Summer Palace, Beijing
The Chinese Emperors lived in the Forbidden City which is in the centre of Beijing City. It's an interesting complex but mainly stone buildings and in the summer it becomes stifling hot. In the 12th century the Emperor at the time ordered the construction of what is now known as the Summer Palace. In summer the court would move to this cooler, greener and far more pleasant locality.
I like the Summer Palace and visited again during my recent trip to China. Since my last visit a new subway line has opened up and it's now possible to travel by subway to the palace. You do however enter by a different gate from where most of the tourists make their way into the Summer Palace grounds. This ended up being a positive, while it's crowded with visitors, much less so than those who enter through the Eastern Palace Gate.
The station you exit the train is the Beigongmon station on Line 4. Once out of the station I couldn't see any signs (in English!) indicating where the Northern Gate to the Summer Palace was located. It was time to put those travel problem solving skills into action, and I decided to follow the direction that most of the Chinese people were walking is, reasoning they could read the signs! And I followed them right to the ticket office of the Northern Gate! Success!
A word of caution, I discovered that the Northern Palace Gate entrance into the Summer Palace involves climbing up through a temple, lots of steps! The Eastern Palace Gate entrance is on the flat ground around the lake.
The first location you come to by entering through the Northern Gate is the Shuzhou Street. The palace complex had its own shopping street with a variety of traders, the original street was destroyed by Anglo-French forces who attacked in 1860. The current street that you see is a reproduction that was constructed in 1988.
The Four Great Regions. A Buddhist temple, you climb up the steps and then are rewarded with a great view.
View looking back over Beijing and the mountains beyond.
Once you climb up through the temple, you climb up to another temple on top of the mountain, and then you make your descent down to the lake.
The path leads you down to the lake and the dock area where you can find the marble boat. This was used for taking tea by the lake (I hired one of those listening guides which would automatically turn on and give you information as you reached a particular site)
The dock near the marble boat was where you could get a boat to cross the lake to Nanhu Island. I did this, it turned out it was the best way of taking a boat on the lake, there were very few people this side of the lake and I paid for my ticket then went straight onto a boat. When I was at the dock by the Eastern Palace Gate, I saw that the line for the boats was quite long and it looked as though those people had a real wait on their hands!
Looking across the lake to the mountains, the bridge reminded me of the bridges in Venice, most look like this one.
Sailing across the lake looking back to Longevity Hill, with the Buddhist Tower of Incense on top of the hill.
Once on Nanhu Island, you just walk around it until you reach the 17 arch bridge and then walk across it to the main part of the grounds.
The beautiful gate just before the entrance to Longevity Hill.
The palace where Empress Cixi lived, the windows have decorated screens so that the air could circulate in summer, cooling down the building.
Climbing up to the Tower of Buddhist Incense.
Decorated covered staircases and view of the lake. (Didn't make it much higher than this! I decided to admire the Tower of Buddhist Incense from below it!)
The Long Walk, a covered walkway that goes around the lake from the Eastern Palace Gate to the Marble Boat. All beautifully decorated with 4 pavilions in the walkway, representing a different season of the year.
The Summer Palace is a beautiful location to visit, it's very popular with Chinese tourists but it's such a large area that you don't tend to feel crowded. The basic ticket to enter will give you access to the grounds, the boat trips cost extra. If you want to visit certain sites then an all inclusive ticket (which is what I bought) is what you need. For example Longevity Hill was a separate fee, but the inclusive ticket covered the cost, a general admission ticket wouldn't get you entry into it.