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Travel InsuranceWe strongly advise you purchase comprehensive travel insurance before you leave. BME can recommend JS Insurance for travellers from the UK and AIG Travel Guard for travellers from the USA.
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Getting around: Beijing Transport
Bus, bike, taxi, subway – transport in Beijing
Beijing is big. In fact, Beijing is a province all of its own, but fortunately most of the things tourists are interested in are located within the reasonably small downtown area.
When we say ‘downtown’ or ‘central Beijing’ we generally mean the area within the second ring road, or within the circle line of the subway. Calling it the ‘second ring road’ is a bit confusing, it’s actually the innermost. The theoretical ‘first ring road’ is Chang’an Jie, which runs East-West across central Beijing and is not in any way ring-like.
Beijing Transport: The Beijing Subway
Click here for a Beijing subway map including Line 5.
The Beijing subway is possibly the best way to get around Beijing and it’ll be even better by 2008. There are currently two main lines and one other that goes wandering off through the Northern suburbs – by 2008 there should be five more if all goes to plan. The first may be completed next year. The Beijing subway is extremely cheap, very rarely out of service, and the speed puts Beijing’s buses to shame. All this leads to its one disadvantage – horrendous crowds.
The two Beijing subway lines you’re most likely to use are Line 1 (The East-West Line) and Line 2 (The Circle Line). The East-West Line runs through the heart of Beijing, past Tiananmen Square, and intersects the Circle Line at Jianguomen and Fuxingmen. The Circle Line follows the route of the Second Ring Road, roughly encircling central Beijing. Line 13 has two interchanges with the Circle Line and meanders away to the North from there.
Line 5, due to be completed in 2007, will run North-South through Dong Cheng, the Eastern part of central Beijing, meeting the circle line at Yonghegong and Chongwenmen, and Line 1 at Dongdan.
Currently the flat fare for a single journey on the Beijing subway is 3Y irrespective of how far you travel, which line or any interchanges, but this will probably rocket in the near future.
Beijing Transport: Beijing Taxis
Beijing taxis are a really good way to get around and mercifully cheap. The flagfall fare is 10Y and a further 2.0Y or 1.6Y per km thereafter depending on the type of taxi. The rate per km is indicated by sticker in the back window, rates go up 20% at night.
Beijing taxis are being standardised in the drive to modernise the city before the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Older 1.2Y/km taxis are being phased out and the colour scheme is being standardised (yellow bottom, roof coloured according to the taxi firm). A red light on the dashboard comes on when the taxi is looking for a fare. There are often taxi ranks near bus stops but it’s ok to wave down a taxi anywhere except at junctions. Beijing taxi drivers are legally obliged to use the meter, if they don’t then tell them to.
Although in theory all Beijing taxi drivers are required to pass an English exam before 2008, most don’t seem to have started cramming yet. Get a Chinese friend or the hotel receptionist to write your destination down in Chinese and show it to the driver. Carry a hotel namecard with you for the journey back.
Most Beijing taxi drivers are honest and will chat happily away in a thick Beijing accent decipherable only by their immediate families. An unscrupulous minority may try to boost the fare by taking you the long way round so try to keep track of where you’re going on the map. Taxi drivers love to get onto one of Beijing’s ring roads, often quicker but invariably more expensive.
Steer well clear of the ‘taxi drivers’ who approach you at the airport saying ‘hello taxi’. Note that they picked out the foreigner. The same applies to drivers who lurk outside railway stations, bus stations and hotels. All of these places have taxi ranks, if they’re not in it then they’re up to no good.
In all legitimate Beijing taxis you’ll notice the driver’s photograph, name and identification number on a laminated plastic card on the dashboard. If you think you’re being scammed then look and sound annoyed (without losing your temper) and make a show of writing down the their details. They’ll straighten up soon enough.
Beijing Transport: Buses
Beijing buses are slow, old and crowded and the roads are choked with traffic. One of the few advantages of taking a bus in Beijing is that you can have fun counting the number of old ladies who pass you as you wait for hour after hour in traffic jams. Not only are Beijing’s buses overcrowded and slow, but you face the added problem of all the destinations being written in Chinese.
It seems likely that since the Beijing Municipal Government is over hauling everything else in the city, it might also do something about the buses before Beijing hosts the Olympics in 2008. If it does we’ll let you know, but for now we can’t recommend you rely on them. By all means try one out just for the experience, but if you actually want to get from A to B, finding alternative transport might be better.
Beijing Transport: Beijing Bicycles
For decades the bicycle was king in Beijing, and it’s still a very good way to get round. The city’s dead flat and there are very good bicycle lanes. Beijing’s car drivers are perhaps not the most considerate, but this drawback is made up for by safety in numbers – there are still loads of cyclists in Beijing.
If you decide to cycle around Beijing, try and fit a hutong into your route map. Cycling through a Beijing hutong is an enchanting, unforgettable experience.
Bicycles can be hired from most budget hotels and there are bike lots (sometimes with an attendant) everywhere you look. You can expect to pay anything from 10-50Y for one day’s hire and you’ll have to leave a deposit. Bicycle theft is a huge problem in Beijing, put your bike nicely in the middle, away from the roadside but in plain sight.
Safety: Bike lights and crash helmets are an unknown phenomenon in Beijing. We strongly recommend you bring your own. If not, be extremely careful at night and wear bright clothing. Be particularly careful at junctions, where cars turn right irrespective of the colour of the lights.
What to see and do around Beijing
Wonder at the Great Wall, be awed by the magnificent Forbidden City, drink in the scenery from a boat on the Summer Palace’s Kunming Lake.