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[Another 48 Hours]: Things to Do When You Visit Beijing

...And it will take you 48 hours to read this. Here's somewhat of an "alternative guide" to experiencing two days in Beijing.
2016-02-03 14:36:04
Outbound: Outbound is SmartShanghai's travel features series dedicated to fascinating and wonderful places, nearby and far-flung, around China and sometimes not.
Having lived a number of years in both Shanghai and Beijing, a lot of people ask me, “Hey guy, which city is better? Let’s chat about it, guy. Which city is better, guy? Shanghai or Beijing? Guy?”

Of course, I am in a position to field just such a question, and I’ll tell you, I do have an answer. I have THE answer, more like it. And it’s this. Are you ready? Wait for it.

They BOTH fuggin’ suck. They BOTH SUCK.

Yes, it’s true, they’re both absolutely terrible, and you should never hope to find yourself in either city for any amount of time, as a tourist, resident, traveler, expat, or whatever.

Nah, just kidding. I’m just kidding! Beijing or Shanghai. Hmm. The age-old question. The question for our times. Actually, the real answer is this: They both have their positive aspects and their negative aspects. They both have their unique character traits that make them inspiring, frustrating, wonderful, heinous, the best places in China, and the worst places in the world. They’re both good-bad and bad-good. Everyone, of course, has their own opinion. The prevailing one in Beijing, among expats anyways, is that Beijing is the “authentic” and “gritty” city, and a true representation of integrated life in China, as much as it can be -- as much as it probably ever will be. It’s a point of pride. Beijing pride. Shanghai, conversely, is seen as as the seat of vanity, commercialism, cultural myopia, and facile bullshit expat pursuits undertaken for their own sake.

The prevailing opinion in Shanghai is, “Wait, you’re telling me there’s other cities in China besides Shanghai? Serious? Do they have bagels? Will there be house music?”

Answer: An emphatic no on all counts. Well. There kinda are a few more cities in China besides Shanghai, I guess. For SmartShanghai’s new ongoing column series Another 48 Hours we’re going to look at other cities around China, and alternative inroads to experiencing them. One thing all Chinese cities have in common is that they change very rapidly. The cultural lynchpins to a given destination are always shifting as markets expand and implode, and new fads and trends rise and fall. We’re guessing you can find your way to a given destination's centuries-old temples, national parks, and historical landmarks (Google: "Lonely Planet"); here’s a few suggestions on other ways to spend 48 hours in… BEIJING.

We've split this into nine chapters:

Chapter I: Zany Things You Can Eat
Chapter II: The Beer Tour
Chapter III: Hutong Cocktails
Chapter IV: The Live Music Scene
Chapter V: Nnn Tsst, Nnn Tsst, Oonce, Oonce, Oonce
Chapter VI: Daytime Tripping
Chapter VII: Offbeat Adventures
Chapter VIII: Literature, Comedy, Stage
Chapter IX: Hotels That Check Out


Chapter I: Zany Things You Can Eat

We're assuming you can handle your own Beijing duck; duck restaurants are on every street corner in Beijing. (I like Hua's, incidentally, which is a nice mid-tier sort of place on Ghost Street.) We're also assuming you can make your way to Sanlitun is case you need Western food -- that's basically where it all is.

For everything else, there's chuan'r, which is impossible to get tired of, cheap, and delicious. Basically, the full-on Beijing dining experience is sitting on tiny stools, eating lamb meat (hopefully) on sticks, and drinking big bottles of beer.

But, hey, here's a few more zany things you can try out in Beijing, if you've got the predilection to do so.

"The World's Spiciest Noodles"

This place called Niu Tang, with a few locations around the city, are offering the self-proclaimed "World's Spiciest Noodles".

They're made with "seven-star" facing-heaven chilis (朝天椒; cháotiānjiāo). Seeded from Sichuan, grown in Hunan, on the Scoville scale measuring spiciness -- pungency (spicy heat), rather -- they clock in at 200,000 units. For a comparison, Tobasco sauce is 2,500-5000 Scovilles. So... yeah.

Daaaaaaaamn. They're 35rmb, available right here:

ADD: Niu Tang is at 0172, 1/F, Tower C, Chaowai SOHO, 6 Chaowai Dajie. They're open daily from 9am to 8pm.

Tower of Roasted Lamb Scorpion

A celebration in fire and simplicity. A Xinjiang import, the correct way of attacking this is to just take a piece off the rack with your hand and go for it. The meat will fall easily off the bone with a little assistance from your fingers. For the initiated, the marrow is still easily accessible, this little bit of meat has been described as the “butter of the gods.” These little guys even have that same lip-smacking goodness characteristic of the best ribs back in the States. This one's available at some of the more next-level Xinjiang BBQ places around town -- just stick your head in and see if you can see any of the racks piled up in a corner or somewhere. If you're in Gulou, there's one at 206 Gulou Xi Dajie, and we also like this one right here:

ADD: Sancun Chuar Fang, at Tianshuiyuan Dongli 12-2 (just south of the diabetics hospital). They're open daily from 10am till 3am. Phone number is 6500 1955.

Donkey Burgers

For the uninitiated, donkey burgers are a Hebei specialty dating back to the Ming Dynasty that have since spread into Beijing, and are a somewhat common quick meal around town. The English translation of shaobing or huoshao as “burger” isn't quite accurate; it's more like a very crispy, unleavened pita-like bread topped with seasame seeds. It's roots are closer to doner kebab. Anyway, the zhaopai huoshao ("specialty donkey burger", 12rmb or thereabouts) is what you're filling up on. It's impossibly crispy, essentially fried, bread generously stuffed with gamey, cherry-red meat and absolutely no fillers. It's the connoisseurs' ass meat sandwich.

You can find one at:

ADD: Zong Du Fu (Donkey Inside) is at 277 Dongzhimen Neidajie, Beixinqiao Station, Exit B.


Chapter II: The Beer Tour

Beijing has The Great Wall, Beijing has The Forbidden City, Beijing has The Summer Palace, but more importantly than all those put together, Beijing has a lot of nice places to get beer. Craft beer, that is. It's like a thing. The rise in popularity in craft beer is probably the single biggest trend in Cap City F&B in the last few years, with a basic ratio these days of 1:1 craft beer bars per city residents. Industry watchers and beer nerds still argue that there's a ways to go for Beijing to fully emerge on an "international level" for its craft beer, but there's no denying that the city is at least "emerging". For beer dudes, BJ offers plenty of idiosyncratic pints and idiosyncratic bars all over town.

Great Leap Brewery

With the most taps in town at their three locations, GLB leads the charge for Beijing craft beer in terms of volume moving, industry innovation, and market share. They're at the head of the table -- the table filled with pint glasses, I suppose -- and if you're looking for the general introduction into Beijing craft beer, start at Great Leap's central "#12" location and go from there. They've got the largest selection -- IPAs, Wheats, Porters, Ales, all that good stuff -- and they beat the drum pretty loudly for pride in using a lot of Beijing ingredients. For advanced studies, you can also check out their original hutong location #6 -- good for a more intimate, hutong-drinks sort of thing -- and their latest location, #45, AKA the one with the good pizza.

Stay on top of their weekly deals and special events at their Facebook page.

Pro tip: Get the burger at the #12 location. One of the best burgers in Beijing.

ADD: 12 Xinzhong Jie, off Chunxiu Lu, Dongzhimen. 东城区东直门新中街乙12号, 近春秀路

Arrow Factory Brewing

A more recent addition to the Beijing drinking community, Arrow Factory Brewing beer can be found in a few taps in different bars around town, but you should check out either of their two taprooms in the city to get the most out of their selection. That's a 'seek the source of the Nile' sort of thing. The original hutong location is great for a more laid-back drink, and the new, larger Liangmaqiao location is the idea fully developed into a restaurant. They're usually working with 8 to 10 varieties of beer, in a few different genres. Try the steak sandwich as well, if you end up at Liangmaqiao.

You can keep up with their deals, events, and beers on their Facebook page

ADD: Waijiao Apartment, 1 Xindong Lu (south of Liangma River), Chaoyang District (8532 1977). 朝阳区新东路1号外交公寓亮马河南岸

Jing A

Another recommendation in the genre of Edison bulbs-on-brick-walls taprooms in Beijing: Jing A. Like Arrow Factory, Jing A is roundly available all over Beijing in various forms, but to truly sample their selection, you should head for their main taproom in Courtyard 4 off Sanlitun Nan Lu. Jing A hosts a lot of special events and parties, and sort of offers that American collegiate sort of feel. But maybe grown up a bit. Great for after work beers or as a kick off point to a more involved night out in Sanlitun. Beer recommendation: the Koji Red. Stay on top of their specials on their Facebook page.

ADD: 1949 The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang district. 朝阳区工体北路4号院1949

See also:

But wait, that's not all. Slow Boat, which you might have seen around Shanghai, has their own taproom in Beixinqiao district -- try the burger. Panda Bear, another label, also has a big, multi-story Taproom in Beixinqiao, and NBeer, with a few taprooms in Beijing, rounds out the six families of craft beer in the city. Those are the main ones, basically, and we haven't even begun to talk about beer bars, which invariably offer a fridge full of imported beer and a bunch of stools to drink them on -- those are basically on every street corner.

One last thing: Beer Festivals. Both Great Leap Brewery and Slow Boat host annual beer festivals featuring craft beer, food, and entertainment from Beijing and beyond. The next one is GLB's International Invitational Beer Festival, which is February 26 to February 28. More info here.


Chapter III: Hutong Cocktails

As a general, sweeping, controversial-not-really statement, Beijing's "cocktail culture" has a ways to go to catch up to Shanghai's. A relatively new-ish nightlife fad, and one that is not as widespread as it is in SH, Beijing is still carving its own identity out in the cocktails world, and offers a fewer amount of decent places to get a grown-up sort of drink when the mood strikes. That said, there is a distinct, humble style to Beijing drinks that one can respect, especially coming from Shanghai. Beijing cocktail bars tend to be more relaxed, less refined, and waaaaaaaaay cheaper than their counterparts to the south. A typical Beijing cocktail bar is a one-room, 10-seater bar that's owner-operated, and humbly orientated to serving the immediate vicinity around the venue itself and a few regular customer-friends who make the special trip down.

In direct contrast with the overblown "mega lounges" of Shanghai's Bund district, here are three recommended hutong cocktail bars in Beijing:

The Tiki Bungalo

Opened by an American expat-via Vietnam and two partners, the Tiki Bungalo is dutiful reverence to the classic art of the Tiki cocktail. The one-room cocktail bar skirts a line between a nostalgic Dean Martin kind of class and straight-up Martin Denny kitch. Sunset paintings, woven thatch, and parrots line the walls and colorful lanterns hang from the ceiling. Tiki cups and totems are placed throughout, with three, big custom-made ones bisecting the big liquor shelf behind the bar. Boasting over 35 (40? 45? 50?) Tiki concoctions, there's a fair amount of reverence to the pioneers in the field (see: Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's), with loads of rum and blue Curaçao in the mix. Prices are 50rmb-ish to 75rmbish. Recommended: the "Jet Pilot".

ADD: The Tiki Bungalow is at 34 Jiaodaokou Bei Santiao, off Yonghegong Dajie. It's right in between the record store BLAKK and La-Bas on the one side and Knights & Merchants on the other.


The quintessential hutong cocktail bar, Más boasts the best music playlist in town and drinks to match. Oh, and great tacos as well. Located in Beixinqiao, the cocktail bar is a favorite of the area's expat creative types, serving as a relaxed but still stylish place for dates and groups of friends drinking through the week, starting up their weekends, or winding one down. Drinks are tropical, tropical, tropical, with a big section of daiquiris -- probably the biggest selection of those in Beijing -- as well as seasonal favorites and singular creations of the owners. If you're looking for a hip but still accessible place to get a drink, Mas is a great choice. Fans of rum, art, and the art of rum take note. Recommended: I always like their "Dark & Stormy", but also anything on the specials board besides the bar is worth a shot. Great place to try something you haven't before.

ADD: 25 Beixinqiao Toutiao, off Dongzhimen Neijie, Dongcheng district. 东城区北新桥头条胡同25号近东直门内街


Fang is what you see is what you get -- a tiny, two-table patio encircled in bamboo, and then a small, one-room bar, oriented around the all-important counter top and drinks shelf. Music is a tasteful and unobtrusive mix of afrobeat, jazz, and soul. Overall, the place is nicer, slicker, and more polished than the other drinking spots in the neighborhood, but it's still unmistakably Gulou. It's tiny. It's in a hutong. It's all wood and flickering candles. It's owner-operated.

Drinks are classics, with an emphasis on singular whiskeys that made the trip over to Beijing in someone's suitcase. Recommended drinks: Just get an "Old Fashion". Their martinis are really good as well.

ADD: Fang is at 59 Fangjia Hutong, right next to el Nido.

Drink Also:

There's a lot of really good cocktail bars, really. I personally just like these three these days but here's a bunch more that can easily set you up with a great drink: Mao Mao Chong is an innovator in the field and one of the first cocktail-slingers in Beijing. Cuju, a local, one-room sports bar has a great selection of rum and lots of wonderful different ways to serve it to you. 8-Bit combines vintage video games with a list of well-made drinks. The newly opened Ron Mexico offers a warm and welcoming pub kind of feel. They just got started but are off in a great direction. Finally, Mai Bar is always a dependable choice as well -- another bar that combines a classic Beijing atmosphere and decent drinks.


Chapter IV: The Live Music Scene

With venue closures, a de facto ban on large-scale music festivals within the city limits, and the basic climate of commercial instability with promoting touring Western bands in the city, 2015 was a rough year for Beijing music. That said, China's capital is still China's capital for live music -- at least of the variety played on guitars. The amount of local bands gigging in the city probably at least doubles the amount of bands in the all rest of China combined. Musicians move to Beijing and the entire industry, such as it is, is located therein. What this means is every single day of the week there's some rock or whatever band playing something on a stage somewhere, and sometimes a stage isn't even required.

The best and most comprehensive online resource for show bookings, as well as Beijing music news and reviews, is Hit up their "Calendar" tab to see what's on. Local magazine listings tend to be about as good as the in-house promotional machines of the given live music venues themselves so... yeah, good thing Beijing has this guy who runs this website, and possess the inclination to compile the show listings in this city for all of us.


If Beijing had a unifying sound and style -- it doesn't really, but if it did -- School bar would embody it. It's the most Beijing-est Beijing dive punk bar currently running, and a second home to the city's class of street rat reprobates. With framed photos of local underground bands and old flyers on the wall, an invariable gaggle of locals and foreigners smoking at entrance, and a never-ending stream of Jagger shots coming from the bar beside the stage, if you want to experience the "new sound" of Beijing youth, if it exists, it's there. Actually, the "new sound" of Beijing probably sounds like a breaking beer bottle. And maybe 'baaaaaaarrf'.

School hosts multi-band bills every weekend and most weeknights -- punk, rock, and "experiemntal" shows, mostly -- and with a new expansion, they've opened the place up with another bar top and more seating.

ADD: 53 Wudaoying Hutong, Gulou, Dongcheng district. 东城区五道营胡同53号


Another Gulou live music pissfest, Temple Bar consciously caters to a bit of a more mixed expat crowd, and offers a more eclectic mix of music to compliment the bedrock mandate of drunken rock 'n' debauchery. Bit of jazz in the week, bit of folk, "world music" bookings, reggae, the odd cover band act, and a Sunday jam night along with your standard rock, metal, and punk bookings. How to describe a night out at Temple. Drunk. Very drunk. Due to their policy of basically never charging cover, people are there just to be out at a bar, and catching some live music is like a bonus. It's hammered pub plus live music house, then. But live music is the entertainment of choice, and if Temple's doors are open, they'll have a band playing music on stage. Will they be any good?

As they like to say on their promotional material, "You'll have to come down to find out!"

ADD: 206 Gulou Dong Dajie, Dongcheng district. Same building as Dada bar. 东城区鼓楼东大街206号


DDC -- stands for Dusk till Dawn Club -- is located in a beautiful hutong venue and caters to a clientele that is maybe a bit too old and grown up for the previous two venues mentioned in this section, although there's a fair amount of overlap for all three of these places in terms of music programming. That said, DDC strives for a more expansive schedule, opening their stage up to ethnic sounds, blues, folk, jazz -- lots of jazz musicians touring through DDC -- and the occasional multi-band bill rock show. People are specifically coming for the music at DDC and the cover charges and drinks prices reflect that. (Read: It's more expensive.)

It's a beautiful place though. In addition to music, they also host the odd movie night, speaking event, and food pop-up, but it's bands on stage basically every night of the week and weekend.

ADD: 14 Shanlao Hutong, Dongcheng district. 东城区美术馆后街山老胡同14号

See also:

These three just scratch the surface. The list, hey much like "the beat", goes on... These three are the most consistent ones that can be counted on for live music basically every night of the week, but there's plenty more out there for folk and acoustic sounds (Jianghu, 69 Cafe, Caravan), metal (13 Club), rock and punk (Old What, Hot Cat Club), and more.

For larger shows with nationally established Chinese acts and touring Western bands, look to Yugong Yishan and the MasterCard Center -- those are Beijing's Mao Livehouse and Mercedes Benz Arena respectively.

As of this writing, we're still waiting on the fate of Beijing's own Mao Livehouse, the original, incidentally. Will be back to update...


Chapter V: Nnn Tsst, Nnn Tsst, Oonce, Oonce, Oonce

We're nightclubbing, we're nightclubbing. So, yeah, Beijing's got the big, spaceship-looking Top40hiphoptrapeurodanceEDM clubs too. Beijing nightclubs -- the big, flashy ones anyways -- are looking to cater to a moneyed local crowd that enjoys splashing out on tables, models, and bottles, and making sure one is seen doing such things. If that's what you're looking to experience, Spark is a leader in the field. Top 100 DJs and EDM superstars do well in Beijing as well, although probably to a lesser extent than in Shanghai. For big-time bookings, you'll want Circle or LIV, which are the megaclub-types that host in Steve Aoki or whoever when they come to Beijing. They're also behind some of the mega clubs in Shanghai, so you might have already sampled their work. In general, if that's your bag, you're going to want to head to the Gongti area -- between Sanlitun and Dongzhimen -- which is where about 15 of such places are all within walking distance of each other.

For "alternative clubbing" -- by which I mean places with dance floors wherein the music might not be absolutely terrible -- Beijing really only has three places. These are them:


Like the one in Shanghai, Dada is the dance floor HQ of local DJ crews hosting their own events anchored around a specific genre of electronic music. They've got "The Syndicate", which do the drum 'n' bass; "Street Kidz" do the hip hop / grime / "bass music"; "Do Hits!" do the future beats; various local crews are bringing their own spin on trap and drill -- you get the idea. This one's also closely tied with Shanghai as well, so you get lots of Shanghai DJs coming up to Beijing to do shows -- Santo Chino, Mau Mau, Stockholm Syndrome, B6, Popasuda, Black Eyeliner, and Love Bang in recent memory -- and Shanghai's Antidote and Sub-Culture crews do their nights here as well.

In contrast to Shanghai, Dada bar does a lot of international bookings, and is thus sort of more like if Dada Shanghai operated with The Shelter's penchant to roll the dice on booking lesser well-known DJs in from the UK or wherever. These days, promoters from both cities are funneling their international bookings -- in bass music, D 'n' B, and grime anyways -- through Dada's decks for their Beijing performances.

What does this mean to you?

It means there will be a cover. And you probably will have never heard of the DJ playing. Expect that. Don't bitch. Pay the cover. Be nice to the door person. Because, hey, that's no big deal. It's nice to experience new things, isn't it? If you want to check out "alternative" clubbing in Beijing, Dada is definitely on your list. It's widely regarded, and probably rightly so, as the best club in that genre in Beijing. Credit where it's due; it's a good club.

ADD: 206 Gulou Dong Dajie, Dongcheng district. Same building as Dada bar. 东城区鼓楼东大街206号


Migas: It's like Bar Rouge but with fewer dickheads.

Nah, I'll start over. Far be it from me to say that Bar Rouge is a hangout for total dickheads.

Migas... hmmm, it's that European touch in clubbing that appeals to a mixed older crowd, shaking it for dollars to disco, house, and some of that good old fashioned soul music. Besides the usually pretty stellar music booking -- they get a lot of legacy house and techno guys in to play -- Migas is known for it's massive open-air rooftop deck, which is basically The Place to Be for the summer months. Migas sort of blurs the lines in clubbing genres, with basically everyone turning up to it at some point for a party under that beautiful Beijing sky. Migas has long been the top dog in Beijing clubbing for years now, which is a testament to the talent behind the scenes in providing an atmosphere that appeals to so many different types of people but is still forward-thinking enough to stay relevant in ever-changing times.

Pro tip: The restaurant is really good as well.

ADD: 100m north of the Workers' Stadium west gate, (in the basement behind Xuxianlou Restaurant) Chaoyang district. 工体西门向北100米(许仙楼餐厅后侧地下)


The spotty history of Beijing alternative underground clubbing is basically the spotty history of this one club called Lantern. Lantern is the home base for legacy Beijing DJs -- some of them with careers stretching back to the late '80s and early '90s -- and invariably features a well-worn cast of mainly local Beijingers on the decks kicking out their individual styles in music. Said individual styles usually are rooted in proper house and techno, but spin out into the sub-genres of those two. Tech house, minimal, jacking, deep house -- lots of that sort of thing going on in Lantern. It's a bigger club space than most, with a couple of bars, a decent dance floor space, and two rooms of electronic music going until the sun comes up. Vibes are a mixed crowd with the Beijing hardcore sharing a floor with Euro expat lifers.

If Dada represents the evolution of Beijing dance culture and Migas represents the foreigner perspective and European influence, Lantern embodies this true Beijing spirit for music that weathers adversity on all sides but never gets fully stamped out. Now watch it get shut down or go out of business and I'll seem kinda dumb for saying that.

Lantern are also behind the INTRO Festival, which is a large-scale electronic music festival held in Beijing every summer. (Basically.)

ADD: 100m north of the Workers' Stadium west gate. 工体西门向北100米

Dance Also:

There's a few more clubs that might be worth your time. Siif in Gulou is a dive club that's been around forever. They host the odd drum 'n' bass night. REC Room is a newer club on Sanlitun bar street, with a music-first policy, and the ever popular Modernista rules many a Beijing heart for their nostalgic-minded presentation of a classic cabaret in the hutongs.


Chapter VI: Daytime Tripping

Sometimes some people wanna do something during the day. Hey, I can dig that. Here's some suggestions...

A Stroll Around Dashilar

Located southwest of Tiananmen Square near Qianmen Gate, Dashilar is a unique little pedestrian street, home to lots of art/design studios, cafes, shops, and, of course, that classic Beijing architecture. Unlike Nanluoguxiang, it hasn't quite been overrun by tourists just yet, and thus presents the best possible face of Beijing daily hutong life, as it's been passed down, of course, throughout the centuries. (And then renovated upon. And then a bunch of art galleries moved in. And then a fair trade coffee shop opened up next door. And then a bunch of design firms moved in and priced the original inhabitants out. And then the circle of life gloriously continued.)

It's worth the trip any time but the area is also host to the annual Beijing Design Week, which occurs around September every year.

Check Out the Art at 798

Okay, this one's not really off the beaten trail too much, but what can I say, I'm not very good at daytime activities. 798 -- AKA Cheeee-Jooeee-Baaaaah to your cab driver -- is where all the main art galleries in Beijing are clustered. Beijing art. It happens. It's out there. Get into it. One of the main galleries out there is UCCA -- they do some pretty intense, large-scale shows in their massive warehouse space. You should check that one out.

Coffee Time in Gulou and Wudaoying

A lot of this piece features Gulou-based stuff, which, of course, will probably attract some criticism. Dunno, man, it's where I live. I like a lot of the stuff here. In comparison to Shanghai, living in Beijing seems to be more tied to the specific neighborhood you find yourself in, and you end up going to just whatever happens to be closest to your house. Maybe there's less mobility.

That said, Gulou is a great little neighborhood to stroll around in, especially if you like window shopping random crap, impulse purchases, and quirky little cafes. Gulou Dong Dajie is where all the "street wear" and vape shops are. Maybe it's Beijing's version of that area around Xiangyang Lu and Xinle Lu but with more of a BJ edge. (Read: More clothes with skulls on them.) There's a few nice cafes on that road if you want to kill some time in the afternoon. Look up Cafe Zarah and / or Alba Cafe. Your guidebook will tell you that Nanluoguxiang is a nice pedestrian street to check out. Don't. Well, you can if you want, but a nicer one is Wudaoying Hutong, which is a street full of cafes, bars, shops, and boutiques.


Chapter VII: Offbeat Adventures

Here's some wacky things to do in Beijing that you can only do in Beijing.

The Beijing Watermelon Museum

Yes, it's exactly what you think it is. A watermelon museum. A museum for watermelons.

Hey. Don’t laugh. Don’t take something beautiful and tear it down. China produces more watermelons than any other country on earth. It makes sense to commemorate that achievement here.

What to expect... um, only the most informative and edifying afternoon of your life, learning about how watermellons have been at the crossroads of history since the dawn of time. Get schooled.

ADD: To get to the Watermelon Museum, take subway line 4 south to Tian Gong (天宫), and take the southwest exit. Catch southbound bus 28, 30 or 55 (about 3 stops) and get off at Panggezhuangqiao (庞各庄桥). The museum is on the northeast corner of the Panggezhuangqiao intersection.

Knights and Merchants

Knights & Merchants is one room jammed packed with... oh, let's say about 5 centuries of radness from humanity's glorious tradition of armed conflict. It's a bunch of swords and helmets and armor and gauntlets and crowns and jewelry and chainmail and spears and maces and crossbows and halberds and shields and leather, leather, oh my god the leather from from the likes of Ancient Rome, Arthurian England, Conquistador Spain, the Crusades, the Mongolian hordes, and whatever from wherever and whenever else. And there's a big table in the center of it all.

And they serve beer and wine.

Oh yes.

And they let you try the stuff on. Oh yes.

ADD: Knights & Merchants is at 34 Jiaodaokou Bei San Tiao, in Gulou, right next to BLAKK record shop.

Burbex: Your Guide to B&E Beijing

Of course, SmartShanghai doesn't condone or endorse illegal activities like, say... breaking into abandoned buildings for awesome fun times, so we'll just drop this link right here -- -- and send you on your merry, law-abiding way.

Land of Milk and Honey: Shunjing Hotsprings

Shunjing Hotsprings is a lux indoor rainforest-themed swimming center in Beijing’s northeast quadrant, just across 4th Ring Road from IKEA. The self-styled “world’s biggest indoor hotsprings” is a co-ed, no-nudity, bathing-suits-on experience, and as such serves as a mecca for anyone who’s questing in search of Chinese bathhouse weirdness on a grand and noble scale, but doesn’t want strangers to see their genitals.

The spa is open 24 hours a day, and you buy in with a ticket good for a 24-hour stay. During the peak summer months tickets are 330rmb for a no-reservation pass and 239rmb in advance on Dianping. You’ll receive a text message from Dianping confirming your tuangou purchase: show that to the front desk on arrival, and also to the cashier as you leave. If your phone runs out of batteries, you’ll have to pay full price, so make sure your mobile situation is set and bring your charger.

The buffet, which included in your ticket price is open 11:30am to 2pm and 5:30pm to 7:30pm. Yes, buffet.

ADD: Shunjing Hotsprings is at 2 North Fourth Ring Road East, Chaoyang district, right near the IKEA.


Chapter VIII: Literature, Comedy, Stage

The Bookworm

The seat of all thing literary in Beijing is The Bookworm, which is a bookstore, cafe, restaurant, and lounge that doubles as a cultural events salon for book discussions, writer groups, movie screenings, social issues talks, and chamber and classical music events. Should your tastes veer towards the intellectual and / or aesthetic, The Bookworm is pretty much your main location in town, with a full schedule of diverse culture events. You can stay on top of what's on via their webpage right here.

The Bookworm also hosts a yearly International Literary Festival, which this year, is happening from March 11 to March 27. All the info on that is right here.

ADD: The Bookworm is at Courtyard 4, off Sanlitun Nan Lu. 朝阳区三里屯南路4号

Poetry Night at Mado

The last Thursday of every month, laid-back hutong pub Mado hosts a poetry night featuring readers culled from the Beijing community. If you're looking for inroads into the indigenous and expat writing community in Beijing, that's a good one to try to check out. On that front, here's two Beijing-based online culture magazines that also featuring locally created craft: and

ADD: Mado is at 60 Baochao Hutong in Gulou. 东城区宝钞胡同60号

China Comedy Club

Much like Shanghai, a recent-ish diversion for the city's expats is the art of stand up comedy, which is basically your co-worker, your roommate, or that guy you met in that bar that one time getting up on stage and attempting to make a room full of tipsy people laugh a bit. Happy to report that they're mostly successful at it. So, yeah, Shanghai has Kung Fu Komedy among others, and Beijing has the "China Comedy Club", who organize open mic events and larger showcase shows in bars around town. If you're interested in catching some comedy in Beijing, check out what CCC is up to on their Facebook page right here. Shows tend to happen every few weeks or so, with a weekly open mic night on every Wednesday at Hot Cat Club.

Jam Nights

Beijing is a city full of musicians and thus her bars get transformed into jam spaces on the regular, with international casts of turn-up musicians kicking it out improv style. If you're interested in getting up on stage, meeting new musicians, and rocking scales back and forth for a few hours, Beijing can accommodate. Expect rocky, jazzy, reggae, bluesy sorts of vibes and traditional guitar-drums-keys set ups. As of this writing, here's three to recommend: Thursday night at 4corners; Sunday night at Hot Cat Club; and Sunday night at Temple. All three get underway at 10-10.30ish.


Chapter IX: Hotels That Check Out

Myself or someone I know has stayed at each of these places and had no complaints. Here they are, priced from cheapest to most expensive. Click on the hotel title to get to their TripAdvisor pages.

Hanting Express (Gulou)

Traditional View Hotel (Gulou)

The Orchid (Gulou)

The Opposite House (Sanlitun)


Portions of this article were sourced from's archived material, including material from freelancers. Much thanks as always, y'all.