Ni hao everyone! Arrived in Beijing the other day for my four-week jaunt through China. It was strange walking into a practically empty terminal after last year’s crowds, fanfare and Fuwa entertainment for the Olympics.
If you’re an Internet and social media junkie, you’re bound to hit a virtual great wall while traveling in China. Internet censorship here certainly isn’t new, I didn’t have a problem accessing just about any site that I needed last year. No more. Now, Facebook is off limits. As is Twitter (unless you use a backdoor widget through iGoogle). Flickr and YouTube had been blocked after the riots in Xinjiang last month. YouTube is still a no go.
Also a lot of the “undesirable” elements of Beijing life that were banned from view last year by the government are back in the open: street hawkers, individuals who appear to be homeless, garbage piles; hence, more distinctive street smells.
On the plus side, it was easier to obtain a visa, the crowds are gone and I can walk the streets without getting trampled, the Drum and Bell Towers are open this time around (last year’s murder/suicide incident during the Games prompted the government to close them for the duration of the event), and I feel like I’m getting a better sense of Beijing life this time around.
I’m staying with my friend Maggie again, who now lives in a much more convenient and fun neighborhood, near good eats and shops. Hours after I arrived, we hit up a travel industry event in the Sanlitun neighborhood at the cool boutique Hotel G, a new spot (opened last October), and met folks who are close with the team behind UpTake, a travel site that I’m to start writing hotel reviews for in the near future. The place has a romantic sense to it, with rich scarlet and purple colors, textured fabrics and dark lighting. You can also change the hue of the lighting in your room windows, which makes for a colorful view of the hotel’s exterior from the street. It’s offering a special 888 RMB rate ($130) per night.
The G is near another new boutique property that opened during my visit last year, The Opposite House. Designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, it’s a sleek, green-glass building with gorgeous Japanese-influenced interiors—clean lines (with flush guestroom doors along long wood-lined halls), white fabrics and rich wood detailing, including bamboo floors and oak bathroom tubs. You can check out the lap pool from a bridge on the main floor that connects the hotel’s two restaurants. It’s more luxe/chic than the G, as is reflected in the price: $285 per night. Hang among the beautiful people at the hotel bar, or check out its new live music performances on Tuesday nights. Until September 30, stay two nights, get your third night free.
For a super bargain, head across the street from The Opposite House and down a side street to the budget YoYo Hotel. New, clean and good value, you can get a deluxe room here for less than $40.
Hotel tours done and after feasting on excellent dumplings for dinner one night, Maggie brought me to the terrific Amilal bar on Nanluoguxiang, the main street in a gentrified hutong area north of the Forbidden City with cute tourist shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Amilal has immediately become my favorite new place in Beijing. Why? Owner is this cool photographer from Inner Mongolia who has a thing for single malt scotch. His selection is better than any I’ve seen here previously, and includes several Islay choices, such as Ardbeg, Caol Ila and Laphroig. The price is a mere 50 yuan ($7.50).
(I would have shared better photos, however an entire section from my camera download has disappeared. Ack.)