China: this huge country, overflowing with culture, polluted, evergrowing, with construction going on everywhere, somewhere between ultramodern quarters and slums, comunism and globalization, innumerable Starbucks and cheap food stalls, spit and luxurious boutiques, temples and dispropotionate malls. China submerges us in its boiling culture like no other place!
Our arrival to China
In order to arrive to Beijing, we took a Qatar Airways flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle which would stop over at Doha.
The first part of the flight was fairly good, we had 5 hours from France and our plane was a spacious, comfortable A380. We didn’t feel a single turbulence, not even during take-off or landing.
In Qatar we had a 3-hour scale before taking the flight to Beijing, so we decided to go for a walk in the airport to stretch out a little.
The airport is quite big – as many others – but at 2 am distances suddenly become longer! There are many luxury shops, great cars and (surprise!) they do not have electric sockets for you to recharge your phone: they directly invite you to use a stand full of Macs!
Doha airport is one of the most important airports in the area, so it’s easy to find your way around two flights. In the corridors you’ll find statues of every kind and shape.
After our walk we got on our second plane, again with Qatar Airways, but this time ooh what a disappointment! The space on the plane was ridiculously small, our elbows touched and our legs didn’t fit in the gap! We even wondered if the plane wasn’t designed for little people! But we had to endure for 7 hours until we arrived to Beijing.
We tried to sleep but it wasn’t easy, especially when the lady seating behind Anaïs pushed and shook her seat repeatedly out of desperation because of the reduced personal space… but hey, we survived!
Once out of the plane we felt literally liberated. We were exhausted but very happy to have arrived!
A technical stop at the toilets was starting to become necessary, but after having read so many things about Chinese toilets, we must admit we felt a little afraid! But we had no choice, we needed to go! In the end, everything went ok: there were three separate toilets (one for handicapped people, one with a seat and one with… well, a hole on the floor). So we felt more reassured concerning the toilets, although some people seemed to think it normal to piss with the door open in front of the others!
We continued towards the passport control, where a HUGE line was already waiting for us. We queued up for 45 minutes!
It’s important to note that you need to fill in a form for the border officials (the desk where the forms are is not easy to see, it’s opposite the border. You’ll give half of the paper to the officials and keep the other until you leave the country (don’t lose it!).
After the long process we had to undergo for obtaining our visas for China we expected to be asked a thousand questions at the border, but once again we had read too many articles about it! Passing through was just a mere formality: a picture here, a couple of stamps there, and off you go! We were expecting to face the great guardians of the Chinese empire, but we didn’t actually see much difference with any other police officers from other countries! We were one step closer!
We then went to pick up our luggage, which was waiting for us given the long queue at the border.
Before setting off we had searched on the Internet how to get from the airport to our hostel, and we had two options: the bus or the subway. Even if we were quite sure of our choice, we decided to check with the information office. And that’s where we first experience Chinese English… it was going to be complicated! We understood just a couple of words but not much more, so we chose to take the subway (same price as the bus). We thought it would be faster than the bus, given the traffic in big cities.
As the subway system doesn’t take credit cards (as in most of China!) we decided to exchange some money. In the arrivals area, near Starbucks, there’s a Bank of Beijing that offers great exchange rates and a very reduced fee (much better than the exchange bureau inside the terminal!). We had some cash on us and everything went alright. In the subway itself nothing was complicated: we knew the name of our stop and everything is translated to English.
We took the Airport Line (25 yuan per person, which is approximately €3,30) then line 2 (for 3 yuan, about €0,40).
The subway is really clean and modern! During the journey (of around 40 minutes) several Chinese people came to talk to us, one of them just asking where we were from and another man to propose his help with visits and tours. A nice welcome to the city!
After the subway we walked for 15 more minutes before reaching the hostel, and once again a young man offered to help with directions. So we guess it was that we looked really tired or that people in China are really kind!
We finally arrived to our hostel, which was very well located, next to many little restaurant and shops. If you’re looking for a cheap clean place in Beijing, we stayed at the Beijing Saga International Hostel. We shared our room with one more person, the bathroom and toilets were normal, with hot showers and a lot of space!
It was 6pm and we were surprised to see that it was almost night! But honestly, we didn’t even bother, we were so tired that we went for a shower and then dinner, so we could go to bed early.
The road next to our hostel was full of little places to eat. But things suddenly became more complicated when we realized everything was written in Chinese! “How are we going to choose!?”
Luckily, some minutes later we found a restaurant which offered pictures of their food! The owners didn’t speak any English but we understood each other using sign language, and it was very tasty! We had Cantonese rice and some kind of crepe with vegetables inside. The owners were very happy of having foreigners at their restaurant and smiled at us all along.
So having our stomachs full we bought a big bottle of water and we ended our day!
Our first ours in the capital of China were kind of cool, right? It was bed time, we needed to get ready for a day full of sightseeing the day after!