The capital of China, Beijing, is the most populous capital city in world. Most agree that it is a mega city with more than 3,000 years of history. However, the 21th century Beijing is truly a unique blend of the old and the new. Centuries-old sanctuaries and present-day high-rise buildings with its neon lights are part and parcel of the Beijing skyline. Still, the night life is where Beijing shines the brightest, observes Meheret-Selassie Mokonnen.
It is almost midnight; nonetheless, China’s capital Beijing is as lively as the daytime – if not more. While visiting one of the most vibrant cities in the world, one cannot help but stay awake to get the best of a pleasant night out.
With more than 3,000 years of history, the city has centuries-old sanctuaries and present-day high-rise buildings.
Among several spots that are recommended to be visited during night-time, Wangfujing Street tops the list offering countless activities.
From a pedestrian street to dynamic night market, shopping malls to strip clubs, bookstores to fried scorpion-on-a-stick, you name it – Wangfujing has it all.
Wangfujing, literally translated to mean ‘prince's mansion well’, is one of the well-known touristy streets in Beijing. The name was driven from prince’s residences which were built in the area during Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911).
The street, which is located in Dongcheng district of the capital, has been a commercial center for locals and tourists since the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644).
Though Wangfujing is essentially buzzing 24/7, the night life is more captivating. Not only this street, but most of the city’s best moments can be caught after sunset.
Wangfujing is one of the traditional downtown areas of Beijing and until the late 1990s it was open to traffic. Nowadays it is a pedestrian street, which helps to thoroughly observe endeavors of the area.
Bartenders of strip clubs in the area are usually overzealous and most of them walk around outside to summon passersby. They go on and on about what their club offers as opposed to the others. The clubs are made of a see-through glass and anyone can see the dancers hopping on the stripper poles. Customers choose the best clubs by looking at the dancers from outside of the clubs.
The clubs on this street are more public as opposed to the so called sex pubs which are more underground. They are discrete in a sense of ‘what happens in Beijing stays in Beijing’ kind of way. In these private pubs, although most of the waiters don’t speak much English, they try to elaborate their services using Mandarin and little English.
The 810-meter-long walking street fuses traditional stores and modern shopping malls. It includes two book stores—Wangfujing bookstore and Foreign Languages bookstore—which are over five decades old. It is pleasing to see many customers going from one shelf to the other in search of books published in China and imported from other countries.
The entire street, embroidered with squares, grasslands, flower beds, fountains, ornamental columns and sculptures is often full of people. Not being bothered by vehicles, walking on the street gives some sense of freedom as one walks in the middle of the road.
The benches, that are few kilometers apart, lure visitors to sit and admire the view and many tourists take a selfie or two hoping to hold on to the memory.
The night food market, known as Donghuamen, is open to taste octopus, scorpion, dumplings and fried banana. The lively night food market fascinates foodies who are interested in experiencing the local taste. Scorpions can be served in different ways – roasted, fried, grilled or even alive. Many are particularly riveted to taste fried scorpions and served on a stick. Of course, it is not every one who dares to take a bite from the moving scorpions.
The snack street is densely packed with restaurants and street food stalls and captivates many tourists. Food such as chuanr, meat kebabs that is commonly made of lamb, and desserts, such as tanghulu or candied fruits on a stick, are among the most popular.
The street food also includes insects, sea creatures along with other animals and desserts. The night fruit market is led by relaxed street vendors, who sometimes play Chinese traditional games with next door sellers.
The friendly vendors offer couples or group of tourists to taste grape or other fruits. Some propose a sip from the famous Asian rice wine a.k.a. Mijiu—which has an alcohol content of 18 percent–25 percent. The vendors try to communicate using hand gestures, considering the language barrier.
The night market also involves vendors who sell souvenirs. As most local markets in Beijing, bargaining plays a significant role in the selling-buying process. Vendors and buyers go back and forth until they agree on a final price.
The three large markets on Wangfujing Street are Sun Dong An Plaza, Beijing Department Store and the malls at Oriental Plaza- one of the largest markets in Asia and presents brands like Trussardi and Miss Sixty, and jewelry and make up products.
The old Beijing Street, which is located on Wangfujing Dajie, is an underground street entailing stores that sell shoes, caps, silk cloth, scissors, Chinese brushes and ink-stick, jade, teas, desserts, pickled vegetables and roast duck.
Beijing Craftwork and Art Mansion, an old shop in the area, operates with various industrial arts and artwork. Whereas state of the art toys are available at Xin ZhongGuo children's goods store. Art admirers usually purchase the craftworks, which more or less depicts China’s ancient history and culture.
Wangfujing is home to around 280 famous brands including Chinese ones such us Shengxifu hat store, Tongshenghe shoe shop, and the Wuyutai tea house. Other stores carry brands such as Calvin Klein, Nina Ricce, Gucci and Prada.
Women are seen lining up to buy or try out cosmetic brands such as Christian Dior, Elizabeth Arden and Guerla. Yves Saint Laurent, Nina Ricci, Charles Jourdan and other boutiques are often heavily crowded.
A photo studio which took formal photos of the first Chinese leadership and the famous St. Joseph's Catholic Church are among the places visitors take pictures of on the street.
Aside to the exciting night life, Wangfujing Street is also remembered for the 2011 pro-democracy protests in China. In what was named as ‘Chinese Jasmine Revolution’, inspired by and named after the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, a large number of protesters gathered on the street leading to the arrests, detentions and ban of foreign journalists not to conduct interviews around the area without applying for permission.
The street, which many consider as ‘the heartbeat of Beijing’, is home to numerous local bars and foreign restaurants. The street mixologists, who put on quite a show, aside to mixing drinks are the highlight of the area.
Many locals and foreigners wait in line for the especial on-the-spot mojitos and other drinks. What’s fascinating about this part of the street is the fact that people do not look for a place to sit to grab a drink or look for people to accompany them. Many buy drinks from the street and drink it on the side of the road while mingling with people from different parts of the world.
The bartenders on the street have huge speakers and they play various type of music from old school hip hop to electronic dance music. For people who are up to assessing their singing skills while having fun, bunch of karaoke bars are open until late night.
The area offers a moderately ‘quiet entertainment’ in opera theaters with Chinese soap opera and acrobatics shows.
According to tour.beijing.com “No Beijing tour is complete without visiting Wangfujing Street.” Lots of entertainment options are recommended on the website. “If you like to enjoy Beijing night tour, Wangfujing Street is not to be missed. The neon lights can now be compared to those of any big cities in the world,” It reads. The area is compared with New York's Fifth Avenue, the Champs-Elysees of Paris and the Ginza in Tokyo.
With a similar vibe, Sanlitun Street is one of the most well-known bar streets in Beijing. It is a very busy street especially during the night since it is adjacent to foreign embassies including Ethiopia’s. It is said that the first bar was opened on Sanlitun in 1983.
The bar street is popular among tourists and foreign students in China. Sanlitun is famous for parties and clubs dedicated to a certain type of music including a roof-top Latino club. The DJs play nothing but Latin American hits and the club is crammed with people always set for dance-offs.
Many prefer to hang out at Tang Club, China Doll, The World of Suzie Wong, Nest, The Den, D-22, Bar Blu, Banana, Babyface and Angel dance clubs in addition to famous international-standard bars and cocktail lounges.
The perky lights and gigantic screens of these clubs guarantee the well promoted ‘radiating China’. One particular club has a screen putting on a show live from the dance floor, symbolically calling out to ‘show what you got on the floor’.
It is common to come across clubs with a mix of break beats, indie and house music featuring international DJs on the weekends. There are a number of sport-bars and restaurants dedicated to various foods from around the world.
After visiting the embassy area, many stop at these restaurants-either feeling home sick or ready to experiment with food from another country than their own. Ras is a renowned Ethiopian restaurant in Beijing.
Tourists who share their experience on one of the largest travel guide books-Lonely Planet-refer to the street as ‘diplomatic world of China’ while stating the diversified activities that take place.
Some tourist attraction sites, which can also be visited during day time, have a magnificent view at night. For example, Tiananmen Square lights up every night adding a flavor to the experience. Most of the buildings in/or surrounding the Square will also radiate.
Qianmen Street, which runs south from Tiananmen Square, is one of the last remnants of the business centers of old Beijing. It has been transformed into a modern commercial pedestrian street, next to Wangfujiang.
Beijing National Stadium a.k.a. Bird’s Nest is spectacular when lit up at night. Likewise, Beijing National Aquatics Center a.k.a. Water Cube is also highly visited during night. It is named cube because of the semi-transparent bubbles that spread with a shape of H2O.
Beijing Central Business Center or CBD, consisting local and international firms, is on the list of places to be visited at night alongside the then CCTV now CGTN- China Global Television Network tower. These skyscrapers have illuminating screens on top of luxury buildings.
People walk under such structures enjoying the high-tech lighting and open space comprising of human made lakes and open-air bars.
Beijing nights, with various alternatives, is exhilarating, daring at times and freeing in general. Depending on what one is interested in, the capital awaits with unforgettable memories.