18 January, 2013

Sassy’s Guide To Beijing

18 January, 2013

With negative connotations and mass generalisations constantly applied to “mainlanders” in HK, I was somewhat hesitant embarking on my first trip to Beijing. My worries were quashed instantly upon arrival. We were met at Beijing airport by a slick chauffeur-driven Audi taking us to our home for the weekend, The Opposite House, sister property of our very own Upper House.

Beijing struck me as a city of contrasts. The main roads are flanked by large, garish and concrete buildings, creating an impersonal feel enhanced by the eight-lane carriageways bursting with traffic. But enter the Forbidden City and you are transported to a China ruled by emperors and martial arts; then lurking to the North, spiralling out from the beautiful and peaceful lakes, are hundreds of narrow intriguing “hutongs” (alleys).

The Opposite House is located in its own area, Sanlitun, which Swire have redeveloped into Sanlitun Village – a pedestrianised area reminiscent of a Californian outdoor shopping mall, with the hotel slap-bang in its centre. With only six floors, Opposite House lacks views but its interior more than makes up for it. The combination of a large room with no interior walls and minimalist design (think pale wood floors, white sheets and lots of open space) created a serene modern space with a Zen feel. However, this does result in a slight lack of privacy; the bathroom runs parallel to the bedroom and is only sectioned by a glass wall with sheer curtain. This is a hotel room for those in relationships or non-shy types! Luckily for me, I was with my husband so the giant dressing gowns, free mini bar, deep bath and gorgeous Chinese toiletries made for the perfect haven to retreat back to after a busy day’s sightseeing.

On our first night, we did a mini bar crawl of some of the hip joints in the area. My favourite district, 1949 – The Hidden City, lay just outside of The Village – this is a renovated factory with each of the warehouses refurbished into bars and restaurants. We had drinks at a cool wine bar then ambled back into Sanlitun village to Nali Patio, an old Spanish building with an inner courtyard and arched balconies. We headed straight to Apothecary; with a cocktail menu to rival an encyclopaedia, it was no wonder this place was heaving!

The next day we started off in Tiananmen Square and walked down to the Forbidden City. Despite the crowds and inevitable jostling, we marvelled at the sheer scale and beauty of the construction. Next up was some lovely local cuisine at Dali Courtyard. Serving up a set menu of Yunnan cuisine for only 300RMB each, it was an exceptional, exquisitely light and delicious meal.

Mildly lethargic from our over-sized lunch, we walked off our fatigue by ambling back towards the Forbidden City. We first meandered down Nan Luo Guxiang, the longest hutong in Beijing; it was overcrowded but still charming. We ended the day with an ascent up Jingshan Park, which boasted the best views over Beijing. Back at the hotel, we headed down to the basement gym and pool to refresh; the gym was well kitted out but the pool, though absolutely stunning, was absolutely freezing and we weren’t in the mood for a bracing submersion!

There was no question about what we would be eating for dinner that night – duck! We called upon the hotel’s obliging guest experience managers to recommend somewhere. With the famous Da Dong restaurant booked up, they instead suggested a fabulous place called Duck De Chine. Conveniently located in 1949, we had a drink in the hotel’s super trendy Mesh bar before wrapping up warm and heading down to our pre-ordered duck… and it was the best duck I have ever eaten.

Awaking to a cloudy start, we embarked on our morning’s excursion to the Great Wall in our chauffeur-driven car. We chose to head to Mutianyu – partly because it’s relatively untouristy, partly because it’s only 90 minutes from the hotel but primarily because we had heard about the luge run you could take from the top to the bottom! The clouds that day brought low mist, clinging to the sides of the hills that dropped dramatically away from the wall. Whilst some people may prefer to visit in warmer months, for me, the autumn colours sprawling away from the Wall in every direction made it seem even more beautiful.

Despite only being away for two nights, we felt we had travelled to another world. The hotel was perfectly modern, accommodating and trendy, the food was faultlessly delicious and the sightseeing trumped everything else I have seen this year. I implore all HK dwellers to capitalise on our relative proximity and visit Beiing. Yes, it’s overcrowded and the locals do challenge your perception of personal space but it’s worth it… And Opposite House is undoubtedly the coolest place to stay. So wrap up warm, get your visa far enough in advance and head North!

The Opposite House, The Village, Building 1, Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China, +8610 6417 6688


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