Hutongs, traditional old narrow alleys stacked with rickety single story courtyard houses, oozing charm from the yesteryears of mid-20th century China. Once in abundance across the city of Beijing, now sadly in steady decline due to modernization and the need for non-existing space in an ever expanding China.
On my most recent trip to Beijing, I was excited about visiting this fascinating city again. This time I was to stay within one of the few surviving hutongs still so rich in preservation of the Chinese cultural history and traditional life.
Squeezing through the narrow roads of Shijia Hutong, one of the more picturesque and well preserved hutongs, I take in my surrounds. Rusty bicycles lean on stone walls, the smells of freshly cooked dim sum floats on the cool night air. Softly lit lanterns flitter in the alleyways. Creased faces of elders are illuminated by the red glow of their cigarettes.
Small restaurants bustle with locals, tea houses hidden behind creaky wooden doors. Rickshaws squeak down the street. Life looks simple but rich.
Walking through the gates of my hotel, serenity washes over. The horns and engines of a fast paced Beijing fade and tranquillity takes hold as I enter a traditional Chinese courtyard. Oozing with old worldly charm, I feel myself entering a different world far away. Chinese architecture looms overhead, and everything my eyes rest upon fascinates me.
Invoking the past with a gleam of modern facilities, the unique blend of Asian aesthetics and modern take interweave seamlessly. Ancient blue and white intricately hand painted tea pots sit next to large flat screen TV’s without looking out of place. Polished wooden floors support rustic curled ancient dressers. Old school phones are perched elegantly under ornate lampshades.
Everything is beautiful. Traditional. Rich.
Floor to ceiling glass windows overlook a quaint courtyard, the centre piece of the hotel, illuminated with the soft glow of lanterns. A restored rickshaw is parked in the corner and blossom trees sway in the breeze.
Aromas hover in the night air. The restaurant beacons. Creatively interpreted street food makes the taste buds explode as live traditional music chimes away in the background. The collection of restored antique artefacts make the senses run wild and automatically create a wish list in your mind as a Chinese masseuse glides past almost silently, tempting you to take up their offer of an evening massage.
Now that you have eaten in the restaurant and had your taste buds spoiled for choice, it is time to discover your surrounds. This gem is located in the Dongcheng District of Beijing, only minutes walk to the famous shopping streets of Wangfujing & Jinbao and a stones throw to the Forbidden City. If you are a foodie and seek local fare, this is the area to discover specialities such as the famous Donkey meat baked wheat cake.
Sijiminfu Restaurant – Peking Duck: Traditional Chinese style restaurant. Serves an excellent roast duck. Very authentic restaurant and inexpensive.
Temple Restaurant: Classical European cuisine within the walls of a 600-year-old temple complex.
Lost Heaven Restaurant: Tribal-style dishes from Yunnan Province. Exotic and beautiful restaurant decoration.
Da Dong – Peking Duck Restaurant: Highly recommended and close to the hotel and Wangfujing shopping street.
Dali Courtyard Restaurant: “No choice restaurant” – The chef prepares what is available. Not really suitable for kids or picky eaters, but a favourite within locals and adventurous visitors.
The Brick Yard: Organic restaurant close to the entry point to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Casual place great for a bite, massage and a drink after exploring the Wall.
The Red Wall Garden Hotel Boutique Experience emotionally connects guests with the intense historical, cultural and artistic life of authentic and historic Beijing.
Looking for to travel to China? Check out our China small group tours!
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.