Shichahai is often referred as “Houhai”, or “Back Lake” by foreign visitors who kill time in its bar area in the evening. Actually Houhai (back lake) is just part of Shichahai. Shichahai is composed of three lakes – Qianhai (front lake), Houhai (back lake) and Xihai (west lake). Sometime local people also use “Houhai” to refer to Shichahai.
Shichahai literally means “Ten Temple Lake”, indicating there used to be ten temples around Shichahai. Today some of the temples are still there, including Guangji Temple, Huitong Temple, Huoshen Temple, Guangfu Guan ( a taoist temple )…
If you are fed up with the gentrification in Beijing; if you lose interest in modern Beijing; if you feel sad about the fact that Beijing is becoming less like Beijing;
if you want to sea a traditional Beijing; if you try to find a quiet place in the busy Beijing, come to Shichahai!
Tip # 1: Your Beijing trip imcomplete without visiting Shichahai
1) Long history – older than the original construction of Beijing City
The form of Shichahai Lake dates back to over 800 years ago, a little older than the urban building started here during Yuan Dynasty ( 1279-1368). It was once a part of the old Grand Canal of the Yuan Dynasty 700 years ago.
2) A paradise of common people in Beijing tours
It is a paradise for the local people – Ice skating in winter; enjoy flower and willow trees in spring; Boating in summer and enjoy lotus in autumn; drinking, eating and shopping all year around.
3) Religious Culture
Attracted by its beautiful scenery and charming environment, many temples in Beijing were built around Shichahai. Today you still can find some of the temples there making you remember the old days.
4) Celebrity Culture
For the same reason, many celebrities and public figures, inluding former royal family members, chose Shichahai as their temporary or permanent living place such as Prince Gong’ Mansion, Prince Chun’s Palace, the former residence of Song Ching-ling (Ms. Sun Yat-sen), the residence of Guo Moruo…
5) Hutong Culture
The featuring urban construction of Hutong system was laid out during Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Today you still can find many local people still live in these alley courtyards (Siheyuan) gradually formed about 800 years ago.
6) Ancient Timepiece
Bell and Drum Tower near Shichahai used to announce the time and is now a tourist attraction.
7) Bar Culture
Here West meets East. As a fastest-growing spot for late-night drinking, Shichahai is crowed by a few fashionable bars. Several dance clubs are in the works, but for now this remains the finest place in the city for a quiet drink.
Tip # 2: Top things to do around Shichahai
1) Up Beijing Bell and Drum Tower having bird’s eye view of the surrounding communities of hutongs and siheyuan – existing traditional Beijing.
2) Walk along Yandai Xiejie ( Tobacco Pipe Lean Street ), a quaint 800-year-old hutong located directly north of Yinding Bridge and the south of the Drum Tower. It used to be well-known for selling long-stemmed pipes, hence the name.
3) Standing on the Silver Ingot Bridge ( Yinding Bridge ), a narrow bridge linking Qianhai Lake and Houhai Lake, the hub of Shichhai area with surrounding hutongs, bars and restaurants.
4) Explore some typical hutongs in the Shichahai area such as Da Jinsi Hutong Tao, the most famous hutongs keeping the original layout of Hutong Area.
5) Take a boat cruising on the Shichahai Lake in Qianhai and Houhai of Shichahai. Rent a boat and paddle your way around the lake area to enjoy the sunset on the water.
6) Mix with an ordinary couryard family for a home visit.
7) Exlore the Prince Gong’ Mansion. It was once the private residence of He Shen, a favorite minister of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was first built in 1777. In 1851, the mansion was given to Prince Gong by Emperor Xianfeng (1851-1862), hence the name. Now it is one of the most well preserved mansions in Beijing.
8) Talk with Mr.Dacheng Bai, a local folk craftsman, famous for making “Zongren Bai“, a traditional “Zongren”, a kind the figurines of drama characters made of the hair of a pig or a horse, cloth and silk, listed a city-level intangible cultural heritage in Beijing.
9) See the former residence of Mr.Mei Lanfang (1894 – 1961), the internaltionally fanoue Beijing Opera master, founder of one of the three greatest acting methods created by Shakespeare Stanislavsky and Meilanfang.
10) Explore the former residence of Soong Ching Ling ( 1890-1981 ), once a garden of one of the Qing Dynasty princes’s mansions. She was late Honorary Chairman of the People’s Republic of China. She is known as “the Mother of China”.
11) Visit the residenc of Gu Moruo. Guo Meruo Memorial Hall (1892-1978) was an outstanding Chinese writer, poet, dramatist, historian, archaeologist and paleographer.
12) Kill your evenings here. A nice place ot visit after dark. For drinks, stick with beer or other bottled beverages.
Tip # 3: Scams in the Shicahai area
1) Be wary of some unethical rickshaw drivers who rip you off by offering you exorbitant prices since there is no fixed official price for the rickshaw tour, meaning that non-Chinese tourists get quoted inflated prices. Normally RMB 50 per hour. You have to haggle with the rickshaw drivers!
2) Shichahai rickshaws are also restricted in their route access mainly due to the different administrative znes. For instance, rickshaw drivers in Houhai area are not allowed to go to Bell Tower and Drum Tower since Houhai is under administration of Xicheng District while Bell and Drum Tower under Dongcheng District, which sounds a little ridiculous!
3) Rickshaws driver are paid a fee for taking tourists to teahouses around Shichahai area. Be wary of tea scam!
Tip # 4: How to get there and how to plan your trip to Shichahai
You either visit Shichahai directly or mix Shichahai into your city tour.
Route 1: Take subway 2 or 5 and get off the station of Lama Temple. First visit Lama Temple. After finishing Lama temple, then come out of the temple, on your right side across the street, you will find a street with an arc. It is the famous Chengxian Street. Walking west along the street, you will come across Kong Miao (Temple of Confucius) and the neighboring Guozijian (Imperial Academy). Walking along Guozijian Jie west until it meets Andingmennei Dajie.Enter this commerical road, turn left and walk south to Guloudong Dajie,another major thoroughfare. Turn right (west) and walk to Drum Tower. Returning south to Dianmenwai Dajie ( north of Drum Tower), turning onto Yandai Jie, the first lane on the right. A board on the right tells that makers of long-stem pipes once lined the lane’s narrow way. Turn left onto the arched bridge Yinding Qiao that separates Houhai and Qianhai lakes.
Route 2: First visit Beihai Park, then go out of its north gate. Shichahai is just north of Beihai Park‘s north gate ( Back Gate). Walking along the Qianhai area and hutongs.
Take public bus No. 5, 60, 107, 108, and No.111 then get off at Drum tower or North Gate of Beihai Park
Business hours of Bar street: 10:30-13:00 and 17:00-21:00