Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beijing Hutong Tour

One of the tourist standards, a pedicab tour of the hutong around the Bell and Drum Towers started our Saturday afternoon. But first, some refreshments on the roof of the Bell & Drum Bar I mentioned earlier (that's TB in front of the Bell Tower, and me in front of the Drum Tower). These towers were used to keep time and announce warnings or fires to the populace beginning in 1272, though they have burned down and been rebuilt twice. Reminds me of Bosingak Bell Tower in Seoul.

Bell TowerDrum Tower
Rofftops from atop Bell & Drum Bar

Here is what the pedicab drivers do while they wait for customers:

Redicab drivers before we rent them
Right next door to the bar is a ticket office where you pay a set fee for a forty-five minute hutong tour--hutong, for the uninitiated, are these ancient, walled, winding streets that look incredibly run-down but are actually high-priced dwellings for the elite.

Pedicab Hutong Tour
Pedicab Hutong Tour
Pedicab Hutong Tour, Community Resident's Committee--smacks of communism to me!
Pedicab Hutong Tour
The pedicab got a flat--on Tanner's side, I swear. The repair was made while we went inside a courtyard abode--actually a bed-and-breakfast type of place. Feng shui is important here, so the arrangement of rooms is very particular--eldest son on the west, grandparents on the north-east, etc., around the central courtyard.

Pedicab Hutong TourPedicab Hutong Tour
Pedicab Hutong TourPedicab Hutong Tour

That effectively ended the tour, and we spent the next couple of hours exploring shops and hutong on our own.

We eventually came to a really cool, new restaurant deep among the hutong which was a renovated icehouse of the Forbidden City that is located a few blocks south. We didn't eat there, since it was still a bit early, so I can't vouch for the food, but the atmosphere was phenomenal. Named Royal IceHouse Restaurant, it has a website here and a few interpretive displays. Note the bricks stamped with the Emperor's imprematur, which we see at numerous Imperial sites. Groups can even hire the icehouse downstairs to view a movie, if they like.

Royal IceHouse RestaurantRoyal IceHouse Restaurant
Royal IceHouse RestaurantRoyal IceHouse Restaurant

Royal IceHouse Restaurant


Foreigner Joy said...

Did the hutong area feel expensive..? Are there hutong areas which are run down?


Tuttle said...

It did not feel expensive--from the outside. The walls were gray and nondescript, and public toilets are common--which infers that some of the homes do not have plumbing.

My general impression is that hutong are quite nice behind the walls, but a lot of what I saw (we explored about 3 km of hutong in addition to the pedicab tour) seemed run down.

But inside the courtyard, and the Ice House Restaurant, it was far from run down.