Oh, Baidu maps, how we love you.
You've rescued us from all sorts of Beijing dives, hutong dead ends and 'oh cripes I'm going to need to cross this ring road'-type travel disasters and, as you're made by China's biggest search engine, you're stuffed with the kind of essential information that Google Maps just can't provide. All without a VPN.
But even the biggest Baiduster, as we're now calling ourselves (just go with it), can still up their Beijing maps game.
Here are 10 extremely useful things that you might not realise the map's app and desktop version does. If you know all of them already, give yourself a big pat on the back, you are already a winner at Beijing and at life. Nerd.
1. 3D maps search
Beijing is, increasingly, sprawling upwards as well as horizontally and that makes Baidu's 3D option increasingly useful.
On the Baidu maps app, you can turn it on using the second setting button (see screenshot left).
Once it's on, just search for venues as you normally would and the function will reveal just why you can't find that bar you've been looking for on ground level.
Pretty handy, if, for example, you happen to be looking for China Bar
at the Park Hyatt Hotel, which is on the 65th floor.
That's a problem we have all the time. Because we're pretty fancy.
2. Get all your public transport options
Sometimes the quickest way to get around in Beijing is to take a combination of subway and buses. But who's got time to plan all that?
Baidu, that's who.
Tap the 路线 button then just type in your start point (or just use your current destination) and the destination name to get a wealth of public transportation routes. You can even just tap on the map rather than type a name. Use the 地图选点 button.
It's all in real time – if your trip starts at night, it only shows operating bus routes, for example – so that you can see which option really will be quickest as you zip around the city. Or you can change the times to a future date.
We also like Baidu's walking direction options.
In Beijing's sometimes insane traffic (more on that later) walking is often the fastest way to get around town and Baidu gives the quickest route, rather that the most obvious, making it easy to have a wander through some of Beijing's hidden hutongs
in a useful way that also gets you where you're going.
3. Drop a pin
Mark your favourite venues and
routes to keep as a stock information to easily dig it out when going the next time by dropping a pin on Baidu's desktop version.
You can share pins, find directions to and from the custom-made location and even search in a radius around it.
Here's a search for banks near our pin, for example.
You can do this same thing on the Baidu app, though the pin looks more like the new style Google pin, unlike on the desktop where it looks more like, ahem, the old style Google pin.
4. Star a venue
In the Baidu app, another great way to save a venue is to star it.
Say, for example, you're always heading to or from Beijing's best shop Brompton Junction
, because you're just that into folding bikes, you could click the star icon to keep it on your map.
The star will remain visible as you zoom in and out or do different searches so it's also a useful way to orientate yourself.
5. Check out the traffic
'Oh it's 6pm, it'll be quick if I just grab a cab' said no one in Beijing ever. Traffic jams are a headache here, especially in the morning or in the early evening rush hours.
Avoid them with Baidu's real-time traffic layer: look for the 'traffic light' icon to turn it on then ditch those red roads whenever you can.
It covers foot traffic on streets as well as wheeled aggravations (as you can see below when we checked, the pedestrianised areas along Nanluoguxiang and around Houhai were typically packed).
On the desktop version, you can also look ahead at the typical traffic patterns to work out whether you're likely to be late even if you go at 11am on a Tuesday.
The highlighted numbers are the peak traffic times in the area the map is set on.
6. Check out even more traffic
Baidu's app also has a cool heat map function showing busy areas.
To turn it on, use the setting button under traffic (the second one down) and look for 热力图.
This isn't actually that useful. It's just kind of awesome.
7. Get an inside look at the Forbidden City
A feature that actually is useful and
awesome is Baidu's view of the Forbidden City
The map is insanely, usefully, detailed, showing the names of all the different temples in the complex.
It's good when you're having one of those 'where are the clocks again?' moments or are just generally baffled by the huge Palace Museum space.
8. Make everything go all Sim City
On the desktop version, you can also turn on 3D (三维), top right button, next to the satellite picture option to make everything go all Sim City.
It looks pretty good on the Forbidden City, though it works for the whole of Beijing. Why? We're not sure but we're glad it exists we guess?
9. Measure distances
Never get into a fight about how far it is from Great Leap Sanlitun
to the subway station again by using Baidu's ruler function.
You'll find it under settings (工具), click on the map to put in your start and end points, then double click to stop measuring things and win your argument.
It's 554 metres. That's a long way even for a flying crow and you'd best stay for another one.
10. Street view
An oldie but a goodie.
Click on the Baidu icon that looks like a cyclops robot to get street view going all around Beijing.
As well as being super useful, it can tell you what the city looks like on a blue sky day even when the AQI is 400+.