Beijing Travel Itinerary, Day 2 - Central Business District, The Forbidden City and the Lake District
Have breakfast Beijing-style by heading to a baozi (steamed bun) joint. You'll find them all over the city. Spot them by the tower of bamboo baskets stacked at the front of the shop. Dip your baozi — usually packed with minced pork and leek, vegetarians can opt for egg and leek — in saucers of vinegar and wash it all down with hot or cold doujiang (sweet soy milk). Grab a cab and head to Panjiayuan antique market in the southeast of the city, because you should never leave souvenir shopping to the last day. This open-air bazaar has thousands of stall owners selling everything from fine antiques to junk. You can buy Tibetan carpets, Qing dynasty furniture, bird cages, paintings, hand-woven embroidery, stones and gems, old Chinese magazines, and Cultural Revolution kitsch.
It's a short cab ride north to the central business district, where Beijing's reinvention is at its most intense. The main skyscrapers to check out are the China World Trade Center Tower 3, Beijing's tallest at 74 floors and 330m; the three-pronged Beijing Yintai Center, a tad shorter at 250m, ascend the middle tower which has a Chinese-lantern inspired viewing platform, and the now famously peculiar China Central Television Tower (CCTV Tower), a twisted Z-shaped creation by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
|Detail at the Forbidden City
It's time for lunch, and luckily the central business district is packed with great restaurants. Try the basement food court in The Place, a funky shopping mall two blocks west from the CCTV Tower which has mid-range Macanese, Singaporean, Indian and Chinese restaurants. Alternatively, ROOMBeijing, in Yintai Center itself, is a glamorous funky fusion eatery flanked by luxury brand shops. Its prices, though, are affordable and give you a good feel of what 21st-century capitalist China is all about.
To sate any remaining shopping urges, the infamous Silk Market, just south of The Place, is a multi-level mall packed with counterfeit clothing, jewelry and bags as well as tourist tack.
If the weather's good, head west to the lake district: three interconnected lakes — Qianhai (front lake), Houhai (back lake) and Xihai (west lake) — sandwiched between the Forbidden City and the Drum and Bell Towers. The lakes are lined with bars and restaurants, and there's even a Starbucks at the south-western edge. The lake froths with paddle boats — some shaped like battle ships — in the summer, while in winter it is packed with excited skaters. Overdevelopment may have soured Qianhai's atmosphere, but the upper lakes and the web of surrounding hutong are magic. They're best explored by foot, but you can also hire a bicycle or take a rickshaw tour. Qing dynasty princes and senior Communist officials kept their fancy homes in the neighborhood; several including The Palace of Prince Gong (the brother of an emperor) and the former villa of Song Qingling (the wife of Sun Yat-sen) are open to tourists. Try to get to the Drum Tower before 4 p.m. to see local performers hammer out a beat in the top of the tower.
There are some fine restaurants around the lake. Ken de Rouge (22 Houhai West Lake Bank) is fine Chinese dining on a serene patch of the lake away from the crowds. Alternatively, over by the drum tower Luce (138 Jiu Gulou St.) is a romantic Italian courtyard nook. After dinner head to Jiangjinjiu Bar, between the two towers, a gutsy ethnic music bar that shivers with Mongolian and Xinjiang folk bands.