Page last updated at 00:38 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 01:38 UK

A guide to Beijing's secrets

By Jennifer Pak
BBC News, Beijing

Beijing nightlife

Here's the normal rule for exploring foreign cities: wander about a bit, get lost in alleyways, and you will stumble across the best nooks and crannies.

But do this in Beijing and you will just get plain lost.

In this city, you have to know exactly where to go to eat, drink and shop.

So let me give you some pointers.


The best way to get around Beijing is by underground or taxi.

The new airport express train is the fastest and cheapest way to get to and from the airport into the city.

For 25 yuan ($3.65, 1.84) you can get to the city centre in 20 minutes.


How to get to Beijing city centre from the airport

It connects to the city underground system. For two yuan ($0.30, 0.15) a trip, you can travel on any of the lines.

You can also grab a cab. Take one straight from your hotel.

Cab drivers have been mandated by the Beijing government to learn some English phrases for the Olympics, but few can understand the names of important tourist spots.

After five minutes of repeating the words "Bird's Nest" - the commonly used name for the national stadium - and "Olympic Village" to one cab driver, I had to relent.

"Niao chao," I said. That's Chinese for Bird's Nest.

Taxi driver Ma Junhai said he was given a book by his company over a year ago, and was still learning phrases until last week.

"I can't remember much of it," he said sheepishly.

Word of advice: always have a map handy with your destination circled and get hotel staff to write your destination address down in English and Chinese.

PRONUNCIATION: Niao chao - nyow chow; Key sound: -ow as in now


Sanlitun Bar Street is lined with tacky bars on the main road.

But like most places in Beijing, the good stuff is tucked away in nearby alleyways.

Cooked ducks in the window of a Chinese restaurant
Don't miss the Peking Duck

Jim Boyce writes a blog dedicated to the drinking scene in Beijing.

Number one on his list for an ice cold beer is the Mexican eatery Saddle Cantina, equipped with a special ice tap that serves beer at -2C.

"The two things you want to order are Stella and Hoegaarden draught because you cannot believe how long it stays cold," Mr Boyce said.

They also have good chicken enchiladas.

The Tree is not one of the easiest bars to find. But they do have a great selection of Belgian beer and good oven-fired thin-crust pizzas.

Lastly, the cheapest and best way to enjoy a bit of "old Beijing" is to buy a 600ml bottle of Tsingdao beer for 3 yuan ($0.43, 0.22) at local convenience stores.

PRONUNCIATION: Sanlitun - SAN-lee-TUUN; Key sound -uu as in book

Tsingdao - Ching-dow; Key sound -ow as in now


The best place to eat in Beijing is open 24 hours a day.

It is known in Chinese as Guijie, which is known to foreigners as "Ghost Street".

There are many stories as to how the name originated, including the fact that the red lanterns that line the street make it look like a horror movie set."

The street is a haven for spicy food lovers. Most of the restaurants serve spicy crawfish and hot pot.


Guijie or "Ghost Street" in Beijing is home to many restaurants

A great restaurant that serves home-style cooking is Huajia Yiyuan.

It is set in a quaint old-styled Chinese courtyard. This type of housing has been mostly replaced by skyscrapers and apartment buildings in the city.

The signature dish is Peking duck.

The combination of crispy skin with lean duck meat wrapped with veggies and a seafood sauce in a rice tortilla is worth a try.

Good Peking duck can easily be found in other local Beijing restaurants.

If the restaurant serves the crispy duck skin with fat still stuck on it, then you're in the wrong place.

PRONUNCIATION: Guijie - GWAY-ji-E; Key sound -e as in bet

Huajia Yiyuan - KHWAA-ji-aa YEE yue-ann: Key sound - kh as in loch


The best place to get knickknacks is still the Panjiayuan antique market.

"You know there are very few antiques at that market," my cab driver said.

True collectors go at the crack of dawn on weekends.

This place is great for Mao memorabilia, pearls, jade, imitations of famous modern Chinese paintings and old books.


Panjiayuan antique market is recommended for shopping

Most people hate the cut-throat business of bargaining. But take my father's advice: no business person sells under cost.

Bid 10 to 20 yuan lower than you are willing to pay, and move up incrementally. This way you are giving the vendor a bit of respect or "face".

I often get asked by visitors: "How do I know if I've been ripped off?"

The only way to know is to ask locals.

My favourite purchase at Panjiayuan was an old vintage suitcase that looked like it came straight off a 1930s Shanghai movie set.

A book vendor nodded towards my purchase as I was leaving the market.

"How much did you pay for that?"

"180 yuan," I said timidly.

He nodded.

"Bu cuo [not bad]," he said.

Striking a good deal definitely gives you a high.

PRONUNCIATION: Panjiayuan - PAN-ji-aa-yue-ANN

Bu Cuo - Boo tswaw; Key sound -ts as in bits

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