Getting to know Beijing without spending the time

Itineraries by Bespoke Beijing may include visits to modern venues such as the 798 art district, which features art exhibits in an industrial setting, or traditional attractions such as the Great Wall. (Photo Source: China Daily)

By Mark Graham

Like many Beijing newcomers, Sarah Keenlyside was intimidated by the size and scale of the capital city and frustrated by being unable to speak, read or write the language. The picky eater was also wary of the unfamiliar food.

But instead of griping, or getting on a plane home, the UK expat formulated a plan to build a business that focused on making life easier for new arrivals, whether they were residents, or tourists. That operation, Bespoke Beijing, began on a small scale: clients were issued with a guide book and a mobile phone that offered access day and night to an individual who knew the city and could speak English and Chinese.

It has since grown into a full-fledged events and travel company that organizes corporate shindigs usually with an offbeat twist and tailored itineraries for individual visitors who want to know the real Beijing.

Ironically, the once-fussy eater is now something of an expert on Chinese cuisine, able to speak with authority on the different regional styles and recommend the best places to dine.

Says Keenlyside: “We live in the city daily and focus only on Beijing, which means we are able to dedicate our time to trying new things out as and when they open, ensuring our clients are the first to know about new and better opportunities.

“We are creative and contemporary, always staying on top of what is new. We are always imaginative and the way we price it is much more transparent; we don’t mark everything up, we always give our clients the honest price of the suppliers and then we charge for our time. I think people like that level of transparency.”

A typical Bespoke Beijing itinerary might involve dinner in the courtyard of an ancient temple, a team-building treasure hunt designed to foster company camaraderie or a tailor-made chauffeured tour to a little-visited part of the Great Wall.

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