The Best of Beijing
From bars to blockbuster sights, CD Traveller helps you plan your trip to the world’s hottest destination
Planning a holiday is a bit of a minefield with so many choices to make to ensure the perfect break. Iconic sights or beaches and bars? Somewhere you’ve been to every year since you were five or somewhere new? CD Traveller falls into the latter category for travelling is all about new experiences. If, like us, you’re bored of beaches and bars and are looking for a little more from your annual leave, may we suggest Beijing?
Few cities exude such a tangible sense of up to the minute cachet and cool and everyone from your dentist to your best friend and their old flame, has a trip booked to Beijing. And rightly so. While the rest of the world has been feeling the chill of the economic recession, Beijing – capital of the country that everyone is talking about – has come out relatively unscathed. Sure the zeitgeist of 2010 has been all about Shanghai (the more foreigner friendly city that hosted this year’s World Expo) but if you want to see the real China, you come to Beijing which is significantly richer in local colour than its southern sibling: Beijing’s bustling streets are alive with rickety tuk tuks and vibrant smells of food stalls and English is most definitely a foreign language – you’ll find yourself using gestures and smiles to interact with people. Challenging? Yes but in the same breath, Beijing embodies everything that is great about travelling.
Beijing is also a historical treat (note this not the kind of place that Wayne Rooney goes on his holiday) and history and archaeology buffs alike will be astounded by the thousands of years of history at their feet—from the ancient sites of the Forbidden City and the Great Wall to Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven. Yet while it’s steeped in history, Beijing is striving forward and cutting edge architecture abounds signalling Beijing’s intent to become a world city. Check out the CCTV building and the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium (proof is any was needed that Beijing had arrived on the world stage), for starters.
What’s more, Beijing is blissfully affordable: you can eat like a king at humble prices while accommodation costs a fraction of the price it does back home. Of course China’s capital has its problems – corruption and pollution prevail, while historic hutongs are being destroyed forcing families out of homes they have lived in for generations. Nonetheless there is a real reason for optimism and to overlook Beijing is to miss out on the big travel destination – China – and its most dazzling city.
Out and about
Beijing has a wealth of historical sights but clearly you must start with The Forbidden City. The linchpin of Beijing’s tourism, the magnificent Forbidden City took 15 years to build and served as the imperial headquarters during the Qing and Ming dynasties. A trip to the Temple of Heaven (a place of worship for emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties) should also rank highly on every visitor’s itinerary. Other staple sites include the Summer Palace (built to be a getaway for the royals) and Tiananmen Square – the largest public square in the world. But while Beijing’s blockbuster sights are instantly familiar, iconic landmarks guaranteed to jump start a cold tourist engine, they’re not the whole picture. Not by far. Some of the finest sights can be found by accident: simply by losing yourself in the labyrinth like hutongs (alleyways) that are arguably the heart and soul of China’s capital. Spending some time strolling around the hutongs offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of locals: expect to see old men and women sitting on the floor playing Chinese chess or mah jong, while grandmothers gossip and chew the fat over endless cups of tea as they have done for centuries. The buzzing Nanluogu Xiang has been developed for tourists, but for the most part hutongs in areas like Chongwen, Xicheng and Xuanwu are for locals.
Chances are ‘chi fan’ (lets eat), is the phrase you’ll hear most often. Beijing has a thriving local gastronomic scene: there’s over 60,000 restaurants dedicated to feeding you up in addition to hawker fare and night markets like Donghuamen. The latter isn’t for the faint hearted (this is a city that adores its meat and subsequently you’ll see vendors peddling silkworms, scorpions, seahorse, snake and starfish and the like) but it’s certainly lens friendly! Choose from footstalls, then sit and feast with locals eating street nosh like noodles and jiaozi (steamed dumplings) that will have you practically keeling over in bliss.
Another tasty treat is Peking duck and the best place to try it is at Beijing Da Dong Duck restaurant which has built up a reputation for serving superior (leaner) versions of Beijing’s signature dish, in a stylish setting. Be prepared to battle for a booking, but if you get one you won’t be disappointed.
Cultural and entertainment options are numerous and it’s simply a matter of choosing your pleasure among the slew of trendy bars and live music venues: boredom isn’t possible. Sanlitun and Houhai are two of the most popular nightlife destinations and home to the greatest concentration of hip watering holes. However if you want to party like a local and not a laowai (foreigner), head to a karaoke bar (aka KTV) to belt out Britney, Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga and the like. Westerners might see it as an odd way to relax and unwind, but once you pick up the mic and play air guitar, you’ll soon discover that it’s actually a heap of fun. KTV bars abound all over Beijing, but CD Traveller can vouch for Melody at A-77, Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang district. Prices for room hire vary according to time (as a rule, the earlier you go the cheaper it is) but as rule of thumb, expect to pay around 120RMB per room, per hour.
Log onto the CD Traveller website on Tuesday (9 November ) to read more about Beijing