Our trip through China was one of my top 3 trips of a lifetime (so far). It’s hard to put in words as to why it has effected us so much. It was hard work, incredible, breathtaking, awesome, tiring, amazing.
- Beijing is an incredibly busy city. We were informed, on day one of our tour, that Beijing’s population was approximately 21 million people. That’s the entire population of Australia in one city…seriously. So be prepared for hustle and bustle – everywhere!
- Pollution can be bad. All buildings, cars and tourist attractions are layered with varying degrees of grey muck. The air can also be think with smog. It is worse when there is a sand storm in Mongolia, which is what happened after we arrived in Beijing. We had trouble breathing, watery, itchy eyes, and some of us broke out in rashes. On top of that there were the clogged pores and dirty hair. Washing the hair and scrubbing the face was a must every night.
- Traffic, and generally getting around the city, can be tiresome and potentially hazardous. Cars, scooters, taxis, buses and bikes don’t stop for pedestrians – even at crosswalks and red lights. They also don’t like to drive in just one lane, and they can even drive on footpaths (okay – maybe not ‘can’, but they ‘do’).
- Chaos reigns but it works. Just go with it.
- If someone tells you it will take thirty minutes to get somewhere by car, double it just to be safe. This will cater for the terrible traffic and general madness.
- ‘Just drive’ should be the local motto, with quick reflexes a must. Driving in Beijing is not for he feint hearted,so try so at your own risk. I would recommend against it. It’s dangerous enough being a passenger, or walking!
- When catching a taxi, make sure that the licence plate number starts with the letter ‘B’ – this means it’s legit. Also make the driver put the meter on. Never agree on a rate beforehand.
- Also make sure that you carry with you the address of where you are staying written in Chinese symbols. Your concierge can always help you with this – they should have a pre-written card for non-locals (or your guide…if you can’t get help form anyone at your hotel!).
- Always carry tissues with you when you go to the washroom, and if you can, hand sanitiser or wet wipes, ESPECIALLY if you are a girl. Many of the toilets I visited didn’t even have toilet paper holders in the stalls – which still baffles me!
- Don’t act polite in a queue. It won’t get you anywhere. Just push with the best of them, especially at tourist attractions.
- There is no concept of personal space. Aussies from a spacious country, this can be uncomfortable. Just try and keep reminding yourself that 21 million people live in the city. The locals are used to living, working, breathing close to others. It still takes a lot to get used to.
- You will be stared at, especially if you are a western woman with blonde or red hair. It can be unnerving, but it happens to us all (even to my angloindian partner!). People may even take photos of you, and you may even stop traffic. Hell, I did! Almost flattering…sometimes damn annoying!
Don’t let this advise put you off visiting Beijing. It is truly an amazing city. My best suggestion would be to start at Beijing, and then make your way through the rest of China. I’ll share what I love about it, and the highlights of our visit, in another post.