6 unusual things to do in Beijing, China
Suggestions for your Beijing itinerary after you’re done with the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
1. Grab a Drink at a Rooftop Bar Overlooking the Forbidden CityA full exploration of the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City, a complex sprawled over nearly eight million square feet, takes the better part of a day. When you’re done, order a cocktail and rest your legs at Yin, the rooftop bar at the Emperor Hotel. You’ll find the building near the east gate, and Yin is reached via an ascending series of terraces from the boutique hotel. Views take in a panorama of the royal grounds, and the menu is stocked with innovative concoctions — many made with the evil Chinese liquor baijiu, so it’s drinker beware.
2. Ride a Tandem Bike around Houhai LakeHouhai Lake is one of the hippest spots in Beijing. It’s also known as the “back lake” and is surrounded by restaurants, bars, coffee houses, and boutiques set along cobblestone lanes. To save on rickshaw fees, hit up one of the bicycle rental stands, which rent by the hour and day, and pedal yourself around the lake district. You can even pick up a three-person tandem. I’m happy to say it’s a whole lot of fun to wobble down the narrow streets with the locals cheering you on. A word of warning: our bike seemed to date from Chairman Mao’s day. We quickly discovered the tires were half-flat and the brakes were shot, resulting in Fred Flinstone braking moves by three pairs of feet.
3. Cook Dumplings in a Local’s KitchenTour operator East Tours runs a gig where you can take dumpling making lessons at the home of a local. She’ll show you how to put together the filling and roll out the dough — harder than it sounds, believe me. Stuffing the dumplings requires even more practice; don’t lose heart if your first half dozen look pathetically deformed. The beauty of this tour is not only in getting a look at traditional Chinese cuisine but also at the homes and lives of everyday citizens in a real neighborhood — probably not an opportunity you’d have otherwise. And of course, you get to eat what you cook.
4. Go KaraokeKaraoke is a staple of the social fabric in China, just like in other East Asian nations. Don’t miss out. Venues can be found in most hotels and seemingly along every major street. They’re sometimes called KTV, so watch for that on signs. Protocol: Check in and pay for a specified amount of time at the front desk, after which you’ll be escorted to a private room with audio-visual equipment, microphones, a TV, and couches. You can order drinks and sometimes food. When my three travel companions and I went, the five-pound song library featured plenty of familiar tunes, but the same video of a bunch of Chinese teens running around in the snow played during every song.
5. Crunch into a Scorpion or Seahorse on a StickThe Donghuamen Night Market, near the Forbidden City, is the place for street food.
…a vendor screamed “sheep penis!” right in my ear, laughing at my double-take as he dangled the organ in front of me.You can find more sedate offerings such as dim sum, soup, and fresh veggies, but don’t bypass the bamboo skewers of silkworms, scorpions, seahorse, snake, and starfish. I also discovered a caramelized lotus root I couldn’t get enough of. You don’t have to eat to enjoy yourself — half the fun is in gawking at the food and talking with vendors and other patrons. Our group of Americans and Canadians made friends with some Greek tourists; as I walked behind the others, a vendor screamed “sheep penis!” right in my ear, laughing at my double-take as he dangled the organ in front of me.