After our short stay in Shanghai it was time to move on for our next adventure.
We had an early start (6:30am!) before taking a taxi to the train station to catch the 8am high speed train to Beijing. Our experiences of trains in China were pretty good overall and I was amazed by their efficiency. We queued for a short while before joining the madness that is Chinese queuing to make our way down to the platform. We found out when we got to the barrier that we could have been in a shorter queue but nevermind.
We lugged our stuff down to the platform and walked past countless carriages before boarding carriage 1. We were looking for seats 2A and 2C, we walked all the way along the first class carriage but did not come across the correct seats. We decided to check the smaller carriage past the toilet/hot water area and there were seats 2A and 2C in the sightseeing carriage!!!
We were basically sat behind the business class seats (which are the top class you can get and is above first class), of which there were only 2. It was a lovely small carriage which was much more peaceful then the main carriage. I didn’t find the seats very comfortable having short legs and no leg rest, there was also nowhere to place luggage. In the main first class carriage you do get foot rests and overhead luggage storage but we weren’t complaining!
The train journey was pretty uneventful and we did spend a lot of the time asleep catching up on some rest but it was fast, smooth and enjoyable. 5 hours later we were pulling into Beijing prepared for the next cities sights.
We met our guide Skye at the arrivals hall of the train station (after 10 minutes of not being able to find each other) and made our way to the car. Our first stop of the day was the Summer Palace. We had agreed previously to use private transport for our first day as the Summer Palace is hard to get to by public transport.
We were very glad that we had only agreed to it for the first day as the traffic in Beijing is awful. I cannot explain to you how many cars there are, thousands and thousands…well….5 million to be precise. This many cars not only cause a lot of pollution but they cause a lot of traffic jams, it takes hours to get anywhere!
Anyway, we made it to the Summer Palace. The origins do date back to 1153 but this isn’t really in the state we know it today. The palace really came into its own in 1884 when it was built/restored for the Emperor Dowergess Cixi for her 60th birthday by her son.
In 1998 it became a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Summer Palace is a beautiful site of gardens, lakes and buildings. I had previously visited back in 2010 but was excited to see it again.
We made our way around a relatively small section of the site but as its 740ish acres we covered the main areas. We started by walking around the area by the Kunming lake, the weather was clear and sunny but incredibly windy!
We then walked along the Long Corridor – 728m in length containing 14,000 paintings. I believe it’s the longest covered walkway in the world but correct me if that wrong. It is a beautiful corridor and goes alongside the lake so you get some great views. Our guide Skye explained it to us as like a photo album, wherever the Emperor went he would then get pictures painted on his corridor so he could remember them.
Once we had walked along most of it we came to the Marble Boat at the end. It was originally built in 1755 but was destroyed and rebuilt in its current state in 1893 by Dowergess Cixi. It’s known as the Marble Boat but it’s actually the Boat of Purity and Ease, and it’s not even marble but wood painted to look like marble. Which is sensible really as otherwise there would be no way it would float!!
We were supposed to get a Dragon Boat across the lake to the 17 arch bridge but due to the high winds it had been shut due to health & safety. Very British. But it was really windy!
Instead with walked to a different exit and headed for a quick look at the 2008 Olympic buildings – the Bird’s Nest and Aquatic Cube. They had built an overpass over a road specifically as a viewpoint for them which gave a good view.
Our last stop of the day was an Acrobatic Show. It was a bit of a palaver to get there with the traffic, we sat at some traffic lights for 15 minutes without going anywhere! So we jumped out and made a mad dash across the huge 8 lane road to the theatre.
It was a picture free show but it stunned nonetheless, with plate spinning, acrobatics and a motorbike sphere. This totally blew my mind as they just kept adding bikes, 1 after another, after another. I have my head in my hands at 4 bikes – they went up to 7!!!!
The show was great, a bit touristy but we enjoyed it. We headed to our hotel, The Park Plaza which had a great location and good rooms, to rest up before our action packed day tomorrow!
Hotel: The Park Plaza. This is located pretty central near the main shopping street. The hotel itself was very modern and had lovely rooms. I would recommend staying here if you happen to be in Beijing.
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Tour Guide: Skye Gao. I would 150% recommend using Skye if you want a tour guide in Beijing. She is professional but friendly, easy to approach, knowledgable and her main concern is making sure you are having a great time!! She is one of the best tour guides I have ever had and our favourite in China.