I’m back! Sorry that I haven’t been active lately, I had to sit for an exam (without getting any time off work) so I struggled to find time. But I’m glad to say that I passed and can forget all about it.
Here’s part 2 of my post on Beijing for tourists.
Beijing is a great city to absorb Chinese culture, although some of the attractions are targeted at tourists rather than locals’ actual practices (for example, the food street in Wangfujing). Here are some of my recommended experiences in Beijing.
Hutong, Nanluogu Xiang
Hutongs are the traditional streets in Beijing, with narrow alleys and old buildings, some of which are still being used by residents. A typical old building is made of grey bricks, single storey and is centered around a courtyard. There are rickshaw tours available if you can’t be bothered to walk, but I highly recommend walking along Nanluogu Xiang. It is one of my favourite spots in Beijing, as it is fully pedestrianized (although you should still look out for bicycles and motorcycles), has lots of stalls and shops selling souvenirs, also cafes and restaurants. It looks beautiful with the lanterns hanging along it and lights in the evening. There are lots of hidden gems in the small streets around Nanluogu Xiang, including the Great Leap Brewery and the Black Sesame private kitchen.
Houhai is one of the major lakes in central Beijing and also one of the nightlife districts. I recommend skipping Sanlitun which is the expat area and instead, head over to Houhai for a wander around just before sunset, followed by dinner and then hang out in the bars. The lake itself is lined with beautiful willow trees and the area around consists of hutongs, housing shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. For dinner, I highly recommend Man Fu Lou hot pot restaurant. This restaurant serves hot pot in copper cauldrons, which is the traditional Northern Chinese style of hot pot. Try to book in advance as it is pretty popular.
798 Art Zone
While Beijing is not exactly known for a vibrant art scene, the 798 Art Street is definitely worth checking out. Unfortunately, it is not close to any subway station so the only way to get there is either by bus or taxi. The area used to be an industrial area but has been converted into art studios, shops and cafes. It has a very alternative feel to it and is a maze with hundreds of outlets, featuring a variety of art including sculptures, photos, paintings, posters, etc. One can easily spend half a day here and if you’re lucky, you may uncover a hidden gem.
Wangfujing food street
Even though the locals told me that this is purely to attract tourists, it’s still worth visiting this food street which only opens in the evening. While there are some authentic Chinese snacks such as smelly bean curd, dumplings and Bingtanghulu (candied fruits), the main attraction for most tourists is the more exotic and gross skewered insects. Scorpions, beetle and centipedes are some of the delicacies on offer. This is definitely not for the faint hearted, especially since quite a few of them were still alive despite being on display on skewers. We were not brave enough to try any of this but a friend of mine who did ended up with pretty bad food poisoning. So my conclusion is that the Wangfujing food street is better for observation rather than actual consumption.
I’ll admit that food in Beijing is not inspirational, with lots of disappointing meals during my time there. However, peking duck is a must have when in Beijing and there are a few restaurants which are well known for this including Bianyifang (oldest roast duck restaurant), Quanjude (a favourite for locals) and Made in Heaven (a posh restaurant in Grand Hyatt). My favourite, though, is Da Dong, a restaurant which is famous for less greasy and leaner Peking duck. Despite being healthier, the Peking duck still tastes so good and comes with all sorts of condiments and not only pancake, but also crispy sesame bun. Other than the Peking duck, we have tried lots of different dishes in Da Dong, all of which impressed us. Despite being akin to fine dining by Beijing standards, by international standards, a meal in Da Dong is still fairly reasonable at around US$30-40 per person.
The Chinese are well known for their acrobatic troops, with awe-inspiring and cringe-worthy acts such as having someone who bends in all directions, making a multi-layered human pyramid while balancing ceramic bowls on chopsticks, etc. The show that I saw (twice) in Beijing included these traditional acts but also more dangerous ones such as having half a dozen men on motorcycles racing around in a spherical cage. I couldn’t see any safety measures in place but I’m hoping that they were there, just not visible. This last act definitely sent my adrenaline spiking and my heart racing. The one that I went for was in the Chaoyang Theatre, which I believe is one of the most famous ones in Beijing.
So there you have it, this ends my series of posts on Beijing. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and take the opportunity to visit this unique city as it’s changing quite quickly.