5 ways to experience Beijing like a local
Travel writer Esme Fox spent years regularly visiting the Chinese capital. If you’re heading off to a Beijing hostel, her tips will help you get under the skin of this fabulous, frantic city.
So you’re backpacking in Beijing. You’ve walked the Great Wall, explored the Forbidden City and marvelled at the Temple of Heaven and now you want to discover a more local side to the Chinese capital. My family lived in Beijing for seven years, and during the many times I visited them, I learned just how to find these local experiences. Make sure you put these five on your list…
1. Enjoy tea the Chinese way
Tea is a big deal in China, so a Chinese tea experience is a must. Don’t make the mistake of falling into a well-known scam artist trap however, where someone on the street will invite you along to a ceremony – you’ll end up paying a fortune. Instead, do as the locals do and go to a tea shop (or even a tea mall) where you can browse the shelves for your favourite brews and enjoying tastings during tea ceremonies. The three-storey Taiyanggong Tea Market, near subway station of the same name, is a great option.
2. Relax in the hot springs
Not many people know that within the city of Beijing itself there are many hot springs, ideal for relaxing those weary backpackers’ muscles. During winter especially, the hot springs are filled with local families, who spend all day there, bathing, playing board games, eating, sleeping or simply just hanging out. At the hot springs at Chun Hui Yuan – one of my favourite places – you can bathe in tubs of red wine, green tea or jasmine flowers.
3. Hunt treasures at the Panjiayuan Antique Market
Instead of spending a lazy Sunday morning in the hostel dorm, wake up at the crack of dawn with the locals to search for the best bargains at what is affectionately known as the ‘Dirt Market’. This is also the place people come to get their chops made – personalised seals carved from stone, metal or bamboo.
4. Explore the 798 Art District
The 798 Art District is where Beijing’s hip youth come to hang out – think Beijing’s answer to London’s Camden Market, but without the crowds and hordes of tourists. Filled with cutting edge art galleries, quirky boutiques, funky cafes and amazing street art, it offers a completely different view of the Chinese capital.
5. Hang out in the park
The parks are where life happens in Beijing. Whether you want to practice your tai chi or fan dancing, learn to play a musical instrument or gather your friends for a game of mahjong, you’ll find it all in the open air. Needless to say, they are a great place for people watching too – admiring the skills of those practicing circus tricks or playing jianzi (Chinese hacky sack), observing the men who take their birds in cages to hang out in the trees, and listening to impromptu opera singing sessions.