When visiting Beijing for the very first time, aside from seeing the Great Wall of China, what tops my list? Stay inside an alleyway (Hutong) of course. We were intrigued- because well, how often does one stay inside an alley...willingly?
Sure, the entrance is tiny and the surrounding areas can be a bit smelly from the many public restrooms nearby. But once you step inside, it's got all of the modern comforts you would need of a 4-star hotel and amazing service.
The rooms are a good size. We stayed in 2 rooms over the course of 3 nights since they were fully booked (the hotel has 10 rooms total but now offers alternative lodging of residences).
I LOVED our spacious Garden room (though you may be assigned one with an outdoor garden instead and with a lower ceiling since there are 2 other rooms in this style). The gentle light peeking into our private indoor garden made for a unique wake up call. If we had an extra day in Beijing, I would have just lounged around on the day bed while sipping on tea.
We didn't think the room size would matter too much since the pricing difference was minimal (100 RMB/ $16 usd less than the Garden Rooms). But it certainly felt like the room was way smaller.
Before arriving, I was a little bummed since I had e-mailed the hotel to change our pick-up from the airport. We had to cancel since we no longer needed it, but didn't get a confirmation until weeks later though a second follow-up email I sent. I thought it was strange as I received the hotel's auto-stay reminders. If you need an answer fast, I recommend just calling the hotel directly (via Skype).
Once we arrived, customer service was really excellent. The staff was wonderful and everyone was so kind and caring. They can set you up with tour guides, car service, recommendations, and directions. They are very accommodating-- to the point where when we got lost, we would just ring up the hotel and they would talk to the taxi driver or give us directions. While they don't do currency exchange, they allowed me to pay using some of my remaining Hong Kong dollars.
While the location is not the best for us (2 girls traveling alone), the nearest subway was still around 15 mins walk in unlit areas (especially via the Hotel's recommended stop at Gulou station . We preferred the Shichahai subway stop instead even though it's a slightly further walk (+ 5 mins; ~20 mins total). It felt safer since all of the shops on this side close late so there's lots of pedestrian traffic coming and going . Yes, we learned this the hard way...close to being approached by male strangers. So we ran..fast. Not fun late at night in an unlit and unfamiliar area.
Other things to consider is that the housekeeping/ cooks are only there during the day time (breakfast-lunch), so there's no food at the hotel at night. Though no fear, steps away from the hotel there are 2 branches of Mr. Shi's Dumplings that's open until 11:30pm. It's highly rated on TripAdvisor and it sounds like it's constantly featured in the media so we were looking forward to staying at the Orchid just to try it (as otherwise, it was out of the way).
Deep fried banana with fudge? Good, yes. Authentic, no. It didn't live up to the "amazing" hype so I was a little disappointed. Personally I've had better dumplings but when you are starving, it's pretty good. You can order your meal with wines too if you feel like it.