Day 4: China Adventure – Beijing & The Summer Palace
Our itinerary for Day 4 started at 10:45 AM, so most people decided to sleep in. A small group of us decided to wake up early and go to the Temple of Heaven. We successfully navigated the metro system and had enough time to walk around for about an hour before heading back to the hotel.
Waking up early was worth it! The main reason we went there was to see the actual Temple of Heaven. It was in a park where a lot of locals congregate, so we also were able to get a glimpse into the how the Chinese pass their time.
In front of the Temple of Heaven
People were playing haky sack with what looked like a giant shuttlecock
There were also people line dancing
We then headed back to our hotel to meet up with our group for our final day of sightseeing in Beijing. Our first stop was the ancient Bell Tower of Beijing. The city has a Bell Tower and a Drum Tower. Both were used to warn the city inhabitants when they were being attacked, but they also signaled the start and the end of the day. The bell tower rings at 5:00 AM every morning and the drum tower beats at 7:00 PM every evening.
There is a tea house in the bell tower, so we attended a tea tasting where we tried 5 different kinds of tea (black tea, jasmine tea, pu-erh tea, fruit tea & oolong tea), learned how they make it & what the purpose of each type is. I can honestly say it was the best tea I’ve ever had.
The tea tasting set had two parts. One was the standard tea cup and the other was a tall, round cup. The tea is poured into the tall cup so you can smell it. Then, you put the drinking cup on top of the tall cup and quickly flip it so the tea pours into the drinking cup. Then, you can pick up the smelling cup and roll it in your hands to warm you up.
Tea Tasting Set
After the tea tasting, we rode in rickshaws for lunch at our tour guide’s house in one of the hutongs. It is one of the more traditional residences in Beijing and is essentially a small house in a very tight neighborhood where multiple houses share a bathroom.
In the rickshaw
A street in the hutong
Our tour guide’s mother in law and husband cooked our meal for us – it was delicious. We even got to meet her 4 month old daughter! She also has a son, so she explained that the one child policy does not apply as she was an only child. She is allowed to have two children. We also learned that prior to the 2008 Olympics, most houses were heated by coal. In an effort to reduce the pollution, the government subsidized radiators for each household and still subsidizes the cost of heat in the winter.
After lunch, we took a rickshaw out of the hutong back to our bus.
We then headed to the Emperor’s Summer Palace. When the Forbidden City was too warm, the Emperor would go there to relax. It was absolutely beautiful and exponentially larger than the Forbidden City. For example, instead of a pond, it had a giant lake.
Rowing a boat at the Summer Palace
Gazebo at the Summer Palace
We also walked to the Tower of Buddhist Incense which is on a hill inside the Summer Palace. We had some free time to either climb the 400+ steps to the temple, go out on the lake for a cruise or just have an ice cream. I decided to climb the steps and check out the Buddhist Tower and was rewarded with an absolutely breathtaking view of the grounds.
Tower of Buddhist Incense
Beautiful view from the Tower of Buddhist Incense
We were not allowed to take any pictures inside the temple, but a statue of a Thousand Hand Guanyin. I was very happy I made the climb and gained some valuable insight into a different religion.
After we climbed down the steps, we walked towards the lake and found this marble boat. It does not float, but is very impressive.
Our final stop at the Summer Palace was a shopping street along a canal that was built so the mother of the Emperor could go shopping without having to leave the grounds. They were all manned by eunuchs and she would bargain with them over the cost of items, just like the rest of China!
After the Summer Palace, we stopped for dinner before heading to the train station for our overnight train to Xi’an. The train was much nicer than I thought it would be and each cabin had four beds. We had a mini-Contiki party and played a few games like Cards Against Humanity and Heads Up before going to bed.