After being in Beijing for almost a week, my list of places to explore was beginning to run thin. Through some last minute online research, I decided to attempt to join a bike tour at Bike Beijing – a tour company based near Janjing Park that runs a variety of bike tours in Beijing and surrounding areas.
I arrived mid morning, and was able to book a bike tour for late in the afternoon. I chose the three hour tour of the local hutongs, which I organised for the early afternoon. The tour office doubles as a cafe, so I was more than happy to sit indoors and have a coffee whilst I was waiting. The staff were also incredibly helpful in recommending places to explore and eat before my tour (I ate at Little Yunnan and it was delicious)
As the bike shop was near Jingshang Park, I decided to attempt views of thew Forbidden City again. Despite every other angle of the city being clearer than when I came a few days earlier, the City was still clouded!
Being the middle of winter, I ended up having a private bike tour to myself! My tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable, and kept to bike pace slow so we could take in the sights, and safely navigate the crazy traffic!
One of our first stops was in an old area of hutongs, that my tour guide explained were actually newly rebuilt hutongs. The Chinese government rebuilt the area to keep the original charm and style of traditional hutongs. My guide also explained how hutongs, loosely translated as ‘water streets’ as the narrow streets used all lead to wells, were influenced by various leadership changes across the dynasties.
We passed the Lama Temple that I had previously visited, and my guide told me that a lot of temples and schools are housed in the former residences of the children of the Emperor. Apparently as soon as the son of an Emperor was a teenager he was sent to his own palace in order for the Emperor to ‘keep the blood pure’ at the main palace. Think of that what you will, keeping in mind the Emperor had multiple wives and concubines.
Next, it was on the Bell and Drum Towers. The building in the above photo and the photo below were situated at opposing ends of a large square, used were traditionally used as a timing system to inform local residents the time of the day, and most importantly when the city gates would open and close for the day.
Most of the tour was spent mazing through the never ending hutongs around the city centre. They are such narrow streets that seem completely illogical in their layout, hence my constant fear of getting lost in Beijing! Exploring hutongs is a great way to see local life though, as many families live in the small courtyard houses that line the streets.
The above photo shows a traditional hutong door, which my guide explained was once used as an easy means by which people could determine the status of the family residing beyond. I can’t remember exactly what this door meant, but the wooden poles protruding from the top of the door and the stone blocks at the bottom were important!
Our final stop was Houhai Lake, an area I had yet to come across in my explorations. I am not quite sure how I missed it, as it was bustling with restaurants, bars and tourists!
By the end of the tour I was absolutely freezing, as our pace was certainly not fast enough to raise my heart rate! A coffee and wifi stop at the Biking Cafe was enough to warm me up, before I wandered back to my hostel for a relatively chilled out night.
Exploring Beijing by bike was definitely a fantastic way to see the city – if you are ever visiting, I would highly recommend hiring a bike (if you are game enough to navigate the maze of hutongs) or jump on a tour!