A Beijing Hutong Exploration

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Beijing, I’d say, is quite an acquired taste. It definitely isn’t anywhere near perfect especially if we’re talking about basic living conditions such as clean air, water, the notorious food scandals… But I still find myself attracted to this city.

I live in a hutong alley within the second ring road in Beijing.

The hutongs, in my opinion, is the most charming part of Beijing where it seems as though it is lost in time.

In these centuries-old alleys, known as ‘hutongs’ surrounding the Forbidden City, time slows down and you get transported to a different world where you find folks sitting on stools watching life go by, people cycling, unhurried; Old folks playing cards, chess or mahjong;  Traders slowly zigzagging through the narrow alleys on their squeaky rickshaws, calling out what they’re selling: “maaaai yaaaa daaaaaannn” (“Selling duck eggs”) And they would drag this one sentence for at least 5 seconds. Amusing. Love it!

A hutong close to mine. This was just after a heavy overnight snow, at the end of March. Lookin' pretty!

A hutong close to mine. This was just after a heavy overnight snow, at the end of March. Lookin’ pretty

Most local Chinese spend their entire lives working towards moving out of the hutongs, and then you get foreigners like me who choose to live in a hutong. Well, what can I say… We’d  love to have a taste of a local’s life.

When I told my local friends that I had finally found a cute hutong bungalow, the first question they’d ask (along with looks of concern) was: “Is there a toilet in your hutong bungalow?” Followed by: “You really had better wrap up and get extra heating during winter” and many suggestions on how I should keep warm. A colleague of mine even bought me a heating fan for my birthday that served me very well during the winter. Bless her heart.

So, to address the first question of whether I have a toilet in my hutong bungalow… A typical, traditional hutong house, does not have a toilet. You’d need to walk out of the house to a common toilet. This is why you can find public toilets every few metres in the hutongs. Just imagine having to walk out many times in a day during winter. It’s probably fun for a few days or weeks for a traveller, but not very convenient or comfortable if you were living there long-term. So my answer is: YES, I do have a toilet in the house, as I live in a renovated hutong bungalow. Phew!

So how are the common toilets in the hutongs like? I was actually ready for toilets without doors but with dividers. I absolutely did not expect such an ‘open concept’ in some of them, with no doors nor dividers! I literally halted in my tracks when I entered one of the first toilets I visited in the hutongs, because I thought I already had the worst in mind. It was a funny moment! This is why I love travelling! It catches you by surprise, shocks you and wakes you up. Are you headed to Asia? Check Yatra Coupon Codes for great deals!

Another thing which gave me a surprise was this, in Wangfujing:

lizards seahorses and tarantullas_Snapseed

Yup, deep fried starfish and live baby scorpions on skewers, waiting to be dipped into boiling oil. [640x480]_SnapseedYup, deep-fried starfish and live baby scorpions on skewers, waiting to be dipped into boiling oil. But please, don’t let these scare you. It’s not all that funky in Beijing.

There are many great courtyard restaurants, cafes, bars and even clubs underground, that are hidden in these quiet hutongs. And this is why I love the hutongs in Beijing! It is quiet and unassuming. If you were to walk in these hutongs, you sometimes won’t be able to guess that there’s a nice restaurant, café or bar in one of the courtyards.

There are many hidden courtyard restaurants in Beijing. One of my favourite restaurants – ‘Susu’, a Vietnamese Restaurant with good food, service and ambience, is totally hidden in a local neighbourhood.

Another good restaurant of a similar setting is Dali Courtyard – A Yunnanese (Chinese Provincial) restaurant. Nice ambiance with an interesting concept whereby you tell them what you DON’T eat, and they’ll cook something up for you. Good surprise for sure. But this place is becoming a little too commercialized.

As for western cuisine, there’s a cozy Italian restaurant called Mercante. With just about 10 tables in the little trattoria, their friendly Italian waitresses, fresh hand-made pasta and homey Italian setting, definitely make you feel like you’re tucked away in an Italian neighborhood.

These are just a few of the many lovely restaurants, cafes, and bars hidden in hutongs of the ‘Jing.

I could explore the hutongs every week without getting bored as it is simply down-to-earth,  unpretentious, and full of interesting little surprises, such as this:

Dogs in the hutongs Beijing

My exploration in Beijing continues!


A Travel Presenter by day, Blogger by night, and the occasional Model on the side. KayLi Lum is originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and now based in Beijing, China. This Travel Junkie was recently selected to be in the Top 50 worldwide, in the running for the ‘Best Job Around the World’ as Chief World Explorer.

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Want to know more about KayLi Lum? Here’s an interview we did with her

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  1. Share Travel Experience

    Very interesting. Hutong life is just for taste. No people would like to live their for long time.

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