Traveling in China can be both fascinating and frustrating. That’s what Art and I were told on the outset of planning our 16-18-day sojourn, so we were armed with the knowledge that we would have to be flexible and aware along the way. We didn’t go the organized packaged tour route so this would be even more interesting. At the same time, by patching together a few free flights and hotel stays using frequent traveler points we saved quite a bit of money while providing more flexibility to spend more time in the places we wanted to see.
Our first leg was to fly into Beijing via Air Canada – a flight segment we paid for. And, at about $780 per person wasn’t too bad compared with some of the fares we were presented with when setting up the trip. The flight itself was not all that bad as economy class goes. The Boeing 777 was pretty comfortable and there was a large selection of movies to watch. My own “warmer” carryon blanket that I brought with me and the white wine provided extra comfort on the 12-13 hour flight from Toronto. Getting in some sleep on the flight was a little problematic. The Chinese are naturally loud communicators and I could hear them talking even with ear plugs on. Either way both Art and I got some shut-eye along the way.
Getting through immigration wasn’t difficult but it was tedious since each individual coming into the country has to be photographed. But even after taking quite a while to get through the immigration line we still had to wait for our baggage to arrive.
The taxi line was pretty organized but slow. And the taxi ride to the hotel was an adventure. Apparently Chinese drivers treat highway lanes as guidelines – cars are driving scattershot all over the place. And NASCAR has nothing on Chinese cab drivers. They zip in and out of traffic at speeds that will make your hair stand on end.
Our driver, unfortunately, still managed to get lost even though we had written directions for him in Mandarin Chinese (we had been warned that this could happen). And, even though we could see the sign for the hotel he couldn’t figure out where the entrance was (even other Chinese cab drivers made it clear several times exactly where it was). Beijing rush hour traffic was terrible but we expected that. Even so, the fare was about $20 USD, give or take a couple of bucks. That type of ride would have cost about $50 in New York City.
This stay at the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing was reserved using frequent stay points so it was basically free except for incidental expenses. We were upgraded to a suite and it was big and modern. It took a better portion of the night to figure out how to use all the switches and controls to the place. It had a huge shower and a claw foot tub, double sinks and bathrobes and slippers in the bathroom. The king sized bed was super comfortable and the small living area was nice to have – overall a beautiful room.
We were hungry and immediately went on the hunt for some Peking Duck. The concierge tried to get us a reservation at two of the more popular places in town but no luck – too crowded. So he made reservations for a place right down the street from the hotel. After some meandering through several levels of shopping stalls we finally found the place. The Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant turned out to be great. We later found out this is one of the oldest Peking Duck Restaurants in the city and is listed in “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” The service was good, the duck was well presented and delicious and our sides were very good too.
Communication can sometimes be a challenge depending on the server you get. This turned out to be the case here. When I asked the server if the restaurant took credit cards, she immediately said, “No.” Yet, we were sitting not too far away from the cash register and they appeared to be doing just that. So I got up went to the cashier and they gladly accepted my card. All told dinner for two of a whole duck with some shrimp, vegetables and sodas cost about $54 USD including tax and service charge.
Food choices would get much more interesting as the trip progressed but we’ll describe those in another post.