After a packed three days in Qingdao, we took the train to Beijing where I had a few more days to explore the city, hike the Great Wall of China, take in as much of the beautiful architecture, palaces and temples, and eat as much Dim Sums as possible before the long journey back to England!
We got to Beijing late evening, dropped our luggage at the Peking Yard Hostel, great place for budget travellers, friendly staff, clean(but tiny!) rooms, very centrally located. We had delicious Dim Sums for dinner and then headed for Donghuamen night market known for its unusual food stalls. We did not know this at the time when we had dinner. For some reason, we thought it was night shops where we could browse for bargains on silk products. It was fascinating just walking by and seeing (and smelling) all the exotic dishes – from fried scorpions, seahorses, bugs of all sorts, some kind of flying lizard (?) and many other items that they had there!
We did browse through the stores but it was all very touristy and the products didn’t look very authentic. Managed to pick up Chinese dolls and chopsticks for the kids which they loved! Next day we had an early start as we were hiking the Jinshanling to Simatai part of the Great Wall. Amazing experience which you can read here – Great Wall in lovely Fall Colours. After hiking all day, plus the 3 hours drive there and then 3 hours back, we were exhausted! But we got off the wrong stop on our tour bus and found ourselves at one of the most famous Hutong area – Nanluogo Xiang. An old lane renowned for its long history, Hutong culture, specialty stores, and distinctive foods. I had read that the winding Hutongs in Beijing represent roots of the way of life of the common people. We had planned to go here the next day, but it worked out great that we got to experience it that night!
This area is also called South Gong and Drum Lane. It was built in the same period that the capital of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Dadu, was built, and is about 800 years old. As it is close to the Forbidden City, many royal families and officials lived here. The former residence of China’s last empress, Wan Rong, is in the Mao’er Hutong. To learn more about different Hutongs, visit here.
For me, it was a serious assault (in a good way) to my senses – taking in the throngs of people, the bustling nightlife, unique boutique shops, modern cafes, bars and restaurants, 2000 year old Umbrella shop, different types of tea, beautiful art and delicate porcelain shops, the regal courtyards and finally the quiet streets of side hutongs away from the crowds.
Within this Hutong areas lies several famous courtyards.They reflect the ritualistic and traditional ideas of China, and contain rich cultural connotations. We didn’t get to see inside any of them, but reading up on it was simply fascinating!
Once we left the more popular parts of this Hutong area, we found alleyways that looked more authentic and traditional, was nicer to walk through rather than amidst the crowds of people! You could see old men playing Chinese Chess. You could see kids playing in the streets. It was interesting peeking through the different doorways, catching a glimpse of how people live here.
Besides my ultimate favourite – hiking the Great Wall – walking through these alleyways (and visiting the Lama Temple!) was my next best thing in Beijing. It gave a glimpse into yesterday’s world, the old way of life and traditional Beijing culture, but also highlights the dramatic changes the rest of Beijing has undergone.
This post is part of #FridayPostcards at Walking On Travels