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24 hours in Beijing

Leisa Tyler explores a post-Olympic city in the midst of another cultural revolution.

The Forbidden City takes all day, so head to the vast Tiananmen Square instead if you're pressed for time.The Forbidden City takes all day, so head to the vast Tiananmen Square instead if you’re pressed for time. Photo: John Donegan

A year after the Olympic Games, Beijing has been reborn. Once among the most polluted cities in the world, the Chinese capital has not only cleaned up its act but it has acquired a slick new veneer with extensive urban re-engineering and a new-found confidence.

This upbeat energy is fuelling a boom in galleries, restaurants and hotels and helping to mould a new chapter for the city.

Travel tip: Beijing is vast. Fortunately, taxis are plentiful and ridiculously cheap just don’t expect drivers to speak English. Save hassles and getting lost by having your hotel address and destinations in Mandarin and don’t get into an unregistered taxi.

7.30am

Wake from a heavenly slumber in 400-thread-count cotton sheets at The Opposite House hotel, the pick of Beijing’s new wave of boutique lodges. Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the 99-room property on up-and-coming Sanlitun Road best sums up the new Beijing: modern and self-assured with suave, competent staff.

Minimalist rooms have floor-to-ceiling glass walls with automatic blackout curtains, oak wood floors, Tibetan-inspired Bayankala toiletries and Ploh linen. The dramatic lobby is a gallery of contemporary Chinese art, with bi-monthly installations and permanent pieces by Pamela See and Li Xiao Feng.

There’s a slice of Australia, too the general manager is Melbourne-born Anthony Ross, who flew to hotel stardom at the Azure Lodge in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Scrub up in your wooden bath tub or under the rain shower and head to the ground floor for breakfast fresh breads, yoghurt and spicy fruit compotes.

The Opposite House has double rooms priced from 1950 yuan (about $365), which includes mini-bar and breakfast.

The Opposite House, 11 Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District; +86 10 6417 6688; or see theoppositehouse.com.

9am

Jump in a taxi and head to the Confucius Temple, surrounded by some of the few residential hutongs, Beijing’s traditional old neighbourhoods, that were spared the bulldozer during the pre-Olympics quest to modernise the city. Ironically, the hutongs are now hot property.

These are highlighted by some of the city’s last Song and Ming dynasty-era pailous (archways) and stone tablets, including one requesting riders in several minority languages to dismount their horses as a sign of respect for Confucius.

Wander the neighbourhood’s leafy streets and identify the status of former residents by the intricacy of their court-house gates.

If you are here on a weekend, The Opposite House and the Beijing Cultural Heritage Centre offers guided hutong tours free for hotel guests.

10.30am

Strolling along Yonghegong Dajie, turn right on to Gulou Dongdajie, where you will find the Drum Tower, an edifice that once marked the centre of the Mongol empire, which ruled Beijing during the 13th century. Clamber up the stairs as there are great views of the surrounding hutongs. Nearby, absorb the ancient atmosphere at the Drum and Bell Bar.

Drum Tower, Gulou Dongdajie; Drum and Bell Bar, drinks for two, $5; 41 Zhonglouwan Hutong.

11.30am

Continue south along Dianmenwai Dujie until you reach Jingshan Park, a small hill shaped with earth excavated from the next door’s Forbidden City moat and offering exceptional views over the old palace.

You will need a full day to explore the Forbidden City, so continue right instead, skirting the palace’s plum-red walls and moat shaded by weeping willows, to reach Tiananmen Square.

Entire Article: smh.com.au

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