Today’s itinerary (our final day in Beijing) is the Summer Palace (颐和园). It was first built in 1750 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆帝) as a royal garden for royal families to rest and relax. It later served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后). It was listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO in 1998.
As Summer Palace is large and sprawling, it’s better to do some research to shortlist the places you want to see and plan your route accordingly. We decided to start early so that we can cover the places we wanted to see. We took the subway from Wangfujing (Line 1) to Beigongmen station (Line 4). The journey took almost an hour including interchange at Xidan station.
By doing research beforehand, it also helped to decide what type of ticket to buy. We bought the combination ticket (RMB60) that includes entrance to Garden of Virtue and Harmony (德和园), Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁), Wenchang Gallery and Suzhou Street (苏州街).
We started our exploration from the North Gate. Another access is through the East Gate. Our first stop was Suzhou Street. This 300m long street was designed to imitate the style of shops on the banks of rivers in Suzhou City.
Legend has it that Emperor Qianlong built the street for his favourite concubine who was from Suzhou. A little river wound through the middle of the street with shops selling goods from Suzhou.
Today, the street includes stores selling souvenirs, tea, clothes and shoes and eateries.
From Suzhou Street, we climbed Longevity Hill to make our way to Tower of Buddhist Incense. Empress Dowager Cixi prayed at this three-level Buddhist tower on the first and fifteeth day of the lunar month. On a clear day, one gets a good view of Kunming Lake (昆明湖) from here. Unfortunately when we visited, it was a hazy day – Beijing’s pollution can be quite bad at times.
After a brief stop, we made our way down towards Kunming Lake via the Long Gallery (长廊). The covered walkway measured almost 730 metres long and has 4 octagonal gazebos representing the four seasons.
The beams and ceilings of the walkway are decorated with over 14,000 paintings depicting scenes from Chinese history, literature and mythology with lots of flowers and animals.
We walked all the way to the Marble Boat (清晏舫). Built in 1755 with a base made from huge stones, it was meant to symbolize the stability of the Qing Dynasty. After it was burnt down in 1860, Empress Dowager Cixi re-built it using Western design using funds embezzled from the navy. The two storied boat body was made of wood, but painted to look like marble.
We stopped for lunch at the eatery nearby before continuing our exploration of this expansive park. We backtracked towards the eastern side of the palace to Garden of Virtue and Harmony. Here, the royal families watched performances of the Peking opera.
We reached the Grand Theatre just in time to catch a musical and acrobatic performance.
After exiting the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, we made our way towards Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿). The hall was used by the emperors for administrative matters. The place was so crowded that we didn’t manage to get a good view nor photo of the main hall. So we lingered for a while in the courtyard before moving on to Wenchang Gallery (文昌院).
Entering Wenchang Gallery felt like we were in another place altogether – it was relatively empty and serene :). This gallery is a treasure trove of valuable antiques and cultural relics dating back over 3000 years ago. The exhibits displayed in six halls include bronzeware, chinaware, paintings, jades and other types of Chinese antiques.
Last stop was seventeen-arch bridge (十七孔桥) as we wanted to catch a closer look of the giant Rubber Duck that was on display on the Kunming Lake.
I missed the duck when it stopped over in Hong Kong earlier this year. This Rubber Duck was created by Florentijn Hofman, a Dutch artist, in 2007 for his “Spreading joy around the world” campaign. Since then, this duck has spread joy to people in more than 10 countries.
We called it a day after spending 5 hours at this well preserved royal park. We exited at the West Gate, the exit nearest to the lake and made our way to Xiyuan station (Line 4).