I’m playing catch-up here but couldn’t resist listing these great finds just in case it helps anyone else:
- Spin ceramics in Lido, close to Holiday Inn and opposite Element Fresh is divine but take S’s advice. The first time you go, do not buy anything. Look. Resist temptation. Go away for a few days and think about what you really need to buy. Then return. Preferably with someone who doesn’t get excited at the prospect of beautiful vases, plates and dishes and so can reign you in. I love the Kung Fu vases and the large noodle dishes. If you are looking for beautiful gifts for friends and family, especially for weddings, this is my top pick.
- Black Sesame Kitchen is brilliant for visitors and large groups of friends. The Hutong has interesting classes. Check them both out.
- Bao Yuan dumpling house near Chaoyang Park has the. best. jiaozi. EVER. It was our local and we loved it, cheap and delicious. Mr B recommends the crispy pork. I recommend the ones with smoked tofu and glass noodles.
- Lily’s antiques in Gaobeidian is worth checking out for its small decorative items as much as its larger pieces. They can copy existing items in their showroom into cheaper woods (for example elm instead of walnut). Friends have successfully shipped items from here around the world. A Beijing diplomatic community favourite.
- I have fallen in love with yoga in Beijing. It was a journey that started in India (bien sur) but thanks to a fantastic teacher it has become part of my life. If Beijing’s myriad yoga studios don’t do it for you, Rose Zhou is unerringly patient and focuses on ensuring your posture is always correct. She offers small group classes, larger beginner’s classes and private sessions – the lunchtime sessions are great for expat wives. A gem!
- Ladies who lunch in Sanlitun are spoiled for choice. My top picks are not original but anyway: Hatsune (the epicentre of expat wife lunches it seems), Mosto and Alameda. C swears by Salt up in Lido.
- You’ll never be short of bar options in Beijing. They are legion and range from hidden Japanese whiskey joints, to nuclear bunkers, to those designer joints favoured by Wallpaper readers. I do love a sundowner at China Bar at the Park Hyatt in CBD, the roof terrace at Q Bar is fantasatic during the summer but for sheer coolness, Apothecary in Nali Patio can’t be beaten. At least until the next hot thing comes along which it does with alarming regularity in Beijing. Also, no expat experience in Beijing is complete without a visit to Chocolate, the infamous Siberian styled club that embraces Russian bling (gold escalator, gold toilets, oil paintings on the ceiling…you get the idea) and features a midget bouncer. Consider your first time there as your baptism into Beijing nightlife. As Mr B says, when you find yourself in Chocolate at 3am, it is a sign you should actually be heading home for the night.
- It is a cliché but Plastered 8 is great for gifts. Try Heyan’er next to ICBC bank opposite Gongti or in NanLou for traditional women’s Chinese clothes with a modern twist. If you are in the market for excellent, fully hand-stiched suits, rather than something cheap and cheerful, try Sen Li and Frye near the not-quite-finished 4 Seasons at Lianmaqiao. Great attention to detail and while he usually does only men’s suits, after a little persuasion he made me a tux which I expect I’ll have forever.
- Temple of Heaven park is heaven for people watching. I never get tired of seeing all the things people get up to in China’s parks. Jingshan park and Beihai park are also fantastic.
- For a weekend away at the Wall, rent a villa up at Mutianya but go off-season. Mr B and I had a magical weekend at Hillside Haven. I’ve also heard great reports about the tours by side-car up to the Wall.
- Beijing’s markets are NOT one of my favourite things by any stretch of the imagination. I find them aggressive, over-priced and annoying. Some people love them, love spending 30 mins haggling and tapping in acceptable numbers into calculators. The key tip is to name your price and stick to it. As in India, the key factor is time. If you are willing to stand there for 40 mins, holding your ground and repeating “tai gui le” you will probably come away satisfied. Yashow next to the Village in Sanlitun is better than the hell-hole known as the Silk Market. In 2010 the Silk Market is going to change drastically, with “imitation” stalls shut down, replaced by Chinese “culture” stalls. Apparently. If fake Louis Vuitton is your thing, get there now. Or wait for it to pop up somewhere else which is inevitably what will happen. The Russian market is apparently fun if you are in the mood for fur of questionable origin. The ever-adventurous T tells me Liangmaqiao Antiques Market next to Morel’s near the Canadian School is the place to uncover unusual things in relatively quiet and calm surroundings.
- Finally, you might like to check out this helpful article on being more than a tourist in Beijing.
God Beijing is a fantastic city!