Touring Beijing on the Dangdang Bus
Taking a ride on the dangdang bus is an ideal way to enjoy Beijing’s night scenery.
Night approaches and the urban noise fades away. With lamp posts lit, Beijing comes to life. The city's fast pace is colourful and worth exploring. One of the trendiest ways of enjoying Beijing's night scenery is by taking a ride on the dangdang bus.
History of the Dangdang Bus
Starting at 7:00 p.m., the road lamps are lit. In Qianmen, a retro dangdang bus slowly moves out of the platform, with its iconic “dangdang” bell echoing down the street. With passengers aboard and awaiting an exciting journey to see the city's night view, the routes are designed to pass through prosperous areas. Passengers can choose to get off halfway and walk around or take a stroll in the hutong. The two routes are the East and West routes, both run in a loop starting from Qianmen. The East Route goes past Chang'an Avenue, the CBD, Sanlitun,
Guijie, Nanluoguxiang and Shichahai. The West Route goes past the Beijing Exhibition Centre, CCTV Tower, West Chang'an Avenue, Ping'an Avenue, Beihai and Changpu River, passengers could get off to see the night view from the CCTV Tower or ride a dragon boat along an imperial canal.
The retro colour of the dangdang bus makes it pop in public view, attracting attention. The door frames, window frames, flooring and handrails are all made of imitation wood to make passengers feel like they've travelled back in time and are sitting in a dangdang tram during the Peiping (today's Beijing) era. The wide and clean windows give passengers a clear view of the scenery. The dark coloured uniform worn by the driver, the trumpet replaced by a bell under the driver's foot and commentary by the conductor all add to its quaint touch. As the wheels start to move and the bell sounds, the night journey begins. Passengers smile and take photos. The dangdang bus ride is a relaxing and enjoyable way for those viewing the city's highlights on the go.
The bus, which originated from the dangdang tram, was a rarity years ago, but many elderly Beijingers still have fond memories of it. Ninety-three years ago, on December 17, 1924, an opening ceremony for the dangdang tram was held in front of Tian'anmen, marking the start of dangdang tram operation in Peiping. At that time, the tram didn't look as classy, which ran on a track with a trolley pole above at slow speed, and also offered “hang tickets.” As the fare was relatively cheap, there were many daily passengers, some standing on the side doors, holding onto the window frames, and hanging outside the tram.
The tram then moves in both directions without making turns at the terminus. The driver stands on the left side at the front of the vehicle, holds the switch handle with his left hand and brake handle with his right. Whenever he stops the vehicle by moving the handle and stepping the bell, a “dangdang” sound is heard. The driver would create a rhythm while stepping on the bell, creating a harmonious melody pleasing to the ears. With a ticket folder in hand, the conductor sells the ticket, and writes the final destination for passengers using red and blue pencils. When passengers have finished boarding and alighting at a stop, the conductor blows a copper whistle as a signal to the driver to move on. In the past, many elderly women who walked slowly because of their bound feet would chase after the dangdang tram shouting to the conductor, “Don't blow the whistle, wait a minute!”
Up until 1955, Beijing had eight tram routes with ticket fares costing three, five, or seven cents, based on the distance travelled. In 1959, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Beijing Municipal Government decided to dismantle all trams within the city. The last tram route outside of the city, which runs from Yongdingmen Railway Station to Beijing Indoor Stadium, stopped its service on May 6, 1966. The dangdang tram bid goodbye to Beijing.
On January 1, 2009, Qianmen Avenue was paved with tracks after renovations. The dangdang bus, which had been missing for 50 years, reappeared. The new dangdang bus retained its original appearance, but didn't rely on tracks anymore, making for a smoother ride. Passengers often hop on for a ride not only to view Beijing's night-time scenery, but out of curiosity to feel what it's like riding this age- old bus.
West Route: Overlooking the Imperial City
At 7:00 p.m., the dangdang bus arrives at the platform and begins its journey along the West Route. After leaving Qianmen, the bus moves westward onto a route with a colourful street lights and scenery on both sides. The height of the bus allows passengers to get a clear and full view.
As it passes west of the Second Ring Road, along Fuxingmen are high-rise buildings and brightly-lit financial streets. The financial street gathers the People's Bank of China, financial supervision departments like China Banking Regulatory Commission, China Securities Regulatory Commission, China Insurance Regulatory Commission, local and overseas financial institutions and head offices of State-owned enterprises, creating a striking contrast with the antique and tranquil Yuetan along the road's west side.
When Kublai Khan (1215–1294) built the Great Capital of the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), he had chosen this place as the financial centre. During the Yuan, Ming (1368–1644) and Early Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, the banks, gold shops, merchants and affluent community, and members of the imperial house all gathered here. As Khan anticipated, Jinchengfang became a bustling commercial area and financial centre of Yuan Dynasty. During fighting between warlords, banks and gold shops moved to Qianmen and Dongcheng. It was only until 700 years later after Jinchengfang was established that the financial street once again became China's most influential financial area.
The next stop of the ride is Beijing Exhibition Centre, an architectural structure representing an era of Russian classicism. Built in 1954, it was previously known as the Soviet Union Exhibition Centre. This was the birthplace of China's exhibition industry. The exhibition centre changed its current name in 1958, according to the opinion of Premier Zhou Enlai (1898–1976). The architectural complex consists of 12 exhibition halls, a Moscow Restaurant and a theatre. Most of the visitors are attracted by its grand buildings.
On the north side of the Beijing Exhibition Centre is the “imperial ship” jetty where passengers can take a cruise along the river. Also known as the “emperor's river,” this long river was once used by imperial families during the reign of two emperors during the Qing Dynasty has a history of over 700 years. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1796), this was a river course used only by the imperial family when Emperor Qianlong visited Wanshou Temple or when the imperial family went to the Summer Palace. During the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875–1908), Empress Dowager Cixi used this route to get to the Summer Palace on summer retreats. It is also called the “Empress Dowager Cixi Waterway.” Today, visitors can enjoy a boat ride on this river to cruise along an “imperial river.”
The next stop, the 405-metre tall CCTV Tower, is a highlight of the ride. Located on the West Third Ring Road, it resembles a large lantern hanging in mid-air. The Chinese saying, “One must climb high to see further,” comes to mind. From the 22nd floor and looking far from the 238-metre open air viewing platform, one gets a 360-degree view of Beijing's night view. In addition to Yuyuantan Lake, the famous Diaoyutai State Guesthouse and Beijing Zoo could also be seen. Also in clear view are the Beijing Exhibition Centre, Chang'an Avenue and the prosperous CBD, consisting of the CITIC Tower and China World Trade Center Tower III. With a telescope that can magnify views by 20 times, the city's detailed night-life can be observed.
After admiring the view, it's time to enjoy a meal at “the highest restaurant in Beijing.” This revolving restaurant is on the 18th floor of the CCTV Tower takes 90 minutes. This restaurant brings different views of Beijing to diners as they enjoy gourmet cuisine.
East Route: Ancient and Modern
While the CCTV Tower gives visitors a long shot view of Chang'an Avenue from above, the East Route of the dangdang bus gives passengers a bright Chang'an Avenue to enjoy.
The bus goes past Zhengyang Gate, Tian'anmen Square, the National Museum of China and moves towards the bustling CBD along the East Third Ring Road and East Chang'an Avenue. The night view of East Chang'an Avenue is more beautiful than its daytime scenery. The Wangfujing commercial district is lively as usual, and Dongdan has an old Beijing leisurely vibe with many foreigners touring the Silk Market in Yonganli. The bus arrives at the East Third Ring Road, and the CITIC Tower and China World Trade Center Tower III comes into sight.
The China World Trade Center is located at a commercial district with heavy car and human traffic each day. The city is sleepless with the numerous street and car lights shining bright at night. Office workers and tourists walking in that area would always look up at the China World Trade Center Tower III and the impressive CITIC Tower still under construction. Atmosphere, a bar on the 80th floor of China World Trade Center Tower III, is the highest, as well as most popular for a romantic date. Guests are able to indulge in scenic views of the prosperous CBD area and the capital from a height of 300 metres.
Different from the CBD with its many skyscrapers is the brightly-lit Sanlitun, Beijing's most fashionable and trendy zone. Sanlitun is not only a fashion landmark of Beijing with its own individuality and charm, but also a popular leisure area. Sanlitun represents cosmopolitan leisure, leads in the latest fashion trends and boasts an artistic environment. It is a place for shopping, dining and leisure activities. As a leader in fashion, this area has an assembly of flagship stores of international brands and shops with independent designer brands, streetwear fashion, and is popular among fashionistas.
Besides the trendy young crowd, many foreigners also enjoy the vibe of Sanlitun, located near many foreign embassies. With many upscale restaurants and shopping malls, Sanlitun bar street is quiet during the day but comes alive at night. Many people come here to mingle, catch up with old friends or meet new ones over a beer. Fashionable articles of clothing behind French windows, neon lights and melodious music and singing add to Sanlitun's night-life.
Not far away from Sanlitun is Guijie, the famous food street and landmark of Beijing's food culture. The dishes commonly found in Guijie's restaurants include hotpot, sautéed bullfrog in chilli sauce, grilled fish and spicy crayfish, which became famous in recent years. Guijie attracts many food lovers here each day, and for Beijingers, this is their top choice when choosing a place to host guests or offer a treat. Guijie is not only the best place to experience Beijing's food culture but can be considered the “holy land of food.”
From Guijie, the bus starts moving towards Beijing's inner city and into the hutong, a must-see of Beijing's history. Among the many hutong, Nanluoguxiang is most reputable and is the next stop along this bus ride. When Time magazine selected 25 places not to be missed in Asia, Nanluoguxiang was among six places from China.
Nanluoguxiang is one long hutong stretching from south to north. Constructed during the Yuan Dynasty, this hutong has over 700 years of history. With Nanluoguxiang as the axis, eight other hutong are located on its east and west, forming a zone that presents Beijing's unique characteristics. Other than featured shops that attract visitors to Nanluoguxiang, many former residences of notable people and old monuments are also located here. Walking around the old alley which presents the “original ecology” of traditional Beijing, visitors can feel the historic charm of an ancient city. Nanluoguxiang also has many bars, unique shops and art studios. Perhaps the biggest charm of Nanluoguxiang is its blend of ancient and modern styles.
After passing the Drum Tower along the central axis of Beijing, the bus finally arrives at Shichahai. During the Yuan Dynasty, this was the starting point of the northern section of the Grand Canal. Shichahai has a wide water area, numerous princely palaces, dense parks, temples and beautiful scenery. There used to be ten Buddhist temples in the area. Shichahai has been the place where native Beijingers enjoy the summer since the Qing Dynasty. Today, even after nightfall, sightseeing boats are still seen on the lake, elderly Beijingers take strolls along the stone path, while tourists admire the beauty of a developing city. Beijing is not only charming in the moonlight, but filled with a captivating urban lifestyle.
Inside Beijing’s dangdang bus
Taking a photo from the dangdang bus, in the CBD area near the East Third Ring Road
People come and go in the bustling Nanluoguxiang Alley