(The Well of the Prince's Mansion Street)

With more than 700 years of history, Wangfujing Street is the heart of the shopping district in downtown Beijing. Originally constructed in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and named in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Wangfujing Street offers more than 200 shops, stores and restaurants along its half mile length.

The residents of Beijing say: "if you can't find it on Wangfujing Street, you can't find it in Beijing."

Since its recent face-lift in 1999, the area has been beautifully enhanced by the addition of plazas, fountains, flower beds, sculptures and benches. Stroll along and check out the high-end shops and boutiques, or sit, have a beer and watch the people walk by. The pedestrian only area offers something for everyone.

The paradox that is China can be seen on Wangfujing Street; the newest malls stand side by side with age-old shops. Street vendors sell traditional snacks a few steps away from Starbucks.

To the north is Sun Dong An Plaza, a 7 story shopping mall. Just like malls in North America, the entire gambit of retail therapy is alive and well. There, you can also find Baskin-Robbins, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, KFC and a Starbucks, if you need an infusion of home. While the menus are not exactly the same, the high calories and fat content are. But don't miss the excellent hot pot restaurant, Dong Lai Shun, on the fifth floor. It is worth the trip.

Numerous Chinese restaurants are found on Wangfujing Street and it's cross streets. Be sure to try the Moslem Hot Pot restaurant, a stone's throw from the McDonald's. Don't be afraid to sample the street food on Wangfujing Xiaochi Jie (Small Eats Street) and on Dong An Men Dajie to the west of Jinyu Hutong. While many of the skewers have odd edibles like scorpions and silkworm larvae, the lamb and squid are excellent! Try the candied fruit skewers. Watch what the locals eat…they will guide you to what is both safe and delicious.

The massive Oriental Plaza (8,610,000 square feet of floor space!), on the south end of Wangfujing houses an impressive array of shops, restaurants, pharmacies, and about anything else you can imagine. You can shop for the latest in world-famous brands and culinary delicacies from numerous countries. Enjoy yourself at the movie theater, cultural center, gym and skating rink. Looking for a western grocery store? Try the lower level. Western groceries, at higher than western prices, can be found along with high quality fruits, vegetables, wine, cheese and snacks.

An ancient Paleolithic site was discovered during the construction of the Oriental Plaza. The Wangfujing Paleolithic Museum is located on the lower level, a few steps away from the market. Keep going, and you can easily board the extremely clean and safe Beijing Subway. A bargain, at 2 RMB one-way.

Not far away from the Oriental Plaza is the Wangfujing Bookstore. While the six floors are filled, primarily, with Chinese language books, there is a large selection of English language books available. Your goal is the 3rd floor.

If you are looking for other English language books, try Scholar Books Store on the fourth floor of the Sun Dong An Mall. They have very comfortable surroundings with refreshments available from an attentive staff. Be sure to go to the other end of the Wangfujing Street, to the north, and check out the Wangfujing Foreign Language Bookstore. They have superb language texts for learning Mandarin, as well as maps, Chinese history books and coffee-table books on Chinese art.

All shops and restaurants on Wangfujing are tourist friendly, and the majority of the workers speak some English. Many of the restaurants have English language menus. While bargains are hard to find, you can always ask the salesperson for a discount in the malls. Occasionally, if this request is accompanied by a smile, you can get a 10% decrease in price. However, in smaller "mom & pop" shops, bargaining is the rule. Bargain hard, since most prices are marked up substantially; some upwards of 500%. Also be aware that the majority of name-brand goods in China are fakes. They may look real, but rest assured they are not. On clothing, check stitching and zippers carefully.

At night, Wangfujing Street turns into a riot of neon splendor, unmatched in most of Beijing. The glitz and glitter of the night makes for wonderful people watching. Impromptu night markets spring up and private vendors sell items of dubious quality and authenticity. Keep your eyes open and enjoy. It is pure fun.

For a more subdued evening experience, walk to the East Catholic Church located in the east central Wangfujing area. This church was the second Catholic church built in Beijing. It was originally called Saint Joseph's Church, and was built in the 12th year (1655) of Emperor Shunzhi during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Saint Joseph's Church has had a tumultuous history. Built on ground donated by Shunzhi, the Jesuit church was destroyed in 1720 by an earthquake. It was rebuilt, but in 1812 it was gutted by fire; after which it was leveled by an increasingly anti-foreign regime. It was rebuilt again after foreigners forced their way into Beijing in 1860, and was razed again during the bloody anti-Christian, anti-Western Boxer Rebellion. The present building was rebuilt in 1904 on the ruins of the burned church.

It is one of the best-preserved western religious sites in the heart of Beijing. The Church is absolutely beautiful at night and is illuminated with a golden glow of lights that makes one stop just to admire its beauty.