January 10, 2008

Breezing through the Summer Palace

Tower of the Fragrant Buddha

I don't know if my friends share the same sentiment but my visit to the beautiful Summer Palace in Beijing, however awe-inspiring, was one marred by frustration. You see, places like these deserve more than just a few hours of your time. It can only be truly appreciated when taken in slowly; with a leisurely stroll through its halls and into its temples and pavillions, up its towers, across it's bridges and around its lakes, under the canopy of its trees, savoring every moment.

Sadly, I can't say we did much of that. I had trusted that we would be given ample time to make the most of our tour but our guide seemed to be impatiently herding us around like cattle (prompting me to swear for the eleventeenth time to never again hire a guide if I can help it!). If we hadn't insisted on going up to the Tower of Buddhist Fragrance (above), we would not have gone in to see anything at all and just walked the perimeter of the grounds by the lake. Our guide barely even explained anything to us while we were there. Thankfully I did a bit of homework the night before and read my NG Traveller China guide before going to bed so I wasn't entirely clueless.


But frustrations aside, to say that I was impressed by this imperial wonderland of a retreat would be the mother of all understatements. It is the quintessential example of harmony between man and nature, seemingly designed to offer magnificent views from just about every spot. Also known as Yiheyuan, the Summer Palace was concieved in the 12th century and is touted as the best imperial garden in China. The Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled silver intended for the Imperial Navy to the restoration of the Summer Palace, which was significantly destroyed during the Boxer Rebellion, and the construction of the Marble Boat.

The Long Corridor here is similar in nature to the one at the Temple of Heaven but is much longer and with more tourists. While my friends walked along the tree-shaded pavement along the water, I chose to stroll through this corridor and imagine that I was tracing the footsteps of the Empress who must have passed this way many times to reach her Marble Boat. The ceiling of the corridor is designed in the same colorful patterns that had become familiar to me after my visit to the Forbidden City.

strolling the grounds

You can see a section of the Long Corridor to the right

We climbed the steps to the Tower of Buddhist Fragrance (to the dismay of our guide because - would you believe - this wasn't part of the itinerary) and were rewarded with a splendid view of Kunming Lake. The outdoor steps were quite the treat as they were even more beautifully designed than the Long Corridor. You can imagine all the cheesy pictures we took here!


I was really looking forward to taking pictures of the 17-arch bridge as well as our group on the dragon boat that was to take us there across the lake. But unfortunately it was low-tide, so I contented myself with a cup of coffee and pictures of the moored boats. I suspect our guide was secretly happy about our misfortune because we had already wasted precious time at the Tower. He urged us to walk faster as we made our way towards the exit, but we kept stopping for pictures along the way. It was only when he told us that if we didn't hurry we might lose our lunch reservations did we finally pack our cameras away and pick up our pace.


A half-day tour of the Summer Palace is not enough, you need a whole day here at least. For a more enjoyable and memorable visit, go on your own. You can bring a guide to help you identify the important attractions and the stories behind it, or you could also opt to rent one of those audio guides in your preferred language. Then you would have done the place justice, strolling and savoring, oohing and ahhing as you did so. It was, and still is, a place for recreation and leisure after all. :)

Autumn in the Summer Palace

Autumn colors framed beautiful doorways and windows

17-arch bridge

the 17-arch bridge as seen through an original glass window


mtan said...

Ooooo, annoying guides!!! The last guide I encountered in China made me lose my temper so badly, he even had the effrontery to chase us telling us we couldn't wander around town without him.
But back to yiheyuan, yes, you need at least a day, and time enough to imagine the stories, the backstabbing, the intrigues at dusk, all because of Cixi. What a woman, and what history (or herstory) she created for us to enjoy 100 years later.

wysgal said...

Was your tour group a part of a bigger group? I had a pretty good experience with a tour guide in Bangkok that we hired last minute ... we just hired the guide and the van for 8 hours, and we pretty much did whatever we wanted. So we could spend as much or as little time in different places. Which was great because we could defer to her expertise when needed, and make adjustments when we wanted to stay longer in one place.

Patricia Scarpin said...

Your photos are breathtaking!

oggi said...

Those are postcard perfect photos Christine!

The hubby and I had one of "those guides" in Florence. She was annoyed when we moved away from her and the group. We felt she was robotic and did not really explain much. We also thought she was not appropriately dressed as a tour guide and looked like a baglady.:)

Burnt Lumpia said...

Such beautiful pictures Christine. With the very little traveling my wife and I have done, we are yet to hire a tour guide or be part of a tour group. There are pros and cons for each, but at least you were still able to enjoy yourself:)

christine said...

Haha Mila, what was the last straw that made you lose your temper? I'm laughing imagining him chasing you guys and all of you trying to get rid of him.

Wysgal, we had a private van and guide. Which is why I expected him to be more flexible and the only reason I even succumbed to hiring a guide in the first place, I wouldn't have wanted to join a group on that trip.

Thank you, Patricia! :)

Oggi, it's funny you should mention how she was dressed. I told my travel agent friend after that I felt I was nitpicking when I mentioned about our guide wearing the exact same clothes for THREE days straight!! And she assured me I wasn't nitpicking, that that was quite unprofessional of him. And she's right. It's distracting (especially since well he began to smell too), and even more so someone dressed like a baglady. :)

Thanks, Marvin! Oh yes, I wasn't going to let that ruin our trip. It really wasn't such a big problem and could have been worse. We had a good laugh out of the whole thing too - you know bargaining with him for time and where to go etc. And acting like stubborn school kids on a field trip. :)

Katrina said...

Breathtaking!!! The colors, that row of windows in different shapes, the beautiful ceiling above those steps...I would've whacked the guide over the head for keeping me from taking all the time to appreciate them! ;-)

Gorgeous -- GORGEOUS! -- photos, Nena. I'm all but drooling.

shalimar said...

there is something i hate when travelling BEING IN A GROUP .. i love taking my time to take photos to absorb whats around me...
when i was in Lombok we had a van and a local driver with him we were more flexible and discovered other places where no tourists venture... great photos ....

it pays to do yr homework.. isnt it ;-)

PS we are going back to nassau then exumas again might have a week off am thinking of boston

joey said...

Awesome photos Nens! But what an annoying guide...to think that he was hired for just you guys and did not have to defer to a group...Anyways, looks like you made the best of it :)

christine said...

Thanks thanks Katrina!! :) And trust me, I was ready to whack him over the head hehe. But I held back, he did kinda save my life at the great wall.

Yes it does, Sha! :) Gosh, I'm drooling over your pictures at the Bahamas on Facebook. That is paradise no less!!! You lucky lucky girl!

Thanks, Jo! Yup, wasn't about to let him ruin my tour that much! Wish all guides were like Mr. "the toooo layyydeeeez" from Egypt. :) He was so nice!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

These are inspiring photos, truly. I hope 2008 has been good to you so far. Cheers, Susan.

Yen said...

WOW! Your photos are amazing! :)

tanabata said...

Your photos are simply stunning!

princess_dyanie said...

as always, your pics are truly amazing! :) nice post! :)

i wanna go there too.. so im heading myself for Oplan tipid tipid hehehehe ;)

Em Dy said...

As usual, great photos. I like lingering too in destinations. The hurried pace of tours is its own downside.

christine said...

Thank you, Susan, I hope it's been great for you as well! :)

Thank you, Yen & tanabata! :)

Princess dyanie, I will join you! I'm also doing my own oplan tipid for another trip I plan to take middle or 3rd qtr this year. :) So good luck to both of us!

Thanks Em, :) and so true. That's why I much prefer independent travel - 99% of the time!