Beijing Tourism: How to Get Around on Public Transport

Beijing Tourism: How to Get Around on Public Transport

Getting around a Chinese city can seem daunting. What if you don’t understand any signs? What if you get lost and can’t find your way back to your hotel? For many travelers, it seems easier to just stay at home in their hotel room unless they are with a private guide or a tour group.

To this I say, there’s no reason that competent, confident women travelers can’t feel comfortable exploring Beijing alone, whether or not they speak Chinese.

For the more timid – and those who prefer convenience over thrift– cabs are a good option for getting around Beijing. First of all, most hotels and hostels can provide travelers with a taxi card with popular tourist destinations. “Take me to…” the card will say, and you can pick “…The Forbidden City,” “The Summer Palace,” or “The Silk Market,” written in English and Chinese. Show it to the cab driver and voila! You’re on your way.

The card will also have the hotel’s address, usually shown on a small map, so when it’s time to go home you can show that to the taxi driver, too. If you want to go off the beaten path or visit a destination that’s less oriented towards tourists, you can ask the staff at your hotel – or a Chinese speaking friend – to write the address of your destination down. That’s all it takes.

There’s no reason that competent, confident women travelers can’t feel comfortable exploring Beijing alone, whether or not they speak Chinese.

Taxis, while not as cheap as public transportation, are very affordable in Beijing. The meter starts at 10 RMB ($1.50) and a twenty-five minute taxi ride will run about 30 RMB (just under $5). Most cab drivers can’t speak English, but they are used to transporting foreigners who can’t speak Chinese. Some of them are very friendly, and eager to practice their English with foreigners. I will say that in Beijing, I’ve encountered more cab drivers than usual that aren’t terribly familiar with the city, and don’t know where my destination is – but usually if I call the place I would like to go, someone there can tell my cabby how to get there. And if that still doesn’t work, cabs are ubiquitous enough that I can just hop into the next one.

For the more adventurous, the Beijing subway is not only extremely cheap (a ticket to any destination, no matter the distance, is 2 RMB, or 30 cents) but also fairly simple to figure out. Stops are announced in Chinese and English, and all signs and ticket machines are provided in both languages as well. Most stations have more than one exit, and signs within the subway station indicate which major landmarks or popular destinations (malls, cultural sites, office buildings and hospitals) are best accessed from each exit. Arm yourself with an English-language tourist’s map, on which all subway stops are marked, and you’re good to go!

Beijing Tourism: How to Get Around on Public Transport

If you’re not going very far and you’d like to try something new, you can take one of the city’s many pedicabs. These range from metal boxes with wooden seats, to velvet-covered benches encased in red curtains, and are powered either by electric bicycles or traditional foot-pedaled bikes. Be sure to decide on a fair price with your driver in advance – I’ve heard of foreigners being scammed out of hundreds of RMB, but I’ve never personally encountered this problem. When dealing with pedicab drivers, it is helpful to at least be able to say numbers in Chinese, so consult your guidebook for some basic phrases.

But the likelihood is that you won’t get lost at all. You’ll be just fine.

Public buses are difficult to navigate if you can’t read Chinese characters, so unless you know exactly where you are going – in Chinese – I wouldn’t recommend trying the bus. However, if someone at your hotel is able to tell you which line to take and at which stop you should get off the bus, once you are actually on the bus, stops are announced in English and Chinese. The bus is the cheapest travel option, but prepare to be stared at! Few foreigners take the bus, and Chinese people are often curious about the ones that do.

Having a tour guide to accompany you on your travels around Beijing can make your trip easier and less stressful, but with a little bit of courage, you’ll have no problem making it around the city on your own. If you do get lost, many Chinese people, especially young people, can speak a little English and will be willing to help you out. But the likelihood is that you won’t get lost at all. You’ll be just fine.

 

 

Beijing Tourism: How to Get Around on Public Transport. To read more about Kate’s travels in China, visit: http://katesyearoff.blogspot.com.

One thought on “Beijing Tourism: How to Get Around on Public Transport

  1. Avatar
    Danielle
    April 4, 2011
    Reply

    I remember when I was in Hong Kong and Xiamen taking cabs everywhere… mostly because my friend and I were 14 and her mother didn’t want us using public transport without a parent there. Haha… those were the days.
    $.30 for a subway ride? Not too shabby! Thanks for sharing this tip – hopefully I’ll use it in the future.

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