When you travel to Beijing, dedicate a day to visiting Houhai Lake and its surroundings hutongs. One of the most enjoyable experiences of my trip here so far was over the weekend, strolling along lakeside watching the boaters go by. The Houhai Lake area, located in Beihai park, may just well be the coolest neighborhood in town. This is a great place to take a guided Beijing tour; then even better to go back and explore on your own. It has something special for everyone no matter how you enjoy spending the afternoon.

Here’s my recommended itinerary: Start at the opening entrance to Yandai Xiejie and make your way through the treasure trove that is this Hutong marketplace. Walking down this street you may get a feeling such as, “This is exactly what I was looking for in China,” I know I did. Although there are some stores with the average array of souvenirs, there are much more boutiques of unique trinkets, testable teas, handmade crafts and silks, Chinese art, and my personal favorite, plenty of Mao-morabilia. At the end of the street take a left at the Churro stand and make your way towards the lake area. Your first view will be of a quaint bridge with overhanging tree branches, the unspoiled setting for your day. After all that shopping you may need an energy boost, so stop by a number of the lakeside cafes, where you can snuggle up on a plush couch and people watch to your heart’s content. Many venues have live music performers, the perfect finishing touch to any ambiance.

Next, make your way towards the boat rental stand. The views from on land are fantastic, but the experience of Houhai is not complete without getting out on the water. Make sure you steer clear of any exploratory lake swimmers though! Houhai is overflowing with a family oriented atmosphere, night and day. However, as the night comes in Houhai turns into a buzzing, lively nightlife spot. After your boat ride, it’s time for dinner. Take your party to the rooftop or grab a candlelit meal right on the water. This area is abundant with impressive eateries prepared to offer you a great selection of entrees to aperitifs. For those then looking for a good night out, many of the bars offer great deals on drinks as well as live music. The nightlife venues are plentiful and varied, from the relaxing shisha lounges, to those energetically equipped with DJs and dance floors. Don’t forget your camera, because of all that Houhai has to offer, the most important is some of China travel’s greatest views.

Jack Li

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