Beijing Travel Itinerary, Day 3 - Summer Palace, Confucius Temple and the Beijing Chinese Opera
Grab breakfast at your hotel or take a detour to Jin Ding Xuan, next to the south gate of Ditan Park. The specialty at this 24-hour Cantonese place is dim sum, the little snacks in bamboo baskets that are popular in Southern China.
Now it's time to get out of the city. Hop in a cab (or take the subway, line 4 to Beigongmen) to the Summer Palace, an imperial-sized pleasure garden upgraded by the Empress Dowager Cixi at the end of the 19th century. From the city center it's about a half hour drive. Two-thirds of the park is swallowed up by the serene Kunming Lake, around which is scattered, according to traditional Chinese principles of harmony, pagodas, gazebos, theatres, temples, halls and even artificial hills. The highlights of the garden include the Long Corridor, a 72-m zigzagging painted pathway that hugs the shore and the Marble Boat where Cixi used to take tea and watch the ripples on the lake. The boat has become of symbol of her extravagance in restoring the park; she is oft-blamed for an embarrassing naval defeat to the Japanese in 1895 because she supposedly siphoned off funds for the Summer Palace that should have gone to the Chinese navy.
The Summer Palace is one of the most popular tourist sights and can get quite crowded. If you want a little something more low-key, you could head out further west to the Fragrant Hills Park, which during the Ming dynasty was a royal hunting preserve complete with tigers. In fall, the sycamore leaves turn the park into a forest of fiery reds and yellows. Climb or cable car it to the top of Fragrant Hill for — on a clear day — sweeping views of Beijing.
Head back to the city for lunch at Vineyard Café (31 Wu Dao Ying Hutong), a cozy courtyard restaurant serving filling continental food and good coffee. This puts you in the perfect position to visit two of Beijing's most beautiful temples — the Tibetan Lama Temple and the Confucius Temple. The Lama Temple dates back to 1694 and was the main center of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet. During the Cultural Revolution it was made into a shoe factory. Today scores of brown-robed monks pad through its incense-wreathed halls. Each hall has a successively larger Buddha until you reach the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses which protects a stunning 25-m high Maitreya Buddha made from a single piece of sandalwood. If you fancy a bit of your own Tibetan Buddhist keepsake, the streets around the temple are lined with stalls selling Buddha statues, tangka paintings, incense burners and paper lanterns.
Just across the street and down Guozijian Street is the Confucius Temple, which is now combined with the Imperial Academy, where scholars studied for their imperial exams. Look out for the eerie forest of stone steles, almost 200 slabs of stone recording the names of thousands of students. Opposite the temple is the Confucian Teahouse, where you can enjoy a Chinese tea ceremony. English-speaking staff takes guests step by step through the procedure, slipping in Tang Dynasty poetry and teapot etiquette on the way.
Beijing is great for theater dining and there are lots of choices. In keeping with the theme of the afternoon, the colorful Makye Ame Tibetan restaurant (11A Xiushui Nanjie) is a cozy dive with a lively diner participation floorshow. Alternatively you can chow down on spicy Sichuan cuisine at Baguo Buyi (89-3 Dianmen Dong Dajie) which has a nightly 8 p.m. bianlian (face changing) performance. The part-acrobatic part-magic dance comes from Sichuan opera where the artist switches through fearsome brightly-colored masks in the blink of an eye.
Day 1 & Day 2
For more information, contact the China National Tourist Office at www.cnto.org.