Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media

Planning

Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport and visa to enter China.

Time: Beijing is 12 hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time. All of China is in the same time zone.

Money: Renminbi (RMB or yuan for short), China's currency, is pegged to a group of foreign currencies, and hovers around 8 RMB per U.S. dollar.

Phone Calls: To make international calls, dial "00" to be connected to an international (English-speaking) operator. Within China, dial 11-digit mobile numbers directly. For local calls in Beijing, just dial the 8-digit number without the city code (010). For domestic long distance calls in Beijing, dial the city code first.

When to Go: Beijing has cold winters and humid summers. The best time to visit is mid to late spring, early summer, and fall.

Getting There: Beijing Capital International Airport, about 12 miles (19 kilometers) northeast of the city center, is served by numerous international carriers and direct flights from New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Currently, a car or taxi is the only way to travel to the city.

Getting Around: Driving in Beijing is on the right side of the road. The top highway speed is 120 kph (about 75 mph), and highway signs generally use Pinyin, the phonetic spelling. Beijing's four-line subway is a good, if limited, way to get around the central part of the city; buses and inexpensive taxis (no tipping required) fill in the gaps. The city added more lines for the 2008 Olympics. Consider hiring a car and driver.

Checklist

Passport/Visa: You can't enter China without a passport and visa. Keep copies in a secure place.

Health Concerns: SARS and malaria are no longer concerns in Beijing, but AIDS and Hepatitis A are, so take precautions. "Get a vaccine for Hepatitis A or a booster if you've already had one," says Dr. David Goldberg, who specializes in travel medicine (www.mdtravelhealth.com). Other risks come from animals, in the form of avian influenza and rabies. "Don't visit any live poultry markets or farms, and avoid stray dogs. Get immediate attention for animal bites," says Dr. Goldberg.

Security Concerns: Watch for thieves and pickpockets.

Political Concerns: Armed guards and military personnel are ubiquitous in Beijing—particularly in official areas, such as Tiananmen Square or Sanlitun's many foreign embassies. Be vigilant about what you say and how you conduct yourself, and avoid open criticisms of the Chinese Communist Party, regardless of your audience.

Sunscreen: The Beijing government worked to improve air quality in time for the 2008 Olympics, but industrial and environmental pollution are extremely high. Use a physical sunblock with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide of SPF 15 or higher, and stay indoors.

Insect Repellent: Beijing isn't the tropics, but mosquitoes can appear in humid weather or after a rain shower. Bring mosquito repellent, or buy some there.

Appropriate Fashions: China's younger generation doesn't let mores dictate their dress code, but the rest of the country is still fairly conservative. Women who wear flashy clothing won't get heckled, but they can provoke stares or otherwise indirect comments such as "Aren't you cold?"

Sturdy Footwear: Some of Beijing's prime attractions—the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Art District—require extensive walking and even modest climbing. Put on sturdy footwear before tackling crumbling sections of the Great Wall.

Drinking Water: "Stick to bottled water. Assume fruits and vegetables are contaminated; cook or peel them first," says Dr. Goldberg.

Toiletries: Beijing is modernized, but squat toilets (the kind without seats) still abound. Bring your own toilet tissue everywhere. Soaps, shampoos, lotions, and toothpaste are widely available in drug stores. Avoid buying counterfeit toiletries, which may contain hazardous ingredients.

Web Links

China National Tourist Office

General information on transportation, accommodations, restaurants, and tour operators in China. www.cnto.org

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China

Entry requirements for China, Chinese news, history, and more. www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng

Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center

Site of China's leading cultural heritage preservation NGO. www.bjchp.org

Travel Images

Photographs of famous architectural sites in China. www.travel-images.com/china.html

Danwei

Edgy Beijing news site for the English-speaking media and advertising industry; refer to "Trends and Buzz" column for the latest urban buzz. www.danwei.org

Doug Kanter Photography

Lush, vivid, candid shots of difficult-to-access scenes in China: a countryside funeral, genomics labs, Beijing runway models. www.dougkanter.com

Laiwublog

Female expat shares candid thoughts on life in Beijing. www.laiwublog.blogspot.com

Local Media

China Daily

State-run newspaper prints all the news government deems fit to print. www.chinadaily.com.cn

City Weekend

Mainstream biweekly listings magazine. Related website is the most comprehensive in Beijing, with user as well as staff-written reviews of restaurants, shopping, music, etc. www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing

That's Beijing

Monthly listings magazine has great columns, such as Barfly and What's New Restaurants, with blow-by-blow details on the latest urban happenings. http://thatsmags.com/beijing/

Time Out Beijing

Alternative monthly listings magazine has city's most thorough coverage of the arts, culture, and edgier happenings around town. Email bitesize.beijing@gmail.com to subscribe to Bitesize Beijing, the concise weekly email newsletter. www.timeout.com/beijing

CRI (China Radio International)

Broadcasts two 24-hour English-language music stations: FM 88.7 plays a mix of Chinese and English-language pop music, and FM 91.5 plays a mix of news and features. Check website for schedule: english.cri.cn

CCTV 9

English-language TV station, including news and features such as Travelogue, a domestic Chinese travel show. english.cctv.com

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