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 9 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 stock information to easily dig out for the next time by dropping a pin on Baidu's desktop version.
Drop a pin anywhere and give it your own details (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 hotels 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. The app pin also has a cool eyeball view into the 'real' world - i.e. when you drop the pin, you can see the street view and then share that with your lost buddies (see below).
See where you dropped a pin (app version, left) & share your dropped pin (app version, right)
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 (pictured left, with a helpful red arrow added by Time Out Beijing, not Baidu Maps).
It covers foot traffic on streets as well as wheeled aggravations.
On the desktop version (see below), 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 (and other great monuments)
The map is insanely usefully detailed, showing the names of all the different temples in the complex. You can also find the nearest bathroom, place to eat or drink, find the quickest route around, listen to (Chinese) explanations of major attractions and so much more. It's unbelievable, really.
It's not only good when you're having one of those 'where are the clocks again?' moments, but tells you opening times and ticket prices as well.
8. Find movie times near you (and buy tickets in the app!)
Never worry about missing the blockbusters coming to China again. With Baidu app's search function, you can now find cinemas near you and the showtimes for all your favourite flicks. You can then very handily choose your seats and buy your tickets right then and there (given you can figure out the Chinese characters).
Click on the eye-like search button at the bottom of the app and scroll down for movie reviews, cinemas near you, hotels near you... Basically, find cinemas, restaurants, petrol stations, supermarkets, attractions and more within walking distance because you can find everything and anything on Baidu maps.
9. 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+.