On my last trip to Beijing, I took a tour through the traditional hutong alleys of Beijing, complete with a rickshaw ride and lunch in the house of a local family. Getting a glimpse into the everyday lives of locals was one of the highlights of my trip, even if it was a partly manufactured tourist experience.
Hutongs are Beijing’s traditional courtyard residences built along alleys. They are usually one-story high and are comprised of a small living space, kitchen and bedrooms. Many houses make up a small community who share common bathrooms out along the alley. I’d so enjoyed my lunch in a hutong home during the first trip that I was eager to go back.
On this trip to China, I decided to re-explore the hutongs and booked a stay in one of the many up-and-coming hutong courtyard boutique hotels springing up in the alleyways of the 2nd Ring. We wanted a more authentic Chinese experience than what we knew we’d find at the generic Hiltons, Holiday Inns and other westernized hotels, and we got it.
We stayed at the Xiao Yuan Alley Courtyard Hotel on the Lishi Alley. Our taxi manuevered through the clogged street and pulled up in front of a small storefront. (He would be the only driver who did, during our trip. The rest picked us up or dropped us off out at the closest main street.)
The desk attendants were very nice and spoke good English. They escorted us to the “deluxe family room” that I’d booked and opened the door. I loved it immediately. This felt like China to me.
Sleeping on the beds was like sleeping on a plank of wood, but I loved the ambience. We pulled the silk drape to separate the king-sized bed from the double bed (not pictured). The bathroom was nice and clean, the A/C worked well, and when we wanted to stretch out, we could wander down to the enclosed courtyard and enjoy a Coke or snack from their limited menu.
Eventually, we moved on to a more Westernized hotel. I can’t say we didn’t luxuriate in all the modern comforts with that move, but we were all glad that we’d spent a few days at the courtyard hotel first. It was a great way to get a taste for Beijing and feel like we were someplace exotic. That all but disappeared as soon as we got a key card instead of a real metal key when we arrived at the Park Plaza. Once my head hit the fluffy pillow, the former courtyard hotel seemed like something from a dream. But it’s a dream I’ll revisit when I travel to Beijing again. Beijing hutongs, I’ll be back.
Do you look for more authentic hotel accommodations when you travel, or would you rather stick with what you know?