At this point on our fourth day, we were able to visit almost all the places we wanted to go to in Beijing. These last two days were a little more stress-free than the previous ones. My brother and I decided to visit the Lama Temple first, which was also in our original itinerary. But while walking around the subway, we thought it would be best to go and visit The Egg again to take some morning shots. After taking some pictures of The Egg, we then went ahead to visit the Yonghegong Lama Temple, located in the northeastern part of Beijing. After dropping ourselves off the Yonghegong Subway, we saw three monks crossing the street and we kinda figured they’re probably on their way to the temple, so we went ahead and followed them. And we were right. I was not really impressed of the place, considering that we do have a number of temples here in the Philippines already, so nothing really spectacular there to look at. Aside from the way the people pray and do their worship moves, I kinda thought the place was really boring. Sorry, it’s just me. I have this thing about religious places of worship that bores me. Hey, now you know why I don’t go to church. And I felt like I was about to suffocate from all the incense burning going on around there. After less than an hour, we decided to leave the place and visit Hou Hai.
Considered to be one of the most interesting and popular spots in Beijing, the area around the joined lakes of Qian Hai and Hou Hai, is the home to many restaurants, bars and cafes. Traditionally been home to nobles and wealthy merchants, the Hou Hai area is surrounded also by several grand homes, hidden in the labyrinthine old lanes knows as hutongs. This is a rare quarter of Beijing where the 21st century is kept at bay, and these back alleys represent one of the most satisfying parts of the city to explore on foot or by rickshaw.
After having lunch in one of their McDonald’s restaurants there, my brother and I continued to walk and walk, not actually knowing where we were during that time. We both know that we’re in the Hou Hai area already, we just don’t know where in Hou Hai exactly (edited: we were actually in Nanluoguxiang!). A few minutes later, we saw a couple of huge towers, just facing each other. I scanned my little guidebook and saw that we were actually just outside the Drum and Bell Towers. Since there was a drum performance scheduled at 1:30PM during that day in the Drum Tower, and it was around 12:30PM already, we decided to enter the Bell Tower first. Originally built for musical reasons, it was later used to announce the time and is now a tourist attraction here in Beijing. We had to walk up around a hundred steps to reach the top and then take pictures of the Hou Hai area from the top. We then transferred to the Drum Tower to walk the same long walk to the top, watch the drum performances and take more pictures of Hou Hai from above.
We then decided to continue on walking, trying to locate Hou Hai Lake. Located between two other lakes in the scenic Shichahai area, the beautiful Hou Hai Lake is surrounded, not only by a number of bars and restaurants, tea and coffee shops, but also with a bunch of locals and tourists relaxing, hanging out and just enjoying the calming and peaceful atmosphere of the place. We really didn’t know between the two connecting lakes as to which one was the Hou Hai Lake and which one was Qian Hai. All we know was that they’re being connected by the pretty and arched Silver Ingot Bridge, which was also the perfect spot to view small boats being rented by tourists and locals to peddle on the lakes themselves. We would’ve wanted to stay there longer but the sky’s getting a little gloomy, so we decided to look for our last stop, which was the Prince Gong Mansion.
Prince Gong’s Mansion or Gong Wang Fu Museum is located in the western part of Central Beijing, north of the Shichahai Lake. Consisting of large mansions in the typical siheyuan layout and gardens, Prince Gong’s Mansion is known as one of the most ornate and extravagant residence compounds in all of Beijing. I would consider it as a miniature Summer Palace and the place was really filled with so many visitors. I think we were the only ones who didn’t look Chinese there. I don’t think I even saw any Caucasion tourists inside the mansion grounds that time. Said to be one of the most exquisite and well-preserved royal mansions in Beijing, Prince Gong’s Mansion used to house several families and has a total area of 60,000 square meters. Filled with buildings, gardens, mini-lakes, pavilions, artifical hills and several siheyuan courtyards, plus it’s own grand opera house, it was one of the highlights of this Hou Hai experience.
After roaming around the mansion grounds, we then decided to head back to the hostel. It was starting to drizzle while we were in the streets already. We happened to meet this friendly Chinese girl who spoke English that went with us to the Ping-Anli Subway Station and even shared her umbrella with me. She was very chatty and I had a great time talking to her about our experience in Beijing so far. She even mentioned that she finds their current climate hot. Huh? While I was already shivering from the cold breeze, this is still considered as hot? I told her she should visit the Philippines so she can experience a whole new level of crazy hotness there. I had a great time roaming around the Hou Hai area and the locals there were very, very friendly and helpful. That, I really didn’t expect. Once we arrived back at the hostel, we decided to rest for a while and head out to the Beijing Olympic Park to take some night shots of the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube.
For our last day in Beijing, we decided to de-stress since we were able to go to all the places we wanted to go to for this trip. My sister wanted to do some bargain hunting, so I went with her to the Beijing Zoo Market, the most popular and cheapest clothing market in Beijing. Located just across the Beijing Zoo, hence the name, this market sells everything from clothes to accessories to sports equipments. I did not find it cheap at all. The Bangkok markets are actually cheaper for me, and had a lot of choices compared to this one. After buying some clothes, we passed by another shopping mall, the U Center and did some more shopping. In the afternoon, we went back to the hostel and after packing my stuff, I decided to do some more shopping in Wangfujing on my own while my sister went biking with my brother around the hutongs.
We decided to have dinner in one of the restaurants near the hostel, which has always been fully-packed with customers every day. Nothing on the menu was English so we just went inside, took pictures of the food on the other customers’ tables and showed it to the waiter. That was our last dinner before we leave for the airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave around midnight so we had the hostel arrange a taxi for us to be brought back to the airport. It was probably one of the most bittersweet moments I’ve had while on vacation, saying goodbye to all the sweet girls from Happy Dragon, which definitely made this vacation more special. We took some pictures with them and felt bad when we cannot add them on Facebook since it’s banned in China. I would have to say that this Beijing vacation tops them all as one of the most unforgettable and enjoyable trips I’ve ever had (sorry, Hanoi). I knew I would love this place, I did not expect it to love it that much. Definitely one of the places I would love to come back to again and again. And hey, I may not look like it, but I’m still part Chinese. My grandfather would’ve been proud of me.Follow @iamthegarysia