According to the expected promotion and hype, Beijing promises to be an exciting place in August 2008. The government isn’t squandering the opportunity to make a lasting impression on the 500,000 visitors estimated to travel to China during the Olympic Games.
In preparation, they’re building three new subway lines, tearing down slums by the block, constructing a new airport terminal, relocating polluting factories, laying down new highways, and much more.
If you’re planning to attend the Games, you can bet that you’ll see a new Beijing unlike any Beijing that has ever existed before. You’ll have the chance to witness not only sporting events; you’ll see with your own eyes the new face of Beijing, the result of a shockingly thorough urban transformation.
However, there are some things you’ll want to know about before you leave on your journey.
The ticket sales process is a big, sticky mess of red tape, hotel prices are through the roof, and the huge influx of foreign visitors is sure to tax every urban amenity. So check out our tips on how to score tickets, get a relatively cheap bed, and make your way from event to event with minimum hassle.
The games will run from August 8-24, 2008, and the ticket sales process is broken up into two phases. Unfortunately, the first phase of the process, in which tickets were distributed through a lottery system, ended in June 2007. The second phase, in which tickets for various events will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis, begins in October 2007. The official ticket broker in the USA is CoSport, and you will be able to purchase tickets on their Web site, www.cosport.com.
There are, of course, alternate sources for tickets. TicketLiquidator.com lists tickets for a wide range of events, but resellers have marked up the prices significantly.
At the time of this writing, tickets to the opening ceremony, for instance, were selling for between $1,200 and $3,000. Sales by individuals on sites like eBay will probably not begin in large quantities until next July, when tickets are distributed to individual buyers.
If all that was a little confusing, just keep in mind that the official source, CoSport, is the way to go. Keep your eyes on their Web sites throughout October 2008. If an event you want to see is available, snap up the ticket as quickly as you can. If that doesn’t work out, you’ll have no option except to pay a premium price to a ticket reseller.
Finding a Cheap Bed
CoSport can sell you a bed along with your tickets to the Games, but don’t expect a bargain. If you take the obvious, convenient route, you’ll end up paying about $1,000 a night for a medium-grade hotel that usually costs one-tenth that.
We recommend taking a really good look at other options first. If you know which Olympic events you’ll be attending, you should reserve a hotel room to correspond with those dates as soon as possible.
If you do end up wandering the streets of Beijing looking for a hotel, be prepared to pay dearly. Of course, you can always try bargaining with the hotel staff, although this may be tough during the Olympics. Remember, bargaining is completely acceptable and expected in all but the ritziest hotels.
A number of hostels have significantly jacked up their rates, but others haven’t raised them very much at all. If you come across one of the latter, it may be cheaper for you to stay there even if you are, for instance, forced into booking out an entire dorm room for just two or three people.
There is one other option that is truly inexpensive, and that is to stay with a Chinese host family. You’ll get some contact with genuine Chinese culture – something we’re guessing is going to be hard to come by with 500,000 foreign visitors overrunning the city – and you’ll make lasting memories beyond the feats performed at the Olympic events.
You can generally book a homestay for around $400-$600 per month. The agencies that arrange the homestays haven’t jacked up their rates yet, and as long as they refrain from doing so, that makes the homestay option far cheaper than any hotel. You can book stays as short as one day with some agencies.
Navigating the City
If possible, stay off the public roadways. Traffic in Beijing is already really bad, and it’s expected to get really, really, really bad with so many visitors flooding the city. For this reason, we don’t recommend you use a rental car, taxi, or even a bus unless you have to.
As we mentioned earlier, Beijing is scheduled to have seven subway lines by the time the Games roll around, and that should serve to cool the transportation meltdown. Try to use those subway lines whenever possible.
Luckily, there are subway stations within walking distance of most of the 31 official Olympic venues, and Wikipedia hosts a great map of the subway system, including the lines which are currently under construction.
The official Olympics Web sites is another outstanding online transportation resource. Using their E-Map, you can pinpoint the locations of all the Olympic venues, all the subway stations, a bunch of shopping centers, a good selection of Beijing’s better-known restaurants, and plenty more. If you want to go the old-fashioned route, we’re certain many individuals will descend upon the airport to hawk English-language paper maps to Olympic guests.
Here are some more hints about taxis in Beijing, since despite your efforts to avoid them, there will most likely come a time when you will either have to or want to use one.
Although fares have increased recently, they’re still a bargain by North American and European standards. Taxi fares in Beijing start at 10 RMB ($1.35 or so) and increase 2 RMB (about a quarter) for each kilometer in excess of three. Just make sure the taxi driver actually turns on the meter, and if you feel like you’re being taken on an unnecessary detour, get out of the cab.
Although authorities will undoubtedly warn the taxi drivers that scamming tourists is a really good way to make a really bad impression, some drivers will probably choose not to listen.
Taxi drivers are supposed to speak some basic English these days, but it’s still a good policy to show them the address of your destination in Chinese if you can, or provide them with the phone number at your destination.
Have fun, and just remember that a major event like the Olympics doesn’t change the basic rules of travel. Plan well before you go, be prepared for spontaneity once you get there, and never pay too much for your hotel room!
By Mike Day for PeterGreenberg.com.
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Previously by Mike Day on PeterGreenberg.com: