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.
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 colors framed beautiful doorways and windows
the 17-arch bridge as seen through an original glass window