The one phrase to encapsulate the experience of stepping into Panjiayuan Antique Markets, especially on a weekend: sensory overload.
Think rows upon rows of small stores manned by a shopkeeper likely browsing their phone or tucking into a thermos of lunch, separated from the crowd by a table of glittering golden statues.
If you’re looking to prove you’ve been to China through gifting stereotypically ‘cultural’ items, you can find anything from precious stones to prayer beads to all manner of pots, plates, teapots and Chairman Mao torsos.
You’ll have to pay good money to convince me they're genuine though and you may very well find it impossible to commit to anything. Do a quick sweep around the entire space and do attempt to haggle.
This is a place for many repeat visits and requires plenty of time to slowly browse your way through all the stalls if you actually want to buy anything.
I was told that Beijing artists and calligraphers – who need a ‘signature’ stamp for their works – tend to go to Panjiayuan to dig through all the stones until they find one that they have ‘yuan fen’ (or ‘a fated relationship’) with and then find a master stone carver to help them design a signature.
Outside the main gate of the markets, you’ll find a crowded street of miscellaneous vendors selling food and other trinkets. Apparently fast food deliverers are forbidden to bring lunch inside so they just left them along the wall, without any signage or markings.
Whether or not they were devoured remains a mystery...