The capital is pushing to be known as a "world city" but it is already firmly on the map among recreational vehicle (RV) drivers who have been arriving in the city in droves in recent days.
The parking lot in front of the Huashanyuan Hot Spring Hotel in Chaoyang district was packed full of RVs on Monday and neighboring roads looked more like an RV park than city streets after the arrival of a convoy of 57 vehicles and 116 passengers that are making a stopover in the capital during a round-trip from Paris to Beijing and back.
After more than a month on the road, three elderly French men were huddled over the engine of one vehicle in need of attention after the marathon journey.
Meanwhile, another convoy of RVs from Europe pulled in at the Hepingli Hotel. While the organizers of the two huge RV convoys do not even know one another, they both chose Beijing as the turning point for journeys across Eurasia, and arrived at the city at roughly the same time.
Konstantin Abert, an energetic 40-year-old from Mainz, is the organizer of the mainly-German RV convoy. For 10 years, he has organized such tours, traveling throughout Europe, Africa, America and Asia. It is his second time in China at the head of an RV convoy.
When METRO met him in the parking lot of the hotel, he took out a Chinese phrasebook. Already able to speak a few sentences of Mandarin, he said the trip was an opportunity to improve his Chinese.
Jean Paul de Broise, president of the French Association of Classic Cars and the leader of the mainly French convoy also in the capital, has even more experience of organizing such trips.
He told METRO he has led 37 long-distance tours to various countries in Asia, Africa, America and Europe. He has been to so many countries he cannot even give an approximate number. De Broise also organized two classic car tours to China - in 2007 and 2009.
This year, he is leading the RV convoy that left Paris on June 1 and traveled through Europe, Russia and Central Asia before arriving in Xinjiang, China, on July 7.
The German and French travelers said they were amazed by the natural sights and colorful culture in China and they praised the friendliness of the Chinese people they met along the way - as well as the quality of the roads.
The tourists, however, pointed out a few problems they met on the way. "The working staff of the Chinese Customs are very friendly, but the administrative procedure is rather complicated," said de Broise. The French convoy had planned to enter China at the border near Kashgar but, because of the political crisis in Kyrgyzstan, had to divert to Kazakhstan and enter China at Khorgas.
Since they missed their deadline for entry, they had to reapply for their visas. "We waited at the Khorgas land port for two days," said Philippe Yao, director of China Comfort Travel France and a guide to the convoy. De Broise said there were too many construction sites on the roads, and the tolls were a little high.
Abert said there were so many trucks on the road that it was difficult to drive at times. Sigi, an elderly German lady and a member of the convoy, said the travelers noted that it was common for vehicles in China to suddenly change lanes and it was difficult to adapt to the less orderly driving style. "In Europe, the traffic is more disciplined," she said. But de Broise said traffic conditions in China have improved since he was last here.
During his tours in 2007 and 2009, there were many trucks and other vehicles driving aggressively. This time, he said, such vehicles were fewer in number.
Abert told METRO that the group had traveled through Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Mongolia and China. They'll leave Beijing today and head for their next stop - Pingyao, Shanxi province.
They will continue the tour through northern China, Central Asia, Iran and Turkey. De Broise's convoy, having arrived in Beijing on Sunday and Monday in three groups, plans to stay in the city for three nights.
Later, they will head for Erenhot, Inner Mongolia. From there, they will continue the journey through Mongolia and Russia. Both Abert and de Broise said they hope to organize more RV tours to China. "China is becoming more and more attractive in France," said de Broise.