Beijing Shopping Tips by mke1963 Top 5 Page for this destination
Beijing Shopping: 300 reviews and 355 photos
Hongqiao is a Beijing shopping favourite, not because it is relaxed but because it has just about anything you could possibly want. However, with the recent crackdown on fake branded products, many of these are carried under the counter.
Hongqiao is known for its pearls and there are plenty of pearl shops here: do remember that these are freshwater pearls though, which are a lower quality than saltwater pearls!
Although the ground floor (and the basement fish stalls) are a seething mass of people al day every day, the crowds get less as you go higher up. There are some classy shops on the upper floors.
Note that several buildings nearby are now part of an 'extended' Hongqiao and you may get better bargains there.
There is a shop around the corner (actually behind the main Hongqiao - entrance where the car-park ramp comes out) which has vast amounts of toys, electronic games, sports goods and stationery.
What to buy: You name it, they have it. There are some nice silk tablecloths and napkins on the ground floor.
Hongqiao is also good for binoculars.
What to pay: If you behave like a ditzy tourist, you will pay ditzy tourist prices. The trick is to know the going China rate for things, which is difficult to know unless you live here. Push hard, and walk away at least once.
Address: Tiantan Donglu
Directions: Almost opposite the East Gate to the Temple of Heaven (there is a footbridge across to it).
The model maker
Sitting under a naked bulb, an earnest man briefly stares at the mess of junk on the table in front of him. His hand darts and he picks up a piece of coloured clay, shaping it between his fingers. He works quickly, fashioning a boot, adding green padding to it, then scoring lines with a sharp knife around the edges. At the edge of his table, finished models sit: Confucius, Guanyin, Sakyamuni, and three of the heavenly guardians found at the entrance to Buddhist temples. He is working on the fourth. Each statue is about 12 inches high, and exquisitely detailed. The heavenly guardians' beards are flowing and straggly, the hair wild and haggard, faces menacing. The costumes are beautiful, robes fluid and billowing.
The model maker happily answers questions about his work, and shows onlookers his tools: sharp wooden sticks to hold limbs and larger pieces, even sharper knives, and scissors. He concentrates in short bursts, looking intently at the model and his fingers wrap around pieces, pressing, pushing and pulling the soft coloured clay. The proportions are perfect, the scale just right. I look for a ruler or for some way he can measure pieces to ensure that, say, a right leg is the same as the left leg of a model: there are none. He can just tell by looking and feeling. Finished models sell, incredibly, for just RMB150 or US$18. I am not sure whether I am more astonished at the low price for such workmanship, or the fact that he takes just two hours to finish a model. We expect craftsmen to take their time, but the model maker at Houhai combines speed with beauty.
What to pay: RMB150 upwards
Address: Eastern 'corner' of Houhai
Directions: Opposite the bike rental shop
The famous covered market opposite the Lido Hotel has been demolished, some months after the dread demolition signs first appeared.
This was one of the easier markets to use because it was small, just one alleyway inside a long, grotty white-tiled building.
Alas, it is just a pile of rubble now, and the CD and massage shops went a few weeks beforehand.
If you are used to buying your CDs and DVDs at the shop one block away on the other side of the traffic lights, they have (voluntarily) moved to behind the row of restaurants on the Lido Hotel side of the lights.
What to buy: The Lido vendors have all moved on, many to Hongqiao, and some even to laitai.
What to pay: Not a lot for whatever you want: clothes, shoes, trinkets, DVDs
Address: Formerly opposite Lido Hotel
The Friendship Store is a bizarre anachronism from all the old days when the good people of China all equally had nothing, and the Friendship Store was where the poor wretched foreigners spent all their money on delicacies and other nice things.
It always was a hotbed of non-existent customer service, and I understand they considered rebranding it as "Mei Yo Store".
In the new century, it remains a fascinating - if frustrating - exhibit of how bad store layout, customer service and point of sale tactics can get.
What to buy: It used to have the best selection of foreign books and magazines, and probably still does, but it has recently moved - just a few metres away - so that they can scatter the books about more haphazardly and make absolutely damn sure that you can't find what you want.
Many of the books are now in glass cabinets, and the whole lot is mixed up. They still have the most incredibly bizarre selection of publications, including fashion books from the 1970s (possibly due to come back into fashion again soon), weird architecture and interior design books, and strange tourist boks for other countries.
It always was a miserable place to buy books, especially as they refused to sell you the decent copies kept under lock-and-key and made you buy the moth-eared, dusty old version. Now it's worse.
The new Laitai flower market is one of the biggest non-clothes markets on the east side of Beijing, although yu can find plenty of clothes in the huge underground market below it!
Lai Tai is a good place for particulary cold days, as the huge range of flowers, plants and orchids is interesting, even if you are not buying.
At the back of the building, and on the right hand side, there are about 20 shops selling aquariums and aquarium equipment.
Note that the best area for cut-flowers - at cut rate prices - is hidden away behnd those aquarium shops in a long hall running along the northern side of the building.
The Chinese love their flowers and love their aquariums, so this is a good place to see Beijing people haggling over the prices of both. It's certainly a good couple of hours people-watching!
Note that the ol, smaller Lai Tai still exists behind Durty Nellies on the south side of the Liangmahe, opposite the Lufthansa Centre.
What to buy: Orchids, house plants, cut flowers, outdoor plants (at the southern side), and fish - for watching, not eating.
Some of the more esoteric species here include huge discus fish, sharks, jellyfish, rays and lionfish.
Address: Lady Street (yes...that's its name..in English!)
Directions: Lady Street doesn't appear on any maps. It runs between Liangmaheqiao Lu and Xiao Yun Lu. Turn left at the German School and past the Israeli Embassy.
Lamps are a particularly good bargain in Beijing, and there are plenty of lamp shops around. The best one is way out in the suburbs (near Pinnacle Plaza at the Wenyu river, if you really are a lamp fanatic) but there is a good shop in the Lai Tai area, in the long row of shops. It's just a couple of shops to the left of the entrance to the Bar Street. The gas patio lamps and heaters in the photographs are actually from the shop next door.
Most of the lamps are made on the premises, and there is a huge variety of shapes, styles and sizes. Many of them have a good solid feel, but are mainly modern. These are not the chintzy cloisonne lamps in the tourist shops, but classy lamps, many with shades made from home-made paper. Prices from RMB200 upwards.
Address: Lady Street
Directions: Opposite the new Lai Tai flower market.
Theme: Home Furnishing
The Friendship Store is one of those classics that just goes on and on, defyint the critics who suggest it must be due to close soon.
It is worth visiting one of the Friendship Store as much for its historical significance as for buying anything there, but it also has prices that are not unreasonable. Also it remains one of the few places to have a true Western-style deli (Jenny Lou's shops are another).
In the bad old days, there was only the Friendship Store. Period. If it wasn't in the Friendship Store (and usually it wasn't) you basically waited until you left China. The Friendship Store accepted FECs and foreign cash only, not Chinese money, so local people hung around the entrance looking in longingly at the goodies inside, reserved for the oppressed foreigners and the poor unfortunate cadres and government officials who were forced to buy stuff here.
Now, the Friendship Store is an anachronism: the vast numbers of bored, largely useless staff remain sullenly unhelpful and underemployed. A transaction like buying a magazine takes four of these talented individuals to complete the job: one to write down the price laboriously on a sales slip, one to take your money at a distant till, one to check the sales slip, and one to put the magazine in a plastic bag.
What to buy: The small touristy antiques are frequently 'only' found in the Friendship Store, and it is worth searching for handicrafts here. This may seem surprising, but there is rationale here. The Friendship Store is part of the 'tourist merchandise distribution channel' which means that they always get some of the stuff that goes into the wider market-place. As the Friendship Store gets much less shoppers than most places, the stock doesn't move as fast.
The downside is that the prices are almost fixed: not one worker here cares whether you buy or not - they are paid at the end of the week either way. Haggling over the price is utterly pointless.
In a bizarre way, visiting the Friendship Store is like a flashback to the 1970s, if you missed life under old-style Communism.
What to pay: More than average for everything, but not a whole lot more (maybe 10% more). Worth itif you can't find something elsewhere that you really want.
Address: Jianguomen wai dajie
Directions: One block west of the Silk Market. Also on Sanlitun Bei Lu (But this one doesn't have antiques. It's just a local store for diplomats)
Jenny Lou's has become a bit of an institution in Beijing. While big international brand name giants, including Carrefour, spend years planning and plotting there mega-stores in unhelpful places with abysmal parking, Jenny Lou's opens new stores regularly right where people want them. Whether at the Chaoyang west gate, Sanlitun Bei, near WAB or at Pinnacle Plaza, Jenny Lou's stocks exactly what the expats crave (at a price).
What to buy: Huge range of bread, breakfast cereals, cookies/biscuits, and the 'hard to find' food and drink can usually be found here.
However, always check the sell-by-date: they have a habit of keeping stuff way beyond the date when it should be consigned to the bin. We all complain about this, but Jeny Lou's know that there is nowhere else to go, so they apologise profusley, replace the dodgy item, and put it straight back on the shelf.
What to pay: High prices, but if you need your Instant Oatmeal or [your favourite brand], then Jenny Lou's is the most likely place to find it.
Also, they will deliver within a reasonable distance.
Directions: Sanlitun Beilu (along from the Riverside Cafe), Chaoyang West Gate (next to Annies), Pinnacle Plaza (this is actually a copy-cat store I believe, but it is still good), 100m north of WAB.
Theme: Food and Drink
Lai Tai is best known for being on the absurdly named 'Lady Street' and next to an alleyway called 'Lady Dressing Plaza'. It's common for areas or streets in China to have these kinds of functionally accurate, yet bizarre names!
Lai Tai is a big hanger full of plants, flowers, xiaoshan and aquarium shops: it's the horticultural Silk Market.
Yet below the roots of all these plants is two full floors of small shops. The first mezzanine floor has a lot of good jewellery shops, a number of shops selling porcelain and bags, and a good number of nail salons. At the back is an avenue of shoe and luggage shops.
Go down one floor further and there is a huge area of clothing shops, including some that sell ethnic clothing and even one with US army surplus.
What to buy: Lai Tai manages to avoid attracting tourists altogether, and is nowhere near as crowded as Hongqiao or Jilin Plaza.
Most of the shoppers are locals, and most of the foreigners work nearby.
Address: Lai Tai - lower two floors
On Thursday 6th January at 6.30pm, the Silk Market closed for good.
A new building has opened alongside the old site, but few vendors will be moving in because of the high rental rates. The local authority promises "no fakes" on sale at the new indoor market: they clearly understand exactly why people came to the Silk Market, eh? So now you know exactly where you can buy your world-famous Chinese brand sneakers, jeans and jackets.
Rather amusingly, many of the vendors are complaining that the new indoor market has stolen the brand they spent years building up. The irony seems lost on them and the local media.
Some vendors have moved to Hongqiao Market (see review)
Address: North of Jiangguomenwai Dajie
Directions: about 1km east of Friendship Store
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