We’ve been living in Beijing for nigh on four months now, but it wasn’t until a friend came to visit from out town that we finally got around to seeing two of Beijing’s biggest tourist attractions – the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Our friend Matt Mackey had a week off from teaching English in Japan and came to explore China with one of his fellow teachers, Renate. Starting in Hong Kong, they trained through Guangzhou and Xi’an before reaching us here in the capital.
Back in the days of yore, the Emperor would travel by boat along the canals between the Summer and Winter Palaces. Less navally inclined, we traveled by bus and taxi cab. When we went it was that oxymoronic holiday weekend called Labor Day (especially ironic in Communist China) so the sites were mobbed with more than usual numbers of Chinese tourists. Our first stop was the Summer Palace, pretty close to our apartment in the northwest corner of the city. Sitting atop Longevity Hill and overlooking Kunming Lake, the Palace is really a series of imperial buildings and gardens, the highest of which is the Tower of Buddhist Incense. We paid the extra 40 kuai to get into the “special” areas of Palace, but after getting lost on the backside of the hill for a while, we wound up only using a few of our “extra special” tickets before calling it quits.
Feeling our lives had been appropriately lengthened on Longevity Hill, we headed over to the massive Forbidden City. Built in the 1400s, there are nearly 1,000 buildings still standing within its walls. We headed from north to south, traveling from courtyard to courtyard and tracing the rises and falls of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. From end to end, the complex is nearly a kilometer long so even at a leisurely pace it takes quite a while to wander all the way through. The sun was starting to sink and our feet were getting tired, so we sped up toward the end, waving goodbye to Mao’s portrait as we crossed into Tiananmen Square.
To ensure they had a genuine Beijing experience, we took our guests to the Li Qun Roast Duck Restaurant after a long day of wandering Beijing’s historic sites to stuff our faces with Beijing’s historic dish – Peking duck.
It was great to play host to Matt and Renate and get to show them around to some of our favorite spots in a city that’s starting to feel a little bit like home. Be sure to check out Mackey’s pictures from his Chinese adventure and his blog.