x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ask the Expert: how to lose the crowds in Beijing

A UAE resident is hesitant about travelling in the capital of China, the world's most populous country.

My husband wants to visit Beijing and while I usually try to accommodate his whims, I also have a pathological dislike of crowds, which I assume are inevitable in the capital of the world's most populous country. We're fortunate that our income in the UAE means cost is of less importance than comfort. Do you have any suggestions?

Visit any popular site in Beijing on a public holiday and you'll come back convinced that you've seen every one of China's 1.3 billion citizens. Even those who are used to crowds will emerge slightly traumatised from the experience because the local notions of queueing and personal space bear little resemblance to the way it's done in other parts of the world.

But there are options, especially if your bank balance has a bit of padding to it. Start by booking a room at the Aman at Summer Palace (www.amanresorts.com/amanatsummerpalace/home.aspx; 00 8610 5987 9999) which combines the famous Aman resort's attention to serious comfort with a magnificent location in buildings that are part of the palace. Sections of the hotel date back over a century and were originally used by palace guests as they waited for an audience with the empress dowager Cixi, but the development of the site as a hotel has been done so well that it's often difficult to tell the new from the old.

Possibly the best part of the whole experience is the hotel's back gate, which would not normally be of note but in this case, it provides out-of-hours access to the Summer Palace. During the day the Summer Palace absolutely heaves with tourists - mostly Chinese - but head out through the Aman's nondescript back door at dawn and you'll share the site with only a tiny handful of locals practising t'ai chi beside the lake. It's magical, and by the time the gates open at 7am, you'll be back inside the hotel enjoying breakfast.

At other must-see sites in Beijing, it's more challenging to avoid crowds but it's possible to at least mitigate their impact.

The Forbidden City, for example, justifies all the hype but suffers from crowds as a result. But the site is vast - to do it justice, you need several days - and most of the people there are on pre-set guided tours who keep to a highly regimented (and unbelievably crowded) route past the main sites. But if you wander off down side alleys, you'll often be either on your own or among only a few others but there will still be amazing architecture. To visit the main sites, be at the gate the moment it opens at 8.30am or wait until a couple of minutes before the last entry at 3.40pm because in each case the crowd will be considerably diminished. The entry is only 40 yuan (Dh23) so it doesn't really matter if you only use it for an hour's access.

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