One of the features I most enjoyed in Beijing was the presence of numerous small lakes in the heart of the city, and the quaint neighbourhoods surrounding them. On my last day in Beijing, I joined two friends for a wander around two of the lakes, Houhai and Quianhai, to check out some hutongs.
Hutongs refer to narrow streets or alleyways in northern China, generally built around traditional courtyard residences in the area. Full of old houses and shops, food carts, and natural scenic areas, our visit was a pleasant one indeed.
The day was bright and sunny, crisp and cold. I later heard a quote by Charles Dickens that perfectly summed up our experience with the weather:
“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”
Although many of the stores were closed and alleys deserted due to the New Year holiday, we nonetheless enjoyed discovering this facet of traditional China- especially when modern Chinese people continue to live in the area!
Eventually, we discovered a much busier area, close to Quianhai Lake, and sampled what ended up being my favourite food from our entire 5-day visit: jianbing, a beautiful marriage of soft eggy crepe, cilantro, chili sauce, crunch, and a rich brown sauce. Oh, it was divine. See what else I ate in China here!
After a restorative coffee break, our walk led us to the Fire God Temple, which was vibrant with colour, beauty, and good energy for the New Year (and it was a bit too much for our overcaffeinated, excitable selves!)
Finally, we strolled by the Bell Tower and Drum Tower on our way to Guloudajie station to get home. Initially used to create music and later to help Beijing’s population keep track of time, these towers have had very important historical roles! We didn’t pay admission to enter the towers, as we didn’t want to risk having to rush to the airport later on, but the view alone might have made it worthwhile.
Both towers are open between 9:00 and 17:00, and tickets were 10 CNY for the bell tower and 15 for the drum tower.
If you’re interested in visiting for yourself, there are numerous subway stations surrounding the area. Shichahai station on line 8 is closest to the towers, and Behai North or Jishuitan stations will drop you off close to the lakes. Travel-China-Guide provides some more detailed information. I plan to add a custom-made map in the next few days, if you’re looking for some more detailed information. Stay tuned! 🙂
Have you visited neighbourhoods with similar atmospheres around the world? I’d love to hear about it!