Public transportation in Beijing is better than most of the city in China, even the rest of the world, I am not bragging about it indeed, but if you want have a good experience on it, there are some important tips you have to take into consideration.
I will talk about all the transportation vehicle, Train, Subway, Bus, Taxi, Uber/DiDi, bicycle, Rickshaw, illegal Rickshaw or motorcycle.
In general, trying not to take any of this in rush hour(7AM-9AM,17PM-19PM), if you have to, calling a Taxi or Uber/DiDi would be a good choice, at least you do not have to squeeze in subway or bus, just leaving the traffic jam bothering the taxi driver himself. ^_^
Bus is good in general, but you have to compromise the travel time, so for a visitor, consider to take the subway instead.also there is no English signage in most of bus. and you have to buy a IC card (deposit money) to take bus or subway.
Subway in beijing is convenient, most operate till 11PM, and the signage is clear for english speaker to find the right line or exchange station, and most of the subway carriage is cleaning, also you can kind hide yourself from the smog or haze on the ground in winter.
As beijing is a huge city, sometimes you may probably take a train to go somewhere in the suburbs area, or nearest city Tianjin(35 Min train journey ), Outlet(see the article for outlet) in Wuqing city(20Min Train journey). Considering you can reach ShangHai in 5 hours training journey only, that is way better than airplane sometimes.
Taxi is convenient in most case, but in recent years, waiting a taxi in the street randomly is not much more easier than ever, especially the place outside the 5th express way, or suburb area. the driver is rather wait a job from the Uber/DiDi app than drive around the street, the reason behind this is they can choose a profitable passenger, like the airport trip. Also most of the taxi car is economic hyundai sedan, usually not a comfortable one.
actually in China they are the same company, DiDi acquired Uber China de feto, so register a DiDi account is good in China, then you can call a taxi or all kinds of upper level car by your phone， such as chauffeur car service, I like the chauffeur service, because you got a bigger car ，like Nissan Teana, and free water. Also all the chauffeur driver can not choose the passenger, the DiDi platform assign and dispatch the job intelligently. I think the average price for this is just 30%-40% higher than the taxi. But you got better service level.
I mean the shared bicycle service by some startup company, it boost from 2016, and the competition is still way steep in 2017, the remaining player still alive is OFO and Mbike, and will still expend their business aggressively. For you, if your trip is less than 2 km, bicycle is good, what you have to pay is just $10/ year, yes, $10 for the whole year. The only concern I have is the security problem, the traffic in China is complicated and most people drive rude, and traffic light violation of Pedestrian is common everywhere, you have to pay moe attention to it, also take care of the security of your self.at last do not try another vendor other than the two I mentioned, otherwise you can not refund your guarantee deposit when they are bankrupt. (They will, one way or another.)
You can find Rickshaw service only within 2rd express way, where HuTong lies, it is a good way to wander around in the street, but you have to be careful the illegal rickshaw who will ask for more money than it is suppose to be, just bargain the price in advance, do not take any vaguely offering. If you unfortunately find yourself in a scam, call the police (110)immediately, you know, within 2rd ring, you got police on patrol everywhere. In most cases, you can well communicate with the driver, even they want more money, no one want make a scene in that place.
Motorcycle (three wheel) is definitely illegal in all place of Beijing and is way too dangerous for everyone even the driver themselves, in case a traffic accident happened, the first thing they will do is running away , the passenger is not their priority, I saw couple of cases they are in a accident, and the street meal from TV news. So leave away this. you can see much more of this outside the 5th ring express way, because there are not enough police there. Again even on foot is way better than this which is risking your life.
Line up for taxi is alway the good choice for passenger arriving at airport, also shuttle bus to urban areas is also available till midnight, for the visitors who are familiar with Beijing, just taking the subway will save you lots of money.
An example for your reference, it will cost you 150rmb -200rmb ($23-$30)from airport to the center of Beijing, like forbidden city, depending on the traffic. if you call a fancy car by DiDi, there will be 30-40% more expense.
Usually you can call taxi or DiDi by yourself or by the hotel service to go anywhere, but if your hotel is within the 4th ring express way, then you probably will find a subway station nearby, just a reminder, ask for a hotel business card from reception in case you lost your way, which will be helpful when you ask for help to the native people, also just be aware, Google map and Google instant translation app don’t work in China mainland, unless you have your own tunnel service in your phone, but be comfortable with the interference by dear big brother. So if you are a it expert, you can figure it out how to walk around, otherwise you can install some local map app such as baidu map, it works just fine, or the apple map built in iPhone.
From usual renting Apartment
for the long term residents, subway is always the good choice.
From famous landscape
Finding a taxi not rejecting you is hard in landscape area, so just use DiDi to call a fancy car to pick up you. Subway usually is available in most landscape areas, if you are not feeling too tired.
Do not follow any of the local travel agency especially someone who peddling around you, you got to know, among thousands of one day travel service agency, there are less than 10 is legal, you got no chance to find the right one by yourself. All of them will cheat you in some way, you can not even see through some of the senior trap. Making some preparation, go there by yourself, most of the native Chinese are very kind and willing to help, and the crime rate is pretty low in Beijing especially violence crime to foreigners. Just be careful of the pickpockets when crowded.
Anywhere along the street
bicycle and subway for long term residents, taxi and DiDi for short term visitors
- Take the legal public transportation.
- Ask for help to local police 110 in case emergency, they will probably be responsible ( I envy that in some way because the police treat foreigners better than the native)
- Do not try to shoot or recording some political sensitive matter, like take photo in front of government building within 2rd ring express way. Or to interview someone publicly in the street. Anyway, do not touch politics in Beijing, way too dangerous for everyone. I am not making a fuss here.
- Be nice to people around you but be careful of the scam everywhere, most of them is just targeting your money.
- Fake money is rare, but it do happen sometimes, so try to install alipay or wechat pay in your phone. You can use them everywhere in beijing. Apply pay is limited in some multinational companies,such as Starbucks and McDonald.
Checklist for visitor
- IC card (bus,subway), buy pre pay card in any of subway station(preferred ) or railway station and airport
- Apply pay, alipay, wechat pay, or samsung pay for grocery store or supper market, even taxi
- Install Didi/Uber App http://www.didichuxing.com/en/ you can still use cash to pay if you have no e-pay.
- install map app, such as Amap(iPhone map app built in) or baidu map( lots of controversy swirl around this chinese company, but the map app is good indeed.)
* This featured image is coming from en.wikipedia.org under Copyleft GPL Replaced by an original photo @ Nov.16th 2017