Beijing is pretty far north. Don’t be deceived by the beautiful, lush green photos of the Great Wall. From November until March the wall is covered in deadly patches of ice, the hills are bald and barren of trees and life, and the wall looks like a grey gash slashed through the countryside. All in all, it’s not the most attractive time to see the Great Wall of China. However, if you happen to be agoraphobic there’s no better time. And if you want to avoid crowds all together scale the famous monument in January, when you’ll likely be the only crazed soul on the wall.
Before we get to all that, here are some tips on what to pack for a winter in Beijing. It’s a fashionable city, so keep in mind that unless you’re clad head-to-toe in Versace you’re likely to be outdone by a nimble 13 year old girl in knock of Coach everything. Try to leave your sweat pants and ripped starter jacket at home in favor of something a bit more classy, as Beijing, like New York, is a happening and fashionable city.
- It’s below zero most days, and it’s position south of the Gobi means the northern wind rips through the city depositing snow and below freezing wind chills. Bring a down jacket, or plan on getting hypothermia.
- Gloves, hat and scarves are a must, and you’ll need them right off the airplane. But should you forget these necessities never fear, they are on sale around the city and hard to avoid. Still, if you don’t want fake merchandise, bring from home.
- Many westerners have trouble finding shoes in their sizes in China. The largest is about a US10. Bring warm winter boots or plan on buying crappy, local shoes that are too small for your giant rabbit feet.
- Medicine is vital to bring from home unless you speak Chinese. OTC isn’t a common phenomenon and drugs are not sold in supermarkets. Instead, there are dedicated pharmacies around the city where you can get what you need, but again, only if you can either speak Chinese or rock at charades. And even if you can act our “diarrhea” or “sore throat” what they will prescribe isn’t what you’ll recognize. Bring your Pepto and ColdEeze or go without.
- Fancy dress is important in a happening city like Beijing. If you’re staying at a classy hotel rest assured you’ll need to dress up a bit for dinner. Think cruise ship attire on business casual night, every night of the week. Some places in town even have dress codes. No sweatpants or hoddies or ripped jeans here, we’re talking Dockers or fashionable denim. This is especially true if you want to blend in and not embarrass yourself.
- If you have a favorite candy or treat, bring it from home. You may be able to find your treasured item in Beijing, but you’ll pay through the nose for it at imported food stores. We’re talking coffee, chocolate, candy, mints, or even a special brand of hair gel. If you love it, bring it.
- You won’t find deodorant, as you recognize it, for sale in China. The spray stuff (think: fake Axe) is on sale in some stores but the aromas are fleeting and not entirely pleasant. Deodorant sticks are rare, and if you do find it you’ll be paying over $12 for it. Do yourself a favor and bring your toothpaste, deodorant, hair products and lotions, or else suffer the knock-off varieties or overpriced imports of Beijing.
That’s all folks. And while this may seem a bit scary at first with a bit of planning you’ll have a lovely, if not freezing, winter in Beijing.