We landed this morning in China’s capital of Beijing, which is just under two hours flight time from our current hometown of HangZhou in Zhejiang province. Our flight departed a little early at 8:25am and we touched down and left the plane in Beijing at about 10:30am with no hassles or delays. It was a good flight, full as always, but efficient and with friendly service (thanks to Hainan Airlines).
Our first impression of Beijing was that it reminded us a lot of Shanghai – until we got into the CBD. The airport is nothing special for an Asian airport – spacious, new, easy to navigate – and the airport express subway, as well as being totally economical – took roughly twenty minutes to whisk us right into the heart of the downtown subway system.
We changed lines and found our way to the station which turned out to be almost directly below our hotel. Checking in was prompt and efficient, and our room – as always – was ready for us when we arrived. Quickly dumping our bags and grabbing the two complimentary bottles of water we immediately returned to the lobby and asked directions for the Summer Palace.
As it turned out, the subway was the answer here again – so off we travelled. Beijing’s subway, alike Nanjing, pretty much caters to all but the most esoteric travel requirements in the downtown and greater Beijing area – and it’s outrageously cheap at 2 CNY (RMB) per ride, no matter where you go. We changed lines twice to reach our destination, and it took nearly 45 minutes, but it was worth the wait.
The Summer Palace is a UNESCO heritage site, and one of the largest we’ve ever been to. It is the former “escape” for royalty back in the dynasty days and boy did they know how to build a resort! It is huge, quite literally apparently occupying 2.9 million square kilometers – much of it occupied by a massive lake. To be honest, we were a little overwhelmed when we first entered, getting quite disoriented at the sheer scale of what could be considered a small town or city.
We eventually found our way up towards Longevity Hill weaving our way past many buildings to find a great view over the lake. We then traced our way to the large Baoyun Pavilion which is pretty much visible from anywhere south of the hill – it’s huge. We walked down the large stairs to end up at the foot of the hill, where we walked along the “long corridor” to arrive at the docks. Photographing the ‘Stone Boat’, famous in Chinese history as a boat commissioned by the Empress Dowager Cixi, who nearly bankrupted the whole country in massive renovations to the Summer Palace – twice – we moved around and to the north west.
Long Corridor/Stone Boat
Here we jumped down onto the lake which had frozen solid. We then walked across the surface of the lake to the other side – a good 45 minute walk at least – all across at least three inches (or more) of frozen lake. A sight to see. We headed for the South Lake were we rejoined terra firma and crossed the “17 Arch” bridge on to admire the “Bronze Ox”. We then pretty much exited the Palace going under the Wencheng Pavilion and leaving via the East Gate (we were 30 mins from closing time at 5pm).
Jumping back onto the subway, we made our way to Tiananmen Square West and by the time we arrived the sun had set. We could not cross to the square itself, it was blocked off and closed for some event, so we circled the block on which sits the Great Hall and doubled back to check out the Performing Arts centre which is an amazing oval shaped building which, at night, is lit up in different colours.
Tiananmen Square/Performing Arts Centre
Finally succumbing to our 5:30am wake up and the whole “on the go” day, we returned to the hotel via the subway where we ate moderately expensive Japanese and retired to the room. We were planning to visit the Olympic Stadium site this evening, but we’re simply worn out.
Tomorrow we’ll be at the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, People’s Hall, Mao’s Mausoleum and the Temple of Heaven. On the 4th we have an eight hour Great Wall excursion, and on the 5th we fky out to Harbin. Check back soon!
Rob and Toni on the Kunming Lake