Beijing and Chengdu Solo
Updated: Jun 6, 2019
China is one of those countries that you probably wouldn’t think to go to alone – at least not for the first time. Lucky me, my boss didn’t care about that feeling. I went to China for a week all by my lonesome and boy did I learn a lot of lessons about Asia haha. That said, it was such a cool week and I met some amazing people, saw some incredible history, and ate things I’d never tried before.
Keep in mind this was a work trip, so I didn’t have time to get out to the Great Wall or plan activities during the day. This is a pretty quick overview of how to see Beijing or Chengdu in one day.
Flight: Seattle to Beijing – Delta (flew Delta One there and let me tell you it’s worth every extra penny)
Beijing to Chengdu – Sichaun Airlines
Chengdu to Tianjin – Sichaun Airlines
Tianjin back to Beijing – actually had a driver provided by the company we were there to see (it’s about a 3 hour drive)
Beijing – The Grand Hyatt Beijing
This hotel is in a perfect location for sightseeing, especially if you’re short on time. It’s also a beautiful hotel with a great breakfast spread. Ask for a higher floor to get some cool views of the city.
Chengdu – St Regis Chengdu
This hotel was absolutely unreal. I’ve never stayed in a St. Regis before but boy do I wish I could. The room was unbelieveable with marble shower stall, a marble tub, double sink vanity, dimming lights, a TV that came out of the table, and finally an entire butler’s closet. Plus the price is actually pretty affordable if you’re comparing it to a Hilton in the states or Europe.
Tianjin – Renaissance Teda Convention Center
I literally do not remember a single thing about this hotel. It was probably pretty generic
Transportation: In Beijing I took cabs almost everywhere. It wasn’t easy because the drivers rarely spoke English, but the hotel wrote down where I was going and their address in Mandarin on paper for me so I could just show the driver their note. It made things a lot easier. The more difficult part was the payment. I’m not sure if they have Uber now in Beijing – I’d assume so – but if they do I’d definitely recommend using that instead.
In the other cities, my co-workers had drivers provided by a service so we used them every day. It made things a lot easier.
I definitely would not recommend trying to drive yourself. Traffic in these cities is insane. I literally had a driver go the wrong way on purpose on the other side of a bridge because he didn’t want to wait in traffic on the correct side of the street. You really just never know what’s going to happen.
What I loved:
Beijing: I was only in Beijing for a day so I asked my hotel concierge what I couldn’t miss, and everything they told me about was spot on.
The Temple of Heaven – of all of the historic tourist attractions, the Temple of Heaven was by far my favorite. It’s more of a park than anything. In May, there were incredible roses blooming in more colors than I’ve ever seen. It was packed with visitors. Lots of families and children. You can pay extra as well to go inside more of the buildings, but I was out of time
The Forbidden City – Tiananmen Square, The Imperial Palace, and Jinghsan Park – start on the south end of the Forbidden City at Tiananmen Square and then work your way north through the Imperial City. Once you’re inside the city, you’ll see all kinds of different rooms set up as it would have been when it was the palace. Once you reach the north gate of the palace museum, cross under the street and come up into the entrance to Jingshan Park. Make sure you pay the extra 8 yuan to hike up to the top of the park. You’ll be rewarded with incredible views overlooking the entire Forbidden City. See the first photo above.
Jinli Pedestrian Street – this is just an old area of Chengdu and you’ll find plenty of restaurants, street shops selling everything from giant calligraphy brushes to fish heads, and plenty of traditional Chinese architecture. It’s especially unique in the evening when the lanterns come on.
Traditional Sichuan Opera Mask Show – you can find this in quite a few restaurants as well as at the Opera House. It’s such a unique form of performing arts. I would highly recommend it to any tourist in the area.
What went wrong:
In Beijing, I took out cash from an ATM in the mall attached to the Grand Hyatt. It was a Bank of China ATM right next to a Louis Vuitton store – nothing sketchy about it. It turned out the 100 Yuan bills that I had taken out were all fake. This resulted in a cab driver calling the police on me outside the airport and a translator trying to assure me I wouldn’t be going to jail for fraudulent currency. It was traumatic to say the least. I’d recommend either getting cash in advance or making sure you only go places that you can use your credit card.
What I may have done differently:
I wish I had more time and had taken an extra weekend to go see the Great Wall. I guess I’ll just have to go back
I also wish I had taken an extra morning in Chengdu to see the Great Pandas. The city is famous for them, but locals told me that if you don’t go first thing in the morning, it’s not worth it because all they do is sleep after about noon.
Hot Pot in Chengdu – my translator took me to a local restaurant for dinner in Chengdu that’s famous for “dinner and a show.” That region is famous for their traditional Sichaun Opera Mask Changing show. It was so cool and an experience I’ll never forget. Not to mention the food was excellent. I think a lot of people get nervous with hot pot because you don’t necessarily know what’s in there, but at this place you get to pick your meats and veggies and it was really good. I would definitely recommend making reservations. This is a favorite for locals and tourists alike and the ones with shows fill up.
My coworkers took us out for lunch in Chengdu as well during the day in the heart of the shopping district. I don’t know the name of this restaurant either, but it was fantastic. Local cuisine served on a large lazy susan that allowed us to try a bit of everything. Word of advice – always let the locals order, always say yes to bao buns, and don’t ask too many questions :).
General Tips and Tricks
Do not drive yourself anywhere
Use your hotel concierge to write down addresses for you in Mandarin
Be ready to try new things – don’t assume you’ll hate something because you’ve never eaten it before
In the airports, be aware that it’s more of a giant flock than an ordered line. I’d highly recommend flying first class within China on the city jumper flights. If you don’t, just stand close to the gate so you can get right on early. Otherwise, you’ll be caught in the stampede.
From what I hear, cash is almost never used anymore in China – neither are credit cards. They use money transfer services. If you can figure out how to get one that will work in China, I’d highly recommend it. Otherwise, make sure you get cash before you leave the states. Apparently ATMs are not to be trusted.
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