23-Hour Layover in Beijing

Beijing

Being capital of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing is the nation’s political, economic, and cultural center. Located in north China, close to the port city of Tianjin and partially surrounded by Hebei Province, it also serves as the most important transportation hub and port of entry. It is now known as one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, with about 140 million Chinese tourists and 4.4 million international visitors in a year.

24-hour Visa-Free Transit

The 24-hour Visa-Free Transit in China, also called the 24-hour Transit Without Visa (24-hour TWOV for short), regulates that visa is not required for air, train, and ship passengers transiting in mainland China for a stay of no more than 24 hours before heading for a third country or region. It is also possible to get a 72 or 144-hour transit visa with similar terms and restrictions.

Since our fight from Canada landed in PEK at 4:25pm, and our connecting flight to our final destination in Japan departed at 3:45pm the next day, we had nearly 24 hours layover time. I had booked a hotel near Wangfujing, hired a chauffeur for the next day, and had all detailed information of our planned layover in Beijing in both English and Mandarin, putting all chances on our sides. We only carried a small backpack each and had our luggages sent directly to our final destination. After reading loads of forums about mixed situations that happened to Canadian travellers during this political dispute, we were quite surprised that the whole process went so effortlessly (at least it did for us). We got our transit visa approved in no time, and passed customs successfully. We exited the airport and walked to the taxis. I was glad to have our hotel printed in Mandarin –it made up for an efficient, timely and appreciated communication with the driver.

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Wangfujing Street

Wangfujing Street is the rich affluent shopping area of Beijing including many famous western brands and stores. After walking down the main street, we arrived to the snack street.

Wangfujing Food Street is Beijing’s local foodies paradise. Amongst locals and tourists, we meandered through the crowd, our eyes wandering with curiosity on all to see such as scorpions, snakes, bats, and tarantula on sticks. We weren’t brave enough to try much (after being sick in the Sahara Desert, I sadly tend to be more hesitant of what I eat when I know I’ll be away from restrooms for a longer period of time – however this is a personal experience and I encourage everyone to try street foods), but I couldn’t be on Wangfujing Snack Street without trying out a scorpion. So I did it! The feeling of the fried legs touching the roof of my mouth was scarier than the taste itself.  JF had 2 and I’m sure he would had have more. I was content with my one bite. It’s those little things on my bucket list that make me so happy to check off. 🙂

Food 

When I was travelling in Tibet back in 2010, the food was interestingly a hard one for me to grasp. I like to think of myself as an adventurous foodie, trying whatever is served in front of me. Having this culinary curiosity, I got the chance to try some marvellous (and very interesting) flavours around the world. But from my experience in China,  Chinese cuisine never really much agreed to my palate. I’m not talking about American Chinese foods, but the real, authentic Chinese cuisine. Maybe one of the hardest thing is understanding the menu (which will likely be solely in Mandarin). The photos helped, but don’t necessarily reveal what kind of meat nor ingredients are part of the main dish. I found that there’s some sort of parfum, an interesting fragrance in the plates that we ordered. My partner ordered 3 meat dishes, and I ordered 3 veggie plates. My veggies were quite tasty, but I could only have one bite of his (plus I’m not much of a meat eater). I would definitely love to go back to China and explore more of their culinary world.

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Great Wall of China

Previously, back in Canada, I hired John Yellowcar whom I found on TripAdvisor. John is a Beijing, English speaking native who’s been chauffeuring visitors around the city for nearly 20 years. My correspondence with John the weeks prior to our trip reassured me. He gave us valuable information on taxis, airport customs, translation, etc. John picked us up at our hotel the morning of January 1st at 6:45am in his clean and spacious vehicle. At our great astonishment, the roads were empty due to New Year’s Day (January 1st). It took us around 1 hour to reach the Mutianyu entrance of the Great Wall. John helped us get tickets and directed us to the entrance where we had the liberty to venture on our own. By 8am we were in the gondola heading up to the stoned path. 

John picked us up at 11:30am where he had dropped us off. We headed back to the airport in no time. By 1pm we were back in PEK going through customs. Hiring John allowed us to see a great wonder of the world with a peace of mind. I would highly recommend him, or any great driver, if you have a layover in Beijing.

PEK Airport

PEK Airport doesn’t stand in my top favourite airports. But it’s not bad. Bathrooms are decent, offering both western and squat toilets. Although not very big, PEK offers a few shops and restaurants. Wifi is free, but remember that Internet censorship in China is among the most extensive censorships in the world due to a wide variety of legal and administrative regulations (social medias, YouTube and Safari didn’t work, although we managed to play Words with Friends). If you have a long layover, I strongly encourage you to look at ways to get a Visa-Free Transit to explore some parts of Beijing rather than spend it at the airport. 

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Safety in Beijing

It’s hard to have an opinion of a place while only being there for a day. But the general impression I got though, is that the streets felt much safer than what I expected. There wasn’t a time during this layover I felt threatened nor hassled. I am unsure if the police presence in the streets near Wangfujing were in conjonction with the western New Year’s, but the crowds were happy, the merchants helpful and friendly, and the streets rather clean. Even though I was traveling the streets with my boyfriend, I felt it would have been safe enough for me to travel solo. Again, I chose to travel by taxi and hired an English speaking private chauffeur, to ease things and save on time. And like in any other big cities in the world, you always have to exercise normal cautions. 

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Conclusion

The cleanliness of the streets, the kindness of the people and safety of the neighbourhoods definitely improved my perception of China. If you ever have the chance to have a long layover in Beijing, jump on the opportunity to explore the beauties of the city’s ancient past. I know I will come back. Hopefully for longer than a layover.

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3 Nights in New York on a Budget

On my way to Cayman Islands from my visit in the province of Québec, it was inevitable that I stop in New York, at least for a quick glance at this famous ”City That Never Sleeps.”

Like many of us, I always dreamt of walking the streets of the Big City. Flights in and out of New York are so affordable and it was just a few hours and a few bucks to get me in the Big Apple.

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I met up with my friend Lisa, with whom I volunteered with a year ago in Morocco. She flew from Michigan, also a very short and affordable flight.

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There was many AirbNb options, but the best deal I found for our short stay was at the Savoy Hotel, located only a few footsteps from Times Squares. We shared a small room double occupancy in the heart of the action. For New York, it seemed like a pretty sweet deal (and cheaper than most AirbNb and YMCA).

Hotel in Times Square: Park Savoy Hotel: $120/night= $60/night/pp

DAY 1

I met Lisa at the airport. We took a shuttle that drove us through the cluttered roads, all the way to the doors of our hotel. We quickly unpacked and walked to Times Square.

Transportation from JFK to Manhattan: Super Shuttle Roundtrip Ticket= $40/pp

The illuminating signs took over dawn. The square was hustling, as expected, and we quickly learnt how to walk firmly through the people maze. No wonder why they call it the Crossroads of the World, with some 360,000 people walking through each day.

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As we were on the lookout for a nice place to eat, a policeman allowed himself to suggest us the way to Restaurant Row. “There you’ll find 16 privately-owned restaurants, for every taste, ” he said. “It is only a couple of blocks this way.”We thanked him for his genuine help and followed his directions. Located on West 46th, between 8th and 9th Ave in the Theatre District of Manhattan, and only a few minutes walking distance from Times Square, Restaurant Row is a one block stretch that offers cuisines from all around the world. Here you can sample foods from celebrity chefs and glimpse at Broadway Stars enjoying their favourite meals. Our ears were attracted by music notes flowing through the bustle. At the entrance of an illuminated door, a man in a black tuxedo hosted our way inside. Past a bar, we entered a room where a large band played in the back. He sat us at the best table.

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Jazz, food and wine. I’m the happiest girl!

At the entr’acte, they invited patrons to hit the dance floor for some swing lessons. I instantly regretted I wore my hunter gum boots. We were definitely the youngest ”couple” in the place, but the energy was young and frivoulous and everyone tapped their feet, head wobbling, hips twisting on the sounds of jazz music.

Dinner in Manhattan:  Swing 46 (appetizer, 2 meals, 1 bottle of wine, 1 show)= $60/pp.

On our walk back to Times Square, we stopped and played paparrazi at the exit of Richard Rogers Theatre, waiting on actress Idina Menzal (?) to walk the red carpet back to her limousine. 10352977_10154873473400721_8648620460816031866_n

We finished our first night at a pub, for a couple. This is when our unplanned trip got planned by the bartender.

Drinks in Times Square: Rosie O’Grady’s= $20/each

DAY 2

It’s a chilly day of October, but the sun arches across the blue sky, making it the ideal day to explore Manhattan. After a quick breakfast in Times Square, we took the subway, line 2, and got off on Fulton St. We walked through the World Trade Center, encounting the sad truths of 9/11.

Breakfast in Times Square:(can’t remember the place, wasn’t worth it)=$15/pp Get around:MTA Subway Train Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard= $5/pp

It wouldn’t be a trip to NYC without having a glimpse at the Statue of Liberty. We trotted a few blocks and reached the water. We jumped aboard a vessel and cruised along Manhattan, marveling at world-famous landmarks such as the Brooklyn bridge, the Empire State Building, Governors Island, and of course, the Statue of Liberty.

Cruise Manhattan: NY WaterTaxi Cruise= $30/pp

Once we jumped off the boat, and with the help of two friendly policemen, we walked towards the district of Chinatown, right on time for happy hour.

Happy Hour in Chinatown:  Asia Roma (appies, 3 drinks each)= $20/pp

Since Little Italy was just around the corner, we decided to go there for dinner.

Dinner in Little Italy: Da Gennaro (appies, 2 homemade pasta meals, 1 bottle of wine, 2 espresso martinis)= $70/pp

My friend DJ from Cayman now manages a lounge in lower Manhattan. We walked a few blocks and arrived at the Grey Lady where we patronized the bar and socialized with New Yorkers. IMG_5690 We continued the night at the Avenue Club where we danced until 4am. And since we haven’t walked enough, we ventured through Times Square in the early hours of the AM, assisting a morning TV show broadcasting live at the red steps of TKTS booth. Drinks and night out with friends= priceless (it also helps when you have friends that work in the industry).

DAY 3

I was sore. My whole lower body was so sore. But it was Halloween day and we needed to get back outside. We grabbed a tea and walked to Central Park, just steps away from our hotel.

We walked the entire park, through the magical colours of fall. Sometimes a zombie would limp on the path, moaning death and spitting blood.

Walk in the park= free Snacks: Tea= $2 /Pretzel= $2

As we were too exhausted from the night before, we skipped our plans for a Halloween ball party. We chose to take the subway back to lower Manhattan and experience the haunted house everyone talked about. We ate cheap but delicious food in Chinatown, and waited in line for our haunted experience.

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Scary. Spooky. Screamy. I hope this was the first and last time I get lock in a dark closet with a corpulent dead man, then get my hair pulled by 2 mentally-challenged girls and have a black sac over my head, screaming for my dear life. Dinner in Chinatown:  Pho Vietnam= $15/pp Haunted House: Nightmare Haunted House= $30/pp We took the subway back to Times Square, along with ninjas, assassins and zombie princesses.

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We only had a few hours sleep until our shuttle picked us up from our hotel, back to the airport. It was a very short stay, yet we managed to explore some of Manhattan’s best spots, without suffering our wallet (only our feet and legs).

CONCLUSION During my 3 night stay in New York City, I spent approximately $550, excluding airfares. I stayed in a hotel in Times Square, and at the entrance of Central Park. Sometimes I ate cheap, but I did splurge on 2 nice meals (it’s New York after all). I watched a jazz show, encountered a celebrity and watched a live morning TV show. I explored Manhattan, mostly by foot, and all Central Park for free. I saw some of the world-famous landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty. I drank at great establishments, and danced the night away at a famous club. I didn’t do any shopping, but I am very satisfied with all I did, and happy with the money I spent. Despite being known as one of the most expensive cities in the world, I believe anyone can visit New York on a budget, without sacrificing enjoyment. I know I did.