We arrived by fast train from Shanghai (see a much earlier post if interested). In Beijing, we stayed in a traditional “Hutong” district (Dongcheng) in an historic, small hotel – Red Wall Garden Hotel (Dongcheng District)…photos below. Much of this historic district has been saved from modern high rise development and there is similar low rise houses, restaurants, small hotels, public transport etc. a short walk away. It was a lovely + v interesting change to the big hotels we’ve stayed at while in Shanghai and Hong Kong – “Red Wall” was a highlight of our stay. Breakfast was served in the garden as can be seen in the photo below (view from our room). They also serve meals in the evening which was good as we arrived in the very late afternoon quite tired (my back had started to trouble me again).
I’ll post more on HUTONGS in future posts eg. The Nanluoguaxiang district where conservation work has occurred in many historic laneways and courtyards…many buildings (some now cafes, shops and galleries) have been carefully restored and a visit is recommended (see photo of a historic laneway).
Photos below: Children’s Art exhibition in the foyer of the Red Wall Garden Hotel – particularly loved the rickshaw drawings which the children were clearly fascinated by as well.
Photos below (for children) – early forms of transport in China 🇨🇳 :
Before the rickshaw was invented in Japan (first used in China from 1873), there were other ways to get around depending on how much money you were able to earn or you were lucky enough to inherit! Many poor people would (still do) pull or push (later cycle) wealthier people around – sounds like hard work (it was/is!) but for many people the only way to earn enough to feed/house themselves and their families.
If you stay in a Hutong district, have a map to show taxi drivers (some cars are modern/some not but drivers were always polite & drove safely…unlike some parts of world!)…there are many narrow lanes and it can be a bit tricky to find a location. It seemed easier when walking around + gave us time to really take in the sights, sounds, smells eg food smells! Many great restaurants nearby including some that looked like they would cost a bomb (photo below) but which turned out to be quite inexpensive – compared to Australian restaurants that is.
Food and restaurants:
The food and service at nearby Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant (photo below) was outstanding – especially for the price so we returned twice as it was a short walk from our hotel. The chefs worked in the centre of the restaurant with a clear view from many tables – a sense of theatre but in a more reserved way in comparison to some Asian restaurants with a similar concept in Australia.
Ordering duck when you have no Mandarin except for “thank you”…which I’ve forgotten and will need to look up again!
On our first night at this restaurant we carefully checked out other table orders…thought the roast duck looked good but we had trouble communicating “half a duck please” so we were served a whole duck (+ some beautiful vegetable sides). Next day we asked our guide, Susan, to teach us to say “only half a duck please” and she said “no need for words just give a chop action and waiter will know what you mean”. We tried it…waited to see if it worked…pleasantly surprised when half a duck was served as we then fitted in a small delicious dessert😋…like miniature toffee apples on skewers – again elegantly served.
Another more casual/traditional Chinese restaurant we loved was Sunshine Kitchen…excellent quality/prices and very helpful staff. Even though they didn’t have much English (& our Mandarin was limited to basics eg. “Good evening”…we always check the Net before we go!) they had photos on the menu. A range of dishes for all tastes…ranging from traditional Chinese we often see in most “Chinatown” districts around the world as well as some dishes we hadn’t encountered before. We tried a couple of those vegetarian dishes but skipped those with offal or meats we couldn’t identify…we’re adventurous (particularly Tony) but think I could have been a vegetarian in another life😉
Back to the hotel & using local trains…The hotel provided us with a map which was v helpful – that was quite a few years ago (early 2014) before iPhs for overseas travel were well priced/readily available. Another advantage of this hotel is that it is close to the subway – it’s a modern rail system with English information too. The hotel reception staff were very helpful with advice about using the trains/sightseeing/maps etc. At your destination, Check what station exit to take (some stations are like our major city stations of course) – we did that & our day of exploring on our own worked out very well. We always try to explore on our own for at least one day – in large cities where there’s not a lot of English, we try to pre-arrange a guide on our first days so they can also give us good tips about getting around the city more easily, good places to eat, ways to avoid tourist crowds etc. Susan was fabulous!
Highlights in Beijing were many, including of course the Great Wall (see photos from last post too if interested). As you can see from the photo below, the sun was shining and there were hardly any tourists…very different in just a few years of course.
Even in 2014 Susan said that she’d noticed many more Chinese tourists coming from other cities as well as the countryside. They “usually come on buses”…one bus arrived while we were at the famous park (photos below) and being the only “westerners” we were clearly an interesting sight for some on that bus – “perhaps they’ve only encountered non Asians on TV?” I asked Susan. “Quite possibly” she said. When we stopped for tea, one Chinese man in his late 50s asked Tony (via Susan) where we came from and Tony’s age. He was so warm and friendly then…and we had a nice “chat”. He then asked for a photo with Tony like they were old mates!…interesting thing was that they were a similar age and for him it was the first time away from his region. Wish I had taken a photo too but I wasn’t quick enough – he was called back to the bus like a naughty boy keeping everyone waiting! He didn’t seem to worry and smiled/waved as he got back on the bus…one of those really nice encounters.
We heard that it can sometimes be crowded with tourists + smoggy. To avoid the smog Susan suggested we arranged our tour (with Susan Liu Yun) including the trip to the Great Wall, on a Monday – we had heard that the pollution is often not as bad on a Monday…not sure if that’s always the case but it did work for us. We might have just been very lucky! We had a wonderful day including lunch at a local restaurant that she also recommended – delicious Chinese food (photo below).
The second day in Beijing (again with Susan) included all the main sites (a blog post for another day)…another highlight was a huge recreational park – Tiantan Park (or Temple of Heaven).
Wish we had something like this in Australia!…so many people out and about socialising, exercising etc. – as it was mid week of course there were mostly very young and older people plus young mothers…also groups playing badminton and many other groups. It was all wonderful to watch especially the Tai Chi…so graceful.
Beautiful autumn day here in Canberra so I’ll publish this now so I can get out & about to enjoy the day. Later I’ll also add a recipe or two from Kylie Kwong (a famous Sydney/Hong Kong chef) as well as another couple of fascinating places a bit off the tourist track:)