A one hour walking tour through the well-trodden streets around Lama Temple that reveals surprising histories and the best street food this side of the Qing Dynasty.
1 Cangjingguan Hutong
Start at the intersection of Andingmen Xi Jie (north Second Ring Road) and Cangjingguan Hutong (100m east of Yonghegong Lama Temple station’s Exit C). Head down Cangjingguan, which means 'Tibetan museum', and you can soak up the sights, smells and sounds of traditional street food vendors. Sample a bowl of douhua from Hong Yan Restaurant on your left. Here the soft bean curd is served as a breakfast dish with vinegar, finely chopped spring onions and herbs and a morning kicker of spicy chilli oil. Once you’re fed, follow the hutong as it bends round to the left. On the lower half of the wall, you’ll see a bright blue mural painted with cartoon pictures. Above the wall are a number of air conditioning units. How many?
Take the first right and continue down Cangjingguan Hutong. Keep walking straight past the Superman-themed Guangdong canteen on your right. When you get to the end of the street, turn left onto Xilou Hutong. In front of you you’ll see the Bailin Temple, a Tibetan Buddhist temple dating from the 14th century (well before its more famous neighbour, the Lama Temple
). The temple was built in Dadu, the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, in what is now central Beijing. On your left you’ll see an abandoned-looking restaurant flanked by dozens of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags. The Bailin Temple isn’t generally open to the public, but what museum is housed within its walls?
3 Qixunbazhao restaurant
Turn back on yourself and walk down Xilou Hutong, past Cangjingguan Hutong on your right. After the Cangjingguan turning, you’ll pass a traditional Beijing hutong restaurant on your right called Qixunbazhao, guarded by a cacophony of caged birds hanging in the tree across the road. This restaurant serves old-school Beijing fare in a cosy wood-panelled setting. How many framed pictures are hanging on the brick wall on the right of the entrance foyer?
4 Lama Temple
When you step out of Qixunbazhao, turn right and continue down Xilou Hutong. About 100m later you’ll be confronted by the east gate of the Lama Temple. Towering above the big red eastern wall, how many rooftops can you see atop the eastern gate? Construction on this majestic structure began in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty, when it was originally used as an official residence for court eunuchs. It wasn’t until 1722 that it was converted into a lamasery for Buddhist monks, and it is now the largest Tibetan temple outside of Tibet. Today it is both a popular tourist attraction and a functioning place of worship. If you have the time and 25RMB to enter, be sure to check out the giant sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha, which is a stunning 26m tall and bling-tastically gold.
5 Qianyongkang Hutong and Beixin Hutong
Once you’ve marvelled the gleaming glory of the Lama Temple, follow Xilou Hutong to your left as it turns into Yonghegong Jie and bends right, and takes you out onto Yonghegong Dajie. Turn left and walk down past the numerous temple souvenir shops, and take the second left onto Beixinqiaosantiao. This is one of the hutongs that is being redeveloped to restore the former facades and remove visible shopfronts. One convenience store on your left in the first stretch of the road has escaped demolition, though. What colour is its bright shop front, which stands out from the grey brick of the rest of the street? Next, take the first left onto Qianyongkang Hutong, although there’s no street sign as far as we can tell. Squeeze down this path and turn left at the end, following the hutong as it bends to the right and joins Beixin Hutong. The bend in the road is a classic example of the hutong redevelopment that was happening at the time of writing, all clean bricks and piles of rubble as old structures are knocked down. The graffiti on the bend in the wall probably wasn’t what local authorities had in mind, but it does add a touch of personality to these increasingly sterile alleyways.
6 Fangjia Hutong
When you hit Beixin Hutong, turn left and follow as it takes you back onto Yonghegong Dajie. Turn left and walk south for less than 100m. On the opposite side of the road, in between Fangjia Hutong and Jiaodaokou Bei Santiao is one of the best jianbing
stalls in the area (just south of the Oneness Café on the corner of Fangjia). Once you’ve chowed that down head north to Fangjia Hutong, which is the first road on your left. Fangjia Hutong is home to Dongcheng bar and restaurant staples such as El Nido
, Cellar Door
, as well as some crackin’ art and culture. Wander down the hutong for a few hundred metres and on your left you’ll see an opening in the road that leads into a modern courtyard, which hosts a theatre, a fashion boutique, and the back entrance of the Peiping Machine Brewing Taproom
, to name a few of the bustling venues on offer. But what is the number of this concrete melting pot?
7 Confucius Temple
Turn around and head back out of the courtyard. Turn left and then take the first right onto Gongyi Xiang. This will bring you out onto Guozijian Jie, with the big bad Confucius Temple
on your right. Built in 1302, it’s China’s second biggest Confucian temple, after the one in the great master’s hometown of Qufu. It’s 30RMB to go inside and have a look at the four picturesque courtyards, including the famous stone carving of two flying dragons playing in the clouds. The dragon is a symbol usually reserved for emperors, so this is a chance to see a rare instance of the everyman making it big (but we hear Confucius wasn’t exactly your average Joe). Directly opposite you when you come out of Gongyi Xiang is Jianchang Hutong. What animal can you see flying through the sky on the mural on the wall of the first shop on Jianchang Hutong?
UnTour Food Tours
Many thanks to the omniscient Garth Wilson from UnTour Food Tours
who took us on a culinary and historical tour of the area. If you want your own trivia-packed street food tour (and believe us, you do), check out their website.