Written September 10, 2011
After arriving at the Beijing airport on a rainy Saturday afternoon I took the #3 line shuttle bus to the downtown Beijing train station/International Hotel. Cheaper (16 yuan) and less hassle than waiting in the long taxi queue and dealing with taxi drivers that don’t want to use their meter. In talking with some other travelers, there is currently a taxi shortage in the city and drivers are selective in who they pick up and how much they charge.
With traffic the trip into town took about an hour. My hotel was a 20 minute walk from the train station so despite the rain, I bypassed the taxi hustlers that greeted our bus. Beijing, with its wide multilane boulevards laid out on a grid, is easy to negotiate. Making it even easier, directional signs are posted at the intersection of major boulevards. Look for the arrow with either E 东, W 西, N 北, or S南. I worked my way west and north through the streets. Slow going pulling a suitcase while holding an umbrella. I was hoping to pass a “normal taxi” stand but never did and just kept walking. The cool damp air felt good after sitting in airports and planes for the last six hours.
About a block past the Wangfu Jing shopping street, just past the long line of food stall vendors setting up on Jinbao Street, was the Jade Garden Hotel. One of the easiest experiences I’ve ever had finding a hotel.
The hotel itself is nothing special. A standard business hotel with normal sized traditional clean rooms. In addition to the Wangfu Jing shopping street, the location is convenient to the Forbidden City and the local hutong neighborhoods. The best things about it are the soft beds – western style mattresses rather than the typical brick hard Chinese ones. Prices are reasonable, about $75 on Hotels.com not including breakfast.
For dinner I decided to explore the streets around Wangfu Jing. There are two food stall areas, a long line of vendors on Jinbao street just west of the north end of Wangfu Jing and a small and more intensely packed area on the west side near the south end of Wangfu Jing. Look for the tourists snapping photos of a small Chinese gate. Past this entrance to the food stalls the fun begins with a wide selection of insects and scorpions on skewers. (Some still alive and wriggling.) Sorry, I’m still not willing to eat a bug, especially without witnesses. Instead I opted for a tame bowl of meatball soup with chewy Asian-style meatballs and a crepe-looking pancake filled with bean sprouts and noodles. ( I know, pretty boring compared to a bug.) Other options included various meats on skewers, roasted chestnuts and a doner kebab looking thing served in a paper bowl rather than pita bread. A dynamic scene with Asian and Western tourists crammed in the small area snacking and taking pictures of each other posing with their snacks.
While the stalls along Jinbao street repeat some of the same snacking opportunities, they have many more vendors with greater variety. You can still find skewers of scorpions or snake if you like, along with kettles of simmering stews; mounds of stir fried vegetables and noodles; and skewered fish, squid, meats and tofu. I tried another burrito style crepe. This one with stir-fried veggies in a mildly spicy sauce, my favorite of the evening. (Yeah, still boring.)