China Travel

Beijing on a Budget

July 29, 2014

Last week I took you guys through Sydney on a budget, which was actually relatively easy considering how expensive it can be. This week I take you through the first city I found myself in on my backpacking adventure, therefore the one I’ll always have a soft spot for, the Amazing and dynamic city of Beijing…

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Walk around That’s all it takes to get soaked up in the culture of Beijing, a simple walk. Nearly all our days in Beijing were planned out, but for our first day we just walked. After 20 hours travelling on two different planes, not to mention a quick bus trip through Shanghai, we slept for a good nine hours before awaking at noon to do a day of exploring (mostly finding our bearings). It wasn’t a particularly warm day, it was mostly grey, a little sun and very smoggy, but it was still so beautiful and it felt amazing to be walking through China’s capital. We walked past parks, stalls, markets, unusual shops, amazing road signs and Chinese writings. We passed the Forbidden City (which we did another day), saw beautiful trees and had lunch in a very odd family restaurant where we made some interesting friends (read all about that here). We spent most of the day trying to hunt down a place that would sell English tea, but in the end the only such place we could find was a Starbucks! But it wasn’t really about the destination, but the wonderful journey, and the strange encounters we had on our seven hour hunt through Beijing for western tea.

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The Drum & Bell Pub Why not pop for a pint to the famous ‘Drum & Bell Pub’. The Drum & Bell towers are two famous landmarks in Beijing, separated by a beautiful courtyard in which there stands a little pub. The pub is almost an oriental version of a good old fashioned British pub. Dark inside with lots of wood and a smoky smell; it has stools, chairs and sofas downstairs making it feel warm and cosy, whilst upstairs it plays host to an amazing rooftop from which you can gaze at the amazing Drum Tower and Bell tower. You can also see rows of rustic oriental houses with family clothes hanging out on washing lines. I loved this place. A pint of beer was about 20RMB, which is around £1.90 (Yes that is cheap, but it’s expensive compared to the cost of a beer from a shop which was just 3RMB – 28p). They also serve food here if you fancy a spot of lunch, but watch out for the SUPER spicy noodle soup, I got three spoonfuls in and couldn’t handle it anymore.

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Haggle on a Hutong Hutong basically means alleyway. Down these kooky alleyways you’ll find bars, cafes, shops and stalls. Our favourite was a Doncheng hutong called Nanluogu Xiang. We searched for hours to find this particular hutong that was recommended in our Lonely Planet guidebook. We spent a lovely evening here playing cards in Pass-by bar over a cheap pitcher of beer. The following day we re-visited in the afternoon to take it all in in broad daylight, it was still as colourful and cultural as it had been when lit up at night. It’s a photographers dream wandering down these hutongs. There was panda shops, food markets and my favorite-  Chinese dress shops! I couldn’t resist buying an authentic Chinese dress, how could I not? The opportunity may not ever present itself again. If you do go shopping (its very cheap) make sure to haggle. Of our whole adventure, China was the best place to haggle as they refuse to lose out on a customer, so you can normally argue right down to the price you want. Due to the language barrier, they normally just hand you a calculator and ask you to input your price. These hutong shops aren’t expensive to begin with, so don’t go too low, but it’s tonnes of fun, and we had many a laughs haggling with the cheery sales staff who were always super friendly and clearly enjoy a good haggle battle.

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tumblr_ml88imG0Er1rpd9zao1_500Snakes on a  plane stick

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Just Eat Even on a budget in Beijing you can eat out. Food served in restaurants is not expensive at all in Beijing; although it’s the capital city, a good meal wont set you far back. Whilst I urge you to go out for some Beijing pecking duck (oh my goodness it is sooo good) if you really want to watch your spends, you’ll find plenty of tasty food in, how shall I say it, less-fancy restaurant’s. I spoke in a previous backpacker post about my favourite Beijing meal (where I think I ate either dog, or donkey, read here) about a place we stumbled upon near the Forbidden City. This place could have passed for your local Chinese takeaway. This small venue wasn’t appealing to the eyes, but it was mega cheap and more importantly mega tasty! Not to mention the street food in Beijing is incredibly yummy, just make sure you choose hot street food so you know its cooked. As mentioned above, our first day was just spent walking around, we didn’t have breakfast when we left our hostel – too anxious to get out and about – so we picked up these weird sausages on a stick from a street stall. No idea what they were and they were a weird colour, but they were delicious!

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Happy Dragon Courtyard If you’re looking for a place to stay, but don’t fancy forking out for a hotel, head to the Happy Dragon Courtyard hostel. This beautiful authentic rustic oriental building may be a hostel but it’s stunning. The dorms were great, offering huge lockers for your bags and belongings. In the dorms each bed has a night light and a socket for your chargers. And I have to add, the showers are amazing, it’s quite rare to find a power shower in a hostel. Named The Happy Dragon Courtyard because, yes, you guessed it, there is a beautiful courtyard in the middle – with a bar too. The bar is good fun, with food served as well as cheap cocktails, beers and coffees and teas too. The bar is open all day, so if you’re not quite into Chinese food for breakfast, the Happy dragon Bar have a great selection of breakfasts for reasonable prices – including English, American, even Swedish (!?). In the bar there are also ports for your cables, plenty of books, there are games to play and decks of cards. Music is played in the evenings, with the friendly staff serving you drinks. The staff at this place really are super friendly, and speak great English, so if you need them to write anything down for your or offer recommendations, just ask away. Dorms are around £8 per night, but private rooms are available.

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If you can afford to Splurge… If your only in Beijing for a day or two and if you can afford it, I highly recommend checking out the Great Wall of China, even if it’s the only thing you do. It’s such a wonderful place; so much history and it’s so beautiful. Videos and pictures just don’t do it any justice, you need to see it for yourself to appreciate the magnitude of it. Plus, you can toboggan down it which is pretty epic. Most tours cost the same, but we booked ours through Happy Dragon Courtyard hostel and paid around 400RMB (£38) but this included breakfast at the hostel prior to the trip, transport to and from the wall (about a 90 minute journey) entrance into/onto the wall, and a great lunch served at a restaurant just below the Wall. Visiting this man made wonder was incredible, we walked along the newly built parts as well as old crumbling bits. We wrote our names on one part too (if your ever there look out for ‘Tink & Larz 08.04.13’). Some parts were so steep you had to climb up or shuffle down! And riding down it in a toboggan was awesome.

Fancy reading about other cities on a budget? Click Here

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  • ah i wish i’d read this post before i went last week! still didn’t make it to the wall, couldn’t be doing with it in this heat. i will bookmark this post for when i do return! was that price for a private tour of the wall? for one or two?

  • Tink Jayne

    Aww thats a shame. Did you have a nice trip though?
    That price is per person. Well worth it though. It’s pretty much a full day trip, I think we spent about 3 hours on the wall. And the lunch included was great. I forgot to mention there is an awesome little market at the bottom too
    x tink x

  • Tink Jayne

    It actually snowed very lightly whilst we were on the wall (but it was early April) x