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Hunting for Hutongs

If there’s anything that’s quintessentially Beijingnese, it’s the Hutong. The Great Wall is awe-inspiring, the Forbidden City is majestic, but the Hutong is what holds the heart, sweat, and soul of the everyday people. Well, at least it was in the past. 

As the city devours modernity, many Hutongs have been abolished to make way for sleek and shiny buildings. Here’s what’s so special about these unique architectural and cultural gems, and the many ways in which you can have your very own Hutong hunting experience.

History of Hutongs

Hutongs are actually a Mongolian invention and have a history that goes back eight centuries to the Yuan dynasty (13th-14th century). The term Hutong meant water well, and you can still find dried up wells in some of the old alleyways. While these unique alleyways of courtyard homes were first developed in the Yuan dynasty, it was during the Ming and Qing dynasties that Hutong construction thrived. By the end of the Qing Dynasty, there were apparently more than 3,000 Hutongs in Beijing.

Today, the fate of Hutongs remains uncertain as the city decides whether to preserve its culture and heritage, or continue to demolish them in the name of development.


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Image Credit: Wikipedia

Stay in a Hutong 

There’s no better way to experience a Hutong than actually spending a few nights in one. Hutong hotels don’t just offer travellers a glimpse into the past, they also conserve the architecture and spirit of Hutongs as a place where people live, and is a sensible way to keep Hutongs relevant in the modern world. 

The Temple Hotel

The Temple Hotel is a Hutong hotel with over 600 years of history. Ancient halls of worship, living residences of Buddhist monks, and a television factory are just some of the reincarnations of this flawlessly preserved hotel. Even if you don’t spend the nights here, make reservations for a very special dinner in the unique ambience of The Temple Hotel.

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Image Credit: The Temple Hotel 

The Orchid

Want to stay in a Hutong hotel, but don’t want the extravagance? For a more modern, grounded, and hip stay, look no further than The Orchid. Started by young a Tibetan Canadian couple, The Orchid is a peaceful oasis that also happens to have a great roof terrace.

Hutongs to Visit 

Thankfully, there are accessible Hutongs that you can wander about, with or without a guide.

South Gong and Drum Lane (Nanluogu Xiang)

This old Hutong was built some time around the Yuan dynasty, and the lanes are, unsurprisingly, full of specialty shops and restaurants, and food shops that serve up local dishes not to be missed. Rent a bike or simply stroll through the lanes and visit the Drum and Bell Towers.

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Image Credit: Pixabay

Dongjiaomin 

If you want to take a never-ending stroll around a Hutong, then you just have to head to the longest one in Beijing- Dongjiaomin. It stretches over 1.6 kilometres, begins at Tian’anmen Square, and ends at Chongwenmen Avenue. This is a less touristy and quiet Hutong than the one close to the Gong and Drum Lane. 

If you’re wondering why are there so many “Western” style buildings, it’s because this area used to be a concentration of foreign embassies and institutions in the 19th and 20th century. And even before that, this was where foreign envoys were received. An interesting, offbeat site to visit here is the Beijing Police Museum. 

Liulichang Culture Street

If you want to tour a Hutong while getting your fix on Chinese curios and art, then Liulichang Culture Street is where you need to visit. Treasure seekers flock to this street in search of old books, calligraphy, Chinese opera relics, jewelry and handicraft.

Culinary Adventures in the Hutongs

There are countless eateries in Hutongs, most offering local fare. If you’re in for something a little different, these options may pique your interests and taste buds.

The Hutong 

Don’t just eat-take a Cooking Class at The Hutong and you can feed yourself scrumptious Chinese food for the rest of your life. Learn how to make magical Xiao Long Baos, or spice things up with Sichuan favourites like Kungpao chicken and Mapo Tofu.

Mr Shi’s Dumplings

No visit to China is complete without dumplings, and it doesn’t get any more memorable than having excellent ones in a Beijing Hutong. While some may find it a tad too popular with tourists, others may be happy to know that there’s a good variety of vegetarian dumplings apart from the traditional offerings.

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1Comments

    1. Kill says:
    2. 8/6/2016 3:29:01 AM

    I could not resist commenting. Well written! http://www.yahoo.net

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Tilda is a happy sufferer of chronic wanderlust. When she isn't spending a disproportionate amount of time Googling about places and cultures, she's writing, dancing, and navigating a massive career change. She shares stories and photography on Wanderful People, and shares her coffee with no one.

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