Beijing, China: Day 4 – The Summer Palace

When Jeremy and I visited China before kids, we loved the day that we went to the Summer Palace, on the outskirts of Beijing. While planning this trip, we knew that we wanted to take our kids there.


While the site of the palace was used by the imperial family since the 1100’s, in 1749, the emperor wanted to honor his mother and have this palace complex built. Given how hot Beijing is in the summer, a place with lots of water (he had additional lakes built) and beautiful gardens would be perfect. When I looked into why they didn’t stay here longer, it turns out that the facilities simply weren’t adequate for all the affairs of state that needed to happen. Since 1912, it has mostly been used as a public park, and in 1998 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


For breakfast, the kids really wanted to go back to the restaurant we went on our first morning in Beijing, and we were happy to oblige them!  We accidentally ordered way too much food, but between the dumplings and the Chinese style doughnuts (fried bread), all of us were happy.

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace isn’t super far from the city, and with all the recent metro lines that have been built, it’s reachable by the Beijing subway. So, after breakfast, we went to the station and made our way. It was really quite lovely, and we enjoyed all the water features.


All of us enjoyed admiring both the architecture and the gardens. The covered walkways were also quite pleasant. During the rainy season it would provide shelter, and durning the summer, it would provide shade.


Both the lake and the lack of crowds were an excellent bonus. Traveling in November and mid-week definitely has its advantages.

Imagining what it would be like to live here was quite fun.


As we wandered, we tried to remember the stories our tour guide had told us several years before – they were quite interesting when we heard them, especially since we didn’t know many details about Chinese history. In the late 1800’s Empress Cixi embezzled funds from the Navy to restore the palace into a retreat that she planned to live for the remainder of her life.


Apparently, this empress was a concubine to the Emperor and bore him a male child.  When the emperor died, her young son became emperor.  She managed to manipulate her way into a shared regency position and controlled China through her son.


At her son’s death, she managed to get her nephew named emperor, even though he was not the next in line of succession. Given that he was also a child, she did some more manipulation and managed to seize even more power than she had with her own son.


Upon her death, she left China in disarray and division. Some say that most of the division was due to her reign. Others say that there were other factors. On the other hand, she did manage to abolish slavery and make reforms in both the legal system and the education system.


On our way out, we decided to take a rickshaw (a bicycle-carriage) back to the subway. The boys loved it!


Afternoon Wanderings

After getting back to Beijing, we picked up some snacks for a light lunch and headed for the Drum Tower. Unfortunately, we learned that the tower was in the final stages of renovation then, but was still closed.


So disappointing! Here is a picture of one of the drums in 2007. The performance just before this picture was quite impressive:


At this point, we decided to wander the Hutong neighborhoods again. At first, we were in slightly the wrong area and it felt quite deserted, but eventually we made it to a more interesting section and took another rickshaw ride.


Thanksgiving Dinner

This day was technically Thanksgiving at home. While in China there was no expectation that we would have a big turkey dinner, but we figured a Peking Duck dinner would be the closest thing.


It ended up being a little smaller than expected – given that we mostly skipped lunch, maybe we should have ordered two, but it was still a lot of fun. To our delight, our server carved the duck in front of us.

But then we were slightly horrified when he cut the head in half and put it with the other meat.


As it turns out, the duck brains are supposed to be eaten at the end of the meal as a delicacy. I honestly can’t remember whether I tried them or not, but in any case, it was a very memorable Thanksgiving!


Keep reading our travel blog for more adventures in Asia!

Here are some more blog posts from this trip to China:

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