Cycling through a Beijing hutong 04 Dec 2016
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The heart of Beijing lies behind its modern facade in the tree-lined hutong, a labyrinth of narrow alleys that have been the hub of the city’s street life for 700 years.
Since the time of Kublai Khan, Beijingers have built single-storey homes with tiled roofs, facing into a central courtyard (siheyuan) and protected by high walls. They are set within a maze of crumbling alleyways, some dating back many centuries. These are the hutong (the word itself is thought to be of Mongolian origin), the heart of traditional Beijing and one of its most alluring sights.
There are two main areas of hutong in Beijing: a collection of winding streets surrounding Qianmen Dajie, and the attractive area around the Drum and Bell towers and back lakes to the north of the Forbidden City. Strolling or cycling around these areas is an experience not to be missed, giving a glimpse of the city as it used to be. Tiny workshops dimly lit by a single bare bulb, street vendors selling steamed baozi (steamed buns), gaggles of children, old men carrying their songbirds in bamboo cages, and old women walking their dogs and gossiping about the neighbours – all form part of this living museum of what life must have been like all over Beijing decades ago. For those who bemoan the increasingly standardised, international facade of modern Beijing, these alleyways provide instant succour. See them before they disappear on the Beijing leg of our Best of China trip – or ask your local expert to add a tour to your bespoke itinerary.