With many people keen to travel more, especially to explore unique countries and cultures, there is a rise in independent travellers setting out on their own adventures. China is a destination growing in popularity for solo female travellers, it has 23 different provinces, a rich and varied landscape, a population of 1.3 billion people and some of the biggest and most exciting urban cities in the world. The capital of China, Beijing, is one of the most popular places to visit, and it is definitely not to be missed.
Beijing has some of the most astounding cultural and natural spectacles to see throughout the whole of the country. No visit would be complete without seeing some of the world-famous landmarks, including The Great Wall of China – over 8,000km of walls stretching across the country and dating back to the 14th century Ming dynasty. If you want to visit the Great Wall when you’re in Beijing, the easiest section to visit is Badaling, but if you fancy somewhere a little quieter, try Mutianyu and Jiankou.
Beijing also has the stunning Summer Palace, a beautiful and tranquil place with many famous sections, including the Kunming Lake and the Seventeen Arch Bridge, both renowned for their romanticism. You should also explore the Forbidden City, the ancient heart of Beijing and its most iconic sight. Home to emperors for over 500 years, the Forbidden City is a majestic example of Chinese culture, history and art. Not forgetting Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Wangfujing Night Market, Lama Temple – so many must-sees on your visit to Beijing.
Solo travel, especially if you are a female, can seem daunting. If you choose Beijing, there are some smart tips to help you be prepared and have the best experience in this wonderful city.
WATCH OUT FOR THE TOURIST SCAMS
Many women find travelling alone in China to be a safe and rewarding experience, but there are still a few things to be aware of, especially visiting a capital city like Beijing. Pickpockets and tourist scams can easily catch you out, so be careful and keep personal belongings and valuables like cash concealed.
The infamous tea-house scam!
I’d watched YouTube videos on this scam where students or Chinese with a grasp of the English language will start making conversation and befriend you. They take you to a tea house to continue the chat, they slope off and an astronomical bill is served.
Beware of fake taxis
On arrival I asked a couple for directions but they looked at me blankly. A man stepped in to offer me a taxi, it was clear he was not a registered taxi man, why would he be hanging around the streets? I kindly declined but he then sent me in the opposite direction to my hotel. So only take licensed taxis – better yet, choose the subway or bus.
Only use the taxi meters
Even with licensed cabs, I had an issue. I got in the car and he told me a price which was 5x that of my journey from my hotel. I refused and pointed at the meter. He ushered me out the car, think he was looking for the next sucker to come along.
WORKING OUT BEIJING’S TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM
Airport shuttle is simple
The high speed shuttle train to get you into the centre of Beijing is easy to work out. The train stops at Terminal 3, Terminal 2, Sanyuanqiao Subway (Line 10) and Dongzhimen Subway (Line 2 & 13).
You purchase your ticket from the machine costing 25 Yuan or apply for the Beijing Transportation Smart Card which you can top up for your stay to make getting around hassle-free.
Get to know the subway
It probably feels like a bit of a facing but it’s super easy, signs are written in English. If you’ve taken the London Tube before, you can figure out the Beijing subway. There’s a station every few blocks and it really will give you more freedom around the city. Get a subway map from your hotel to carry round with you.
Give up with hailing taxis
It works well when you call from your hotel but I tried 3 times to hail a cab and each time their price was about 5 times as much as it was on the way there. Get the subway or use Didi, the Chinese version of Uber.
STAYING CONNECTED IN BEIJING
Getting a local SIM
Worth checking that your phone is unlocked before you arrive, it makes getting a local SIM a whole lot easier. You can get a Prepaid SIM Card before to arrive in China. Alternatively, get a local SIM before leaving the airport and get them to test it. I had a few failed attempts and then it was near impossible in Beijing with the language barrier.
Download a VPN before you go
The majority of Western social media networks are blocked such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter and more. China has their own local social sites, the most popular is WeChat. To check your social media and other banned pages in Beijing, you need to sign up for one of the best VPNs that work in China. This is difficult to do whilst in the country so do this before you depart. Whilst using data roaming, I found I could get around on Google Maps no problem.
Connecting to WiFi
WiFi can sometimes be a little slow but, for most of the time, it was fine in the hotels. Some public WiFi requires you to enter a Chinese phone number where a code can be texted to connect you.
OVERCOMING THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
Get a translation app
Not all locals in Beijing speak English and even at the customer services desk in the airport I had many conversations with the help of an app.
Choose a hotel with English speaking staff
I stayed in a hotel and a hostel where both spoke very good English, however, other tourists have reported some big international hotels did not have English speaking staff which makes the stay a little harder.
Get the name of your hotel in Chinese
It’s always handy to make sure you can navigate your way to you bed at night so ensure you can show a taxi driver the name of the hostel or hostel in Chinese. If possible, get this written down before arriving in Beijing too in case you get a taxi from the airport.
Select your tour guides wisely
Always useful to check out TripAdvisor to see the reviews of other foreign tourists to make your tours a positive experience.
Consider a sociable hostel
I’m not going to lie, I was delighted to get to a hostel where there were English-speaking people who were up for a bit of banter in the communal area.
STAYING HEALTHY IN BEIJING
Let’s talk about toilets
It’s a good idea to pack your own toilet tissue as most restaurants and public services do not provide it. Squat toilets are standard stuff here apart from your hotels as they are considered more hygienic than Western-style toilets.
Finding Western remedies
Outside of international hospitals, Western-style pharmacies can be hard to find in Beijing. Traditional Chinese medicine pharmacies and apothecaries are the norm and may sell some basic Western remedies. There are many Chinese remedies that will address minor aches, pains and coughs but I recommend taking a Chinese speaker to help you get the right thing.
Tampons are rare in Beijing
There is a general feeling in China that tampons are not good for us women, some say it may break your hymen but basically there is a lack of education and how to use them. If you’re expecting your period, take the sanitary products that make you feel comfortable to help you enjoy your trip!
What about the water
The water in Beijing is not good for drinking. The water is hard too so if you’re staying for some considerable time, expect to see this is your skin and hair.
FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
Expect lung hacking (as I call it)
It’s extremely common for the locals of Beijing to make an almighty noise and spit on the floor. I also noticed clearing of the nostrils to the pavement, not the most pleasant habit in Western culture and generally made me a feel a little nauseous.
People in Beijing can be pretty stern in appearance
I’m used to smiling to show warmth to the place I am visiting but this was regularly unreciprocated, mainly by the older generation. Bear with though, on a one-to-one basis the Beijing people can be pretty friendly.
The etiquette of tipping in Beijing
Tipping is not part of the culture in China, however, it is now accepted in certain circumstances. Tour Guides rely on the tips, some restaurants will refuse but high end establishments may add to the bill, the bellboy in the hotel will accept crossing his palm with Yuan, taxi drivers do not expect a tip either.
What to wear as a female traveller
Beijing’s climate can also be very varied, so pack a wardrobe that’s prepared for any weather. Be mindful that Chinese women tend to dress more conservatively than Westerners, so play it safe when it comes to exposed skin.
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