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Arriving & Departing
Beijing is served by an international airport and a domestic one, as well as five major train stations and several intercity bus stations.
Beijing Capital International Airport is a large, modern, busy airport. It was upgraded and extended to meet the needs of the 2008 Olympic Games held in Beijing. It is English-friendly and you will see English signage and hear announcements in English as well as Mandarin.
As with most large airports, it may take some time to proceed through the arrival formalities. You need to have completed three forms, Customs Declaration, Entry and Health declaration. Forms are available if you weren't given them on the plane or at check-in time.
Best website for good airfare within China is www.elong.com, in the top right corner is a drop-down menu in Mandarin, English option is there to translate website.
Once in the terminal area you should ignore anyone who approaches you offering a taxi, as these will be unmetered or unlicensed taxis and will overcharge. Go instead to the official taxi queues outside.
Nanyuan Airport is the city’s small domestic airport. It is located in the south of the city and has only a few flights. Its main carrier is China United.
Traveling by train in China is inexpensive, usually safe and always memorable. The most iconic of Beijing’s five train stations is the massive Beijing Railway Station, the pivot point of China’s national railway system located near the center of the city. It was built in 1959 as one of the “Ten Great Buildings” commemorating the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The station remains bustling with national and international arrivals and departures, but now shares rail traffic with other terminals at the four compass points of the city: north, south, east and west.
Beijing is the largest hub for ground transportation in China. There are more than 20 long-distance bus stations in Beijing; the Zhaogongkou Long-Distance Bus Station is the largest.
Driving in China can be challenging, as not all fellow drivers observe traffic safety rules, but most highways leading into Beijing are now well-maintained, although few road signs may be in English. This mode of getting to Beijing is not encouraged, however, because finding parking once in the city is often difficult – and expensive. In 2011, City Hall increased the cost of car parking to up to 10rmb per hour in some places.
There are three main forms of public transportation in Beijing –taxis, buses and subway – and each feeds into the city from most arrival points listed above. There is also a light-rail system that brings air passengers into the city center quickly.
When leaving Beijing Capital airport, go to the taxi queue outside. It is preferable to have your hotel address printed out in Chinese, together with the phone number to ensure you actually get to your intended destination (especially with chain hotels that have more than one outlet in the city).
Occasionally, a taxi driver may offer a fixed price instead of using the meter. Refuse and insist the meter be turned on before beginning the trip. If he does not, leave the taxi. In addition to the amount on the meter, taxis will charge an additional fee for the toll on the airport road, currently 10 yuan at Terminal 3 and 5 yuan at Terminals 1 & 2. The driver will normally pay this at the toll booth and add it to the fare when you get to your destination. There is currently a 2-yuan fuel surcharge also added to all journeys over 3 kilometers. A taxi ride to Tiananmen will take about 40 minutes in good traffic and cost in the region of 100 renminbi (rmb). Tipping is not required or expected. Taxis are relatively cheap and plentiful, and the recommended way to get into the city.
By Arranged Car
It is possible to arrange for a car to pick you up at the international airport from most hotels, and there are many private operators that provide transfer services. This will usually cost much more than a taxi, but eliminates possible problems finding your hotel or being overcharged.
Airport shuttle buses are the cheapest way to get into the city at 16rmb per person, but convenient only if you do not have much luggage or already know where the buses are going to drop you off. At the ticket desk there is a board showing the stops along each route. Automated announcements are made in English as well as Chinese. Buses may go when full (seated passengers only), otherwise they follow the schedules advertised - normally departing at 15- or 30-minute intervals.
The Airport Express is the rapid light-rail system that brings passengers into the city center. Tickets cost 25rmb one way. Slower, less expensive subway connections to the city from the international airport’s Terminals 2 and 3 also exist.
Renting a car and driving in Beijing isn’t recommended, for the reasons cited above and because parking often is difficult. Public transportation is inexpensive and plentiful in Beijing, as are taxis.
Beijing is a huge, spread-out capital city, but it’s relatively easy to navigate with maps and destinations written in Chinese characters to show train or bus conductors and taxi drivers who don’t read English.
Parts of the city are wonderfully historic, scenic and pleasantly tree-lined for walking, but the distances between well-known tourist sites can be prohibitive, especially if trying to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
The Beijing subway is 40 years old, and has been extended over recent years and in particular in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games. The subway system is an excellent, inexpensive (2rmb single-journey ticket) option for getting around. It is fast and convenient, with English signage and most stations have self-serve ticketing machines. There is also a suburban rail link that extends out to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. The subway system runs from about 5 a.m. to 11p.m. daily. The subway can get very crowded during peak hours but trains run frequently. There is a terrific interactive map to be found at http://www.explorebj.com/subway/, which will display fare cost and travel times, as well as station information.
There are thousands of buses operating in Beijing with hundreds of routes, so getting almost anywhere within the city limits, as well as reaching suburban areas, is possible. Buses are generally crowded because they are the cheapest form of public transport. The bus service is not scheduled, as such, but buses are usually quite frequent. They run from about 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; the times of the first and last buses from the termini (not the bus stop) are displayed. However, most of the information is written in Chinese, which makes bus travel less appealing to tourists who don’t read the language.
There are a couple of city bus routes that are very useful for tourists. Both of these are trolleybus routes with a flat fare of 1rmb, cash only. Trolleybus 107 runs between Dongzhimen and Baishiqiao East (next stop past Beijing Zoo). Trolleybus 124 provides a convenient way to get from the north entrance of the Forbidden City (Gu gong station) to either the Qianhai/Houhai Lakes area (Di an men wai station) or Drum Tower (Gu lou station) by skirting around the east side of Jingshan Park before continuing north. Details of these routes, including a map, can be found at http://www.bjbus.com/home/index.php
There are waterways available for another mode of tourism in Beijing, and the boats on them are in service from April to October. Visitors to Yuyuantan Park can take a boat in the port of Bayi Lake and enter the south gate of the Summer Palace by waterway; those going to the Beijing Zoo, Beijing Exhibition Center and Beijing Aquarium can reach the Summer Palace by taking a boat in the port of Back Lake.
Riding a bicycle is a good way to get around Beijing, as it allows riders to avoid crowded public buses and traffic jams and save money. At peak times on the busy roads in Beijing, the bicycle is the fastest and most convenient vehicle for a short journey. Most hotels in Beijing offer bicycles for hire and there are also government-authorized outlets that offer short- or longer-term rentals; remember that a fairly large cash deposit will be required.
All taxis are metered, and fares are 2rmb per kilometer, with a base rate 10rmb for the first 3 kilometers. Journeys in excess of 15 kilometers cost 3rmb per kilometer for the portion above 15 kilometers. Currently (August 2011), there is a 2-rmb fuel surcharge added to all fares above 3 kilometers. Night rates (11 p.m. – 5 a.m.) are 20% higher, with a base rate of 11rmb. As another alternative for extended journeys, try to find a good, honest taxi driver and book him for the whole day at a flat fee off the meter. For normal journeys within the city, this is not necessary.
Rickshaws have become popular for tourists who want to tour the hutongs, or old urban housing lanes. A rickshaw is more expensive than taking a taxi but allows visitors to enjoy the street scene and avoid traffic jams. Rickshaws can be found at major transportation hubs in the city center and the tourist areas. Legal rickshaw drivers wear a chest plate with their name and a supervisor’s telephone number. Be careful with the rickshaws that are pedalled rather than motorized. Obviously. you set the price before you get in and they will hold up 3 fingers and you ask "30 RMB?" and they say yes. Upon arrival, they insist it is 300 RMB and suddenly they are able to clearly speak "3-0-0". Write the number on a piece of paper or hold up 30 RMB when questioning.