Beijing: Day 3
Today we were going to visit the Summer Palace. It’s a vast area of land on the northeast outskirts of Beijing, filled with pavilions, pagodas, temples and a replica of a street in Suzhou. All these buildings circle a huge man-made lake, called Kunming Lake, which is modelled on the West Lake in Hangzhou, right down to the causeway on the west side of the lake. The earth from the lake was used to make a hill next to lake which houses the main temples and buildings. All the buildings in the complex were burnt down by the British in the 1860s. It was this act which forced the Chinese into signing an agreement which gave the British the Kowloon part of Hong Kong and opened a further 5 ports in China, one of which was Shanghai.
The metro took an hour to reach the edge of the palace grounds. Guessing that food would be limited or expensive in the park we bought lunch from a convenience shop by the entrance gate.
Inside we were shocked to see just how large the lake is. Considering that it’s man-made it is vast! We wandered through a few buildings. Every section of the buildings was painted and decorated in incredible detail.
We entered a long corridor which was over a kilometre long and ran most of the width of the northern end of the lake. Each beam was decorated with a different scene.
Then we went up the hill, created by the soil extracted to make the lake, through a large temple complex.
The view over the lake was impressive. It actually resembled the West Lake in Hangzhou in everything but size, but they’d made a good effort and it wasn’t much smaller.
At the back of the hill are more temples.
At the foot of the hill is where Suzhou street can be found. This is an ancient street in Suzhou which was almost perfectly replicated here on Beijing for the amusement of the empress Dowager.
We wandered back towards the lake and found a building made of marble, designed to look like a boat.
Then we set off on a long walk around the lake. It wasn’t as hot or humid as Hangzhou had been, plus it was much quieter. This made the walk far better than Hangzhou had been.
On the other side of the lake is a small island with a long bridge over to it. We attempted to walk around the island but one of the pavilions was closed so a full circuit wasn’t possible. From here we could hardly see the temple at the top of the lake due to the haze. Travelling around China in June and July is not the best time to travel! But this is the Chinese peak season for holidays, which makes no sense. Why go on holiday at the hottest, most humid, most hazy time of the year. November had reasonable temperatures, clear blue skies and excellent visibility.
It was 5pm when we finished our circuit of the lake. We had walked more than 5 miles to get around the lake and had seen quite a few richly decorated pavilions. It was very clean and looked good, but best of all, it had a relaxed atmosphere. We had enjoyed our time wandering around this huge park.
Apparently one of the ‘must do’ experiences in China (according to both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides) is to eat Peking Duck in Beijing. We’d tried to find a Peking Duck restaurant the day before and after reading reviews of places serving duck we’d visited a few and discovered that none of them were serving duck. Either the menu had changed or people had reviewed the wrong restaurant. That had been annoying and wasted an hour of our time the day before. We didn’t want to make the same mistake today. So we used the few Beijing pages we’d torn out and carried with us to find a place guaranteed to serve Peking Duck. The snag with this was it’s listed in the Lonely Planet, which means it’ll be a mass market chain catering for tourists. But we had no internet to research for a more ‘authentic’ location. As we approached the restaurant we realised we were near a huge youth hostel which we’d rejected because all the reviews were about it been western, with western food and near a load of bars, this wasn’t what we wanted from China so we’d avoided it. Upon entering the restaurant our worse fears were proven true, most people sitting down were white westerners. Oh well, let’s see what the duck’s like… To be honest, we wouldn’t know if this was great tasting duck or not. It took a while to complete the cooking and we waited about 35 minutes before the waiter came over and told us our duck was been carved. We saw a chef standing near the door carving a whole duck. A strange place to stand, I’d rather he did it by my table so I could watch (and also see how much meat he kept and took back into the kitchen). Eventually the dish was brought over to our table. The meat had been carved into small pieces and the skin, which had a very thick glaze had been laid back over the meat. It was very nice, far better than any duck we’d eaten in a Chinese restaurant in the UK. Was it the best? How would we know? It tasted far better than any others we’d tried but this place was full of tourists, in a tourist area, so probably not the best. But close enough for us.