Climbing to the second floor...
You can climb onto the Tiananmen Gate to get a good view of Tiananmen Square. The Tiananmen Gate's second floor used to be closed to the public, but now you can look at the meeting areas of political leaders. Very interesting. It's just that you have to go through very strict security upon entering.
Again very useful and very cheap! it only costs 10 RMB at 24 hour convenience stores around Beijing (we bought ours at 7-11) and again due to the language barrier, just point it and pay it at counter. Like what I've said, having our baggages lost by the airline is such a hassle that you are forced to buy these stuff again hehehe. Good thing We had our baggages found and delivered pronto to our hotel after midnight.
It may seem odd to Beijing residents to describe Houhai as 'off the beaten track' but you can hardly stick it up with the Forbidden City and The Wall as 'must see'.
Houhai is the collective name for the two most northerly of the four lakes that run up from Zhongnanhai through Beihai Park and right up to the Second Ring Road.
Although a generic name, the hub of Houhai is at the Silver Ingot Bridge which is the bridge at the narrow channel joining the two northern lakes.
In all directions there are quiet hutongs, slowly disappearing from Beijing as the developers put up new skyscrapers. Actually, there are still thousands of hutongs in and around Beijing, but as most of the hip journalists and commentators can't get more than 200 metres from the Buddha Bar, they focus on the demolition of hutongs in this area. Many hutongs are being restored and renovated. There are good hutong tours by pedicab, but you can get a lot by just walking in any direction, around in circles and just exploring. People are friendly, but laowai will attract a lot of attention.
Look for the architectural details, doorway design, the way people live out in the street as well, the community spirit, the frequent public toilets (most hutongs have no plumbing), the use of bicycles everywhere, the old stones used for dismounting from horseback.
A little tip: if you get lost and it is hazy or you just can't tell directions from the position of the sun, look which way houses are facing. Most (but not all) houses face south (but remember that the main doorway could be on any of the east, south and west facades). Not infallible, but good as a rule of thumb.
Getting lost in the hutongs is easy and actually part of the attraction.
houhai has some very good restaurants, many good cafes and bars, and a very transient scene. It is becoming "passe" for the cool, trendy Beijing cognoscenti, but it is a definite step up from the crap on Sanlitun.
Houhai is a good place for lunch after the Forbidden City or the Drum and Bell Towers.
Qian Xiang Yi silk store
Recently, lots of VT friends ask about buying silk in China. Nowadays, peoples seldom wear silk, because it is expensiv and damageable. But buy some silk goods as a gift is good choice for a new visitor, I recommend Qian Xiang Yi, It was established in 1840.
Silk is of ancient China' main contributions to world civilization. China had a monopoly on world silk production for hundreds of years. Beijing silk store is one of the eight famous Silk Stores in Beijing,. silk see the qulity and the goods.
Private Tour Guide
We rented a car to bring us around Beijing. It's much more convenient and better than booking yourself in the local tours where they bring you to the tourist sites and tourist shops to get ripped off.
This driver (Robinson Li) which we used was really quite good. He speaks reasonable english and gave us pretty good account of the historical sites (Tiananmen Sq, Forbidden City, Summer Palace etc).
Though it's not the cheapest around (he charges us about 800rmb for 4 people for a full day tour), it's still quite reasonable compared to the other tours.