Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)

Things to do in Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)

If you’re new to Beijing, forgot your own guidebook, and no one is meeting you, consider picking up the best (if overpriced) guidebook in stock, Lonely Planet China ($52, but purchase in the States beforehand for $31.99). Forgo the cheap maps the store stocks for lack of details.

The airport’s mini-spa offers small, semi-private rooms with two comfy chairs each.  Try a 50-minute Tibetan Sweet Herb Alga Mud foot massage ($29). Here, the tea and dumplings may be overpriced, but water and Chinese TV are free. (Channel 9 broadcasts the state’s official news in English.)

In a hurry and/or traveling light? Speed your international check-in on busy travel days by taking your carry-on luggage, ticket, passport number, and frequent-flier number (if you have one) straight to a bilingual electronic self-check-in kiosk.

If you’re a first- or business-class passenger on China’s national airline, take a seat in a big upholstered chair in your own private skybox while you wait for your flight and watch the world go by—and through security—below. Drinks, snacks, and magazines are complimentary.

Get to your gate on time!

For the 2008 Olympics, this airport handled nearly 100,000 passengers and over 7,000 Olympic-related flights. That’s no issue for this sky port that saw almost 74 million passengers in 2010.

Ran out of yuan at the end of your trip but need cash for a pre-boarding meal? The ATM speaks English! But be warned: most U.S. banks charge at least $5 for withdrawing from a Chinese ATM, no matter the amount.

Take home China’s drink.

Nothing says China like a silk panda-motif necktie. Tax-free at 198 yuan ($29), it’s a bit more than you’d pay in town, but the quality is solid.

This women’s wear and accessories boutique carries little-known Chinese brands, like namesake White Collar and sister company Shee.

Pick up small comforts at this duty-free foodstuffs and sundries shop. Thirsty? Try China’s popular pu’erh tea ($10) or a bottle of fiery Moutai, a fermented sorghum liquor from Guizhou, in southwest China ($125). Peckish?

Upon arrival, go one flight up directly to the Departures hall Passenger Service Center for excellent help (finding a car, hotel, transfers, sightseeing) in fluent English.

Pack duty-free liquor in an imitation Wenger “Swiss Army” carry-on-size wheelie suitcase from this travel accessories store. Smarter buys include Snuggy Snoozer neck pillows ($19) and fresh earplugs to drown out the plane engines and crying babies ($6).

Past the bookstore and the Arrival-level Starbucks, look for the English signs labeled “Lost & Found” and “Left Luggage,” where you can leave extra baggage up to three months if you’re touring China and will depart for home from Beijing ($4.50 per piece per day).

Stop here for Chinese books, periodicals, and a limited selection of overpriced English language texts, from President Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope ($19) to Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City ($20) to Time and Newsweek ($6.50).