We were delighted to meet Sarah and Tom from Bespoke Beijing a few weeks ago over plates of dumplings, noodles, and plenty of Peking Duck at Duck de Chin. They run a fantastic trip planning and event planning service in Beijing. Both Tom and Sarah are journalists who know the city inside and out. They work with a variety of corporations and institutions to set up events in the city. And for independent travelers they can consult on designing the perfect trip.
We especially love their Savvy City Kit, a tailor-made guide to Beijing that, for $149, comes with on-call assistance on the ground during your trip.
We asked them a couple of questions about how they started up in Beijing and some of the cool things they’ve done.
CONTEXT: Tell me why you started Bespoke Beijing?
SARAH: I started Bespoke Beijing right after the Olympics. During the event I saw so many visitors arriving in the city and essentially running around like headless chickens, struggling to communicate in a place where few people speak English, turning up at restaurants they’d read about in their guidebooks that had been demolished just months before, and being ripped off in the markets. It was so frustrating I decided that what they needed was an insider’s view, a friend in the city. Being able to get reliable, on-the-spot advice and find all of the city’s best bits is essential to having an enjoyable experience rather than a frustrating one. So we created the ‘Savvy City Kit’, a stylish little box containing a personalised pocket guide with totally up-to date recommendations for restaurants, bars, shops and sights; and a local cellphone with our team of bilingual City Experts on speed dial.
CONTEXT: We love this idea.
SARAH: Yeah, it’s the perfect solution if you’re the type of savvy traveller that hates package tours but can still benefit from insider knowledge and a little back-up! Since my favorite thing about the capital is its restaurants, I would say we have the most fun creating Savvy City Kits for foodies!
CONTEXT: You get a lot of off-the-wall questions, I imagine. What’s the most common misconception that visitors to Beijing have?
SARAH: That it will still be cheap! Beijing is now a very international city, the price of some foods (like pork) has increased by 250% since i arrived in 2006; the cost of gas has risen steadily and significantly year on year, and wages have skyrocketed. To give you another example: to buy a Starbucks cappucino here costs more than in New york or London!
CONTEXT: Yikes, that’s rough for the business person who ends up having endless meetings in coffee shops!
SARAH: The second biggest misconception is that all of the city’s restaurants will have dog on the menu. In actual fact this is a Korean delicacy, not a Chinese one. You really only find dog meat on the menu in South China. Beijingers love their pet dogs as much as New Yorkers. I’ve even seen one dressed as a honey bee being pushed around my local park in a stroller!
CONTEXT: Crazy. So, you spend time in the parks when you’re not busy with Bespoke Beijing?
SARAH: Well, when I have a free day you’ll find me at either at one of the city’s great (and cheap) massage places, in one of my favourite restaurants (Hatsune or TRB), or doing tai chi in the lovely Jingshan Park, which has the best views Beijing has to offer.
CONTEXT: Sounds lovely.
SARAH: It is. Beijing is one of the greatest cities in the world.