If you want fake brands, knock offs, a uniquely Beijing experience or feel like some extreme travelling, the famous or infamous Silk Street Market is a must see attraction. Don’t be put of by the idea of coming all the way to China only to visit a market. Shopping bores me at the best of times and I would not be seen dead at Beijing’s more sophisticated shopping precinct the Wangfujing street. The Silk Street Market though is not just any market, it is unique, very Chinese and no trip to Beijing is complete with out seeing it.
Much of the charm, excitement and pure appeal of the Silk Street Market is due to the sales people. They know how to fleece tourist in at least 10 different languages, are voracious, persuasive, persistent, charming, tenacious, professional and very good at what they do which is making money from tourist and wanna be bargain hunters. I know how much things cost in China and I can bargain with the best of them BUT I don’t shop here because I know I’ll be out bargained and end up paying more than I should.
Shopping there is not for the timid or faint hearted but it is exciting, fun and an experience. The only time the sales people get too much for me is when they grab you and try to drag you back to their shops. Literally. Growling at them works well when they get too physical. No matter how well they speak your language, they will insist on using calculators to show you the incredibly low prices they are offering you. Why? Took me a while to work this one out. Because they do not want other customers to how much they are over charging you.
History – I’d like to tell you that this market dates back hundreds of years to the Ming Dynasty but in all honesty, its been around for 25-26 years. It used to be a street market made of alleys full of really cool stores selling fake luxury goods, cheesy souvenirs and anything else locals sell to gullible tourists and make a buck. In 2005 the old market was demolished and the current market was built. The old market had loads of charm and character but according to officials it was a fire hazard and there were security and permit issues. You can bet there was also some very hefty kick backs from developers and the current market owners to get rid of the old market.
The boring facts – Over 30,000 square meters of floor space, over 1,600 stalls/shops and over 3,000 sales people. Every one of which just has to sell you the bargain of a life time.
Layout (note this is subject to change) – 1st floor (ground floor for foreigners) & 2nd floor is men’s and women’s clothing. 3rd floor is tailored clothing, children’s clothing, bedding and carpets. 4th floor is a real mix and includes electronics, jewellery, toys, crafts, watches (copy of course) and much more. 5th floor is jewellery. 6th and 7th floors are restaurants and pharmacies and not worth more than a few minutes of your time. The basement has a supermarket, suitcases, hats, shoes and leather gear.
On street level on the outside of the market you can find international coffee shops and restaurants that are great for recovering once you escape the market. Subway there is my personal favourite.
Getting there – Take the subway to the Yanganli station and leave through exit A. Yonganli station is on the number one line and is only one stop from Beijing Train Station. It makes a nice walk if you have the time. You can take a taxi and tell the drive to take you to the xiu shui jie. Taxi drivers will know where to take you and the more compassionate ones will try to warn you.
Opening hours – 8:30am to 9:00pm 7 days a week.
Final word – no matter what you buy or how much money you save (waste) you will walk away with a hard to forget China experience that you can regale your friends with for years to come.