China opened its doors to tourists in 1978 and finally decriminalized homosexuality in 1997. While China still needs to work on improving their human rights record, it’s quickly adopting modern ideas. The country’s been revitalized in the past two decades.
The capital city, Beijing, has over a thousand years of culture and history. But it’s not mired in its past — it’s a beautifully modern city. From famous sites to authentic Chinese cuisine and fantastic nightlife, there’s plenty to explore and do in gay Beijing!
Before your trip to gay Beijing
Before you leave, you’ll need to get a travel visa. If your city has a Chinese Consulate, it’s really easy — you can get a visa in one day! If you don’t have a consulate near you, there are services online to help with the process, but they generally charge extra fees. The Chinese Embassy‘s website has additional details on how to get your travel visa hassle free — and remember, tourists need an “L” visa.
Be warned — China keeps a firm grip on its media outlets. A number of social media sites like Facebook are also blocked. So, if you use Facebook or another similar site to communicate with friends, you’ll need to get a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Basically, it’s a little bit of software that convinces websites you’re browsing from a different country. There are a number of options, so do a bit of research to see which VPN service is right for you.
Mandarin is the official language in China, and it’s the dialect regularly spoken in Beijing. The Hornet Mandarin Phrasebook is a handy guide to some commonly used Mandarin phrases, along with pronunciation guides.
The Ring Roads of Beijing
Beijing’s infrastructure is set up in a “Ring Road” system. Currently, there are six ring roads in the city; Ring Road One is the innermost district. There are a number of famous sites in this area, like Tiananmen Square, so you’ll definitely want to check this neighborhood out.
Ring Road Two consists of western hotels, fine dining and a thriving nightlife. The majority of gay Beijing bars in this neighborhood, so it’s easy to barhop. If you want the authentic Beijing experience, visit Ring Road Three and check out local shops and restaurants. And if you want to relive the 2008 Summer Olympics, head to Ring Road Five. That’s where the Olympic stadiums are, like the Aquatics Stadium (better known as the Water Cube).
How to get around in Beijing
Taxi cabs are everywhere in Beijing — and they’re surprisingly inexpensive. However, the drivers don’t speak English and typically only accept cash for fares, unless you have the WeChat Wallet app.
Uber’s also available in China — but not with you normal Uber app. You’ll need to download the Uber China app to get around. It’s only available in Mandarin, though, and you’ll need to sign up with WeChat Wallet or Alipay to pay for your rides.
Given the difficulty of Uber China for foreign visitors, we highly recommend you download the Didi Chuxing app instead. Didi Chuxing (or simply “Didi” if you’re local) works just like Uber. But thankfully, Didi also offers an English-language interface. It’s easy to communicate with your driver, thanks to built-in translation services. And, best of all, Didi accepts major international credit cards!
If you don’t want to travel by cab, Bejing’s public transportation system is very easy to use. There are a total of 19 Beijing subway lines, and it’s the most convenient way to get around during rush hour.
The public bus is also an easy way to travel. However, there’s also an alternate bus line run by the Beijing Public Transport Holdings, Ltd. (“BPT”). BPT is the main bus and trolley operator in the city, with almost 28,000 buses. And there’s a third option from the Beijing Yuntong Bus Company. Yuntong buses have the prefix “运通” before the route number. Yuntong bus routes are different from BPT bus routes; Beijing Bus 110 and 运通110 won’t take you to the same place. However, the fares are the same for both Yuntong and BPT buses.
Places to shop in Beijing
If you like to haggle, Beijing has several great shopping areas. The HongQiao Pearl Market is a wholesale market in the Dongcheng District. While it’s famous for pearls and jewlery, this market has a vast selection of electronics, apparel and accessories. You can find designer knock-offs here — just make sure you haggle to get a reasonable price!
The Wangfujing Shopping Street is Beijing’s oldest shopping district. It’s got huge upscale shopping malls at each end of the street. The street itself is a shopper’s paradise with shops selling paintings and traditional Chinese art and crafts. There are also trendy boutiques and upscale chain stores. And if you get hungry, it’s a perfect place — you can find everything from western food to authentic Chinese cuisine.
Qianmen Street is another place to soak up the local experience. While there aren’t any significant shopping malls on Qianmen Street, there’s scores of little shops where you can find clothes, shoes, traditional food and more.
The Place, an over-the-top shopping mall in the Chaoyang District, is a fun place to window shop and people watch. And when you get sick of that, just look up — there’s a magnificent screen in the ceiling! This mall has high-end boutiques, local stores, fine dining and great entertainment. No wonder it attracts thousands of visitors daily.
Unique Beijing sites
There are tons of famous sites in and around Beijing, like the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall. But since you already know about those, here are a few unique sites you’ll want to make sure to visit. And since they’re relatively unknown, they won’t be packed with tourists — bonus!
The World Park, 10 miles from downtown Beijing and Tiananmen Square, gives visitors a chance to see more than 100 of the planet’s famous landmarks — including the Great Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty — all in miniature. You can explore the whole world in one place. The park’s monorail connects you to all five continents. Indeed, it’s a small world after all.
Who doesn’t like watermelon? But if you really like watermelon, you’ll want to check out the China Watermelon Museum. The museum has plenty of fun facts and information about the mouthwatering fruit. Inside they have a variety of different wax melons on display, but outside, you can see actual melons growing!
The Dongyue Temple is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Visitors walk through seventy-six different departments of the afterlife — sort of a Chinese version of Dante’s Inferno. Each of the departments tells the story of ancient Chinese underworld folklore. From the “Unjust Death Department” to the “Department of Paying Back Evil with Evil,” each room depicts a torture scene with statues in different grotesque poses.
Are you a huge fan of the ’90s sitcom Friends? Du Xin, a Chinese entrepreneur, loves the show so much he opened his own version of Central Perk. Xin duplicated the whole interior decor from the show — the cozy orange coach, the red brick wall, the iconic logo. Come here to sip cheap coffee and watch Friends re-runs with your real friends.
Gay Beijing nightlife
Gay bars act as a safe place for guys to meet in China. While homosexuality is decriminalized, it’s still stigmatized and the LGBTQ community ends up being very discreet.
Gay Beijing does have a thriving nightlife, however. Destination Club, in a massive two-storey building, is one of the most popular gay spots. If you smoke, you can mingle on the front patio. Once you enter the building, there are several rooms to explore. And if you just want a quiet night chatting with friends, there are open bars for socializing. Destination Club also hosts massive dance parties with world-famous DJs spinning.
Kai Club in the Chaoyang District is a cozy spot. While it’s tiny and intimate, the drinks are cheap, making Kai Club a great place to start your night. On the other hand, if you prefer elegance, Alfa is a fun place to dance and chat. At Alfa, you can always expect an international and mixed crowd. It’s an excellent place to jumpstart your weekend fun.
Pop-Up Beijing is the new, hip spot. It recently opened, and it’s the perfect place for an evening of vintage cinema, wine tasting and other fun special events. Pop-Up Beijing is located in the heart of Sanlitun, a gay-owned store selling homeware and antiques. The onsite bar has an excellent wine menu; happy hour is from 5-7 p.m. On Thursday nights, Pop-Up Beijing hosts an LGBTQ family night.
Feature image by swissmediavision via iStockphoto.com