The best of Beijing is a study in contrasts -- from the ritzy elegance of restaurants located in the snazziest of hotels to the humble yet lively fare available in local dining rooms. We give you a healthy dose of traditional Beijing life, which is rapidly disappearing as the city is bulldozed to make room for skyscrapers. We recommend that you take in a local punk band to get a glimpse of the capital's vibrant youth culture, but also visit an antiquated Peking opera hall, and fraternize with seniors at the city's numerous gardens and parks. For all its big-city development, Beijing's lakes and parks provide solace -- a place where you can go to ponder the contradictions that make up this fascinating capital.

Whether you plan to travel at random, with a prebooked route, or with a fully escorted tour, it's vital that you read this chapter carefully to understand how the way you travel, even in many other developing nations, doesn't apply here. Much supposed wisdom on China travel is far from wise, and what's good advice in the rest of the world is often the worst advice in China. If you haven't absorbed this section, some of the rest of this guide may seem inscrutable. So put down your preconceptions, and read on . ..

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