Chinaful Insider Guide: SHOP in Beijing
For decades China has been known for pirated DVD’s and fake Rolexes, however the shopping scene in Beijing has definitely evolved over the past ten years. Below, Chinaful has provided a guide to Beijing’s most popular markets as well as some of its rarer gems. When available, we have provided the links to each locale’s City Weekend listing. If you have something in particular that you are looking for, Chinaful would love to help you find it.
A note on Beijing’s bargaining culture– For the markets listed below, if you aren’t bargaining, you are getting ripped off. Just because a Lacoste shirt costs $90 in America, that doesn’t mean that you should consider $50 at one of these markets to be a good deal. For the most part, you should be able to get almost any article of clothing, shoes, belts, etc. for under 100RMB ($15). The exception are some of the better leather goods which can get a bit pricey. Most stall owners can get pretty aggressive and act like you have personally offended them when you offer them too low a price but that is just part of the game. And while you will probably make some mistakes along the way and spend too much money on certain items when you shop in Beijing, by the end you will be a professional.
The Market Scene:
Panjiayuan Market (The Dirt Market): More commonly referred to as the Dirt Market, this covered outdoor/indoor market has a bit of everything. People used to think that the Dirt Market was the place to go bargain hunting for Chinese antiquities. Now it is a great place to go for knock off antiquities, as well as jewelry, art, and other cool trinkets. While many of the stalls in the market are open throughout the week, the best time to visit Panjiayuan Market is over the weekend. Some people argue that you should get there early before the stalls are picked over by other eager shoppers. I personally don’t like to do anything early on the weekends and think you won’t know the difference if you arrive after brunch with a few mimosas in your system. The easiest way to get to the Dirt Market is to take subway Line 10 and get off at Panjiayuan station. Take exit A and turn to the right to follow the bend in the road. The market will be ahead on your left.
The Glasses Market (Glasses City): Located around the corner from the Dirt Market, Glasses City is definitely worth a visit. Glasses City is comprised of three large buildings on both sides of the East Third Ring Road. One of the buildings has a large pair of white glasses on the roof to help you identify it. Regardless of which building you walk into, I guarantee you will be overwhelmed by the multitude of stalls selling all types of glasses. I personally haven’t found there to be much of a difference between the three buildings. The major selling points are that most pairs (depending on your prescription and if you need special lenses, etc.) will range around 300RMB ($45) and they are typically ready in just thirty minutes. They offer free eye exams, however, trust me when I say that you are better off arriving with your prescription in hand. The way they test your prescription’s accuracy is by asking you to walk outside in these wonky looking test glasses and asking you if the proposed prescription makes you dizzy. When I responded yes, they knocked my prescription down a couple notches, rendering them completely useless for the real world. To get to the Glasses Market, take subway line 10 to Panjiayuan Station and get out at exit A. Then take a left out of the station and ahead you will see a pedestrian bridge. I typically go to the building with the large white glasses on it that is on the other side of the 3rd Ring Road (pictured below).
Yashow (Yaxiu) Market: If you consider yourself to be an expert negotiator, Yashow Market will really tickle your fancy. This 5-floor indoor market is located just to the West of Taikoo Li, the massive outdoor mall in the middle of Sanlitun bar district. Yashow is very similar to Silk Street Market, in the sense that it is a one-stop shop to buy all of the souvenirs and random junk you want to bring back to America with you. If you can think of it, Yashow probably sells it. In my opinion it would be overkill to go to both Yashow and Silk Street considering you will find mainly the same things at each, so base your decision on location. The main reason I will always choose Yashow over Silk Street, is my tailor, Sonny, who works out of Wendy’s Tailor Shop on the third floor. Take a right when you arrive onto the third floor from the escalator and you will practically run into their shop. I think Sonny’s team cuts a great suit and at very affordable prices ($130-300). He also speaks some English. One piece of advice is to go in knowing exactly what you want or be prepared for Sonny to guess on your behalf. Bring a picture if you think it will help. For example, if you care, you should tell him how wide you want your lapels to be, how many buttons you want, how many vents you want in your jacket, etc.). You should also tell him you want buttonholes on the sleeves of your jacket or he won’t put them in. Sonny has also made me two nice cashmere coats (around $150 /each) and a ton of dress shirts (around $25/per shirt). Sonny will take good care of you and discounts slightly if you buy in bulk. Tell him Will sent you.
The Pearl Market (Hongqiao Market): It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that this market is known for pearls. However, the Pearl Market also has a few floors of the random trinkets that you will also find in Yashow or Silk Street. If you are pressed on time and want to kill two birds with one stone, wake up early one day and first go check out everyone doing Taichi at the Temple of Heaven, and then walk across the street to the Pearl Market to do your souvenir shopping. If you are interested in buying inexpensive lower quality pearls, the third floor should be perfect for your needs. However, if this is the route you plan to take, it might be a good idea to watch some Youtube videos on how to tell authentic from fake pearls. If you want really nice pearls at reasonable prices, go up to the 4th floor and check out Fanghua Pearls. Ask for Hilary and tell her Will Solomon sent you. They certainly will bargain from the sticker price at Fanghua, but it is a much gentler negotiation process than the other markets mentioned above.
Boutiques and Note Worthy Shopping Areas:
Nanluoguxiang Hutong (Alley): Chairmen Xi Jinping was just recently spotted strolling down this very popular hutong (alley) that has been completely restored and made into a shopping and eating destination. Nanluoguxiang (often referred to as NLGX) is especially good for buying slightly more unique trinkets and souvenirs than you would find at Yashow or Silk Street and there are tons of interesting street eats. Especially after Chairmen Xi’s visit, you can expect tourism on this street to skyrocket for a little while. I would recommend visiting Nanluoguxiang on a weekday. Nanluoguxiang has one branch of the really nice cashmere house, Woo that’s certainly worth a visit. There is another location for Woo in North Taikoo Li (see below) if you aren’t interested in braving the crowds.
Wudaoying Hutong (Alley): Like NLGX, this alley has been completely renovated and now contains a variety of cool little hipster shops and some decent restaurants. It is also right near the Lama Temple subway stop, which makes it a fun activity to couple with one of my favorite temples in Beijing. The Alley has a Chinese gate at the entrance as well as a Costa Coffee and KFC that have been renovated in a Chinese courtyard style. (Note: City Weekend does not have a page dedicated to Wudaoying Hutong so the link above is actually for the Vineyard Café, a cute restaurant located on Wudaoying Hutong)
Sanlitun Taikoo Li: Taikooli, previously referred to as “The Village,” is a massive outdoor mall that houses famous international brands like Apple and Nike. While this is certainly a great place to people watch, international travelers will quickly realize that the merchandise in the Chinese stores cost sometimes 50% more than they do in America or Europe. This is thanks to the very high taxes China places on most imported goods. However, the most interesting part of Taikooli is actually its northern branch that is just a short five minute walk away. Here you will find other very high-end international retail, but in addition, you will also find some really cool Chinese-designed fashion retailers. Probably the easiest way to find the North Village would be to find the boutique hotel, The Opposite House, that is worth a visit too. The Opposite House always has interesting local artists exhibited in its lobby and it’s personally my favorite hotel in the city. Take the elevator to the bottom floor and you will find an entrance to the mall. Take a loop around the mall and walk into stores that catch your eye. There is also a branch of Woo here that sells beautiful cashmere scarves.
Spin: If you plan to go check out the 798 Art District, you are just a short cab ride away from this beautiful ceramics store. They make gorgeous and delicate tea and sake sets as well as a variety of plates, kitchenware, and other cool gifts. They also do a great job of beautifully and safely packaging your purchases so that you can get them home in one piece.
Shard Box: Walking distance from Spin, you can find this little gem of a store that desperately needs help with its marketing and interior design. If you can get past the ambiance, and have a bit of patience to sort through the poorly organized store, you can find some real treasures here. The store specializes in “shards,” which are pieces of broken ceramic from the Cultural Revolution when Mao ordered the destruction of all things culturally Chinese. Shard Box has taken these often jagged-edged pieces of ceramic and made them into jewelry. For about 300RMB ($45), you can get some truly beautiful and unique rings that are adjustable and quite well made. They also make pendants, bracelets, earrings, etc. They have a second location near Ritan Park.
Traveling to China and want to know Chinaful’s recommendations? Leave a comment or email chinafulblog.com, and you might see answers to your questions on an upcoming post.