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Beijing Travel Guides

China Book Reviews: Beijing Travel Guides

Beijing City Guide

Beijing City Guide

by Damian Harper

Lonely Planet

ISBN: 1740598423
272 pp

Beijing is a city undergoing vast change. As China's GDP soars and the country prepares for the 2008 Olympics much that is old is being swept away or refurbished.
New buildings designed by internationally renown architects are changing the city's skyline and atmosphere for ever, but China's capital since the 13th century is still home to some of the country's most famous sights: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace.
Long-term Beijing resident Damian Harper's Lonely Planet Beijing City Guide attempts to keep up with the many changes taking place in this huge metropolis, though by the time you get there many of the prices listed will have gone up, new subway lines will have opened and restaurants and bars closed with new ones appearing in their wake.
The 7th edition contains color maps in English and Chinese, suggested walks and cycle tours of the city's historical areas, language help, shopping tips and information on the Olympic venues. As an introduction to Beijing's core historical treasures the writing is well-researched and to-the-point supported by some excellent color images. A very valuable guide for first-time visitors to Beijing.

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Wallpaper City Guide:
Beijing

Wallpaper City Guide Beijing

by Wallpaper Guides

Phaidon

ISBN: 0714847178
120 pp

Wallpaper City Guides do not attempt to cover their urban subjects from A to Z in excessive detail but succeed in picking out brief snapshots of the best areas to see, stay, shop, escape to and admire.
The Beijing guide is no exception, pocket-sized, color-coded and thumb-tabbed the book is divided into tightly-edited sections: landmarks, hotels, 24 hours, urban life, architour, shopping, sports and escapes.
Each precise entry is presented with an excellent accompanying image and just enough well-written detail to make you want to get out and see for yourself. The book picks out six areas of most interest including the Old City, Sanlitun and Wanfujing. The back cover serves as a fold out overview map of the city and the six main color-coded areas covered. One slight peeve here is when the authors say areas outside the big six are "not coloured" they really mean they are marked in "gray".
There are also useful Beijing facts, figures and addresses at the beginning and a resource directory and space for notes and sketches at the back. This self-consciously artistic and up-market guide book covers the city from traditional detox and herbal massage at Zenspa to stylish retox at the Rui Fu club. Recommended.

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The Insider's Guide
to Beijing 2008

The Insider's Guide to Beijing 2008

by Adam Pillsbury

True Run Media

ISBN: 0980138604
768 pp

From its stunning cover to the last page, this book has to be the most definitive of all guide books to Beijing. The wealth of information in text, photos and maps would be difficult to match in any other reference book for visitors to Beijing or residents. Once readers start searching for particular advice, they will find it easy to be sidetracked by many fascinating tidbits of information they weren't looking for.
Chapters cover a wide range of topics suited to both the Beijing visitor and Beijing residents. The 40 writers or more writers have covered topics like medical care, housing and education for the resident. Visitors will find chapters about sightseeing, food, transport and shopping among the myriad of quality, easy-to-read information.
The writers aim to make Beijing a fun and adventurous city to visit or live in, with their advice on hundreds of bars, restaurants and shops.
Halla Mohieddeen, one of the shopping writers asserts, "A fructiferous bargaining sesh can lift the spirits immeasurably", as she writes about the many shopping opportunities to be found in this truly great shopping mecca of the world. Meanwhile Roy Kessey assures readers they can purchase items like "pots big enough to boil entire families" from the Hotel Equipment Corporation if they want to impress friends back home.
With detailed address information in both English and Chinese characters, along with phone numbers and opening hours, readers only need to hail a taxi, to embark on a shopping, eating or drinking adventure.

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The Insider's Guide
to Beijing 2010

The Insider's Guide to Beijing 2010

by Adam Pillsbury

True Run Media

ISBN: 7-5101-0282-0
574 pp

The 2010 Insider's Guide to Beijing, first published in December 2009, is the sixth updated edition by Immersion Guides. Although the English-language guidebook is mostly written by expats, the content is still fairly comprehensive, and one imagines can only be made possible by the extensive local know-how acquired by the diverse collection of contributors.
The book has left no square of the city unchecked with great recommendations and tips that are so wide-ranging, that it caters to even the most imaginative person living in Beijing. If you want to join that curling club or want to play Gaelic rules football, have a hankering for the best Ethiopian food, or in need of adoption advice, this book has it all.
Immersion Guides is published by True Run Media, which is also the publisher of the popular listings magazine, The Beijinger, Agenda and various other titles. So it is no wonder that the guidebook is able to amass such an accurate and up-to-date range of information on Beijing, and does such a superb job at discovering and documenting the best, that this city has to offer. The writing is both insightful yet humorous and features over 200 photographs.
This guidebook goes beyond a typical listings directory, where fascinating profiles, feature articles and anecdotal yarns are included throughout the 574-page book. While some of the articles are not new and have been recycled from previous editions, they are nonetheless interesting to read and succeed in breaking up the text-heavy content. This edition includes pieces on the rise of Beijing Rock, how to select antiques and a peek into the local English-language literary scene.
The authors have updated the evolution of the Peking men, with it no longer starting at the notoriously cheap drinking hole, Nanjie bar, it has moved to The Den. Big changes have been made in the excursions section, as the city continues to grow and ride on the wave of the sweeping modernising changes from the Olympics. There is now a revised opening statement to the food section, and better categorisation has made the directory easier to navigate overall. Page 423 in particular is really cleverly laid out.
Needless to say, you will find that other books like Time Out, Lonely Planet, Wallpaper City Guides; are guides that are more geared towards travellers, but this book is also perfect for those laowais (foreigners) who are planning to stay in Beijing a little longer.
The Insider's Guide is packed with personality and far more superior, than anything on the book market, and is still the must-have book for anyone living in Beijing. If you love Beijing, and you're really in love with Beijing, this book is your karma sutra.

Anne Lin

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The Insider's Guide
to Beijing

The Insider's Guide to Beijing 2007

by Adam Pillsbury

True Run Media

ISBN: 0977333418
752 pp

To take in the whole of the Insider's Guide to Beijing, 2007 is almost as big a feat as taking in the whole of Beijing; and leafing through it before you visit the city will take you much, much further than meandering the streets without having done so. This is a work of love that reflects the author's profound intimacy with the Chinese capital and its people.

The Insider's Guide's major strength is the number of levels at which it presents Beijing. This is more than a book for the casual tourist; it is as much aimed at the expat. Above and beyond the hand-picked listings that cover every possible aspect of life in Beijing is the huge selection of articles, by different contributors. They not only add color and depth to each section, but often stand alone as commentaries on areas of living in Beijing that, even if not of immediate, typically touristic interest, are eye-opening windows on how Beijing is made up and works.

Articles range from an interview with the (expat) co-founder of the Beijing Cheese Society, a profile of Beijing's most high-profile real estate entrepreneur, Beijing's "bar in a bus," kinds of business in China, "tea snobbery," home help, and, besides much, much more, of course, the 2008 Olympics.

The obligatory listings cover all bases intelligently, concisely and fair-mindedly, and, perhaps most importantly, in an "inside" way, with no shortage of tips and apposite observations scattered throughout.

At just over 750 pages, in full color and color coded for ultra-easy reference, the Insider's Guide to Beijing 2007 is the tourist's and, even more so, the expat's, bible to Beijing. It is hard to imagine finding anything that it misses. As the leading line of blurb on the back cover puts it: "There are guidebooks and then there's the Insider's Guide to Beijing."

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The Rough Guide
to China

The Rough Guide to China

David Leffman, Simon Lewis

Rough Guides

ISBN: 1843538725
1232 pp

The question is, when it comes to buying a new travel book today, do you go for a Rough Guide or Lonely Planet, or simply use the web? The Rough Guide China (5th edition) that I am currently using generally shapes up well against the LP. Chapter introductions and boxouts are well written and informative, and the pinyin translations of Chinese locations are a godsend for the majority of us that don't read Mandarin characters. On the downside the photography is on the whole drab and uninspiring, and the maps don't compare well to the LP either. Pricing information for accommodation could be more detailed in many places.
These days the internet is a very handy source of travel information the Wikitravel sites are especially useful (as is the guide you are reading!) so many would argue that the need to lug around such a hefty volume is unnecessary. However, if you want to read up on a place thoroughly before you arrive (which always helps when it comes to cultural appreciation), and don't fancy checking the web every couple of days, then the Rough Guide to China could be for you. Bring on the lightweight e-book version!

Daniel Allen

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The Rough Guide
to Beijing

The Rough Guide to Beijing

Simon Lewis

Rough Guides

ISBN: 1843539071
224 pp

The new edition Rough Guide to Beijing provides masses of invaluable information to the traveler in a brief, very readable two hundred pages. The guide covers the usual tourist needs ranging from accommodation, eating, nightlife, entertainment to shopping. There is a rather detailed 50 page section about the inner city area itself and attractions around the immediate city centre. One of most useful features of the book is the regular use of Chinese characters and pinyin to help travelers seek out their needs as they engage with local Chinese people.
For those wanting to use more than just the names of places to visit a more detailed language section with useful vocabulary and phrases. There is a wide range of commonly used words to help people have their traveling needs met. The use of pinyin and Chinese characters offers the chance for people who cannot make themselves understood verbally to at least point to the relevant characters printed in the book.
Rough Guide to Beijing provides information on a wide variety of destinations outside of Beijing city. There are clear instructions on how to access these out of town destinations such as the Great Wall, Ming Tombs, the western hills and Longqing Gorge to name a few.
While some of the black and white photos within the main text appear a bit out of date, there is a section at the start of the book offering up to date colour photos giving insights into some of the main attractions found in or around Beijing.
The Rough Guide to Beijing is really an easy book to fit into your travel bag without taking up valuable space for the things you have bought while taking advantage of the many shopping bargains to be found in Beijing.

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Top 10 Beijing

Top 10 Beijing DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Book Your guide to the 10 best of everything

DK Publishing (Editor)

ISBN: 0756624746
128 pp

A guide book sized to slip into your day pack, handbag or camera bag is something travelers don't see a lot of these days. DK have excelled in condensing an enormous range of the most sort-after information into a 128 page book along with detailed maps of areas inside the Second Ring Road and a large number of informative glossy photos to whet the traveler's appetite for adventure in and around Beijing. Well priced and beautifully presented this durable travel guide will prove both interesting and useful to many short stay travelers or expats wanting fresh travel ideas for Beijing.
Famous must-see sites like the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Tian'anmen Square, Lama Temple, Summer Palace and others that fall into Beijing's Top 10 are cleverly presented with information on the Top 10 Features of each famous site. Anyone who has visited some of these tourist sites will know how the enormous size or bewildering array of choices on offer can be a daunting issue to face before setting out and around any one of these locales. Having the expertise of a guide book outline the Top 10 Features reduces research and planning time as well as the odd argument that may develop out of a frustrating situation of not knowing exactly what should be looked at in an historically famous and unique site.
Pages describing the Forbidden City firstly offer readers the Top 10 Features and then go on to detail the Top 10 Forbidden City Collections. This information prevents visitors wandering along endless corridors or across vast courtyards stumbling upon collections of simply fascinating and priceless collections of jewelry, ceramics, scientific instruments or clocks, to name but some. Who would want to miss "arguably the finest of the many varied palace collections, the clocks and watches (that) fill the Fengxian Pavillion....The size and creativity involved in some of the pieces ...is astonishing."
Tourists wanting advice on restaurants will be interested to read about the Top 10 Chinese Restaurants chosen to represent a variety of cuisine and regions from around China. Further mouthwatering detail can be found in the Top 10 Beijing Dishes where Beijing duck is described as "The best-known dish in north Chinese cuisine. The duck, a local Beijing variety, is dried and brushed with a sweet marinade before being roasted over fragrant wood chips." Try the Top 10 Beijing Street Foods including Jian bing, "Chinese crepe. Often sold off the back of tricycles and a typical Beijing breakfast." Or sample a popular snack among locals and foreigners alike, Chuan'r. "In any area with lots of bars and clubs you'll find street vendors selling chuan'r (kabobs). They cost just a few yuan per skewer." Read about Beijing's Top 10 International Restaurants, Top 10 Places to snack or the Top 10 Tea Houses.
Shopping tips, bars, pubs, souvenirs, markets, malls, accommodation tips, luxury and boutique hotels, high-end hotels, mid-range hotels, courtyard hotels, budget hotels, banking and communication, etiquette and even The Top 10 Things to Avoid are included. "Beijing's traffic is horrendous and if you aren't careful you spend half of your visit sat in a taxi." Wise words if ever there were any! Take the subway instead. A subway map is included in this convenient guidebook packed with hundreds of precious snippets of information.

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Beijing Encounter

Beijing Encounter

by Eilis Quinn

Lonely Planet

ISBN: 1741046661
176 pp

Lonely Planet's Beijing Encounter is the travel publishing giant's recent foray in to the pocket travel guide market and a very impressive effort it is too. The book is aimed at the short-stay visitor looking for sure-fire recommendations from a clued-up local expert.
The book is pleasantly color-coded and tabbed throughout with use of symbols for places to see, eat, drink, shop and play and the color maps are the best we've seen from LP so far. There's also a larger tear out map at the back cover covering central Beijing, the subway network, Olympic venues and The Forbidden City.
Accommodation options are covered in a sparse two pages in the Snapshots section near the end of the book and the city's hotels and guest houses might have been better covered being added to each area guide along with the recommended places to see, eat, drink, shop and play. The inside back cover and the accommodation section urges readers to book accommodation online through LP's website instead. Chinese character place names are included throughout and the book rounds out with useful Directory & Practicalities sections with information on history, language and travel etc which will be familiar to readers of LP's larger city and country guides. All in all an excellent debut with just the right amount of detail for the busy first-time traveler to China's fast-changing capital.

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Beijing By
Foot

Beijing by Foot

Eric Abrahamsen

Immersion Guides

This uniquely presented guide to walks through Beijing, has an air of intrigue and class about it that make Beijing readers, walkers, residents and tourists want to get out doors and enjoy some of what Beijing has to offer. It is excellent to see Immersion Guides continuing to develop user friendly advice for both residents and tourists in Beijing.
Beijing by Foot is a set of cards giving advice on 40 Beijing walks and presented in a box plastered with photographs of the old Beijing.
Eric Abrahamsen contributed most of the information for this dynamic publication whose designer was Dominic Johnson-Hill from Plastered T-shirts. Mr Abrahamsen shares a great deal of varied and fascinating information, to give those who enjoy exploring by foot, a closer connection with Beijing and all it has to offer.
From fascinating walks through the ever popular, but fast disappearing Beijing hutongs, to those traversing newly-developed crowd pullers, like Beijing's Olympic Park, readers will find the cards provide historical information: "The lakes (Houhai) have been integral to Beijing since the Yuan Dynasty, when they determined the size and location of Kublai Khan's capital and served as the its main shipping link to the Grand Canal." Access to each walk can be determined by maps with pinyin and Chinese characters found on the reverse side of each card.
The use of cards to present travel information offers an excellent alternative to the often thick and heavy guide books or even the smaller spiral bound taxi and information guides published by various companies. The cards can easily slip into a shoulder bag or large purse without adding to the weight of what people are carrying. Travelers from abroad could even select half a dozen cards to take on their trips preventing the need to carry cumbersome books in their suitcases or carry bags.
Naturally many of the cards do focus on Beijing's long and fascinating history that is so integral to China, but there are a number of cards describing some of the more modern sides of Beijing too. As already mentioned, Olympic Park, built for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, gives a brief description of key venues like National Stadium and the Water Cube, both of which have been drawing thousands of visitors each day. "Like a spaceship descended, the glass and titanium dome of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (1) commands attention from every angle", will have you wanting to wander downtown to stroll around Beijing's fascinating new entertainment centre, which can be seen from many vantage points around the city and easily accessed from Tian'anmen West, Line 1 subway station. Abrahamsen also describes some of the nearby and less visited attractions like "the former Zhongyang Bank... and the Dalu Bank...now a working Bank of China" both of which were "part of the financial district of late-imperial and Republican China."
This travel pack of cards, about twice the size of a normal set of playing cards, provides every tourist and resident, explorer type information for getting around Beijing, without weighing down those who want to get amongst things in real Beijing.

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Books on Beijing & China