Kuanzhai Alley is the name of a pedestrian area that has been created by renovating Qing Dynasty hutongs
(courtyard houses most famous in Beijing) and making them into shops, cafes, bars and hotels. The area was originally a place where northern Chinese lived so they created a neighborhood in the style of their architecture - this type of hutong house can be found in Beijing but is not original to Chengdu. The renovated neighborhood consists of three parallel alleys that are fun to stroll through for some shopping and snacking.
There are three alleys, Kuan (宽)，Zhai （窄）, and Jing (井) Alleys or 巷子. You will likely be dropped by a taxi at the bottom of Kuanxiangzi (宽巷子). There is a large street sign and after entering, you'll find a map of the area in Chinese and English that you can follow (I took a photo on my cell phone for reference later). Each of the three alleys runs parallel and there is a square at the north side (easily reached from Jing Alley), where you can find taxis and buses to go to your next stop.
The alleys are narrow and packed full of shops. The idea is to walk north along Kuan Alley, south along Zhai Alley and then North and out of Jing Alley. There are small lanes that cut through the alleys if you don't want to walk in this "prescribed" direction.
Courtyard Houses - Hutongs:
The courtyard house architecture is special because it is basically lost in China - no one builds like this anymore. The home was centered around an inner courtyard that can not be seen from the outside. There are doors, or gates, usually with interesting stone architecture around them. The markers outside the doors - sometimes stone lions or stone drums - indicated the family's status. The building style was popular in the north, especially in Beijing
. Downtown Beijing used to be full of hutongs
, now just a few remain.
in Shanghai where they've renovated old shikumin houses and turned them into shops and restaurants, Kuanzhai Alley has its resident Starbucks and upscale, overpriced boutiques. Despite the prices, it's a fun place to wander around, especially at night when the red lanterns that hang from many storefronts are lit. There's little of the actual history left, but the architecture and ambiance is nice. Many cafes have outdoor seating so the atmosphere is lively and social. There are also a few street performers and many kiosks selling junk so there's plenty to keep everyone entertained.
Shops and Restaurants:
At the recommendation of our China Discovery
tour guide, we headed for a restaurant called Sichuan Snack
on Jing Alley to get our nightly fill of dan dan mian (a local noodle specialty). On our way we wandered in and out of shops and took in the atmosphere. Though an outdoor cafe specializing in roasted rabbit heads was tempting for its obvious popularity and conviviality, we opted to keep going.
Some notable shops are:
- Qiang Ethnic Embroidery - this shop has a beautiful garden and houses all kinds of interesting clothing, kids' things, scarves and homeware employing this minority culture's embroidery techniques.
- Zhu Ye Qing Tea - is a chain of shops selling high-end Emei Shan. Zhu Ye Qing Tea. Their Kuanzhai Alley shop is on Zhai Alley. Zhu Ye Qing - or Bamboo Leaf tea is a type of green tea is exclusive to the area around Mt. Emei and is a nice gift to bring home. While I'm certain we could have found the same tea outside less expensively, this particular shop packages it for gifts very nicely so it's a good souvenir for friends and family. (And the tea is very nice.
- Sichuan Snack - is a nice and inexpensive Sichuan restaurant specializing in local dishes. We had the dan dan mian and kung pao chicken. While not the best Sichuan meal we had on the trip (see Shou Zhang Ji), it hit the spot and is a nice place to end your tour of Kuanzhai Alley.