Hey, I know it’s a been a while since my last post but sometimes a break is needed. On my way back from my solo trip to Phuket I had a long layover, about 22 hours in Beijing, China and I thought this would be a good opportunity to explore a new country I have never traveled to before. My experience in Beijing was not what I expected and wanted to share my experience with you all. I planned a little but not enough but decided to wing it, a lesson learned for sure.
Leaving the airport took longer than expected because the queue to get a temporary visa was extremely long. Plus trying to navigate myself around a huge airport while getting misdirected added to the time.
Passengers from 58 countries can get a free temporary visa upon arrival for up to 144 hours in a number of Chinese cities. Definitely check beforehand before planning your layover.
After getting my visa, I made my way to my airlines transfer service counter and my driver took me to my free transit hotel (Airport Lanwan Hotel) provided by my airline Air China. Did you know that a lot of major airlines provide free hotel stay during your transit? Airlines don’t really advertise this but if you meet the requirements, usually staying in a transit country for a number of hours then you qualify. My airline provided me with a hotel near the airport, including free breakfast and airport transfers.
After taking a well needed nap, I arranged for a driver at the hotel to take me to the popular sites Tienanmen square and the forbidden city. I was planning on using the local trains but another thing I forgot to prepare beforehand was for the weather. Beijing was colder than London, -6 degrees Celsius to be exact. I was really confused how I ended up in a country colder than the UK during winter season for once and was not dressed appropriately for the weather. Nonetheless, I didn’t let that stop me from exploring Beijing.
The first stop was the forbidden city. I was greeted with a tour guide who was trying to get me do an English speaking tour of the spectacular site with him. With less than 15 mins to closing time of buying tickets and having no idea where to buy entry tickets, I agreed to let him give me a tour after haggling the price down and helped me to buy my ticket online. The forbidden city, also known as the palace Museum is the largest palace complex in the world. It’s a beautiful site, with a lot of detail and rich in history. The entrance fee is 20 CNY (about £2) for students and 40 CNY. I just pretended to be a student for a day, a girl gotta save some coins.
After learning some interesting facts from my tour guide, we then walked past Tienanmen square and then proceeded into a tea shop in Jingshan Park and participated in a traditional tea ceremony. It was a good experience but my guide left the part where this is a paid experience costing 100 CNY.
Later I walked up the steps towards the temple and saw amazing views overlooking the forbidden city.
After this, I was on the search to try some traditional Chinese food like Pecking duck which I heard is a must try in Beijing. This is where everything went a bit left for me. I got lost and had to get back a meeting point I agreed with my driver. I had no WiFi, no internet and no social media. Even google maps and YouTube is blocked, I then realised I was screwed. I started walking into shops asking for directions and no one could really understand me. The language barrier hit me real hard in Beijing. The struggle was absolutely real! My friend did warn me about this but I only learned 2 words in Mandarin. Luckily and unluckily I bumped into a Chinese local who was also visiting Beijing and spoke very good English. Although he helped me call my driver to come and pick me up, while waiting we sat down to have some tea & wine and cheekily got scammed.
My experience as a black solo traveler in Beijing was both lovely, sometimes unsafe and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in the stares, the pictures and videos me being taken without permission and the whispers and pointing. This was the most I’ve ever experienced in any country I’ve ever visited. Another thing was the scams. I think I will call Beijing the king of scammers because I got scammed soo smoothly at least twice that it didn’t hit me until I reflected on my 11 hour flight journey back to London. I’m usually quite good at detecting scams. Well it took one day in Beijing to change that! My mistake is that I should have read up on common scams beforehand. The tea house scam and the 3 wheeled rickshaw ride was definitely used on me, sigh. It’s a shame this spoiled my experience because it’s a beautiful city with a unique culture.
However, I did have some nice encounters with some people who gave me compliments or helped me with directions.
I don’t think I will be visiting Beijing anytime soon unless it’s for work. Hopefully in the future I will have a more positive experience when If I come back next time!