A shoestring goes a long way with this new travel app from Beijing expert and Lonely Planet writer Daniel McCrohan.
Contributed By Yong Yung Shin
As its name implies, Beijing On A Budget is a travel app for those who want to experience Beijing on the cheap, from the most economical ways to get around to places where one can catch free screenings of art house films—“the sort of stuff which isn’t so easy to find if you don’t live in Beijing or speak Chinese,” says author Daniel McCrohan.
McCrohan has written around a dozen Lonely Planet guidebooks, and is a regular contributor to BBC Travel, lonelyplanet.com and World Travel Guide. Since 2005, he has been living in Beijing with his wife and two children in one of the city’s historic hutong alleyways.
Under easy-to-navigate links that categorize the best of Beijing into dining, activities, shopping and others, the app promises to steer users off tired tourist trails, instead guiding them straight into the thick of the local action where one can eat with Beijingers in locals-only restaurants, hit up little-known back-alley bars and hole-in-the wall cafes, and take part in some of Beijing’s quirkier activities such as street-side dancing and ice-swimming.
The writing is enticing and painstakingly detailed—describing a microbrewery run by an American beer enthusiast and his Chinese wife, as “a hidden gem to beat all hidden gems,” Great Leap Brewing is housed in a 100-year-old Qing dynasty courtyard, serving up a selection of beers from pale ales and porters to beers made using cinnamon and lip-tingling Sichuan peppercorn. When necessary, he lists out potential pitfalls: of the otherwise charming Reef Bar, he says, “Reef is pretty small and can get very smoky. Try to nab the table nearest the door for best breathing opportunities.”
He doesn’t exactly write off the tourist traps, but offers cautious advice: “Bargain hard, if you’re here for the pearls, the cheaper ones are on the third floor, while better quality, pricier pearls can be found on the fourth and fifth floors,” he says of the Hong Qiao Pearl Market.
Some of the best features of the app cater to the linguistically-challenged—under the dining category, there are menu decoders for restaurants that do not have English menus. All names and addresses for listed locations come in Chinese characters as well—so all you have to do is point to your iPad/ iPhone to ask (although decoding the replies, in turn, may take another app). In addition to the more than 1,000 original photos, the maps are all thoughtfully off-line maps, helping travelers avoid exorbitant roaming charges.
The days of lugging around bulky travel guides and cumbersome fold-out maps may well be over indeed.
Beijing On A Budget is available from iTunes at USD$2.99.