Hey, I know it’s 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 travelled 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 several Chinese cities. Definitely check beforehand before planning your layover.
After getting my visa, I made my way to my airline’s transfer service counter and my driver took me to my free transit hotel (Airport Lanwan Hotel) provided by my airline Air China.
Travel Smart Tip: Did you know that a lot of major airlines provide a free hotel to stay during your transit?
Airlines don’t always advertise this but if you meet the requirements, usually staying in a transit country for some 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 about how I ended up in a country colder than the UK during the 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 to do an English speaking tour of the spectacular site with him. With less than 15 mins to the 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 sight, 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 that day, I walked up to 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.
Let me set the scene for you.
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. The sky was pitch black because the sun had set really early and it was freezing cold. 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 (Thank you = Xièxiè 谢谢 and Hello = Nǐ hǎo 你好)
Unluckily and maybe luckily I bumped into a Chinese local who was also visiting Beijing and spoke very good English. At this point I was desperate and was so thankful I came across someone who could understand me. He helped me call my driver to come and pick me up. While we waiting, he invited me to sit down at a nearby Teahouse for some traditional tea & wine. Out of respect, I thought it would be polite to not decline his offer. Besides, it was really cold and it made sense to be in a heated building with warm tea but this is where I cheekily got scammed.
My experience as a black solo traveller in Beijing was both lovely, sometimes unsafe and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in the stares, the pictures and videos being taken of me without permission, the whispers, giggles 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 typical 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 tried to assist 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 I come back next time!
Thanks for reading!
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