Hutong Life – Getting Around

Staying in a hutong means becoming part of the neighborhood: you and other tourists are far outnumbered by the residents. The locals may gaze at you sideways with curiosity, but will otherwise fold you into their everyday life.


Taxis are possible, but not practical – they put you on the street with all of the other traffic, and they isolate you from the entire experience. Wear comfortable shoes and travel light: the sidewalks are (mostly) wide and clean, and the subway is easy to navigate. Besides, who wants to spend most of their vacation trapped in a taxi?

Riding the subway is efficient and inexpensive, and there is probably a subway stop within several blocks of anywhere you want to go. All signage is in both Chinese and English, and the lines are numbered and color-coded. If you look lost, it’s quite likely that a fellow local subway rider will stop and offer assistance. I dropped a sweater while transiting a station, and someone chased after me to return it.

To make subway travel even more efficient, check in at the kiosk once you enter the station to purchase a travel card. The ticket agent may not speak much English, but a few words, gestures, and a calculator to display numbers for the transaction, will get the job done. The card has a $20 deposit fee, refunded when you return the card to the kiosk. The fare is variable, depending on the length of your ride, but additional funds can be added at machines, which also have an English option.

IMG_1069Despite the traffic, human power drives part of Beijing. Bicycles are everywhere, and these rental yellow bikes are ubiquitous throughout the city. But, we were never in enough of a hurry to abandon the sidewalk for the perils of the bike lane. And, yes, these types of brooms are equally ubiquitous, with humans keeping the sidewalks clean.



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