Friday, October 28, 2005

My WSJ story

Several people wrote in saying they tried but failed to read the column thanks to the WSJ subscriber-only policy. It's been a few days so I think it's kosher to post it. Here goes.

Beijing-based journalist, Alan Paul, on his favorite way to sightsee in the Chinese capitol: from the seat of a bicycle.

How to start: Even as traffic grows steadily, bikes remain a great way to see Beijing. You can rent one from a stand near Houhai Lake, a beautiful, rapidly gentrifying area north of the Forbidden City. Make sure you get a lock and the bike works properly, then pedal around Houhai and adjoining Qianhai Lake before heading into the nearby hutongs (old style courtyard houses). You will have a much better experience with a guide who knows how to maneuver through the crowds: Jack Zhao (jackzzw@)sohu.com) and Justin Wang (justin_chinatours@hotmail .com) both offer tours.

Where to ride: Head east to the Drum Tower, a 600-year-old bastion that is a helpful landmark and is also worth a visit. Then bike north to the Confucius and Lama Temples, two of Beijing grandest sites, where you’ll have to park and explore on foot. Remember to use that lock. Get back on your bike and head south to the Forbidden City. Circling the perimeter alongside the moat will help you grasp the complex’s immense size, and remember to look up at the corners, where the most spectacular buildings reside. Back near Houhai, take a break at the relaxing, unjustly obscure museum, “the former home of Soong Ching-ling,” which includes beautiful, serene gardens.


Where to eat: It’s hard to go wrong on the restaurant-lined “Ghost Street” several blocks east of the Bell Tower. Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, in particular, will fill you up for the afternoon ride. (Tel. 6316-6668) The lakes are also surrounded by bars and restaurants, including Han Cang, a mellow spot specializing in minority Hakka cuisine on the South East side of Lotus Lane. Try the chrysanthemum tea. (Tel. 6404-2259) If you want to go local, stop at a hutong stall for a bowl of fresh-made noodles that cost less than a dollar.

Bike Excursions: You can get into the country surprisingly fast but you will need transportation for you and your bike. Contact Cycle China (www.cyclechina.com), which offers both day trips and longer journeys and will provide bikes, helmets, guides and rides to and from the countryside. You can head West to visit the 500-year-old Ming Village, an old Silk Road outpost, and bike through gorgeous gorges. Alternately, you can head just 90 minutes northeast, where the Great Wall snakes through beautifully jagged mountains. You can ride in the shadows of The Yellow Flower section of the Wall, stopping as often as you like to scamper up the truly amazing landmark. Ask in advance for a farmhouse lunch stop to be arranged.