Subject: Bejing, China Info (long)
Greetings Ziners,

These are some "lessons learned" from our trip to Beijing, China. We used Gate1 Travel and everything was as advertised. Our group consisted of 13 family and friends aged 7 to 70 years old. With the exception of my family of four, all of the others in the group used the organized tours provided, (for a fee) by Gate1 Travel.

Money:

Some recommend using US $1.00 bills for purchases, but that is technically illegal in China. We used the Chinese yuan, (8 yuan to the dollar). Use small bills. $1, $5 and $10 yuan work best. Except in hotels and larger restaurants, there is a reluctance to accept $100 yuan bills, (due to counterfeit bills). There are pickpockets. Use a money belt or keep your wallet in the front pocket of your pants. When the vendors #mobbed us#, I kept my hand over my wallet. Keep some $1 and $5 yuan bills in your pocket to buy stuff; avoid thumbing through your wallet. The books all talk about using ATM machines and credit card. We found that only larger restaurants/stores take credit cards. From what we observed, the only ATM machines that accepted an ATM card was the Bank of China. They have an ATM machine in the Best Western Hotel where we stayed, but no one could make it work. The Hotel will exchange money for you. Save your money exchange receipts when converting dollars to yuan. You can only cash in 50% of what you have receipts for when you leave. The Bank of China seems to be the only place to exchange yuan back into dollars. There is a Bank of China at the departure gate in Beijing, but it opens at 0930 hrs.

Transportation:

Each person should always carry a Hotel card. If using a taxi, have the front desk write your destination on the card in Chinese. Because many hotels are new, so you may have to check with a couple of cabs for the return trip#..lots of cabs no problem. The longest taxi ride was $42 yuan (but he was not sure of the hotels location and we had heavy traffic).

With 4 people, use the $1.60 yuan cabs or larger. None of the drivers we used could speak ANY English. Carry a map of the city with the hotel marked on it. Inflatable neck pillow for the L O N G airplane flight. There were two meals served on the flight to Tokyo and one meal on the flight from Tokyo to Beijing and visa versa. Make your flight reservations ASAP to get a good seat. On the B747-400, try for rows 32-44 as the seats are a little larger. We had row 32 D/E/F/G on the flight over which was facing the bulkhead, good leg room. The emergency exits also have good leg room. .

Food/Drink:

The hotels are at least 4 times as expensive as a small restaurant. If it looks clean and is full of people, try it! We fed 4 people 4 dishes with 3 beers for $40 yuan. Tipping at local restaurants was not expected.

Use your China Book. Open to the food section and show the wait staff what you want. Most menus we saw were in Chinese, (or pictures) not Pinyin.

Don't drink the tap water. They sell bottled water on the bus on the way to the hotel for 2 bottles for 1 dollar, (at the store bottle water was 0.75 jiao, 8 yuan to the dollar and 10 jiao to the yuan). There is a water boiler in most rooms. We used ours to boil water each night and refill the water bottles for drinking and brushing teeth. Carry toilet paper and hand disinfectant with you. Most of the toilets were #squatty-potties#. Usually no toilet paper in the restrooms. There are some public restrooms available, and restrooms in the restaurants.

Tours VS Exploring on your own:

The tour guides the rest of the group used were very knowledgeable and made them feel comfortable and safe. I did the pre-work, so I was comfortable with striking off on our own with my wife and kids. By doing the sightseeing on your own, you are able to avoid the crowds#with the tour group; you walked around with your own crowd, (about 45 people) and did not have the freedom to see what you want on your own schedule. Striking off on your own is also quite a bit cheaper.

The tour for the first day the group took, ($59 US per person w/lunch) with GATE 1 was Tiananmien Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and the Confucius Temple.

We took a taxi for $22 yuan, (less than $3 US for 4) to Tiananmien Square, entrance to the Forbidden City for $40 yuan, ($5 US per person) and an audio guide for $40 yuan, ($5 US per person). Taxi back $42 yuan because of traffic and the driver not being sure where the hotel was, (about $5 US).

Total cost for 4 on your own: $48 US

Total cost for 4 on GATE 1 was $236.00

The tour with GATE 1 to the Great Wall at Badaling and Ming Tombs was $69 US per person.

We rented a nice, new private car with our own driver for 8 hours from the Hotel for $800 yuan, (about $100 US) to Mutainyu and the Ming Tombs. We paid $56 yuan per person for admission to the Wall that included the cable car ride up and toboggan ride down. Lunch was $40 yuan. We had the car all day and go where ever we wanted!!

Total cost for 4 with GATE 1was:$276.00 US

Total cost for 4 on your own was:$133.00 US

SAMPLE TAXI FARES: (8 yuan to the dollar)

Best Western Hotel to Tianamen Square $22 yuan

Best Western Hotel to the Silk Market $16 yuan

Best Western to the Temple of Heaven $17 yuan. We loved Beijing!! With the language barrier, it was a little challenging but easy enough to do if you do a little homework before you leave. We always felt very safe and the Chinese people very polite and a delight to interact with. Many would stop us on the street just to practice their English so they could gain employment during the Olympics as guides. Travel should be an adventure...don't be afraid to strike out on your own!!

Happy Travels, Frank Garcia California USA