When you travel to Beijing a must visit is the large hutong district in the Shicha Lake area. It is a very picturesque location with old buildings and traditional architecture beside the stunning Houhai and Qianhai lakes. The easiest way to travel here from your Beijing Hotel is by taxi, however it is not difficult to do by subway either as it is a casual 10 minute stroll from Gulou station.

 

There are plenty of lively streets around the lakeside area with a mix of trendy and traditional restaurants, cafes and bars. Small boutiques can be found hidden in the alleyways selling traditional crafts and clothing, boutique chocolates and souvenirs. There are also plenty of craft stalls selling various handicrafts. This is the place to head for personalized stamps with your name in Chinese along with your Chinese zodiac sign. You can also get personalised dolls made from a picture of yourself or your relatives.

 

Shicha hutong area as the perfect place to sample street food delicacies at rock bottom prices. You wont find the exotic shocking foods here but genuine food that the locals eat. Baked sweet potatoes, crepes, noodles and kebab skewers are everywhere and much cheaper than at the tourist orientated night markets.

 

If you are interested in food, there are many cooking classes available in the hutongs where you can learn to cook a variety of dishes. There are also small tucked away restaurants, unlikely to have an english or picture menu, but serving authentic cuisine at very modest prices.

 

It is safe enough to just wander around on foot and the only problem you may have is getting a bit lost, but is easy enough to just head in the direction of the lakes to find your way again. If you don’t fancy walking there are plenty of places you can hire bikes from to explore the area still being able to nip in and out of the narrow alleyways. You can also hire a rickshaw to drive you around, although you will need to bargain hard to get a good price.

 

A trip to the hutongs promises some great photos and an insight into day to day life before the city was catapulted into modernisation. You can watch men sitting out with their caged birds and the older generations playing cards and checkers on the side of the road.

 

There are also many Beijing tours which offer trips to the hutongs either as a half or full day visit if you would rather go as part of a group where you can learn the history of the area, which is now mostly a heritage site.

 

 

Jack Li
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