Vegan in Beijing Travel Tips

Now that I’ve finished my Beijing Round ups, I thought I’d write a post on how I found Beijing, how I prepared for my trip and how I found eating vegan in the city.

Preparations

Visa

Getting a visa to China is a bit of a pain in the arse. You need to do it at least a month in advance of travelling and you need to have both fights and accommodation booked before applying. Annoying right? As I was staying with my brother it was extra complicated for me to include his apartment in my application as I’d need a letter of invitation from him as well as a copy of his tenancy agreement. To avoid this I booked a cheap hostel that could be cancelled last minute without a fee, I just didn’t turn up and was charged something like a fiver for the first nights stay. If you’re staying with a friend or relative this does violate the terms of your visa but honestly they don’t seem to check, I didn’t have any problems leaving although I may have problems entering in the future. In this circumstance you’re supposed to go to a local police station to tell them where you’re staying and fill out the correct forms…but none of them speak English so this was impossible for me to do. If you’re wanting to book accommodation more last minute then go ahead and book a hostel to cancel, as long as you check into a hotel or hostel during your stay, they will send the relevant documents needed to prove where you were during your visit and you should be okay.

I got my Visa at a center in Manchester. I didn’t book an appointment and showed up on the day, the room was packed full of people. Luckily because I had everything booked, no letter of invitation and was only spending a week there, I was fast tracked and seen immediately. If you’re planning to stay longer then make sure you book an appointment or prepare for a long wait.

Learning the language

I didn’t have long to prepare for this trip at all, I booked my flights on a whim just over a month before I flew out so realistically there was only so much I could do beforehand. I felt at the time, and still do feel pretty embarrassed and awful about how little Mandarin I knew while I was out there. I felt pretty ignorant. I managed to learn a few basics such as ‘hello’ ‘thank you’ and ‘I am a vegetable eater’ before I left but that was about it. I decided to focus on learning food related phrases because I knew that eating out would be when I needed the most help. Here is a youtube video that I found really helpful by Fiona Tian

I knew that wouldn’t be enough to get me by, so I did a lot of research and checked out some blogs written by vegans who have spent a lot of time in China. Vegetarian China was a great resource for me, loads of valuable phrases are written in both Pinyin as well as Chinese characters. I printed out all of these phrases, cut them out and stuck them all in a notebook that I took everywhere with me. I can’t tell you how useful this was, it helped me make sure I’d be getting a vegan meal in lots of non vegan restaurants.

Happy Cow

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Happy Cow is a life saver for any vegan traveller. If you’ve not heard of this amazing website…where have you been?! Happy Cow is basically an online vegetarian and vegan guide. All you need to do is type in the city you’re visiting, or a postcode and it will list all the vegetarian, vegan and vegan friendly restaurants and shops in the area, including user reviews. The site does rely on members to add and update information so occasionally it’s not totally up to date but I found the Beijing listings to be spot on.

This really helped with my planning, it was pretty long winded but I bought a map of Beijing and marked down all of the options available to me. This involved me writing a list of every restaurant in the area, I split it into 2 sections Vegetarian and Vegan and then I assigned each restaurant a letter or a number. I then looked up each place on Google Maps and matched it up to my own paper map of Beijing. I would then use a blue pen for vegetarian and a black pen for vegan and mark down the letters of the restaurants at their location on my map. It took hours but it was super helpful to me. When I was out and about and hungry, all I would have to do is check my map for the closest option to me, I would then carry a paper copy of the list I created (which included a description of what the cuisine was, prices, opening hours etc) and see what was available to me. This meant that even if I had any last minute plans, I wouldn’t have to worry about finding an internet connection to see where was closest to me, I had all the information in my back pack all the time.

Flights

I’ve barely flown since I went vegan nearly 9 years ago, so this was my first experience asking for a vegan meal on the plane. I flew with China Southern Airlines and honestly, I was dreading it. There are some really bad reviews online and a lot of folk complaining about there being zero entertainment on their flights. I thought they were fine, I ended up with a tv in the back of my seat that had loads of films available, including Inside Out which I loved. I thought the seats were reasonably comfy, I was offered drinks fairly regularly…maybe my expectations were low, but it was what I expected it to be.

In the week before flying out, I rang to confirm my vegan meals 3 times. Pestering obviously worked because I ended up with 2 vegan meals on each flight. Here’s a photo of my food on the way out

So what delights did I have here? The main dish was stir fried veg, tofu and some rice. I then had a pre-packed slice of rye ‘bread’ with vegan spread, the spread was actually marked vegan. The rye bread was gross. A small portion of salad…it wasn’t great but fair enough and fruit salad. All in all it was pretty good for flight food and looked far better than the shite folk around me ended up with. I also got my meal before everyone else and it was still hot. I was pleased that there was protein in my meal with tofu and the chickpeas in the salad. I just wish they wouldn’t assume vegans need to eat rye bread.

Meal 1

 

This was my breakfast. The rye bread and spread returned, I didn’t eat it this time. The main dish was surprisingly nice, it was a sort of lentil stew thing with peppery polenta. I had fruit salad and then a polenta based dessert, it was like an Indian sweet but was quite tasty. Not really breakfast food but to be honest it didn’t feel like the morning at this point in my flight anyway.

I did get 2 meals on the way back too but unfortunately I have no pictures because I realised on the way back that my phone wasn’t supposed to be on at all, even on airplane mode. Oops. I had a similar veg, tofu and rice thing and then a tomato pasta for my breakfast. I did get non vegan spread and some cakey thing that didn’t look vegan on the way back so I didn’t bother eating it. I preferred the meals on the way out, they were prepared in Amsterdam so I have a feeling they had a better idea of what vegan was than at Beijing airport but to be honest they were all fairly acceptable meals.

Travel Friendly Food Supplies

I spent a fortune bringing loads of food along with me for emergencies. My suitcase was full of cartons of chocolate milk, Spacebars, Nak’d & Trek bars, biscuits, fruit purees and Ella’s Kitchen smoothies. The Smoothies were particularly handy, forget that they’re for kids, they’re the perfect size to travel with you in your hand luggage as they’re under 100ml. Definitely worth having a few of these with you for long flights in case you don’t get lucky with a vegan meal.

I barely touched any of these supplies because I had no problems finding vegan food in Beijing, but I’m glad I brought them along with me. Unfortunately the fruit purees I bought busted out of their foil packets in my luggage, so I’d recommend bringing jars of puree instead, as they won’t burst and leave your entire suitcase stinking for days.

Here are a few other handy things to bring along: cereals/oats, dried noodles, soya puddings, crackers, pate.

How was Beijing?

Considering the language barrier and the short time I had to prepare my trip, Beijing was a pretty darn easy city to eat vegan in. I was amazed at how easy it was, I was expecting to go hungry a lot and I remember telling myself that it wasn’t a foodie holiday….but it totally ended up being one! Perhaps not as extreme as my trips to Berlin but I ate a lot of good food.

The thing I found hardest was being constantly stared at. Folk had no problem pointing at me, talking about me and having a good old laugh at me, it was so obvious…there was no shame in how they did it. It was hard to get used to that. For a while I found it quite funny that I was so fascinating to people but when I was travelling alone, sitting by myself in a park and being stared at full on for 20 minutes until I left, it was pretty intimidating.

I also struggled with the sheer amount of people in the city, it’s really crowded and there is no concept of queuing over there, it’s really chaotic. I hated all of the security every time you go through a subway station, I hated the army propaganda that played on a loop on the trains… and I wasn’t made to feel particularly welcome there. Beijingers don’t seem like us Westerners that much, I’m not particularly surprised by that, I don’t like a lot of us either but it was really difficult to visit a city that was so unwilling to help if you got into trouble. It was a miracle that I came across Donna and Percy when I visited The Great Wall, no one else was particularly nice to me, folk were constantly trying to rip me off, I ended up trusting no one because it didn’t feel safe to do so.

I found transport and map reading really easy in Beijing, it’s essentially just a grid system so very easy to get around.

A few things to be aware of

  • Be careful crossing roads! Cars do not always stop when there is a red light. I pretty much used the locals as a shield and ran across roads internally screaming.
  • Most toilets are a hole in the ground, a lot don’t even have a door or curtain…they’re pretty public affairs. There’s also never usually toilet roll available, so remember to bring your own. On the off chance that there is a Western toilet, there probably won’t be a queue as locals don’t like to use them…win? I spent a lot of the time just not going to the toilet in public areas, I really didn’t want to fail at squatting and piss all over myself in public.
  • If someone invites you somewhere for tea, don’t go! They will rip you off. Do not use rickshaws unless you can negotiate, they will rip you off! Taxis are generally trustworthy, make sure they have their meters running. Taxi drivers speak zero English but you can point to the closest subway station on a map and they will get you there safely…they’re also super cheap so a perfect solution if you’re lost.
  • The subway is easy to use, buses less so. A bus will not have stations written in Pinyin, it’s all in Chinese characters, make sure you write down your location in characters and pay attention to what comes up on the screens. There are conductors who sit in the middle of the buses, I found them pretty helpful so try and ask them to tell you when the stop is.

That’s about it, that’s all the advice I can give after only 7 days in Beijing. Have any of my readers travelled here? Can you offer any advice?

Vegan in Beijing – Day 7

So here it is, my final day in Beijing. Much like my first day, this day was very chilled out. Sam and Daria had the weekend off so I got to spend the whole day and evening with them. My flight wasn’t until around 11pm that night, so I had plenty of time before I had to head to the airport.

I slept in fairly late because I was exhausted from my walk on the wall the previous day. My thighs burnt. Daria wanted to show me the wonders of 7 Eleven’s breakfast, so we headed to the nearest shop just around the corner from the apartment. I was lucky to have Daria with me because there was nothing written in English here. So, what did I end up getting?

Warm sweet soy milk and some goodies in broth.

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The broth thing was cool, it was all vegetable broth and you could pick a few things to go in it. I picked some tofu, rice noodles and seaweed to go in mine. So good!

I must have forgotten to take a photo of a dish the previous night at Jin Ding Xuan because I’d bought these sweet peanut buns. I was too full to eat them but I remember dipping them in my soy milk. The soy milk in China is VERY beany but it’s okay because it’s nice and sweet. I couldn’t finish the whole drink though.

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Daria also recommended these tasty seaweed pots, they were yummy.

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After breakfast Daria had to head to her Krav Maga class for a test, so she headed off to that. I hung out with Sam for a bit and then we headed to meet Daria at The Great Leap for lunch.

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This place was really good, Sam and Daria had heard that the pizzas could be veganised, so there were lots of options for me. We ordered ready for Daria’s arrival. One word of advice if you end up visiting here, the base sauce of the pizza isn’t tomato, it’s cheese…so if you ask for no cheese on your pizza, you need to check they know to remove it from the base as well. The first pizza I ordered came with cheese, they dealt with it pretty well though and a new pizza arrived soon after, just in time for Daria who obviously kicked ass at her test.

Look at the lovely couple! Aw

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My pizza had kale, courgette, lots of garlic and courgette on it. It was really, really good.

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After lunch we wandered over to a cool bookshop and cafe that had a weekend market on the roof called The Bookworm. This was really cool, there was lots of tasty food around but unfortunately none of it was vegan.

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I experienced a Chinese Mall during the afternoon, whilst they look pretty impressive from the outside, they’re terrible. There’s nothing in them! They are really, really bad. Don’t bother going in any of them.

When the evening came we went out to eat at Hai Di Lao Hot Pot. This place was soo busy and pretty badly organised. Despite booking a table we still had to wait around for a table. It was a bit confusing. They sort of sit you down and you end up waiting for quite a while, normally this would be okay but my travel anxiety was beginning to show, I feel sorry for Sam and Daria being around me while I was like that. I was constantly clock watching.

After a lot of pestering we finally got seated and I got to experience the amazing Hot Pot. It was so worth the wait. Basically you get two hot smoking oily broths brought out to the table and then you pick things that you can cook yourself in the broth. Amazing right? Sam and Daria got a meaty broth and I picked tomato.

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I was so anxious that my appetite wasn’t up to much, so I just went for rice cake and mushrooms and I think I nicked a few potato things from Sam and Daria too, I can’t quite remember.

Sam and Daria ordered the best thing ever, which unfortunately wasn’t vegan but was amazing to see..they ordered a dancing noodle man. Basically a guy comes over to the table with noodles (sadly egg :( ) and a portable speaker and stretches the noodles out by dancing to techno music. Oh my, this was HILARIOUS! I wish those noodles were vegan! Here’s a video I found of it on youtube.

One word of advice for Hai Di Lao…make sure you wear your crappy paper apron. Eating Hot Pot is a smelly business and you will get splashed…I feel really bad for the poor people sat on the plane next to me on the way back. I reeked of Hot Pot!

The food here was good, dancing noodle guy was amazing but the wait was pretty awful, I can’t imagine navigating their system without speaking Mandarin.

And that was pretty much the end of my trip! We went back to the apartment, I grabbed my suitcase and then went with my brother back to the airport. I was really sad to be leaving, Beijing was a great experience but also I’d had an amazing time with Sam and Daria and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

Luckily for me they have moved a lot closer to home and are now living in my favourite city, Berlin! I’ll be heading out there in a few weeks so keep your eyes peeled. Also this isn’t the end of my China posts, I’m planning to write up tips for travelling there, planning etc so watch this space

Vegan in Beijing – Day 6

This day was a pretty big one for me, I decided to do The Great Wall…all by myself. I was super scared about doing this, if Sam and Daria were expecting me to get lost venturing out to the 798 Art District how the hell was I going to fare travelling a few hours out of the city?

Despite being terrified and the fact my feet were covered in blisters (goddamn the heat made my feet swell) I knew I had to do it. I did a fair bit of research into what part of the wall I would go to. I wanted an easy trip there but I didn’t want to be surrounded by tourists. Badaling is the most popular part of the wall, you can get there by train but I’ve heard it’s not a pleasant visit as it’s so crowded and it’s been completely restored so not really an authentic part of the wall. In the end I settled for Mutianyu, it wasn’t too far away, not too crowded and although it’s had some renovations to make the climb easier, it still has original parts of the wall there. Perfect.

I borrowed Sams phone, loaded up on food, packed a load of water and headed to Dongzhimen bus station. I got myself on the 916 Express coach heading to Huairou North Avenue, from there I would need to try and negotiate a price in Mandarin with a taxi driver. Scary stuff.

Finding my coach was easy, the bus station is clearly marked and they’re a lot comfier than the normal buses in Beijing. I had Huairou North Avenue written in characters in my notebook but as I knew it was a long ride I settled down with some tunes on my ipod and tried not to worry. Just as we were setting off, I moved my bag off the seat next to me for a passenger getting on board…this was a wise move. I was thanked in English by the person sat next to me and he asked me where I was heading to, he said he’d let me know when the station approached. Win!

The ride towards Mutianyu is okay, not really scenic but it went quickly, after 45 minutes I was starting to feel like everything was going okay, I’d probably get ripped off for the taxi but the coach ride was going really well, I didn’t even have to pay attention to the characters displayed on the electronic screen thanks to the lovely guy next to me.

Great right? Do you know what’s not great? Coaches terminating early.

GODDAMMIT!

Can I just say that for someone who has anxiety, a bus stopping for a reason you can’t understand in an unknown country is really bloody scary. I had no idea where I was, I had no idea how I would get home. I was so lucky to have one of the only English speaking passengers on that coach sat right next to me. He explained that the bus had terminated and that we would have to leave, during all the confusion and questions he didn’t really explain much else, I sort of just followed him and his friend around for a while. Once he had worked out what was going on, he offered to take me to Mutianyu as they were heading there for the day. He introduced himself as Percy and his friend as Donna. Basically what followed was one of my best days in China.

Percy and Donna were awesome. Not only did they get me to Mutianyu safely, they spent the entire day with me and then got me back to Dongzhimen in one piece too. I’m also in a load of their holiday snaps! I honestly can’t explain how kind and amazing these people were, they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and calm and really made the day something special. I will never forget how lovely they were, I am so lucky and grateful. If they ever come across this, THANK YOU!

I loved visiting The Great Wall. We all decided to get the cable cars up to save time and agreed that we’d walk an hour along the wall and then head back.

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It was so hot up there and I made the mistake of not wearing sun screen. I’d not been burnt so far but I guess that was thanks to all the Beijing smog, I was completely exposed to the sun on the wall and I got pink almost immediately.

It was amazing though, the views are incredible

It was a tough walk in the heat though and I was glad that I decided not to visit a more ‘wild’ part of the wall. I drank a ridiculous amount of water but didn’t pee all day because I was just sweating it all out. Gross and too much information but deal with it.

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The only annoying thing about visiting was the ridiculous prices for food and water there. Yes I may well be happy to spend £1 on a bottle of water here in the UK but in China? OUTRAGEOUS! A SCANDAL! Bloody rip off, I paid it though because I’d have paid anything for a cold drink on my way back down.

I was sad when the day ended and I had to say goodbye to Percy and Donna. I returned back to my brothers apartment to his shocked face. He couldn’t believe I’d made it back without getting lost…he was even more amazed when I explained that the coach had terminated early.

It was 5pm when I got back, so I thought I’d chill on the sofa until it was time for dinner…I pretty much fell asleep immediately. I was so tired after that day.

When Daria came back from work we headed out for dinner. We were all super hungry so decided to return to Jin Ding Xuan. This was a bloody great idea. I WAS SO HUNGRY. Here’s what I ordered

Deep Fried Sugared Sweet Potato (yes, that’s actual sugar on top)

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Chilli Potatoes

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Rice Cake with Sesame

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Oh my God this was all so good. I loved it all and was super sad when I got full up so quickly.

We spent the rest of the evening walking around some night market type thing close by where I bought some cheap tack for last minute gifts. I was gutted that I would be leaving Beijing the next day, it felt like I’d only just got there.

Vegan in Beijing Day 5

After having such a nice day with Sam and Chris, my confidence was back up to go exploring. I decided I wanted to spend the day exploring the 798 Art District in Chaoyang. Despite having it’s own section in my Lonely Planet guide book, it’s not included on the map they provide. It also wasn’t on my super big detailed map of Beijing. Whyy?!

I looked up details on how to get there and realised that I would have to take a bus. The problem with Beijing buses is that all the stops are written in Chinese characters and of course I don’t understand them. Luckily for me Daria could write me a short message to show the bus supervisor (that’s what I’m calling them, basically someone who works for the bus company sits in a little box thing in the middle of the bus). I filled myself up on leftovers, packed some emergency snacks and took my brothers phone so that I could call Daria if I got lost.

I headed to Dongzhimen subway station to get my bus. You’ll need to leave at exit C and look for the stop for the 909 bus, if I remember right the markings for the bus stops are on the floor. It was really easy to find. My bus came in no time and I nervously got on and found the bus supervisor. I said Ni Hao! Smiled a lot, pointed at the message from Daria and said lots of xie xie (thank you). The supervisor was so nice to me, she didn’t speak a word of English but she got me to sit in front of her so that she could tell me when my stop was. Throughout the journey she kept checking on me, which I kept thinking meant I had to get off the bus but I think she was just reassuring me. It was about a 15-20 minute bus ride before I got there.

As soon as you get off the bus you’ll see a big sign with 798 in massive red letters, so it’s easy to find once you get there.

798 is filled with galleries, cafes, street art and sculptures, you can definitely spend a whole day here, which is pretty much what I did. There’s also a 7 Eleven by the entrance, so if you know what vegan snacks to look for, you can stock up there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I went on the Thursday, a lot of the galleries were free. It was really easy to just wander around here all day, popping into galleries, visiting shops. The gift shops here are really cool, not much of that cheesy tacky merchandise, but really cool gifts. It was so hot out that I didn’t really get hungry, I just drank a lot of water. But, there were enough places to eat that I’m sure there would be some vegan options if you wanted to go look for them. Some of the bars would at least do fries I’m sure.

I headed back late afternoon. I was a bit scared of going back because I didn’t have a message to guide me back to Dongzhimen, but I knew I should be able to recognise it. I did, it was easy, the station you can see very clearly from the window. I hopped off and headed back to Sam and Daria’s.

As soon as I entered the room Daria said ‘I can’t believe you didn’t get lost!’. Apparently it’s quite hard to find 798 and they were expecting me so phone them. Haha, I felt so proud! We ate at the apartment that evening, Daria made me a really delicious Turkish lentil soup…must get the recipe so that I can eat it again, it was really tasty.

That night we headed out to a bar called 8-Bit in the Dongcheng area…a bar where you can play old school games and drink game themed cocktails! It was so cool! Here’s my terrible photo of it.

I feel like I haven’t written a lot about this day but it was one of my favourites, I really loved 798. If I’d had more time in Beijing I probably would have gone back for another visit, definitely worth seeing if you visit.

Vegan in Beijing – Day 4

Whilst I’d had a lot of fun the day before it was a bit of a knock on my confidence. Luckily for me my brother had decided to take an afternoon off so we could go and see the Old Summer Palace with a friend of his Chris. Yay for not being alone! I spent the morning having a lie in, appreciating the apartments air con and making my way through all the leftovers that were piling up.

The Old Summer Palace is just north west of the Hadian district, a student area with a few veggie and vegan restaurants, so we made a plan to go out for dinner at SUHU Vegetarian Tiger afterwards.

So to avoid any confusion, there are two Summer Palace’s in Beijing, the original Summer Palace (Old) which is now in ruins and then there’s the new Summer Palace that was rebuilt after British and French troops destroyed the original one during the second opium war.Guidebooks highlight and encourage folk to visit the new one, my Lonely Planet guide only had a few paragraphs on the Old Palace but that sounded more interesting to me, especially as I had already visited two beautiful parks.

We arrived at around 1pm to give ourselves lots of time to explore before heading back to Hadian for dinner. We each got through tickets for 25 yuan (£2.50). I was a bit surprised when I walked through the entrance and everything around me was beautiful, I was expecting a pile of old rocks! Turns out they are further into the grounds.

 

 

 

 

 

See how pretty that all is? I felt a little less sad that I wouldn’t have time for the new Summer Palace after seeing all of this. It did make the ruins a lot harder hitting, when we came across them it felt like we were in a completely different place

 

 

 

 

 

There’s also a huge stone maze nearby the ruins which is cool to wander through as well. We spent hours walking around the Old Summer Palace and we didn’t even see every single part of it. I never made it to the new one so wouldn’t be able to compare, but I definitely think it’s worth checking out. Very underrated in my opinion and a nice way to spend a day. It was nice to just wander around one place for an afternoon, instead of trying to cram in as much as possible.

Luckily because Chris was pretty good at speaking Mandarin, we managed to negotiate a good price for a rickshaw ride into town. I was glad I got to experience it but it was super scary. Beijing roads are terrifying, it doesn’t look like there are any rules and everyone beeps. We were basically sat in an old trailer that was being driven by a really old moped type thing. It did not feel safe! We did arrive in one piece though so I’m probably over exaggerating.

We went out for a few drinks and some fries at a bar before venturing out to find SUHU Vegetarian Tiger. Because I wasn’t looking at a map and was pretty much letting Sam and Chris walk me there, I don’t really remember what direction or where it really is, but I’m sure it would be simple to find on a map. Crappy picture but it MIGHT help you find it. Basically you’ll see this sign and a staircase leading up to the restaurant.

I was a bit nervous about eating here because it’s 100% vegan and my brother is not keen on vegan food. Chris and Sam let me pick which dishes we’d share, although my brother did pick one that he liked the look of. So much pressure! There was an English menu but I don’t think much English is spoken here. But, like all Beijing restaurants, just point at the pictures and be reassured that everything is vegan.

So, what did we have?

Chilli prawns

 

Spicy Potatoes

 

Vegetable buns

 

Deep fried mushrooms

 

Crispy beef

 

This was all so effing good and all of us enjoyed it! Yay! I was so impressed, the only thing Sam and Chris weren’t keen on were the prawns, but I think that’s because they were really un-prawn like. They were filled with strips of carrot and other veg, but still, I loved them, the chilli sauce they were smothered in was awesome. My brother loved the crispy beef and despite the mushrooms looking like some weird seafood, they were delicious.

Despite being super hungry when we arrived, we got full really quick..and Chris and Sam were happy to surrender the leftovers to me! YESSS!!!

I did make us order the tiramasu for dessert though, just so I could leave having had some kind of vegan cake. So here’s how we finished our day, with one coffee free, dairy free, egg free and alcohol free ‘Tirimasu’ haha.

Despite not having much of the original ingredients in a Tirimasu, it was really tasty. I enjoyed it…even if I did want to puke from so much food afterwards.
I don’t remember the rest of that evening really, we parted ways with Chris and went home with painfully full bellies. It was my first proper Beijing food coma. So proud. But even prouder that I’d found some vegan food that my brother liked

Vegan in Beijing – Day 3

This day was the day I became ‘that really silly tourist’.

So my original plan was to set off early and visit The Forbidden City, you know, that really popular tourist destination that everyone knows about? Yeah, well it didn’t go to plan.
I got there easily on the subway. As soon as I left the station I found myself in a really busy, unpleasant crowd of people. Ahead of me was a security check, not too unusual, you have to go through a security check every time you use the subway but this was a bit different. It was super busy, it was boiling hot (again) and folk in Beijing don’t do the queuing thing. It was just a horrible mass of people getting way too close with most people pushing their way through. I hate crowds and I don’t like touching people so I queued for ages before I even got close to security. And then I noticed they were checking IDs. I didn’t have my passport on me. I nearly turned back but decided to try getting through, strangely I did and there was no fuss. I just avoided all eye contact and kept walking.
I followed the crowds until I got to the big open space just before the entrance to the Forbidden City…and this is where things went horribly wrong. I got confused because my Lonely Planet guide book has a warning not to mistake the Forbidden City entrance with the Gate of Heavenly Peace. There were ticket booths that were marked as neither of the two, but marked as tickets for some kind of museum, so I got really worried that they weren’t the right booths. I spent ages walking around in the heat looking for different ticket booths.
I suffer with anxiety so the longer I looked the more panicked and frustrated I started to get. After about an hour I managed to work up the courage to try and ask some people where they got their tickets. I did a lot of smiling, pointing at the entrance, other folks tickets and the booths… I’m certain that I was being super clear but the response was either blank, pointing at me and laughing or just saying ‘no’. Folk just weren’t willing to try and understand me or help, fair enough really because I hadn’t really put the effort into learning much of the language, but it was still really upsetting, particularly when I was laughed at. I had my first and only lonely traveller cry at that point. I didn’t know what to do, on my way in I’d witnessed security shouting at someone trying to leave through that entrance, so I felt completely trapped. I cried for about 20 minutes before I tried to ask for help again. This time I went to the service desk and thankfully someone spoke a little English, all the ticket booths were for The Forbidden City, I have no idea what that Lonely Planet warning was about.
So I went to the ticket booth….ID required.
Seriously? Whyy? I’d been trapped there nearly 2 hours and it was all for nothing. I was about to get my cry on again until I got my shit together, looked at my map and found a side exit that went along a river. There was no way I was going back to get my passport that day, so I located the nearest veggie restaurant to cheer myself up. Fu Hui Ci Yuan Vegetarian Cultural Restaurant didn’t look too far away.
I started walking along the river and stopped when I heard someone calling ‘hello? hello?’. I was feeling so alone that I turned round to see who was trying to grab my attention. I had a really nice chat with someone from Hong Kong who wanted to work on their English and make new friends. They had heard of Manchester and everything. It was all really lovely until they invited me to go and have some tea…and then it clicked. I was about to be scammed. The classic tea room scam. Fantastic. I won’t go into details here, but here’s someone elses experience.
It was easy enough to get rid of this person, I kept saying no, wished them a nice day and then kept walking on my way. Looking back now it’s quite funny, that cheeky swine! But after the morning I’d had I found it really upsetting and felt even more vulnerable and alone than I had before. Luckily Fu Hui Ci Yuan was only 15 or so minutes away and I found Xila Hutong where it is located easily.
I definitely picked the right restaurant to cheer myself up. No English is spoken here but there are English menus and the staff are very helpful. Like all Beijing restaurants, the menu is super extensive. Prices here are really reasonable too, I think I spent less than 80 yuan (£8.00) and the portions were huge. I ordered 3 dishes and a can of pop. Because no English was spoken, I whipped out a booklet I made with useful vegan phrases written down, I’ll explain what was in this booklet when I do my tips post. If you plan to come here I recommend having similar things written down or knowing how to state, no egg, no milk etc just to check that the dishes you order are okay.
I had the following
Aubergine and mince Hot Pot
Pancake filled with fake meat and spring onions
‘Meatballs’
See what I mean about massive portions? This was enough for 4 easily. I mostly ate the hot pot and saved most of the pancake and meatballs for future snacks and breakfast. All of it was absolutely delicious. The pancake was my favourite, I want to try making something similar at home. The sauce for the meatballs was nice and sweet and the hot pot was so oily. I love oily aubergine.
After eating all this tasty food I was feeling confident and determined to visit somewhere else. I wanted to turn this day into a success. I had enjoyed Temple Heaven Park so much the previous day that I thought I’d head over to another park, way less pressure and I knew I would enjoy myself. Daria had recommended Beihai Park which is north west from The Forbidden City, so wasn’t too far away.
I think I ended up taking a long route to the nearest subway, but I walked by some interesting shops that I checked out on my way. Once I was on the subway it wasn’t far at all. I managed to take a wrong turn and got lost on the way from the subway which was super silly of me because the entrance to the park is pretty much opposite the station. I clearly wasn’t with it that day. I won’t go into my second lost experience of the day, it was a bit rubbish and I got annoyed with all the rickshaws trying to rip me off but eventually I got into the park.
My day got so good from here, I loved Beihai Park, it was really lovely. I didn’t get a through ticket as I’d done a lot of wandering and didn’t think I had time to get round the whole park, so it was only 10 yuan (£1) to get in, bargain!
The park is pretty much a huge round green space surrounded by a beautiful lake. I had so much fun there, it was beautiful to walk around part of the lake. I also spent a lot of time watching elderly locals play cards and dance on the bridge that runs along the lake.
Everyone was so happy here, it was nice to have this experience after having such a rubbish start to the day. There were some really cool duck boats that could be ridden across the lake, if I hadn’t been alone I would have done this.
The main path is really lovely to walk along, but I went off path and found some quieter areas to mooch along. I spent some time with a group of wild cats chilling out amongst some trees. There was even a cat fight. Unfortunately the excitement left me there too long and I got bitten by every single bug there. It was so worth it.
I spent the rest of my day at Beihai before heading back the way I’d arrived in the late afternoon.
When I got back to my brothers apartment, he and Daria were up for eating out, so we hunted down a vegan friendly restaurant. We found what sounded like a cool Korean place at Ju-er Hutong in the Dongcheng area, it was called Saveurs de Coree
This place was pretty hip. It has a courtyard inside that was quite nice to sit in. There were quite a few vegetarian options on the menu (not labelled vegan though) and I read that they don’t really use dairy, no msg and a lot of it was organic. All sounds good. The staff speak a little English and they have English menus, we also found out the manager speaks fluent English but we’ll get back to that…
We ordered some rice cake to share and asked for it without fish. It came out and was all good. I asked Daria to order my dish, she pointed to it and checked that there was no egg in it and was reassured there wouldn’t be.
When my dish came out it was pork. We explained this, we were accused of ordering wrong, Daria pointed to what we wanted on the menu again (it was a vegetarian option) and whilst the waiter looked angry, the dish was taken away for a replacement. This made me feel really uncomfortable but apparently this is a normal response for a situation like this, customer service is very different there.
They returned with my dish, this time it was beef. This is when things got really awkward and unpleasant. Daria basically had to have a full on argument with the waiter and another member of staff on my behalf. They accused Daria of ordering the wrong dish on purpose and were very reluctant to make it again. The manager was called down and whilst it was great that he spoke English, he was equally shitty about it, asking us to consider the waiters side of the story. In the end Daria said ‘I am trying to order a vegan meal for my friend’ and suddenly the penny dropped. Immediately the manager apologised, took the dish away and resolved the issues. I was pretty amazed, I’ve never had a response that positive to me saying I’m vegan in a restaurant.
The next dish that arrived was vegan and tasty and the manager served it politely but the whole experience soured the meal a bit and I most likely wouldn’t go back. I suggest if you do go here that you keep saying the word vegan when you order as they seem to actually care about that and do know what it means.
I felt really awful for Daria having to deal with that because of me, but we finished the evening having a few drinks in a local bar and enjoyed the rest of the night.
Looking back on the day it was quite a difficult one, but the good bits definitely outweighed the bad. I did consider going back to the Forbidden City on another day but decided against it in the end. It was so busy that I didn’t think I’d enjoy it and whilst it’s the big tourist attraction in Beijing, I’ve been told it’s over rated. There were way more exciting things I went to see instead. Though my tip if you do wanna visit is to 1) Ignore Lonely Planets warning and 2) remember to bring ID.

Vegan in Beijing Day 2

I woke up feeling refreshed but also very, very scared. Whilst I had somewhere to stay with Sam and Daria, they both had work to do throughout the day, so I was on my own every day until around 5/6pm. Due to booking my trip just a month before leaving and the fact I was staying for only a week, the only Mandarin I knew was ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. My phone also did not work while I was out there, not just calls/texts and such but pretty much everything on the internet is banned in China. No Facebook, no youtube…no Google Maps so even if I could find a wifi connection, it would not help me. I also have zero map reading skills and have never travelled in another country alone. I was so anxious that first day.

Quite a few touristy places, museums and galleries seem to be closed on a Monday in Beijing, so I thought I’d head over to Lama Temple first as we’d been in that area twice the day before. Also Happy Cow informed me that there was a completely vegan place just round the corner. Win! I decided to pack my leftover sesame pig and peanut buns into my bag just in case, along with a few nak’d bars before I set off.

I left early, at around 9.30am and it was already boiling hot. I do not cope well with heat. I picked up a few drinks on the way (bottles of fizzy drinks for 2 yuan (20p)?? Hell yeah! I love China!) before jumping on the subway. Beijing is super busy during quiet periods…it is not nice at rush hour. So many people, so little respect for personal space and zero chance of getting a seat. Luckily Lama Temple wasn’t far away.
When you leave the station, you’ll come out on a street with a huge wall alongside it, you just need to follow that wall and you’ll find your way to the temple. Once inside the walls you’ll need to get a ticket before entering, it was only 25 yuan (£2.50) for a ticket 50 yuan (£5.00) if you want an audio guide. I decided to skip the guide.
Lama Temple is a well known Bhuddist temple, lots of folk come to visit, so if you’re going to visit a temple while you’re in Beijing, I hear this is the one worth seeing. The temple is filled with lots of beautiful halls that contain statues and tapestries. Taking photos inside the halls is prohibited, but I got some lovely shots outside of the halls. You also get a free pack of incense to burn. I spent a good few hours wandering round and taking photos…and also hiding in the shade. Boy was it hot.
I’d managed to work up an appetite at the temple so thought I’d try to find this vegan place, The Veggie Table. For the first time in my life I needed to read a map and get it right. The restaurant was down a Hutong pretty much opposite Lama Temple subway station so I was hoping it wouldn’t be too hard…luckily it wasn’t, I found the Hutong really easily. From the temple you need to cross over to the road opposite and head back towards the station, if I remember right, it was about 5 minutes walk. As you’re walking along you’ll see a Costa Coffee, when you see this you’re at Wudaoying Hutong. Turn left and walk down until you see The Veggie Table, it’s just a few minutes walk and will be on your right.
I loved The Veggie Table, it was a really nice cool and airy space plus the staff there were super friendly and didn’t seem to mind that I was obnoxious enough to not know any Mandarin. I was given an English menu and luckily there were signs in English on the tables that explained that everything was vegan and also mostly organic, yay!
The menu is full of typical western foods – burgers, hummus, pizza, pasta, falafel, couscous as well as dal and curry. I decided to go for the Shiitake Mushroom Burger – 86 yuan (£8.60) and a pink lemonade.
I’ll start with the lemonade…this was no lemonade that I’ve ever tasted. It tasted like fizzy pink, I wasn’t very keen on it but I was hot and thirsty so I drank it all.
On the other hand, the burger was fantastic. I was a bit concerned when I saw the bun, it looked pretty dense and too healthy for my liking. Whilst it was a fairly dense bun it was really delicious and the mushroom patty was incredible. It was so tasty that I immediately wanted another one when I’d finished. Whilst there weren’t a lot of the, the chips were great and despite the coleslaw not resembling coleslaw, it was tasty. I think they must make their own mayo there as it was quite beany tasting, so assuming they made their own with soy milk and oil? Either way it was good.
There were also some great looking cakes on the menu but sadly they were all out while I was there. This was probably a good thing though honestly, as my meal came to just over 100 yuan (£10) which is pretty pricey just for a lunch, in Chinese standards of course.
I was a bit scared of the heat so I chilled at The Veggie Table for a while before setting off to find Temple Heaven Park in Dongcheng. This was around a 40 minute journey from Lama Temple which includes a 20 minute walk, which required more map reading. I got the subway line 5 to Tiantan East Gate and walked from there. My map reading skills were working a treat, whilst it felt like a long walk in the heat I’m pretty sure I went the quickest way. As Beijing is so massive, what can look like a short walk can actually take quite a while so try to be aware of that when you’re planning.
Upon leaving the Subway station, I remember finding the park quickly, only problem is, is that it’s surrounded by a huuge wall so quite a walk alongside it until you reach an entrance. It feels like you’ll never get there but I promise you will. During my walk I had a few rickshaws offering to take me there, I didn’t want to get ripped off so declined, they kept telling me that I was going the wrong way, if this happens ignore them, they’re most likely just trying to scam you, especially if you have a map out and look as touristy as I did.
When I arrived I got a through ticket for 35 yuan (£3.50), a regular ticket is a bit less but if you want to see the sights within the park it’s easier to just get the through ticket, otherwise you’ll have to pay later on or miss out. This park, like pretty much every park in Beijing is massive! I would have had to spend all day there to get round it all, but I spent a good 3 hours or so there. Before buying my ticket I thought it was a bit cheeky to charge entry for the parks but after going inside them I can see why there is a charge. They are big, beautiful, include temples and they’re kept really clean and tidy.
I saw the main sites of the park; the Round Altar, Echo Wall and the Hall of Prayer and then walked around the rest of the park. I did a lot of sitting too because oh my god, did I mention that it’s boiling hot in China?!

Word of advice, don’t do the Round Altar in the middle of the day when it’s at its hottest. It was nice and all but the heat was unbearable and there’s very little shade. Also super bright as sun reflects off the stones. Maybe I’m just super fat and unfit but I did struggle getting around when it was so hot.
I decided to head back to my brothers when my feet started to get sore. Was a bit of a mistake to wait until this point before heading back as it took forever to get to the closest exit. Damn Beijing and it’s massive parks! By the time I got out, I still had a pretty long walk with my map to the station.
Unfortunately I must have walked past the closest station because I ended up walking for about an hour before I found a subway. I don’t want to complain about the heat again but IT WAS HOT! I WAS TIRED! Luckily there were lots of folk selling fresh melon on the street so I bought a few to help me along.
When I finally got back to my brothers at Liu Fang I was exhausted! The heat also meant that I wasn’t very hungry so we stayed in and I ate my leftovers from the night before and drank all the water in the world. We watched Kindergarten Cop and it was awesome. I also made plans for the following day. I went to bed feeling super proud of myself for exploring by myself and not getting lost. Go me!