In April I spent five days in Beijing with my wife, my two grown-up sons and daughter-in-law. I have been to Beijing several times before but this is the first for the rest of the family. We chose to stay at the Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel because I had stayed at the big multi-storey hotels on my previous trips and I wanted to experience Beijing differently. It would be different in any case because my daughter-in-law is vegetarian (so I would eat differently, at least some of the time), and my younger son is on a backpacking trip around the world (so we would/should always take public transport).
The Double Happiness gave us a very good experience of Beijing. It consists of low two-storey buildings constructed in the traditional way around one or two courtyards, in a compound enclosed by walls. It is situated in a hutong which is a neighbourhood of such compounds separated by narrow streets. The hotel rooms are modernised with ensuite bathrooms and air-conditioning, television, computer and free wi-fi. The decor and furniture are in the traditional Chinese style. A speaking mynah bird at the entrance, and goldfish in the courtyard, provide diversions from the pre-electronic age! The rooms are clean, quiet and comfortable especially the bed. One can relax in chairs, of the static and swinging variety, laid out in the shade of trees in the courtyard. The photos in the website give an accurate representation of the hotel.
There were too many restaurants to try in Beijing, including several only 5 mins walk from the hotel, so we ate only breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Free breakfast offered Chinese and occidental choices. Both were good without being exceptional. On the west end of Dongsi Sitiao (East 4 4th Lane, outside the hotel) is Taste, the highly ranked Yunnan restaurant in TripAdvisor. We visited it twice. The food was delicious but hot. At the other end of the lane we ate also twice in a neighbourhood restaurant. It served Beijing dishes that are not found in fancy restaurants, and had a menu in Chinese only. I read Chinese but speak only Cantonese. My family could do neither. We had to make a second visit to correct our mistake of ordering too much the first time, and to try the 'pulled' noodles that we missed by arriving too late. Most restaurants close at around 10pm, and in our case the noodle chef left although customers continued to eat and drink till midnight. Food, including beer, came to 10 yuan or 1 euro per person!
We took the metro everywhere, including the Summer Palace on the edge of Beijing. There is a fixed fare of 2 yuan for all journeys. Directions and names of stops are written and announced in Chinese and English. It is hard to get lost. The nearest stop is 10 minutes walk from the hotel and Tiananmen Square is 10 minutes/ 3 stops away. One walks though a local as opposed to a touristic neighbourhood to the stop. It can be a little chaotic when cars were passing through the narrow E4 4th Lane but the shops offer shoes and cloths at wonderful prices. Street merchants sell fruit and vegetables, chicks and ducklings. For the Great Wall at Mutianyu, we hired a minibus with a driver from 9am to 4pm for a modest cost of 900 yuan. My younger son acceded to this 'unbackpacking' extravagance by insisting on walking the entire permissible length of the Wall at Mutianyu. Effectively you walk this length twice, because the starting and end points are between the farthest permissible points. Believe me, this is very hard work for a 65 year-old!
One visit we made that is not often mentioned in guide books and in TripAdvisor itself, is the National Museum of History on Tiananmen Square. We had time only for the Ancient History section covering the start of civilisation to 1911. (I am leaving the other section for a future trip.) Going through the rooms at a brisk pace you can take in more than 5000 years of Chinese civilisation in about 3 hours. The panels are in Chinese and English, the latter at a standard that would be expected in a world-class museum. The exhibits are magnificent, and the building itself monumental. Do not take my word for it (which is in any case adequate) but see it for yourself.
I leave till last the beautiful ladies, helpful beyond words, who 'man' the front desk of the hotel. They always greeted us with a smile, answered all our queries, and made many practical suggestions, in perfect English. They helped us book all our trips including the journey to the airport. My wife left a scarf in the hotel and did not realise it till a month later. Yet on sending an email, it was found, and is now on its way back to its owner.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Living in the real heart of the city, you have the chance to witness the daily life of Chinese people. Living in the courtyard house with over 500 year's history, you are closer to those ancient Chinese stories. Our hotel is suitable for culture explorers & mind-peace seeker. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Courtyard Beijing