Let’s get down to business. Elsewhere in Beijing we went exploring via the subway (which is so easy to use, just make sure you get a Smart Card and top it up). About forty minutes from the centre is the Summer Palace. It used to be a place for Royals to relax and entertain and at one point was a home to the family. Now it’s a large park/complex full of palaces, parks and lakes to wander and get lost in. We saw a lot of people running along the promenades, having picnics and generally strolling. I was expecting an abundance of tourists but I think the majority of visitors were locals just enjoying the place. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot to do there in terms of activities, it’s much more of a photograph/bask in the sunshine location. The nature is absolutely stunning with such gorgeous pink flowers and willow trees amongst silhouettes of temple roofs and mountains. I’d recommend going here just to escape the constant beeping of motorbikes and people spitting in the main city.
Two cool highlights in Beijing are the Drum and Bell Towers that sit opposite each other. They’re located north of the Forbidden City and give great views of the city. Back in the day before the major build up of Beijing, these two towers would’ve dominated the skyline and been really key in time keeping with their dings and dongs. Now you can pay a fare to climb up both of them (and the climb is very steep and intense so be warned, people were struggling). The bell tower has a giant bronze bell inside with really beautiful wooden logs used to ring it. When you go to the drum tower look up when the performances are as you get to see several drummers actually play the many drums inside. Seeing that was really great and the determination and concentration they have is inspiring for their art.
In the surrounding area are a bunch of hutongs (small streets) that are great for exploring. Some are a bit touristy with shops and restaurants but others are much more consistent with how it would’ve been back in the day when people lived down these alleys. At one point we ended up by a canal where a plethora of people were and a bunch of paddle boats struggling to squeeze past each other under a bridge. Lots of karaoke bars, cafes and restaurants surrounded the promenades so we stopped at one and had beers on their rooftop with this amazing view (you can spot the bell tower in the back). Having a break after all that walking was great and this is the perfect spot to people watch to your hearts content.
Cheeky little note – the candy in China is unreal. We walked past this sweet shop that was a glorified pick and mix. I had no idea what we were grabbing but we filled our box up with dried fruit, pea cakes, candied strawberries and red bean cookies. It was cheap, it was tasty and it probably gave me a lot of future cavities.
Somewhere you have to check out is the Yonghe Temple, or Lama Temple. It was an extra smoggy day when we went so our masks were on in full force and yes we look very Bane from Batman but safety first! Getting to the temple is very easy as the subway stop is named after it. Once there you buy a ticket and in you go. You kind of make your way through a series of gates and different halls, each decorated to perfection. There are lovely trees surrounding the area but also providing privacy and really making the whole place so peaceful. In one of the halls there is a giant statue of Buddha made from sandalwood, which I believe is the largest wood-carved one in the world (it was huge). You will be given some joss sticks, similar to incense, that many people burn around the temple.
We both love eating and after realising how tricky it would be to talk (and order vegetarian dishes) we did our research online and found a place about ten minutes away from the temple. It involved going down these lovely alleyways away from the main tourist road and really seeing a different side to Beijing. Something I’ll mention now is that you will never have to worry about finding a toilet in Beijing, there are public toilets everywhere (not the cleanest but still). From the temple to this restaurant we must’ve passed about ten public toilets. The restaurant was called Baihe (I think) and they had a lot of mock meat dishes, vegetable spreads and delicious treats. Big shout out to this fake chicken, sticky dish that was insanely good and the okra deliciousness.
On the opposite side of town in the south is Temple of Heaven. This is another complex similar to the Summer Palace but smaller. The main feature is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and you’ll be able to spot the gold tip of it throughout the whole place. To get there we walked down the Long Corridor and it leads you perfectly to the entrance. It is a three story pavilion in such gorgeous blue, green and purple colouring. It was quite busy but if you walk all the way round it you’ll likely find an emptier spot to take some fun photos (we did some poses we saw some girls doing and thought they were uniquely Chinese).
Something to mention that I don’t really have any photos of because you weren’t allowed is the acrobatics show at the Chaoyang Theatre. It was a little tacky and the English subtitles/descriptions were translated poorly but the talent those people have is amazing. Some of the acts that I saw from balancing on fifteen chairs stacked on top of each other to the flexibility they have is unbelievable and I would recommend this show to anyone if not to just support these talented people. You will first arrive and think it’s very kitsch and expect to hate it but once the show starts you will be bloody mesmerized. Something else that’s incredible? The Great Wall and that’s coming next!