Some tips for visiting Beijing:
1. Leaving the Beijing airport we were flagged down by a supposed “cab company” which we later realized was a private car service. As soon as you leave the airport, if you do not speak the language and ask for a cab, you will be advised that this service is that of a cab company. Be warned, it is not. This company takes payment upfront, provides a receipt of service but then takes you to a private car. Any service for “cabs” that requires payment upfront is not a real cab company. We realized once we got to the vehicle it was a private car, which in reality is double (sometimes triple) the price of a regular cab. Remember, when leaving the airport and if you are being harassed for cabs, keep walking until you see a yellow taxi. Ask the driver to turn on his meter if he doesn’t do this automatically and this will be a fraction the price that you end up paying using any other service.
2. Do not travel with $100 yuan bills, if possible try to convert bills to a lower currency. Our tour guide advised us that if using $100 yuan bills locals may falsify the bill by taking the real $100 yuan bill and giving back a false bill stating the original bill was fake. The transaction will occur so quickly that you may not realize what’s happened until you’ve departed from the cab or store. There are warning signs in the Beijing (PEK) airport advising of these occurrences as well so please be cautious.
3. DO NOT try to hail a cab in a tourist area, instead walk 2-3 blocks away from the area and then hail a cab. Cab drivers will charge you double or triple the regular fare (off meter) if you try and hail a cab close to a tourist area, as they know you are tourist.
4. Public bathrooms in Beijing do not have toilet paper, remember to bring your own tissue or toilet paper. There is no toilet paper provided as locals usually “steal” the toilet paper in public areas.
5. Not all retail locations including American coffee chains (e.g. – Caffe Bene) accept Mastercard & Visa as a form of payment. As we were relying heavily on credit cards, we were a bit flabbergasted when we found that not all vendors accepted credit cards. Payment is accepted via cash and by phone through an app called “wechat”.
6. The pollution levels can get quite high so consider buying a mask. You may not notice it the first couple of days but we found it did start to impact us by the third day. When we were in Beijing, the pollution levels were so high that all schools were closed so kids didn’t have to travel outside.