We have recently returned from 8 days in China, nearly 5 of which was spent in Beijing.
We arrived mid-afternoon on Day 1 and explored the neighbourhood around our hotel and experienced quite a culture shock (in a good way) but were glad we had arranged a guide for Day 2 (and Day 4) as finding directions for the things we had planned for Day 1 was very difficult – this was despite maps (from guidebooks that weren’t accurate), “instructions” from our concierge, and then asking girls working in local shops (resulting in hysterical laughter from the girls as they couldn’t speak English!)
Communication from Qing prior to our trip had been very prompt by email and she arrived on time at our hotel lobby the morning of our first day together. She took us on the first day to Jingshan Park (by public bus from our hotel) for a great view of the Forbidden City but also for our first glimpse into the local life – people exercising, singing, dancing, practicing calligraphy, playing cards etc.
We then walked to the Forbidden City and spent a few hours there – she made the trip so interesting with all the information and stories she provided. We then walked through Tiananmen Square and then caught a subway to the Lama temple – we ate lunch at a local restaurant first – Qing ordered for us and everything was absolutely delicious.
She then took us to a local market where she gave me tips on bargaining and also (covertly) wrote me a list of prices I should expect to pay for the items I was interested in – she wrote directions for a taxi to take us to the Silk Market independently later that evening. We got a taxi with her to the Acrobat show – she left us before the show with info in Chinese for a taxi to also get us back to our hotel.
It has been said many times on TA that you can do Beijing on your own – we are usually very independent travellers and have travelled widely – however we were SO very glad to have Qing with us – she taught us how to use the subway, buy tickets etc that enabled us to navigate more easily on the days she wasn’t with us. Yes, you can hire audio guides for the Forbidden City – but really – how boring is that? Qing took us through and told us all we wanted to know, as well we simply enjoyed learning from her the Chinese way of life today, and hearing stories about her family etc.
On Day 4 she took us to the Temple Of Heaven (again, my favourite part was people watching around the temple and in the parks) and to the Summer Palace. I would HIGHLY recommend using Qing as a guide, esp if you only have a short time in the city like we did.
Happy to answer any further questions if needed!