate Station, Line 1), Tiananmen Square, Imperial Palace, Mausoleum of Mao, Great Hall of the People, People’s Monument and National Museum (Tiananmen East Station, Line 1).
Day 4 – Houhai Lake, Hutong tours, Beijing Bell and Drum Towers, Fire God Temple (Huode Zhenjun Temple) – (Shichahai Station, Line 8)
Day 5 – Panjiayuan Flea Market (Panjiayuan Station, Line 10).
Thai Airways flies direct from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi to Beijing Capital International Airport every day of the week. For more information, check Thai Airways.