Hutong hideout in Houhai, Beijing

Sure, there are the big “must-see” monuments to hit while in Beijing.

But for a break from the bustle of this mega-city, wind down as you weave through the labyrinth of hutongs in Houhai (“Ho-hi”).

So Hip Houhai

Located in central Beijing, Houhai is a trendy neighbourhood surrounding three large lakes, which are lined with restaurants, traditional tea houses and shops.

But as the sun falls, a different kind of atmosphere emerges, as young Chinese hipsters pour into the many trendy bars and cocktail lounges.

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Rickshaw rides

The area has become a little more commercial in recent years, but not unbearably so.

As such, there are rows of Rickshaws ready to take you for a spin around the block and through an intricate web of hutongs.

We took a ride on the back of one of these rickshaws – though, our driver was so stinky I had to wear a face mask the whole time!

Questionable personal hygiene aside, the sights are interesting and there’s plenty to see as you weave down the backstreets and alongside the lake.

Beat a drum, bust a move

On the weekend, locals arrive to belt out some beats on traditional Chinese wooden drums, as some sway around the square performing customary dances (think drunk prey-mantis).

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You’re welcome to join in, but just be ready to be a magnet for unwavering stares and camera phone photos.

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Souvenirs and trinkets galore

Like anywhere listed in the Lonely Planet, there are crowds, and thus, endless rows of shops hacking their wares.

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However, it’s not all plastic fans and waving Chinese lucky cats (Maneki-neko‘s).

Here,  you can find some genuinely interesting foods and quirky Chinese souvenirs.

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Ohh, these hard-candied fruits are YUM! Much like a toffee-apple, but with strawberries or mixed fruit, stacked on a kebab stick.

A good bite and sight

I would also recommend stopping by one of the many, less fancy restaurants lining the lake.

Sure, the food is a little over-priced but it’s good Chinese fare with a gorgeous view.

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If you ask to eat on the rooftop terrace, be prepared to climb a rickety, winding staircase to the top, arriving first to the restaurant’s outdoor kitchen before finding your seat..

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Not sure we really wanted to see this before eating…

 

Houhai, by night

Houhai by night and Houhai by day are like, well, night and day – totally different.

With the setting sun, all the Rickshaws are wheeled away and replaced by hoards of young people strolling the streets.

Bright neon lights reflect beautifully onto the lake as bars blast a mix of live music and Chinese pop hits.

Here, couples, singles and a sprinkling of tourists, enjoy a spot street food and twilight-shopping.

Being pregnant, I try to play it safe with street food but who can refuse fairy floss?!

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Goodnight, Houhai, you’ve been grand…

Some useful info + map

Getting there
Bus: 60, 13, 118, 701, 42, or 823
Metro: take line 6 to the north gate of Beihai Park.
Address: Start at the Lotus Market (荷花市场),
Di’anmen W Street, Xicheng, Beijing

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