Summer Palace in Beijing is a parkland area with grand palaces, halls and temples set around a huge man-made lake. It was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998 for its aesthetic and cultural value.
It was chaotic when I arrived – this week is Dragon Boat Festival, a 3 day public holiday, and all of the tourist attractions are over-run. On my walk to the palace I saw someone run out into the road and get hit by a car. She got up but it was a shock for us all.
When I actually entered the palace gardens I stumbled across a choir singing enthusiastically accompanied by musicians. Visitors seemed to be joining in too, and people were dancing and generally having a great time.
The shaded alleyways were my favourite – usually bypassed by everyone else and nice and cool too.
Hundreds of people had taken boats out onto the lake, and the lake was lined with thousands of others looking out at the view.
Up at the top of Longevity Hill was the Temple of Buddhist Virtue which looked impressive from all angles and took about 10 minutes to walk up to via stairways that provided stunning views of the lake, the surrounding areas and the rest of Beijing.
The Summer Palace is beautiful and you could spend a whole day there, stopping for a picnic in the gardens, maybe hiring a boat on the lake, but just try and avoid going on a public holiday!
It was a foggy day when I went to Beihai Park, adding a certain mysterious atmosphere to the visit. The park is to the North West of the Forbidden City and much like the Summer Palace, its central focal point is a large lake.
The park is full of interesting buildings and Chinese gardens but we reached an interesting town on the water’s edge and explored that instead.
People were swimming in the lake which looked surprisingly clean despite Beijing’s reputation. Still, with all the smog around and the sludge around the edges I wasn’t sure how healthy it was but the swimmers seemed to be enjoying themselves. One man had an interesting technique of wearing flip-flops on his hands, lying on his back and propelling himself by performing a clapping action on the surface of the water with his shoe hands. This is him just acclimatising after pushing off from the egde…
You could also hire pedalos on the lake which looked really fun, and my friend had a massage at the water’s edge. Every tom, dick or harry will offer you a massage here so if that’s your thing it’s the place to be. It’s not my thing so I carried on walking instead, taking in the typical Beijing life happening all around.