Couched amongst hundreds of small tea shops is Maliandao Tea Market (also known as Maliandao Tea City), the largest such market in northern China. Those expecting a traditional scene – sage men with wispy beards selling hand-picked tea leaves in bamboo baskets along a bucolic street – are in for a disappointment. In reality, the market is a sprawling, modern indoor behemoth with myriad traders neatly compartmentalised over three whopping great floors.
Nevertheless, the huge range and competitive prices make it the best place to pick up some of China’s finest brews. With teas from across the country – mostly Oolong (oxidized tea), Pu’er (fermented dark leaves from China’s south-western Yunnan province), and various types of green and flower teas – the scale can be quite daunting. Take a deep breath and dive in – most vendors are happy to let you sample their produce and take you through a traditional Chinese tea ceremony without then trying to aggressively fleece you of your last yuan
after the fact.
Prices depend on the tea’s quality, reputation, the current season (prices are highest in spring when the tea is freshly picked) and your bargaining ability. A lot of vendors don’t speak great English – a little Chinese goes a long way (and much improves your bargaining position) here. You can pay anything from 20RMB for a 50 gramme bag of medium-grade tea for a few cuppas up to thousands for the highest grade produce, if that's more your cup of tea.
Your next destination:
Take a taxi to the Gongzhufen subway stop (approx 15 mins). Take the Line 1 east to Yonganli Station. Walk for 5 minutes along Dongdaqiao Lu to the market.
Silk Street Market is something of a misnomer. Not only is it a huge indoor complex, rather than a street, it’s alarmingly easy to navigate its six floors and miss its biggest pull – the fine quality silk garments, which are mostly on the third floor. Much of the rest of the market is taken up with counterfeit clothes, traditional objet d’art; and much else besides.
The standard varies between vendors but, on the whole, the quality and price can’t be beaten in Beijing. Browse the inordinately large selection of silk scarves (from 50RMB if your bargaining chops are well-practiced) or pick up a traditional, handmade fan; parasol or a qipao
(the traditional, body-hugging Chinese one-piece dress). Several tailors offer a 24-hour turnaround on dresses and suits and all vendors speak English – some speak many more.
Make out like an exquisitely tailored bandit then head up to the fourth floor to accessorize. The whole floor is full of stores selling fresh and saltwater pearls, jade and other precious gems. We recommend the bizarrely named stall ‘David Pearl’ for great prices and quality service – check out their high-quality single-strand pearl necklaces and multi-strand pearl bracelets made to order. The real pull here is the exquisite silks and pearls – the neighbours back home never need know you got your high-end wares as such an inelegant location. We won’t tell if you don’t.
Your next destination:
Take a taxi (approx 15 mins) or walk back to Yonganli Subway Station. Go one stop east on Line 1 to Guomao then change to Line 10 and travel three stops north to Tuanjiehu Station. Walk 10 minutes west along Gongti Bei Lu – Yashow will be on your right.
If China is the ‘factory of the world’ then Yashow market is its outlet store: theses seven floors are packed to the rafters with counterfeit clothing and electronics, pirated DVDs, traditional Chinese crafts; pretty much anything you can conceive of – and, of course, the obligatory ‘I heart BJ’ T-shirts.
Located in the Sanlitun, one of the city’s original nightlife hubs and still home to the highest concentration of western restaurants and bars in Beijing, Yashow is very much aimed at tourists. As such, prices usually start out about four times higher than the bottom line; peddlers can be quite aggressive at times – and may even grab hold of you as you start to walk away. But enter with conviction and a thick skin and you’ll come out with bargains galore. There are even ATMs and a couple of currency exchanges inside if you burn through all of your yuan.
Despite some of the less-than-salubrious vendors and occasionally shoddy merchandise, Yahow is also home to some surprisingly top-notch tailors. Our pick is Wendy’s Tailors (on the third floor, turn right from the escalator). Prices are negotiable but even the most timid of bargainers should be able to get a bespoke two-piece wool suit and a couple of fitted shirts for just over a thousand renminbi. It’s not Savile Row but on a cost-to-quality ratio it’s tough to beat.
Prepare for the chorus of ‘hey handsome man/beautiful girl, you wanna buy…?’ to be ringing in your ears for weeks afterwards. Best followed up with a cold shower or a cold beer at one of Sanlitun’s many bars nearby.
Your next destination: Sanlitun’s bars and restaurants are right behind you as you exit the market. To go to the Gulou area, best take a taxi (approx 15 mins).
It's time to party – Beijing style
Beijing’s nightlife gets better every year – regularly playing host to the world’s best DJs as well as fostering its own burgeoning electronic music scene – there are bars and clubs to suit every taste and budget. Follow one of our brief party programmes below or check out the Nightlife section for more on this month’s biggest events Choose to stay in the pulsating pathos of Sanlitun or head west to the more alternative, relaxed scene in the Gulou area; a well-known hipster haunt.
Start your night in style with a perfectly concocted cocktail (mostly 70-80RMB) from candlelit, prohibition-era-loving speakeasy Janes and Hooch
and get ready to party like it’s 1929.
Feeling less flush or in the mood for something less affected? Nearby boozer Brussels Restaurant & Bar
is a favourite for its range of imported and local craft beers on tap as well as some scrumptious pub grub. Head over to popular bar strip Sanlitun Bei Lu to perennially popular, convivial bar First Floor (1F)
. Be sure to keep your head down and walk straight past the strip of odious ‘girl bars’ – on your right hand side on Sanlitun Lu – and ignore the hawkers on the street with their incessant ‘hello, sir, you like? Lady bar?’ Get a beer (from 20RMB) and a seat on First Floor’s patio and watch the thronging masses stream by along the street; a central artery in the heart of the city’s nightlife scene.
Finally, head upstairs to the Migas
terrace for premium cocktails and a well-chosen blend of mostly house music and nu-disco. Sip on a fabulous ginger mojito (55RMB) and watch the posers do their thing or fix your gaze further afar; at China’s capital city lit up around you.
Start at Great Leap Brewery
– the original hutong location of Beijing’s first foreign-owned micro-brewery. Be warned: it requires a ‘great leap’ of faith to find this place amongst the windy hutongs – best take a map.
Still, its courtyard terrace is the perfect spot for a summer sup from their ever-changing menu of delectable small-batch brews (around 25-50RMB). Next head to the Drum and Bell Bar
; a rooftop terrace between the imposing, iconic Drum and Bell towers – Beijing’s timekeepers for hundreds of years – and admire these mighty, centuries-old structures. Watching the area’s elderly residents ballroom dancing at dusk over a beer (Tsingdao 20RMB) in the public quad below is an absolute joy – a humble slice of ‘real Beijing’.
Next up is Temple Bar
a vibrant live-music venue with – yep, you guessed it – yet another breathtaking terrace. Line-ups and schedules change – the stage plays host to everything from hip-hop to post-rock – but the electrifying atmosphere and music-loving, energetic crowd always remains the same. End the night at Dada
; the club at the forefront of Beijing’s underground electronic music scene.
Just downstairs from Temple Bar, the club’s stripped down, interior; so-hip-it-hurts regulars and cutting edge Intelligent Dance Music – think bass music, credible dub-step, trip-hop, d ’n’ b, psytrance; you name it – is the place to dance the night away to alt-sounds.