I was in Beijing a few weeks ago. It was my first time visiting the capital of China and I enjoyed myself immensely although I was sick for 2 days due to the extremly cold weather ( the temperature dipped to as low as -3C at night!).
Whilst I gaped and awed at the magnificence and grandeur of the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City and sighed at the extravagance of Cixi Dowager at the old Summer Palace, I was equally fascinated by the hutongs, the residential neighbourhoods which still form the heart of Old Beijing.
Hutongs are alleys formed by lined of sinheyuan; a traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one sinheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another ( Source : Wikipedia).
I love the hutongs, which date at least few hundred years back. It offers a glimpse of the daily life of the grassroot Beijinger. Exuding certain aura of romanticism, it felt great to walk around ( or you can choose to take a pedicab ride) the hutongs. You would discover new things at almost every nooks and corners!
We were on a tour and the Beihai hutong tour was pre-arranged by the tour agency. If not due to time limitation ( which is a common characteristic of joining a tour), I could easily spend at least half a day at Beihai hutong. We took a pedicab ride that weaves through the narrow alley, stopping abruptly to avoid oncoming traffic ( mainly bicycles and other pedicabs).
We stopped halfway to visit a sinheyuan and continued our pedicab ride that brought us around Beihai park.
Some of these sinheyuan have been converted into cafes, restaurants and boutiques. I wish that I could chill for a while at these cafes, enjoy a cuppa, drink in the scenic sight of the lake and let life unfold itself. I will be back!