Sorry all of Europe, Beijing has you beat. If you don’t believe me, read the writing on the wall. The Beijing Downtown Backpackers Hostel is the best hostel in China/Asia/the world/ever. The corridors and ceilings are covered with scrawls of grandiose praise and marriage proposals to the hostel staff. And it’s not unwarranted. The staff IS good.
When I rolled up at two in the morning a twentysomthing guy met me at the door, got me checked in, signed me up for a Great Wall hike, and showed me to my room with his flashlight; all in English and in under ten minutes. Efficiency is not exactly a hallmark of Chinese culture, but this hostel is bucking the trend. The next morning the whole staff seemed to know my name, leaving me thinking that I’d done something wrong, but I think that’s just how they roll. The staff was busy round the clock helping travelers understand their train tickets, writing down destinations in Chinese for taxi drivers, and organizing tours. The hostel offers discounted tickets to the Beijing opera, travel to the Great Wall (both the nearby touristy wall and the ‘wild’ Great Wall at Simatai, three hours away), and summertime overnight stays in the grasslands. Tickets to hike the Great Wall are 280 RMB (about $40).
Hostel amenities were also abundant. This place has 24hour hot water showers, western-style toilets, free WiFi, free western-style breakfast, a TV/reading common room, a rooftop area, and free easy-to-use lockers. Computers with Internet access are available for an hourly fee. Sheets and blankets are provided with the beds, but bring your own towel (or use a sweatshirt as I did). The also have bike rentals. I didn’t trust myself to bike around Beijing, but if you have serious defensive biking skills – go for it.
As with all hotel stays, location is key. This hostel doesn’t disappoint there either. Beihai Park, the Bell Tower, Jingshan Park, and the Forbidden City are all within walking distance. The Forbidden City is a little far. It took me about 30-45 minute to walk there. After exploring the city and Tian’an Men Square I took the blissfully easy subway back to the hostel. The nearest stop is a 5-10 minute walk away.
The hotel is on Nan Luo Gu road which looks like a pedestrian-only thoroughfare until a taxi nearly runs you over. It’s a cute road though, featuring several bars, noodle shops, clothing stores and tourist shops. Nan Luo Gu is quite the hang out spot at night, so don’t be expecting a quiet evening.
To book a room, contact the hostel via their website at least two days before you want to check in. Once you request a room someone will email you back with a confirmation. I stayed in a room with two other roommates for 75 RMB (a little over $10) a night. You can go a little cheaper in a 6-bed room. They also have private rooms available. While you are on the website, print out a map of the location, complete with Chinese characters. This is important if you’ll be arriving by taxi, as most drivers are monolinguistic. A taxi ride from the Beijing airport should be between 90-100 RMB (about $15).
Oh, one last thing. Half the stuff related the the hostel says “Peking,” and the other half says “Beijing.” Don’t worry – it’s the same place.