I’m pretty sure hutong are magic.
Tired and cranky, I was wandering with a traveling group through Beijing when we stumbled into a hutong on our way to Houhai Lake. As soon as we entered the narrow streets of the Di’anmen Hutong just north of Jingshan Park, a cloud seemed to lift and my mood improved, as if someone had cast a spell on me.
Hutongs are traditional housing neighborhoods most commonly associated with Beijing. Unfortunately, with all the development throughout urban China, most hutong have already been leveled at this time, leaving only a fraction of these cultural landmarks. On the bright side, these historic buildings are open to the public, a beautiful contrast to huge monuments like the Forbidden City. More on Beijing's amazing traditional neighborhoods after the jump....
Hutong are built around a common courtyard, one of their defining features. The neighborhood courtyards were an important part of Beijing life from their birth during the Yuan dynasty, beginning around 1279. A number of the few remaining hutong are being preserved by the government to ensure that this heritage lives on.
The hutong were one of the best parts of my trip to Beijing. The old regional architecture was new to my eyes and very welcome after the grandeur of places like the Forbidden City. Just walking through the hutong gave me a sense of calm. No one was demanding that I buy a Mao watch or panda hat. I could simply walk and see life going on inside these little beehives of neighborhoods.
And thus a moody and unhappy afternoon brightened. The hutong, working their magic in between crowded tourist sites, proved to be just the beginning of a wonderful stay in Beijing.
Kaela is one of four NYU in Shanghai students contributing to the China Travel Blog as part of an internship at Ctrip, China's leading online services provider. Read more about Kaela on the Ctrip company blog and visit us again for more about Kaela's adventures traveling China!