An Underground Adventure

On January 13, 2012, in Beijing, Cultural Experience, Getting Around, Tips & Ideas, by Jack Li

Beijing is a very busy city; it is one of the few cities that never sleep. Therefore no matter what time of day it is, there is always traffic. In your travels within Beijing the best way to get around is via the subway lines, you can also organise and take the train from the […]

Beijing is a very busy city; it is one of the few cities that never sleep. Therefore no matter what time of day it is, there is always traffic. In your travels within Beijing the best way to get around is via the subway lines, you can also organise and take the train from the airport when your China flight has arrived. If you need to get somewhere in a certain time avoid taking a taxi or bus and go underground to experience the subway. However the subways are always hectic as well, so this will outline what to expect and how to survive your subway adventure whilst having a great time touring Beijing.

 

Firstly forget your personal space, in the subways they do not exist at all and they are long gone. Being pushed and squeezed on to the train is always an eventful experience, just try not to get your jacket caught in the door or end up missing a shoe. It feels as though everyone is late for something important so everyone wants to get on this one particular train, so the race is on. However words of advice do not get angry or upset if you do get pushed into the train or that you are underneath someone’s arm pit, it will get you nowhere further in your travels and you are not a victim in this ordeal. Secondly do not hesitate at all, if your mission is to get on that train, go straight for it. Because if you hesitate for a slight second you will never get to your destination and people behind you will go straight pass you. But don’t fret to much, trains come every couple of minutes. So put your game face on and do it how the locals do it.

 

 

The best way to surviveyour trip is to know where you are going before you get on the train. There are many maps throughout the stations as well as online, so study your route before you head to the subway. The reason being is because no one is going to wait for you to work out where you need to go and which station you need to get off at. Everyone prepares themselves to get off the train the stop before and if you are not ready you will get charged at by the people wanting to get on the train. If you do plan your trip and familiarise yourself with the station names and exits, no matter how crazy busy the subway is your trip will be successful and will run smoothly. Within majority of the trains there are maps on top of the door highlighting which stations have already been passed and which is coming up next, so you cannot get lost.


All the major tourist destinations within Beijing are next to or a short walk from a subway station. Therefore the subway is the most desirable transportation to go with. You will usually find that the maps and the voice overs on the train will say which stop to get off in order to go to the attraction. The major shopping markets are near subway stations, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City is right above a subway station and majority of museums and galleries are a short distance from the subways.

Even though the subway sounds very hectic, which it can be, it is the most efficient, quickest and cheapest (2RMB per trip) way to travel around in Beijing. Also you cannot go to Beijing and not experience the subway, just do it with a positive attitude and have a laugh when you get shoved in or out of a train. It is its own little adventure in itself and is a must do in your tour of China.

Lhasa- ‘Place of the Gods’

On January 12, 2012, in Cultural Experience, Festivals, Lhasa, Tibet, Travel Info, by Jack Li

Lhasa is the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, west of the mainland. It is known to be one of the highest cities in the world, with the altitude measuring up to 3,490 metres. Lhasa is also known as the ‘Place of the Gods’ this is because it is known as the centre of the […]

Lhasa is the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, west
of the mainland. It is known to be one of the highest cities in the world, with the altitude measuring up to 3,490 metres. Lhasa is also known as the ‘Place of the Gods’ this is because it is known as the centre of the Buddhist beliefs and spirituality. Located within the Himalaya Mountains, Lhasa is made up of seven counties. There are many sights and temples to see in Lhasa and there are great package deals going through China Tours.

 

For a foreigner whom is not a Chinese national will have to gain a special permit from the Chinese government in order to visit Tibet and they are strictly advised to have a tour guide with them at all times. Tibet Tours provides tour guides for people who want to visit Lhasa and will easily be able to advise on setting up a permit. They offer a religious and spiritual tour or a hiking and trekking tour, with the glorious scenery you cannot go wrong with either tour. Apart from the exquisite view this area has to offer there are three locations which is a must when visiting Lhasa. They are the Potola Palace, Norbulingka and Jokhang Temple. All these places are very accessible; you can either take a shuttle or go for a brief walk. The Potola Palace which is the most famous was of course the chief residence of the Dalai Lama before he fled to India in the 1950’s. It was first constructed in 1645 but since the 14th Dalai Lama was exiled the government have done reconstructions in 1989 through to 1994. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Tibet as it is so enriched with history, religion and culture that it should definitely not be ignored from your list of sites. Also to keep in mind photography within the Temple is forbidden, so just restrain yourself until you get outside.

 

Norbulingka is considered to be one of the biggest man made
gardens in China, taking up an area of 36 hectares. This garden is approximately 1 kilometre south-west of the Potala Palace and was known as the summer residence for the Dalai Lama. It is recommended to go in the July/August period when the Sho Dun Festival or ‘the yogurt festival’ in on. It is a great festival to experience, there is a lot of music, dancing and food. You will be able to experience the Tibetan culture first hand.

 

 

Jokhang Temple is a must; it is seen to be one of the most sacred temples in Tibet. The architecture of this temple is amazing, with beautiful gilded bronze tiles on the roof tops. The temple was constructed in the 7th century AD as a house of statues for the Buddha. Along with the Patola Palace, this temple is very popular among tourists. In the year 2000 the Jokhang Temple was added to the World Heritage List, Norbulingka was added in 2001 and the Potola Palace has been on the list since 1994.

 

If you love history, Lhasa is the place to go for your tour of China. It is so enriched with the Buddhist beliefs and culture that it would be an experience of a life time to see it all first hand. Lhasa is very accessible from the larger cities in China, it can be accessed either by a
train if you want to have the scenic route or you can choose to fly. It is advised to check out both options and see what else you can put into your itinerary. However Tibet flights are always the best way to go if Lhasa is the only destination you have in mind.

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Dealing with Culture Shock in China: Part 2

On October 12, 2011, in Cultural Experience, Tips & Ideas, Travel Info, by Jack Li

After familiarising yourself with two of the prominent areas that are hugely different from your own country, this ‘Part 2′ will continue on to discuss other big differences you will discover once you step off your China flight. Travel to Beijing and Shanghai is generally easier than the smaller and less tourist friendly areas, however […]

After familiarising yourself with two of the prominent areas that are hugely different from your own country, this ‘Part 2′ will continue on to discuss other big differences you will discover once you step off your China flight. Travel to Beijing and Shanghai is generally easier than the smaller and less tourist friendly areas, however you will still experience the same culturally different things as many are the same across the country.

Shanghai is probably the most traveller friendly, being very international and tourist friendly. After this comes Beijing and other large cities, with rural and more unknown cities being the hardest of all – generally most of the general public won’t speak English or understand Pinyin at all.

 

One element of Chinese culture you are sure to find hard to get used to, particularly in big cities like Beijing, is the large population resulting in almost everywhere being busy and crowded. Nowhere is this more evident than on the subway, particularly during rush hour. This is a completely alien experience as tube carriages are packed full like sardines, often with subway guards cramming people in until the doors barely shut around them. Then for the duration of the journey you are wedged in, with no sense of personal space!

It is quite interesting to watch the chaos as people try to make it on and off the subway without losing shoes, handbags or dropping something. However, once you become familiar with the protocol it is fairly simple, just be sure to get as close to the doors as possible when you wish to alight, and as far away when you wish to remain in the carriage! Another thing to be aware of (although it is changing) is queues aren’t particularly commonplace in China, and although initially there may be a queue formed, as soon as the carriage doors are open it is every man for himself.

 

The sense of hustle and bustle is not only limited to the Subway. In general the traffic on the roads is just as hectic as the Subway lines and attempting to cross the road can at first be very intimidating as cars, buses, rickshaws and motorbikes will not stop or move around you. The best thing to do is follow some locals the first few times and before long you will be weaving in and out of the traffic confidently. One thing to know is the Chinese love to toot their horns, which generally makes you freeze on the spot convinced they are going to hit you, but usually those hooting are infact nowhere near or heading in a completely different direction to you, so just keep moving!

You will get used to the constant noise, whether it be from the roads, the locals talking at maximum volume or the lullaby constantly being blown out of McDonald’s speakers. It is quite exhilarating to experience and sometimes it is great fun to just step back and watch the madness.

 

If you are a bit intimidated by the idea of navigating China by yourself, look into a China tour or multi city tour for a milder introduction to China.

Dealing with Culture Shock in China: Part 1

China travel adventures can seem to many as an exotic cultural mix of opposites to what they are used to at home. From all the new varieties of food to the unusual language and the hustle and bustle of the big cities, there is a range of new experiences to conjure up thoughts of excitement […]

China travel adventures can seem to many as an exotic cultural mix of opposites to what they are used to at home. From all the new varieties of food to the unusual language and the hustle and bustle of the big cities, there is a range of new experiences to conjure up thoughts of excitement and adventure. However many first time visitors are unaware of the culture shock they will face when their China flight touches down at the airport.

This post will discuss a few factors to be aware of before you arrive, so things don’t come as such a surprise when you exit the airport feeling jet lagged and nervous.

 

One of the first things, and something that is impossible not to notice or find difficult to adjust to (unless you already know Mandarin) is the language. Signs, sounds and everyday objects which were once commonplace become replaced by complex looking characters, hard to decipher sounds and items you can’t tell the function or contents of.

An essential item for making this easier is a Mandarin Phrasebook. Ensure you have one that displays words in both Pinyin and Chinese characters and it will make adjusting to China much easier.

 

Another factor to consider is the local food. Chinese food is far different from the dishes available in western countries which have been adapted to suit the western palette. There is a huge choice available and it varies dependant on the cuisine or province the food originates from. For example Sichuan food tends to use a lot of spice and chilli, whereas Beijing food tends to feature noodles and heavy buns due to the harsh climate in winter.

Although in the large cities there is western food available, it is often ‘Chinese Western’ and not fully authentic. Many staple ingredients back home are difficult to source and overpriced out in China especially Cheese, Wine and Steak. Breakfast is far different as well and often consists of savoury rice porridge and dumplings or something similar.

Often different parts of meat are used which can be difficult to get used to, and it helps to know the Chinese view chicken breasts as the most ‘tasteless’ part of the meat so it is less often used. Chicken feet on the other hand are a delicacy and found in many different varieties, including dried, fried and boiled!

 

Once you have got your head around the new cuisine choices, there is the method of eating it! Generally unless you are in a tourist frequented restaurant or a Western place there will not be a knife and fork available. Your utensils of choice will be chopsticks and occasionally a spoon! Chopsticks aren’t too tricky to use after a few tries, and you gain a sense of satisfaction from finishing a meal using them (it also impresses the Chinese locals).

If the thought of this terrifies you, your China Hotel may well have western restaurants or buffets which will provide cutlery. In addition street food and fast food outlets such as KFC, Mcdonalds and Pizza Hut are everywhere if you wish to avoid utensils completely!

 

 

Visit the Zoo Market for a Local Shopping Experience!

On October 8, 2011, in Beijing, China Travel Gossip, Shopping, Tips & Ideas, by Jack Li

For anyone planning to travel to Beijing who enjoys shopping and getting off the beaten track to where the locals hang out, it is definately worth making a trip out to the Beijing Zoo Market. This is an underground clothing market located opposite the Beijing Zoo, with the nearest subway stops being Xizhimen or Beijing […]

For anyone planning to travel to Beijing who enjoys shopping and getting off the beaten track to where the locals hang out, it is definately worth making a trip out to the Beijing Zoo Market. This is an underground clothing market located opposite the Beijing Zoo, with the nearest subway stops being Xizhimen or Beijing Zoo. The market is located between the second and third ring road in the west of the city, close to the student areas surrounding the big universities. It may be a short trip from your Beijing Hotel but the subway is simple, fast and the most practical transport mode to take. There is also an aquarium nearby worth a visit.

 

The market itself is predominantly clothing and accessories, generally focusing on women’s apparel however there are stalls selling menswear and children’s clothing. There is less of a focus on imitation designer goods, however these are still available just at a smaller volume than the notorious tourist markets such as the Silk Market and Yashow. You can often find many high street branded items, often these are a mix of copies with tags sewn in and genuine overstock from the factories. In my recent visit there was very convincing knitwear and clothing from H&M, Fornarina, ASOS, Topshop, New Look and Zara, which is probably a combination of genuine and imitation. Prices here are very good and not subject to the huge inflation you will experience at the other markets for having a western face.

 

Haggling is possible here but generally only a small margin from the quoted price. Many items such as jewellery, scarves and other accessories are sold at fixed prices. During my visit in the busy Golden Week public holiday I found a range of bargains at the cheapest price available in the city. Here is a short list of rough prices as of October 2011:

Scarves (depending on thickness) 25-40rmb

Purses (branded and unbranded) 35rmb

Necklaces/Earrings 10-35rmb

Tights (many styles and patterns) 10-20rmb

Vest tops (branded and high street) 12-30rmb

Cardigans 40-65rmb

Jeans 50rmb

Shoes/Sandals (high heels are more) 40-70rmb

Coats and jackets 70-140rmb

Skirts 30rmb

 

Once you are all shopped out there are a few budget options for food within the market itself, mostly vendors dotted about selling ice cream, drinks or grilled corn on the cob. If you are after a more substantial meal before heading back to your Beijing Hotel there is a McDonalds just outside the subway entrance and a short walk away (directly joined on to Xizhimen subway station) is the large Capita Mall which has a range of eating options, alongside more shopping if you still have money left over!

 

Shopping Mall Heaven in Xidan!

On September 29, 2011, in Beijing, Modern Architecture, Shopping, Tips & Ideas, by Jack Li

Anyone with a love for shopping will love a China Travel adventure. Whether you travel to Beijing, Shanghai or elsewhere, you will find plenty of markets, malls and department stores to keep you busy, and help to part you with your money! This blog will discuss the area of Xidan, which is not commonly top […]

Anyone with a love for shopping will love a China Travel adventure. Whether you travel to Beijing, Shanghai or elsewhere, you will find plenty of markets, malls and department stores to keep you busy, and help to part you with your money! This blog will discuss the area of Xidan, which is not commonly top of the list for the average tourist to visit, but shopping central for students, expats and the general public in Beijing!

 

You can get to Xidan on subway line 1, the Xidan stop is just past Tiananmen and you will exit right into the heart of the shopping district. Line 4 also stops here aswell. When you leave the subway you will find yourself at the beginning of Xidan Commercial Street, which is a three and a half mile long commercial centre, with malls and department stores propped up side by side.

 

Opening times are generally 10am til 10pm, with some stores opening at 9 or 9.30am. Generally malls have a fast food style food court on the lower floor, and a more upmarket restaurant food court on the upper floor. However in the bigger malls restaurants are interspersed with shops, cafe’s and stalls.

 

The Top Malls to check out in Xidan:


Joy City

This is the mother of all malls in Xidan, with thirteen floors packed with fashion, cosmetics, home ware and everything else inbetween. Joy City features the largest cosmetic store in Beijing, the largest cinema in China and the largest escalator in the world. It has a huge variety of shops and restaurants with a mix of Chinese, international and high end stores.

 

Grand Pacific Mall

Grand Pacific is less flashy and a fair bit older than Joy City (it opened in 2003), however it is still a big mall with a large selection, particularly if you are looking for denim products. The mall hosts many big denim brands including Miss Sixty, Replay and Diesel.

 

Xidan Shopping Centre

Xidan mall is a large (and again fairly ageing) mall, with an interesting market on the ground floor selling Chinese food, snack and candy items. These would be ideal for gifts to take back home, as there is a huge variety and prices are very reasonable with no need to haggle! Stores here are arranged by category, so there is are floors for ladies fashion, another for accessories, one for electronics – and so on. The top floor features a food court with many cheap dining options.

The upper floors of the mall are filled with tiny stalls, similar to the markets, selling all sorts of items, mostly fashion and accessories. Come here prepared to haggle, as although prices won’t start as high as the Silk Market, being a westerner you may still be subject to price inflation.

 

If you manage to see all of these and are still not ready to head back to your Beijing Hotel with your bags, then there are still many more shopping options. There are plenty of high end shops and department stores including Xidan CVIK Store, Chung You Department Store, Xidan Department Store and The Parkson Building.

A Mini Guide to Street Food Delights in Beijing!

On September 27, 2011, in Beijing, Cultural Experience, Restaurants & Food, Tips & Ideas, by Jack Li

When planning your China Travel trip it is worth researching the varieties of local food available to see what dishes and cooking styles appeal to you. For adventurous eaters or those on a strict budget planning to travel to Beijing, you should definitely check out the variety of street food available within the city.   […]

When planning your China Travel trip it is worth researching the varieties of local food available to see what dishes and cooking styles appeal to you. For adventurous eaters or those on a strict budget planning to travel to Beijing, you should definitely check out the variety of street food available within the city.

 

There is quite a variety of street food available, although some items may only be for sale during certain months of the year, or at certain times of the day. This ranges from breakfast items, drinks, desserts and main meals. Those looking to find the more exotic offerings should check to one of the Night Markets in Wangfujing (however, even though called ‘night’ markets, they do tend to close up around 10pm).

 

Some types of Street Food on offer in Beijing:

Chuan’r (Meat Kebabs)

These are skewers of barbecued meat with spices. They are available in beef, pork and chicken amongst others with the most popular being lamb. Chuan’r originate from Xinjiang in the west. They are often found at night markets as well as down side streets and roads around the city, although less often in the direct centre.

Xianer Bing

This is a savoury pancake, stuffed with various fillings. The most popular is minced beef or pork, but there are vegetable versions on offer.

Noodles

A safe bet for even the pickiest eaters, noodle stands are available across Beijing. Most commonly found at the night markets, outside hotels and by metro stations. These can be found with meat and/or vegetables added, and there are usually varying spice levels.

Ice Cream

Various flavours of ice cream can be found throughout the city, locations are all over the place, including inside the Silk Market. It is recommended to visit a stall that is nice and busy to ensure a good quality result!

Jiaozi and Baozi

These street snacks, more commonly known in the west are filled dumplings. The name differs with the method used to cook them and flour used. The standard filling is pork, but other meat alongside seafood and vegetarian fillings are common.

Jian Bing

A common, filling breakfast item with a very low price tag. Jian Bing is a pancake filled with egg, cilantro and onion, spread with a fine layer of bean paste and fried dough before being wrapped up. There are usually other ingredients available, although it may take some good hand gesturing skills to get what you want. These are often seen each morning outside hotels, residential areas and office buildings.

Grilled Vegetable/Meat Skewers

These are usually available all year round, well into the small hours of the evening. Popular varieties include skewers of mixed vegetables, grilled corn, chicken wings and potato slices. Often seen in the nightlife districts of Sanlitun.

Fresh and dried fruit

Same as the skewers of meat and vegetables,  fruit is easy to find in the city alongside sellers at tourist sights such as The Great Wall. It is very cheap for a nicely sized portion, and you can usually mix varities of fruit together. Plenty of selection at night markets and around Sanlitun area. Take care with all fresh fruit as it is recommended to rinse with bottled water before eating.

Hongshu

Hongshu are sweet potatoes baked in their skins, commonly seen around mid afternoon. These are often found in side streets and around hutongs, and are also available at Olympic Park, just outside of the square.

Caramelised fruit skewers

These are popular throughout the city and come in many flavours including strawberry, kiwi and apple. Similar to toffee apples seen at home around halloween, these sugary delights are found all over, with a large selection at Wangfujing night markets and Tianan’men Square.

 

In addition to these there are many other foods available to sample throughout the city. Similar street food is available throughout China, so if you are planning to travel to Shanghai or another Chinese city you will find more options there, probably differing slightly for local tastes.

Veggie Heaven in Beijing!

On September 26, 2011, in Beijing, Restaurants, Tips & Ideas, by Jack Li

When considering China as a potential holiday destination, it is often confusing for those with specific dietary requirements to understand what food options will be available for them once they arrive. If you plan to travel to Beijing this article will hopefully give you a bit more information on Vegetarian and Vegan options. There are […]

When considering China as a potential holiday destination, it is often confusing for those with specific dietary requirements to understand what food options will be available for them once they arrive. If you plan to travel to Beijing this article will hopefully give you a bit more information on Vegetarian and Vegan options. There are a decent amount of restaurants available within the city and most Beijing hotels, alongside fast food and western restaurants will also have guaranteed meat free dishes on the menu for Vegetarians.

 

For a larger selection you could head to a pure Vegetarian restaurant. There are a variety of such places available and you will find a high concentration in the area surrounding the Lama Temple. It is not unusual for monks and tourists to dine in these places at the same time which makes for an interesting experience.

 

A popular place and well worth a visit is ‘Xu Xiang Zhai‘. This restaurant is nearby the Lama Temple and directly opposite Conficus Temple, with the nearest subway being Yonghegong on line 5. The establishment offers a buffet starting at 5.30pm, and a large menu which is available all day. It is quite a serene atmosphere, upon walking in you feel as though you are entering a spa complete with fish swimming around in pools. It is one of the most reasonably priced Vegetarian restaurants with the buffet costing around £6, which includes drinks and desserts. This consists of Chinese and Western dishes alongside some unusual and interesting creations.

 

Those with a larger budget may consider ‘Pure Lotus Vegetarian‘. This restaurant has two locations in the Chaoyang district and has fairly western prices, with a meal costing between £12 and £20 per head. Similarly to Xu Xiang Zhai it offers Vegetarian dishes alongside mock meat imitations, including Veggie versions of Peking Duck, Kung Pao Chicken and Kobe Beef. Other purely Vegetarian restaurants worth a look are Lotus in Moonlight, Tianchu Miaoxiang, Fairy Su and Beijing Vegan Hut.

 

In addition to the specific Vegetarian places, many Chinese dishes such as stir fries, noodles and hot pots have Vegetarian varieties, and tofu is a popular ingredient replacing meat in many dishes. The only issue to be aware of is sometimes these dishes may be cooked in animal fat, seasoned with fish sauce or accompanied with meat toppings so it is best to bring a phrase book or download an English to Chinese dictionary application on your phone so you can effectively communicate with the waitress.

 

Some key phrases to learn before your trip which will come in very useful are:

I dont eat meat - Wǒ bùchī ròu

I am vegetarian – Wǒ sù shí zhě

I am Vegan -Wǒ chún sù shí zhě

Do you have Vegetarian food? – Yǒuméiyǒu sù shí zhě

I am on a special diet – Wǒ zài jiéshí

I am allergic to (insert food) - Wǒ duì (insert food) guòmǐn

Could you make a meal without (insert food)? – Néngbùnéng zuòyīge bùfang (insert food) de cài?

fish – yú

eggs - jīdàn

poultry - jiāqín

red meat – niúyángròu

gluten - miànjīn

seafood – hǎixiān

shellfish – bèiké

peanuts – huāshēng

meat – ròu

pork – zhūròu

beef – niúròu

(note these phrases can be incomprehensible or mean something else entirely if pronounced incorrectly, so it may be worth downloading an application for your mobile phone with an Audio component to become familiar with the pronunciation.)

 

Another possible option to consider would be sampling the varieties of street food in Beijing, as there are many vegetarian snacks and meals, including baked sweet potatoes, savoury pancakes, fresh fruit and grilled vegetables on sticks. Additionally it may be worth heading for a large supermarket like Carrefour or Wal Mart if you have self catering facilities, as they have a large selection of both western and Chinese foods to create meals from. These are some of the bigger hypermarkets but there are plenty of small to medium supermarkets and stores located near most Beijing Hotels.

 

A Short First Timers Guide to Trains in China

On September 20, 2011, in China Travel Gossip, Tips & Ideas, Travel Info, by Jack Li

During your China travel adventure, You may consider venturing out on the train for an interesting cultural experience, a day trip to somewhere new or simply as a method of transport from point A to B. Less hassle than catching a flight or taking a bus, the trains in China cover most of the important […]

During your China travel adventure, You may consider venturing out on the train for an interesting cultural experience, a day trip to somewhere new or simply as a method of transport from point A to B. Less hassle than catching a flight or taking a bus, the trains in China cover most of the important tourist destinations alongside local areas so you can travel to Xian, Shanghai, Guilin, Tibet, Guangzhou and more depending on your itinerary.

 

Train Categories in China

Trains in China have multiple categories, distinguished by a letter (this precedes a number which corresponds to the route). ‘K’ and ‘T’ are the oldest and therefore slowest train types, with the middle category being the ‘Z’ train. Trains starting with a  ‘C’, ‘D’ or ‘G’ are the newest and fastest trains, usually with the highest prices, although this is worthwhile if you are short of time and far from the price you would pay for the same distance in a western country.

 

Seat and Sleeper Classes in China

There are a variety of seat and sleeper classes on Chinese trains, however some are restricted to certain trains, for example long distance or popular routes. The types available are: Soft Sleeper, Hard Sleeper, Soft Seat, Hard Seat and the less often seen Deluxe Sleeper.

Soft sleeper is a 4 bed compartment with a lockable door, car attendant and occasionally, TV screens and power supplies. This is the most popular category for western tourists and nicely fits a family of four. The two lower bunks convert into sofa’s for daytime use. Hard sleeper is an open plan 6 bed partition and has no lockable door. These berths are popular with the backpacker crowd and travellers with a lower budget.

Soft and hard seats are similar to those on western trains, soft is slightly larger and more padded being equivalent to first class back home, whilst second class are cheaper and adequate, like standard train seats in Europe and America.

Deluxe sleepers are usually found on long distance overnight trains and consist of a private 2 bed compartment with private bathroom area. Travellers use these less often, as they are usually equivalent to the cost of a flight and generally occupied by government employees.

Train facilities

All except the oldest ‘K’ and ‘T’ trains are fully air conditioned and generally have both western and squat toilets available. Toilet paper is very rarely supplied so be prepared to bring your own supply for the journey. Smoking is only permitted outside of sleeping compartments and aisles, however the newer model trains have a non-smoking rule.

All long distance trains and those running a popular route have restaurants on board. They are housed in a restaurant car and those heading to or from major tourist orientated towns and cities will likely have an English menu. There are snacks, drinks and hot meals available. In addition to this there are usually hot water dispensers situated throughout the train should you wish to make your own hot drinks, soup or pot noodles.

 

Booking and Purchasing Tickets

You can purchase tickets prior to your arrival in China or through an agent, this is a stress free easier method especially if you don’t have a very flexible itinerary, however there will be an added fee for the convenience.

It is simple enough to book tickets yourself and large cities generally have an English speaking booth available. Tickets for the popular high speed trains usually come on sale up to 20 days before departure however the older and less used trains often leave it until 5 to 10 days before. It is recommended to take your passport as for certain routes and trains it needs to be presented in order for you to book a ticket. Another point to be aware of is you are only able to book a journey departing from the station you are at, so you cannot book a journey from Beijing to Xian if you are at Shanghai Central Station.

A recommended website for train travel throughout China (and other cities) with all other vital information including photographs is Seat 61. You can also book many train journeys within China online at China Travel Depot.

 

The Challenge of Learning Mandarin in Beijing!

On September 9, 2011, in Activities, China Travel Gossip, Cultural Experience, by Jack Li

When you travel to Beijing, especially if you plan to get good deals in the markets or take a few taxis it may be a good idea to learn some Mandarin phrases. Although staff in the higher end China hotels may speak some English, not much is spoken in many others which can be a […]

When you travel to Beijing, especially if you plan to get good deals in the markets or take a few taxis it may be a good idea to learn some Mandarin phrases. Although staff in the higher end China hotels may speak some English, not much is spoken in many others which can be a problem should you have an issue with your room.

 

The term ‘Mandarin’ is technically the name of the Beijing dialect group within the Chinese language as opposed to the actual language name. Officially the correct name for the language itself is ‘Modern Standard Chinese’, known locally as ‘Pǔtōnghuà’ (meaning the common dialect’), however most western countries refer to it simply as ‘Mandarin’.

 

There are over 800 million speakers of Mandarin throughout the world and it is one of the six official languages for the United Nations. It is not the easiest of languages to learn, mostly due to its tonal structure and use of characters rather than a standard alphabet.

 

Mandarin has four tones and these are what differentiate words that otherwise appear to have the same pronunciation. For example, the word ‘ma’ can mean mother, horse, hemp and scold dependant on the tone used to pronounce it, and in addition it is also used to make a statement into a question, for example:

Nǐ jiào Ceri (You are called Ceri)

Nǐ jiào Ceri ma? (Are you called Ceri?)

 

Tones in Mandarin

The four tones are known as:

  • 1st (high tone)
  • 2nd (high rising tone)
  • 3rd (low falling-rising tone)
  • 4th (high falling tone)

 

Understanding Pinyin

Pinyin was introduced in 1958 as a method of writing Chinese with the common Roman alphabet and is a helpful tool in learning how to pronounce Mandarin. Pinyin is used throughout most urban areas on signs and shops, however it is less common outside of the big cities and many native Chinese can’t understand it. Pinyin is a simple system to use providing you understand the rules of pronouncing letters, for example ‘c’ is pronounced like the ‘ts’ in ‘boats’ and ‘x’ like the ‘sh’ in ‘shoulder’.

 

It is still wise to carry a phrasebook around with you as a guide, and also they commonly have Chinese character definitions which is ideal if you plan to visit more rural locations. If you intend to stay in Beijing longer than a few days, there are also language schools located throughout the city, such as ‘That’s Mandarin’ which has locations in the main expat area of ‘Dongzhimen’ and the student district of ‘Wudaokou’.

 

There are also applications for the iphone and blackberry which you can download to help you with the language further, including a Chinese to English dictionary (for more information check out this page).

 

Here are some common phrases to get you started for when you travel to Beijing:

Hello Nǐ hǎo

Goodbye Zài Jiàn

Thanks Xiè xiè

Yes Shì

No Bùshì

Do you speak English? Nǐ huìshuō Yīngwén ma?

How much? Duō Shǎo?

One

Two Er

Too expensive Tàiguì le!

 

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