Travel Destinations

Beijing Banter

As Beijing’s Olympic glow shows no sign of fading, CD-Traveller spoke to Sarah Keenlyside – a long-term resident in the Chinese capital – about one of the 21st century’s most exciting destinations

Name: Sarah Keenlyside
Age: 28
Occupation: Founder & CEO of Bespoke Beijing Ltd

Are you a local girl?
In the sense that I enjoy eating duck neck snacks and browsing luxury brand malls on weekends? No. But otherwise yes!

What’s it like to live in Beijing?
Wonderful at first, then it takes a bit of getting used to, then it’s wonderful again. Put simply: there’s nowhere else quite like it.

What is your favourite thing about Beijing?
The fabulous food. And the views from the top of Coal Hill in Jingshan Park – you can sit next to the huge Buddha that’s up there and contemplate the whole city stretched out before you.

Why should we visit Beijing?
Because it’s an amazing cultural experience you may only get to do once. And because you’ll be very pleasantly surprised in so many ways.

How long do we, ideally, need?
A week in Beijing is good enough, though ten days means you can really enjoy it without rushing from place to place – the city’s pretty spread out.

How can you tell locals apart from our readers?
I suspect it’s much easier to distinguish locals from tourists here than in other parts of the world. However, if all else fails, listen for the accent: the Beijing dialect is a very distinct one. People sound like they’re arguing all the time when in actual fact they’re just having a normal conversation.

Best sites?
Too many to mention! The Great Wall really is as fantastic as you hope it would be, while the 798 Art district is a relatively new must-see. It’s got a little too touristy recently but is still worth visiting to see first-hand evidence of the ‘new China’. The 1950s German Bauhaus factory buildings also make amazingly effective art galleries.

Best bites?
My personal favorites probably remain the local restaurants. Crescent Moon is a restaurant offering food from China’s far western Xinjiang province (on the border with Afghanistan and India). The owner looks a bit like Robert De Niro and they do amazing mutton kebabs, naan bread and spicy stir-fried cabbage. I didn’t realize vegetables could be so darn tasty until I tried that dish. Oh, and Peking duck at Duck de Chine – it’s the most stylish place in town to sample the famous local bird.

Top shops?
There are some great boutiques popping up all over the place. One of my current favorites is D-SATA, which sells gorgeous clutch bags and jewelry – totally glamorous but ethical as well. And Lost & Found near the Confucius Temple is a furniture freak’s paradise. It sells restored and reproduced chairs and furniture from Beijing back in the day.

Where should we stay?
Hotel G is a very sexy little hotel right now with very reasonable rates and a great location. The Opposite House is also a good bet if you want to splash out a bit – all of their rooms have their own coffee makers, unlimited free mini bar access and great Tibetan roseroot bath products. There are also a couple of new ones opening soon which we’re excited about: one’s called the Temple Hotel – set in, you guessed it, an old temple!

Any insider tips for our readers?
They’ll have to use Bespoke Beijing for that! Just kidding. Visit Jingshan Park on a Sunday morning for a wonderful cultural experience – I won’t tell you why, just go and be surprised! Also be prepared for the fact that taxi drivers don’t speak a word of English. Oh, and if you find yourself confronted with a particularly disgusting squat toilet while sightseeing, look for the nearest five-star hotel…

Anything else you want to add?
If you think China won’t be your sort of place, prepare to be wrong. Even the wimpiest friends who came to visit me have gone away raving about the country.

Thanks Sarah! To find out more about Bespoke Beijing – a Beijing based travel service offering travelers up to date insider information about Beijing’s best sights and bites – visit

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