In a Chinese dictionary, the kang is described as a "heatable brick bed". While this doesn't convey its comfort, it does describe this heated sleeping platform accurately. Kang, pronounced "kahng" and written 炕 is prevalent in northern China where the winters are fierce and long.
What Exactly is the Kang?
The kang is a platform made by bricks or other earthworks that takes up a large portion of the room. Inside the bricked platform is an area for heat carried from a furnace (traditionally coal). A flue from the channel leads to the outside for exhaust. The heat is maintained throughout the day and night making for comfortable day-time activities and snug sleeping.
Traditionally, bedding (similar to Japanese futons) is put away during the day so family activities can take place here. Bedding is then put out at night and the whole family sleeps on the platform floor.
Family Co-sleeping on the Kang
If you are traveling with a family and are booking a hotel with a kang, keep the construction in mind if you have small children. For families with small kids, the kang can be a great, cozy way to sleep, but you need to make sure your child doesn't roll off the platform! For families with older kids who may not want to share a platform, no matter how cozy, with Mom & Dad, make sure you book a separate room. Kangs, in no way, promote family privacy.
Are Kangs Comfortable?
Yes, very, as long as you don't mind sleeping on the floor - albeit elevated floor. The bedding is usually very thick and comfortable. The heat from the channel within the kang rises up and ensures warmth during what can be very cold nights in northern China.
The first time I came into contact with a Kang-style bed was during a spring-time visit to Pingyao. We visited the ancient city with my then three-year-old and bedding for him was always a bit of a challenge in smaller hotels. So the idea of all of us sleeping together on the kang bed was great. We were there in the warm spring so there was no need for the kang to be heated but it made a fun place for my son to play during the day.