Incheon International Airport

This post is a super short one, but waaaaaayyyyyyy overdue – I love Incheon Airport. My first trip visiting it was in December 2012, when I was in transit en route to Vietnam, so when Raj suggested we move to Korea knowing that I love the airport was a big tick in the pro-column. (Yeah, it was a pretty easy decision to move here overall.) So just in time for summer holidays, here’s everything I know about the airport:

Earlier this year, a new terminal was added to the vast expanse of land that is the airport and in various Facebook groups, I regularly see people questioning which terminal they need to go to:

Terminal 2: Korean Air, Delta, Air France & KLM

Terminal 1: All other airlines.

It’s not hard and it is clearly written on the airport website so do make sure you check before you head to the airport. It takes about 10-15 minutes longer (depending on how fast you drive) to get to Terminal 2 so you need to factor that in.

Airport Map

I haven’t been to Terminal 2 myself, but I’ve heard tell that there is a Shake Shack for all your dining needs before you go through Security, so you might want to factor that into your arrival time at the airport – I know I will be.

Terminal 1 is a major entertainment hotspot..there is a CGV, a variety of restaurants and, I’m told, a Jimjibang (spa) all before security. Once you go through security, there is the usual fare – some duty-free shopping and some food but the real secret tip in terminal 2 is this: if you have to take the shuttle to the other half of the terminal when departing (pretty much all airlines except Asiana in my experience) then if you don’t have your own lounge access, head towards the Cathay Lounge (4th floor) and instead of turning left into the business class lounge, turn right towards a whole bunch of recliners. These fill up fast so get there quick. It’s not the greatest picture that I took as I felt slightly voyeuristic with all those people snoozing, so I did a casual walk-and-snap-by to give you an idea..

IMG_2389

If you’ve been reading from the early days, you’ll know that when we turned up with all our suitcases and hand-baggage, we took a call-van  to our new home in Songdo, but generally, you can get a taxi from outside the airport or even the airport limousine if you don’t have a lot of stuff. Our transportation of choice is to drive though – the free parking for diplomatic plates more than make up for the 5,500won each way you spend on bridge tolls.

One thing I am on the hunt for on my next airport visit will be where visitors can rent SIM Cards/phones from…. It’s super hard to get a ‘Pay-as-you-go’ SIM card here on a temporary basis, so the options for visitors are:

(1) Use their international data

(2) Hire a Wifi-egg and carry it around

(3) Rent a SIM Card and/or phone if you need it.

But more on this when I figure it out..

Hmmmm, what else what else? I think that’s it, but as I travel to and from London for this year’s home leave I will pay more attention and update! Happy travelling folks…

 

Advertisements

Seoul-Diaries…and a like-new PC

So last week, I mentioned that I was making my first solo-drive into Seoul and I’m pleased to report that I put on my big-girl pants and did exactly that. Big wins in life for me in May eh?

Now, I’ve driven into Seoul before, but usually Raj is sitting next to me and directing / keeping an eye on which lane I need to be in while I chatter (he is not a chatterer, but I more than make up for it) but I decided that enough is enough and I needed to start making the journey by myself. Plus, Naver maps having a version in English (thank you Pyeongchang Olympics) is the best thing that ever happened to driving in Korea, so I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult.

So as I mentioned, I contacted Phil, of Phil’s Computer Repsitory via Facebook, after his company was recommended to me (Thanks goes to local PT Bryce!). I had previously been in touch with the Korea Mac-PC Guys (also via Facebook), but, although they were super friendly and helpful online, I preferred the thought of going into Seoul and actually speaking to someone face-to-face over shipping my poor broken PC far away from home. (Yes, I ascribe feelings to inanimate objects. All our plates and cutlery get rotated so that everyone gets used equally and nobody feels left out. It’s something you’ll either get used to or work hard to ignore about me.)

Phil is located in the electronics area of Seoul – Yongsan. From Songdo Central Park, you can take the subway to Bupyeong and then change to the dark blue line straight to Yongsan. In my very technical directional sense, Yongsan is to the right of Hongdae – along the river and then up a bit. Easy peasy. Phil asks that you make an appointment to go and see him, so I set a time for Thursday 17th and he sent me his address in Korean and English, as well as his office hours:

Address:서울특별시 용산구 한강로2가 16-1 선인상가 21동 3층 242호

Seoul Yongsan-gu Hangangro-2ga 16-1 Sunin Plaza 21 Building 3rd Floor #242

Office Hours: Monday to Friday: 2pm – 10PM  Saturday: 2PM to 10PM

Yongsan

From Songdo, Naver took me through Incheon to get into Seoul, and luckily, the weather in Korea had been pretty miserable, so there weren’t too many people on the road which meant that it was a pretty easy drive – about an hour (well, my failing phone meant it took me an hour fifteen to get there, but that’s not so bad). I parked in a random building car park that I found when Naver said I had arrived but had I driven around a bit, I could have found the car park for the building that Phil’s office is in. Anyway, the point is that parking around there was relatively painless, so I’d make the drive in the future rather than trying out the subway.

From where I had parked, I found the back entrance to the building super easily – it was right next to a HUGE NH bank. Once inside, I was already on the 2nd floor, so it was just one floor up to the 3rd. Then, I had fun trying to figure out how to get to his unit. I spent a good 40 minutes wandering around, but it was OK, I had some time to kill before his office hours technically started. Phil quickly found my message on FB messenger and got to work – scanning my hard drive to show there were no corruptions and explaining what he was going to do – in my case, it was a simple OS re-install and as all my data was either on the cloud or on my hard drive, there was nothing to recover. We even talked about future fixes that I might want – as and when my long suffering hard drive konks out, he can replace the hard drive and I can continue to use the same machine, or he’ll buy my old machine off me. He talked me through the price list and for an extra 5,000 won, offered to ship my computer back to me. With the minor fixes I needed, he was optimistic that he’d have it back to me by Saturday, or the following Monday at the latest. He even gave me some advice on Raj’s Macbook and threw in a free Korean-style plug for my laptop, so I could stop using an adapter. AWESOME.

Leaving the building, I went out through the front and noticed that it is right across the street from the iPark Mall (and so, Yongsan station.) Super easy to find, and here is a picture of the front of the building for you:

IMG_3771

Then, my lovely Naver maps and I made our way back to Songdo..I was keen to get out of Seoul before the post-work traffic started up! Within an hour of me reaching home, I got a message from Phil saying he had fixed my computer and it was being shipped out immediately – to arrive in Songdo on Friday. AWESOME. I’ve now had just under a week of using my as-good-as-new laptop with no complaints and I know exactly where I will go for my next upgrade! Finally, electronics in Korea that aren’t more expensive than back home… #winning.

 

 

Happy Birthday Buddha

This year, Buddha’s Birthday falls on the 22nd May and as per every year, there are a host of festivals and celebrations in the lead up to celebrate. This year is the first year that Raj and I have been in town and able to go to the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul – one of the main celebrations that takes place and I’ve heard so much about it, and insta-envied so many pictures that I was pretty excited!

There are two main Buddhist temples in Seoul, Bongeunsa (봉은사)  which is located near COEX in Gangnam – and I understand does a very nice vegan Korean lunch every day of the week, and Jogyesa, (조계사) which is in Insadong and where the majority of the festivities take place.

In the few weeks leading up to the parade, you see beautiful lanterns started to decorate the streets of Seoul (and elsewhere – I’ve spied a few of the more normal style lanterns in Incheon and around Songdo) all building up to the main event – the parade, which took place on Saturday 12th May.

The parade starts at Dongguk University around 5pm and works its way along Jongro, going through Myeongdong and winding up at Jogyesa temple. If the weather is nice, people start gathering along the route from about 4pm to get a good view of whats going on. And if you watch the parade from the start of the route, at the end of the parade group, observers are invited to join in and dance along the street with the performers! If you join un around Jonggak station, there will be plenty of extra activities to keep you occupied while you wait for the parade to come past!

Unfortunately it was pouring with rain the entirety of Saturday so we didn’t spend as much time watching the parade as planned, but we did get a good hour of viewing time in and I’d definitely revisit the parade next year when (hopefully) the weather is better!

For the days after the parade, there are lots of little celebrations all around Seoul, so it’s worth spending a few days exploring all that the festival has to offer.

Tomorrow is my first solo drive to Seoul, to Yongsan specifically, as I plan to visit Phil’s Computer Repository  (I contacted him via Facebook – obvs) to see if Phil can fix my laptop. Hopefully it’s a yes and you can expect a post on it later this month!

Pasta & Jewelry

Two of my favourite things. I could have totally been a Roman Empress eating all the pasta in my recliner draped in jewels brought to me by my minions… **dreams about what could have been…**

Anyways, I know last week I said I was aiming for fortnightly posts, but since then I have had two new finds that I had to share:

(1) Pasta

I miss good pasta. Don’t get me wrong, the regular dried variety in different shapes and sizes is readily available in all the local stores, but fresh pasta was very nearly a thing of the past. Ravioli and Tortellini are things that I was yet to come by here, and despite the fact that last year, I did manage to make fake ravioli using frozen mandu wrappers from Emart, are things I continue to miss eating. So much so, that I have been considered buying a pasta roller and making my own (I know, I know, WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME????). Whilst doing my research, it was Facebook to the rescue, as I happened upon the amazing Homemade Pasta – Amelia Gastronomia. I can’t link to the page but seriously, log into FB and search for this group and let the pictures of the Amelia’s food speak for themselves. She even delivers to Songdo and the ravioli freezes beautifully. Dinner in less than 3 minutes? Yespleaseandthankyou any day of the week.

(2) Jewellery

Along with learning how to take care of a car myself, one of my many steps towards becoming a bona-fide adult is managing my own jewellery repairs. Time to stop handing over broken things to Amma and letting her return them to me in better than new condition. The problem is, how to go about finding someone you trust enough to leave your jewellery with, especially when communication is not the easiest, even with Google Translate? Well first, I turned to the online community on, yes, you guessed it – Facebook. And I was able to get a few recommendations but they were all Seoul-based, and I was definitely looking for something closer to home. Also, as I understand it (and I might be wrong on this front as it is all gleaned from other expats) when you leave jewellery at a jewellers, it isn’t necessarily covered by insurance in the same way it would be at a jeweller in the UK. Then I asked my trainer, in Incheon, who said he hadn’t used a jeweller locally himself, but he had heard of a place that was recommended and nearby and he offered to go with me to act as translator. I took him up on the offer but unfortunately, the jeweller was closed that day. Never mind, next time I went to the gym, I got there early and went to the shop myself. I showed them my broken necklace and the young chap declared it impossible to fix. So I walked back towards the gym and happened across another store, and thought I might as well try my luck. With a bit of charades and pointing at the calendar, I worked out that if I left the chain with them, they’d have it ready for me the following week. I took photos of my chain and the shop, got a receipt and paid my hefty fee of 3,000 won and took a chance. The VERY NEXT DAY I got a text saying it was ready to collect (thank you Google Translate – the jewellers spoke no English.) So off I popped and lo and behold, not impossible at all. I can only deduce that the first jeweller only wanted commissions of a certain monetary value, or just didn’t want to deal with a foreigner. Either way, I now have a new local jeweller, whose shop is stocked with the most beautiful pieces by the way, that I would wholeheartedly recommend!

Oh yes, location: Take the subway (or drive) to Incheon and get off at Arts Centre. Walk back towards the Lotte Department Store and once you have walked past it take a left (so you are walking alongside Lotte, with the department store to your left hand side) and take the first right. You’ll see a Starbucks and Krispy Kreme (YUM) on the corner and across the road, Queen Jewelery is just next to the Levis Store. If you drive, you can either park in the Lotte Car Park (and pay for it) or one of the small car parks nearby. As ever, my map isn’t perfect but if you wander in this general area you’ll find it. And if you don’t, have a donut instead.

Map.png

How To: Use Kakao Taxi

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Korea, you’ll know that Kakao is a way of life. If you are like me, perhaps you’ll even start to say ‘kakao’ in a similar tone to the message notification instead of replying to people in the affirmative – no? Just me then *sigh*.

Anyhow, since I briefly mentioned the app in an early post I have avoided using Kakao Taxi altogether by relying on other people or taking the car everywhere I go, but one of Raj’s delightful colleagues recently sent across a little ‘how to’ guide for non-Korean speakers, so I have no excuse now. Well, actually I do – I still can’t really figure out where I am on a map and where I want to get to, but that’s a separate issue. As this post largely consists of someone else’s writing (Cheat! Cheat! I hear you scream…) I’ll be following up with another one shortly… Happy wandering folks.

Step 1: Sign in

The sign-in page will greet you. You can automatically log in with your KakaoTalk account once you press the button on the button of the screen

Image 1-Edit

 Step 2: Agree to the T&Cs
Make sure you agree to all the statements, then hit next.

Image 2-edit

Step 3: Confirm your Korean phone number
In order to use this app, you will need to have a working Korean cell phone number. The app will instantly send you a verification code and you must input the code into the KakaoTaxi app within the specified time limit.

 

Image 3

 Step 4: Input your location and Destination
Input your starting location in the top box and destination address in the bottom box. You can also click on the “starting location” box to be given the option to select your current location
*Scroll down to the bottom to view the diagram of Korean taxi types*  

 

Image 4_edited

Image 5

Swipe down on the map so that it enlarges to your entire phone screen. You can also type in the locations in the boxes. Once you input the information, the screen will close the map and give you an arrival estimate of your taxi. You can also click to see the map once more.

Step 5: Give them a “call”
Simply press the yellow button on the bottom and your request is sent to a nearby taxi. The app has real-time location, destination and travel time that you can send to family or friends through KakaoTalk, so that they can follow your journey on your phone.
Step 6: Pay at the end & give your driver a rating!
“We hope you had a pleasant ride”
You have the option of paying with card or cash once you arrive at your destination, much like a regular taxi. A screen should also pop up asking you to rate your experience with KakaoTaxi.
In short, as long as you can figure out a map, you can now use KakaoTaxi – Hurrah for this much-needed information and thank you PKC for sharing this with everyone!

 

 

A Beijing Mini Break: 3 Day Itinerary

Having sorted out the admin pretrip, we were ready for our 3.5 day sojourn in Beijing. First thing to get used to pretty much every flight to China from Incheon gets delayed. It’s boring but it is part of the experience. Also, a lot of passengers will have an INSANE amount of hand-baggage, so you kind want to get on the plane quickly to make sure you get some of that precious overhead storage space (this is where you want loyalty points for some essential pre- boarding.)

We landed in PEK and jostled our way through immigration. The airport is HUGE! You have to get a fairly lengthy train shuttle from just outside immigration to luggage collection and from getting off the plane to getting into a taxi, it took about an hour.

People talk about the traffic in Beijing, and the drivers there, and it sounds horrendous. Knowing our propensity to hire cars and do things ourselves, several friends warned us off driving in Beijing and said we’d be scared enough in taxis. I don’t get it personally. The traffic, although plentiful, wasn’t the worst and because there was plenty of traffic, it really felt like everything was happening in slow motion. Yes, there were plenty of cars that zipped in and out of traffic, super close to a car we were in but because of the speed every one is travelling at, it isn’t an insurmountable feat. Anyway, I digress.

We arrived in Dongzhimen around 7 and spent the evening wandering around the local area – ostensibly to find the subway station, but really just to orient ourselves as we knew we would be taxi people this trip. During the wandering, we came across the Raffles City Mall, across the road from Dongzhimen station and lo and behold, dinner was solved – Pizza Express in China (although it’s called Pizza Marzano there!)

IMG_1329

Day 1 in Beijing was a very rainy Friday morning not conducive to sightseeing, so we spent the day roaming (in taxis) around different areas, stopping for food as needed. I was particularly excited to find a place to get my eyebrows threaded in the CBD. Browhaus has two locations pretty close to each other, and the staff spoke enough English to make me feel comfortable. It was 98RMB for eyebrows and 50RMB for upper lip which is a bit pricey but I wasn’t so sure that I’d walk away with my face intact from some of the definitely cheaper in-mall threading places.

I went to the location in the Kerry Centre, and while I was doing my thing, Raj was busy finding a lunch stop in the same building: Din Tai Fung for world-renowned dumplings – including a veggie selection for him!

IMG_1330.JPG

After lunch, we headed over to the Bodhi Spa, as recommended to us, for some blissful massages which helped to while away the afternoon. http://www.bodhi.com.cn We paid 348RMB for a 1hr aromatherapy massage and you’ll find the spa just North of the workers stadium, across the road.

We spent the evening strolling through Sanlitun – known for its bars and restaurants. The food prices are pretty amazing when compared to Korea and the choice available is huge! Apparently Sanlitun used to be the soft red light district of Beijing and to this end, you still see women dancing on poles in an establishment which is right next door to a more family friendly environment. We had a nice drink at the Hacienda Rooftop bar, followed by a stroll home. One strange thing we found everywhere is that as soon as your food / order has been brought to your table, the servers expect payment immediately. If you hand over a card, they often ask for the password (pin) but we’d say no and mime signing instead. It’s almost like they expect you to do a runner so they avoid that by getting paid upfront, which is weird in the police-state that is China but you get used to it.

Day 2 dawned with slightly more friendly weather, so we set off to the Summer Palace, up in the North of the city. The summer palace was exactly the kind of crowded mayhem that you would imagine China to be. Last summer’s desire to be a video-blogger came back for a few moments while I tried  to capture the insanity – but it was a futile attempt. We bought the artists map to try to navigate around the palace, but whilst it is a very pretty representation it isn’t the most useful to get around, so that’s where Lonely Planet comes in. This is also the place that I came round to the idea of using umbrellas as sun protection. It was hot and humid and climbing to the top for some albeit very pretty views was sticky work. I think I’d almost prefer to return to Beijing in the cold months (cold weather doesn’t scare me anymore – I live in Korea after all!) to do the rest of the sightseeing. If you have time, it’s a nice little ferry ride from the main bit of the palace to South Island too. The sun disappeared while we were on the boat but the view were still nice.  Leaving the palace to get a taxi was hard. This seems to be a recurring theme in China, so if you have members of your party who would object to walking around in search of one, make sure you get the DiDi app and have data on your phone! Even with the app, lack of language skills means that it still isn’t the easiest thing, but every little bit helps.

From the Palace, we went to a Duck restaurant – its Beijing, Roast Duck in pancakes is an absolute must – that was recommended and across the road from the hotel. It was a late lunch, so the restaurant had run out of vegetarian food but Raj patiently watched me stuff myself and then went and found some noodles around the corner.

IMG_1294

After a little rest (I really must invest in a hat) we headed to Houhai for dinner and a drink. The name ‘Houhai’ refers to a lake and its surrounding neighbourhood in the Xicheng District of Central Beijing and is a lovely place for a pre-dinner stroll. We ventured away from the lake down some decidedly quiet, and in any other country, dodgy, side streets which are apparently filled with market traders during the day to a quiet and quaint little Italian restaurant, Mercante, which we’ve since learnt is a gem amongst the Beijing Foodie Set. With an Italian owner, the food is impeccable and I was only sorry that I’d eaten so much duck that I didn’t have space for the rack of New Zealand Lamb that was the night’s special. (Yes, I realise most of my holiday posts revolve around food. I can’t help it, I get hungry. I’ve started planning my trip to London in September already – Nandos, Teryiaki Salmon Fishcakes from M&S, Ribs and Greggs make the top food stops). After dinner we went back to the lake for a drink at the ‘No Name Bar.’ For such a gorgeous venue, it was empty, so please do make an effort to find it and offer it your custom when in town! 

Day 3, and our last full day in Beijing. We jumped in a taxi to Tiananmen Square: interestingly, if you Google-search Tiananmen Square without a VPN in China, nothing of note comes up. There is a big ploy to make sure that people know that nothing happened there, but when you get there, security is super tight and there are supposedly plain clothed policemen at every turn. Why would you need all this if nothing happened? We planned to go to the Square first, but somehow found ourselves caught up in the queue for The Forbidden City so we went along with it. That was our first big fail of the trip. There are only 80,000 tickets sold each day for the Forbidden City and most of these are booked by tour operators or online before people arrive at the venue. The crowds to get into FC are HUGE and pushy and shove-y and gross in the heat, but there is no sign on the outside to say there are no tickets left. Once we shoved our way in only to find all the tickets were sold out, we made our way back to the front to get out, only to be turned around with no indication where the exit was. At some point I was wandering through crowds just saying ‘exit’ over and over again in the hope that someone would take pity on me and point me in the right direction!  Turns out you need to walk the length of the FC on the outside in order to get out.

Fast-forward from here to Silk Street. Ah yes, the infamous art of bargaining in a Chinese market. I am SO bad at haggling that I just went down the ‘speak to my husband I don’t have any money route’ and left him to it after I picked out things. There is a nice food court (veggie and non-veggie noodles pleaseandthankyou) for pre-shopping, and lots of great foot massage places for post shopping. All in all, I was happy with my spoils, which included a new pair of glasses for me, prescription sunglasses for him both for less than £100. I think I’ll get prescription sunglasses next time…

IMG_1331.JPG

Raj likes to check out the Indian food offering everywhere we go, so that’s what we did for dinner. The menu at Ganges in Sanlitun was HUGE and it definitely gets a thumbs up from us – sadly I ate my food too quickly before I thought of taking pictures, but it’s just an excuse to go back I reckon!! 🙂

All in all, a Beijing Mini Break is thoroughly recommended. I want to go back to see the Great Wall of China (a 70km hike in that weather was not on my list of things to do) and actually enter the Forbidden City so I’ll be applying for a multi-entry visa when I’m in London to make it possible…

 

A Beijing Mini Break: How To

One of my favourite things about living in Korea is the access to the rest of Asia. This year, a number of different factors conspired to mean that we have spent summer in Korea, and making our home leave visits later in the year. We’ve used a fair amount of that time to go into Seoul and more recently, made the 2 hour flight to Beijing, for my first trip to China.

Visa Free Layover 

A lot of nationalities (and I can confirm this from a British Passport Holder point of view) can do a 72 hour layover in China visa-free having met certain conditions:

  • You must fly in and out of the same airport around the 72 hour layover (e.g PEK)
  • You must be flying to a third country and possess a ticket to prove this journey. For these purposes, Hong Kong does count as a third country (e.g. Incheon ⇒ Beijing ⇒ Hong Kong ⇒ Incheon) NB. In the given example, if you wanted to re-enter Beijing after Hong Kong, you would need a visa for the second re-entry into China
  • You need to have your accommodation in Beijing booked, with a printed copy as proof.

If you are taking the layover option, there is a separate immigration queue that you can use – in fact there are two options here as well. You can either use the immigration queue that allows entry into the city itself, or if just transiting, there is another queue for visa-free-remaining-in-the-airport. Take a moment to make sure you are in the right queue and save yourself some time.

China-Visitor Visa 

Although pretty much everyone needs a visa to visit China, there are exceptions so it’s worth your while to check the requirements for your trip yourself.

Note: The Chinese Embassy no longer issues travel visas to individuals. One must go through one’s travel agent to get the required visas. Also, foreign nationals must now have 6 months remaining on their ARC (visa) to qualify for a visa to China.

For our visas, we went to Mode Tour, which is right by Central Park 2. The staff don’t speak a lot of English, but enough to help you get your visa. You need a passport photo, your passIMG_1359port and your Alien Registration Card as proof of residence. If you don’t have an ARC then you’re better off applying for a multiple entry visa in your home country. We had a little issue because our ARC doesn’t have an expiry date, but luckily we have Korean visas in our passports which do have an end date, so it worked out OK. The staff in the agency fill out most of the form for you while you are there, and the standard service takes about 4 days. You pay, in cash, on collection – about 80,000 per visa. You probably can get a  multiple entry visa via the agency, but we just got a single entry for this trip. The recommendation is that you have your flights and accommodation booked before you apply for your visa but the travel agents didn’t take the printed copies when applying for our visas, so I’m not sure about that. There is also an express service for the visas as well, and as expected it costs a little more.

Accommodation 

I don’t have a lot to say on this – where you stay depends on what you want to do and what your budget is, but I will say this. All visitors have to register with the local police office within 24 hours of arriving in China. If you stay in a hotel, they take photocopies of your passport photo page and visa and do this for you. If, however, you stay in an Airbnb or with friends, I think you would have to arrange this yourself – just make sure you’ve done the necessary admin. It’s also a requirement to always carry your passport (or Chinese ID if you have it) on your person, so a good cross body bag for essentials is useful.

Getting Around 

The subway is getting larger and is pretty easy to use. You can get a T-money card equivalent but we just did a few single journies, as taxis are really affordable in China and we were being a little bit lazy (totally allowed on holiday). When you are taking taxis, always make sure they switch on the meter (and get out of the taxi if they don’t want to), don’t take private cars masquerading as taxis and have plenty of smaller notes to pay for the taxis as well (see money, below). There isn’t a lot of English spoken, so yo need to have Chinese addresses to give to taxi drivers. To this end, Google maps isn’t 100% reliable in terms of location but you can use it to obtain said Chinese addresses. Taxis start at a base rate of 13.00 RMB and if you are spending a bit longer in China, it might be worth downloading the Didi app (available in English) to hail taxis with. We didn’t hire a local sim card as it was just 4 days so used our Korean data but this is an option at the airport I believe. One thing you will want to have set up on your phone is a VPN, as access to many Western apps is restricted in China.

Cash v Card

China isn’t as card-friendly a society as Korea is, as locals tend to load money onto their ‘wechat’ apps and use this for paying for everything – restaurants, shops, taxis, cinema etc. Foreign cards are especially hit and miss – even when it comes to ATMs. I’d recommend using cash for most transactions and to withdraw cash, your safest bets are Citibank, Bank of China, HSBC and the airport ATMs.

Cash fraud is, however, still a big deal – especially with 100 RMB notes. Our hotel (Holiday Inn Express Dongzhimen) had a little list of checks to make when money is handed back to you but I’m going to get a friend to write a little note about this as well. Watch this space. I mentioned above that you should have correct change for taxis – this is because the following scenario is pretty common:

  • Passenger hands taxi driver 100 RMB
  • Taxi driver says it is fake (when it isn’t) and hands back a fake 100 RMB note to the passenger
  • Passenger accepts fake and uses another 100RMB note to pay fare.

One taxi we got into agreed a price of 20RMB from Silk Street to our hotel, which is what we paid getting there. He immediately handed me 80RMB in change, expecting a 100RMB in return. I said no and gave him a 20 note. At this, point he said he wanted 20 euros (!) so we said no and hoped out. I can only assume that the 80 change he was prepared to hand over was fake and I foiled his plan by having change to hand. Guess we’ll never know.

Restaurants

Eating out in Beijing is great – for veggies and carnivores a like! All the menus are in English and there are options to suit every taste and budget. I’ll write more about where we ate in the next post though… 

One last thing

People talk a lot about the pollution in Beijing. We really didn’t find it to be visibly that bad but maybe we’ve gotten used to a similar level in Korea. Checking the air quality app showed that levels weren’t great, but speaking to a couple of long-term expats in Beijing, we learnt that it was the worst it had been in a while (save for 2 weeks in Winter when you try not to go outside.) What I did find however, is that my contact-lens covered eyes struggled after a day, no matter how many eye drops I used. Wearing sunglasses, even when it wasn’t that sunny helped a LOT so either do that, or give your eyes a break and wear your glasses every now and again.