Recommendation for a guided tour in Beijing?
January 8, 2013 12:59 PM   Subscribe

I have a free day in Beijing in March and am looking for recommendations for a guided tour. Can you help?

In March I'll be on a long work trip through India and China, and will find myself with a weekend in Beijing free. For one of the days, a Sunday, I'd really like to see some of the highlights of the city. I've traveled/lived internationally before and usually love to spend a free day in a new city with extensive walking and exploring on my own, but the language factor for me (I speak no Mandarin and have never been to China) is very intimidating. Since this trip is very much a business trip, and I have a one-day respite from work, I'm just hoping to get a glimpse of the surface of Beijing (eg Forbidden City, The Great Wall, maybe a meal someplace) without being overwhelmed by the details and logistics of getting around. My ideal scenario would be find someone who speaks English well enough and can take me around the city in a private car.

A cursory Google search returns some promising hits, but I'd really love personal recommendations (or to tell me why this is a terrible idea, etc). The fact I'm a solo traveler makes my search a little odd, too - although I wouldn't be averse to joining a group tour, I suppose, I'd also be open to paying more for a private one. Thanks in advance for your help!

PS - just to head off the question, I'm trying to avoid asking advice from my Beijing colleagues because I don't want it to be interpreted as "please spend your Sunday away from your family and take me to the Great Wall." Even if they truly would be thrilled to do this, as I'm in the middle of a long work trip I would dearly love to not make work-related small talk for the whole day.
posted by handful of rain to Travel & Transportation around Beijing, China (4 answers total)
Best answer: We did a family trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou last year and wanted exactly the same thing, but for an entire week. I asked my colleagues in China for a recommendation and they pointed me to Stretch-a-Leg Travel. We were a group of four people, so a private guide made a lot of sense.

Stretch-a-Leg provided an English-speaking guide and a local driver (who didn't speak any English). It was a very efficient way to cover the key sights of Beijing, although we spent a whole day doing the Forbidden City and central Beijing, and another day doing the Great Wall.
posted by techrep at 1:34 PM on January 8, 2013

Here's one thing you should know about tour buses in China - the tour guides get paid primarily through tips and kickbacks from local merchants whom they have agreements with. That means that almost every "official" tour will have lengthy mandatory stopovers at government-run malls built specifically to gull the rubes into spending money on cheap crap at inflated prices. It's not that they force you to spend money, but the time wasted (usually two hours per trip - one hour each way) is a terrible inconvenience.

If you can afford it - and can find somebody reliable - - I strongly recommend taking a private car instead. Perhaps your hotel can help, if you don't speak the language. I regret that I can't offer you more specific info, but I simply wanted to warn you about the pitfalls of taking a group tour.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:54 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, that suggestion for Stretch-a-Leg looks like it might fit the bill - and also gets around the kickback issue. techrep, do you mind sharing how much it cost? I've submitted a request for a quote but it might be helpful to compare. Feel free to MeMail me if you'd prefer...
posted by handful of rain at 7:20 PM on January 8, 2013

For what it's worth, we hired a private guide in Beijing by doing it through the Peninsula Hotel. We weren't staying there but figured that a nice hotel would have reliable people.

Although our guide spoke English and was very knowledgeable, we made two unscheduled stops that were clearly about kickbacks for him. One was to a tea shop, and the other to see the art of the "last emperor's nephew". (Spoiler: It wasn't really the last emperor's nephew).
posted by unionsquarepark at 10:56 PM on January 8, 2013

« Older I need a new vacuum.   |   Where do grown-ups go on a summer vacation? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.