We awoke to another beautifully sunny day in Beijing determined to have a less busy day than yesterday. We had made to mistake of going straight to the Forbidden City without eating and were not going to make that error again and so opted instead to enjoy the hotel buffet breakfast. As with our breakfast in Singapore at Marina Bay the hotel had a multitude of cuisines on offer from dim sum and dumpling soup to pastries and a full English, the choice was fantastic. The quality definitely wasn’t Marina Bay but it was good and we left suitably stuffed ready for another day of exploration.
Along-with the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square the other famous sight in Beijing is without a doubt the Summer Palace. It is much further out of the city, given that it was the Palace used by the Emperor in the summer to escape from Beijing, however, given Beijing’s rapid growth it is now easily accessible via metro and so we sped along as arrived in around 45 minutes. It is much less obvious where to go when you first emerge from the subway but sensibly, today we followed the crowds and within 5 minutes had turned the corner to the entrance of the Summer Palace. It was the same ticket system in that there is a standard ticket which grants entrance or an all-inclusive option which allows you to access each section of the Palace. We opted for the all-inclusive ticket and got an audio guide which I am 99% sure was faulty given that it didn’t play any audio after the first 10 minutes. This did not distract from the beauty of the palace and we had our Lonely Planet to consult on any queries we had.
The first section is a climb to the top of a hill with the most spectacular views over Beijing. The climb is made interesting and broken up by a multitude of different halls and pavilions to explore on the climb up. It doesn’t really even seem like much of a climb until you reach the top and are arrested by the wonderful views. From here we walked back down past some stalls to the lake shore. It was only at this point that you got an idea of the scale of the Summer Palace park, it is the largest palace park complex in China. There was a lovely forest walkway down to the shores of the lake where you could catch glimpses of the beautiful lake below. As we came up the lake the hordes of tourists seemed to multiply exponentially, this was clearly the highlight. We started to circumnavigate the lake stopping at famous sights such as the Stone Boat which was built to replace the original wooden version which was burnt in 1860. One of the famous things to do while at the summer palace is to go boating on the lake. With this in mind we joined a medium sized queue to get a small peddle boat. We opted for this over the large dragon boats as it gave us the freedom to explore the complex on our own time schedule and added a bit of fun to proceedings. However, as we approached the front of the queue (which had been one when we joined and now suddenly had 3 snakes of people feeding into it) the man told us electric boat. We had wanted a peddle one but given that this appeared to be our only option we handed over our deposit and off we went. TIP: before starting out check the steering. This is something we didn’t do and a such my dad had quite a bit of trouble navigating us around, particularly through the narrow points of the bridges, because the wheel kept coming away in his hand. All this just added to the fun of the experience and we soon got the hang of it. We made our way around Nanhu Island and under the famous 17 arch bridge which was absolutely beautiful. Our hour was soon up and we made our way back to the starting point to hand back the boat passing by a lovely corridor or street art on the way. We finished our day by climbing back up the hill through the long corridor to see the famous Opera House and the Pavillion before making our way back down the way we had climbed up.
We stopped at Suzhou Street, a part of the palace complex, for a touristy local meal where the restaurant owner suggested some chicken nuggets with a Chinese dipping sauce, and spicy Beijing Chicken which was really tasty. We had timed it perfectly as the rain had just started and so we enjoyed a short rest while eating before walking around the rest of the Suzhou Street area. It is sort of a touristy old Chinese street they have made to look authentic selling lots of traditional paintings and pottery. There is only one restaurant which I thought was ok, nice food but nothing special and of course tourist prices. After the rain shower had went off we headed back to the metro to catch the train home where interestingly, a woman left her baby on the train. She had multiple kids and when the little boy wandered off she ran off to get him and left the baby girl in her chair but didn’t make it back in time before the train left the station. Luckily she called some other family members on the train who came to rescue the poor child. A key example of how boys are valued over women.
For dinner, the train man had suggested a great Chinese hotpot place called Chun La Hao Old Chong Qing Hotpot which was close to our hotel. We decided to walk and after getting lost a multitude of times eventually found it. It was super authentic with only local people eating there and no English menu. I ordered our ingredients by wandering around the restaurant and pointing to things other people had that looked nice before finishing the order by drawing pictures of items we wanted. The waitress clearly thought we were useless and stood over us cooking everything for us and personally serving us the entire meal. It was so good, one side Sichuan peppercorns which was beyond hot and then a less spicy more stock like side with mushrooms. I was surprised by how full I felt afterwards but my mouth was well and truly on fire. Thankfully they gave us iced fruit drinks and then iced yoghurt to help cool us down. We wandered back to the hotel for our final evening of having a bed, the next 2 night’s we would be on planes. It was officially almost the end but what an amazing time we had had and still the highlight of the Great Wall to look forward to the next day.