The 798 Arts District is a thriving arts community in Beijing that is home to several art galleries, artist studios, design firms, and trendy restaurants and bars. Its name comes from the factory 798, an abandoned electronics factory that has since been converted to an art space and now has become the most recognizable icon of the 798 Arts District. The community is compared to art districts like SoHo or Greenwich Village, but since it is quite new (started in 2002), it doesn’t have quite the depth or variety of art/artists found in those places.
Overall, 798 felt a bit touristy to me. There is an art school there and several modern art galleries, but I think perhaps a bit more time is needed for the art community to develop and establish its character. It had a nice offering of artsy boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, so it’s a great place to spend an afternoon. I’m excited to see, though, how it transforms in another ten years.
Have you visited 798 before? What did you think of it?
Baby E appreciates modern art.
I like to call this one, “The Burden of Westernization.” :P
We spent a weekend afternoon exploring the grounds of the Summer Palace, enjoying the breathtaking scenery and getting a little bit of exercise hiking up the multitude of hills and stairs along the way.
I was fascinated to learn that the Summer Palace was home to the Empress Dowager Cixi, a figure that I remember from my mother’s stories as one of the most powerful and ruthless rulers in China’s history. It turns out that after a series of restorations to the Palace, the Dowager Cixi eventually smuggled money from the royal navy fund to reconstruct the Summer Palace into a resort for herself and the royal family.
In 1924, it opened to the public and can now be enjoyed (for a small fee) by locals and tourists. In fact, I even saw some local boys sporting nerf guns into the gardens…I’d say that’d make a pretty epic battleground. Capture the flag, anyone?
This is the Long Corridor, apparently the longest painted corridor in the world (how many painted corridors do you know of?). It’s said to contain 14,000 different paintings that feature illustrations from Chinese literature, history, and folk tales.
The Marble Boat
What’s a trip to Beijing without a visit to the Great Wall of China? The Wall is only about an hour drive out, so it makes for a great day trip and nice respite from the bustle and congestion of the city. And even just a short distance out, you can feel the drastic improvement in air quality — you can actually see blue skies!
Since we brought baby E with us, we decided we’d ride the lift up instead of doing the hike by foot (we probably wouldn’t have hiked up without the baby either :P). I’d actually recommend the lift though, since it gives you breathtaking views of the mountainsides, and I think your energy is better spent actually hiking on the wall than up to it! I had heard about a section of the wall where you can actually toboggan down a metal chute instead of taking a lift or hiking down, but I was bummed to find that it would take us an hour to walk there. Next time. :)
Visiting the hutongs was one of my favorite parts of my Beijing trip. The hutongs are narrow alleys found in between the traditional, siheyuan compounds that consist of houses around a central courtyard. The hutongs link all of these compounds and courtyards together, forming a wonderfully charming maze of winding lanes and alleys. Many Chinese people still live in these neighborhoods today, and the word hutong now refers to these historic neighborhoods.
Many of the hutongs have been designated by the government as historic landmarks, making them hot spots for tourists. If you stay on the main roads, you’ll find boutiques and small shops filled with cute trinkets, silk scarves, fun souvenirs, and small eats. If you take a peek into the alleyways though, you’ll get a true glimpse into the life of the hutong dwellers.
Panjiayuan is an antique-lover’s paradise. It’s one of the largest and most popular antique markets in China, and you’ll find all sorts of Chinese antiques/vintage wares, furniture, and arts & crafts. It boasts over three thousand individual stalls with a wide variety of items ranging from vintage toys to telescopes to terra cotta statues. There’s some pretty kitschy stuff, like the Mao action figures and also a lot of really lovely pieces too. I loved walking around getting a glimpse of what each stall owner had collected over lifetime. Some of them were so well-curated, I wanted to buy the whole stall! I didn’t pick up any souvenirs this time, but will be sure to go back before I leave Beijing.
It can get quite hot in Beijing during the summer months, so you’ll often find Chinese men walking around with their shirts rolled up halfway. I was rather disturbed and annoyed how often they showed up in my photos. :P
These are walnuts. The Chinese extract the seeds, wash and polish them, then carve them into beautiful works of art.
Ancient Chinese money. I think they’d make fabulous necklace pendants.
Beautiful vintage suitcases.
Little E came along for the ride. He’s got four teeth sprouting already. :)
If you’re ever in Beijing, be sure to check out Panjiayuan Market!
No.18 Huaweili, Panjiayuan Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
1. A walk through Ritan Park, close by my sister’s home.
2. Jetlag is a blessing in disguise because I get to spend quiet mornings alone with this little guy.
3. Celebrating my sister’s birthday at Na Jia Xiaoguan with salt-baked chicken wings.
4. Perfect lamb slices for hotpot at HaiDiLao.
5. Need to get me one of these for blocking out the Grenada sun!
6. Wish they would sell Taro pies and fried chicken wings at American McDonald’s too.
7. Morning milk bottle
8. Striking architecture in Beijing downtown
9. Love my new coral walking shoes from Muji. I want to buy everything there!
10. Rickshaws all lined up at the hutongs.
I’m visiting my sister for a month in her new home in Beijing. This is my first time to Beijing, so I’ve been soaking in all the sights and sounds (and unfortunately, pollution) around me. Here are some photos from my first few days here! If you’d like to follow along as I journey through this city, stay up to date with me on Instagram @rhuynh.