Beihai Park is predominantly lake, with two thirds of its 68 ha area covered by open water. The lake was artificially created when the garden was built for imperial use some 800 years ago. The excavated dirt from the lake was used to form the island (Jade Flowery Islet) which sits in the southeast corner.
Beihai Park was originally a playground for emperors from the Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. However now anybody can dine like an Emperor at the luxurious Fangshan Resetaurant. Situated near the boat dock, it serves up imperial recipes favoured by the Empress Cixi.
Fangshan Restaurant was a little pricey for us, but we enjoyed an afternoon touring the grounds. We started our tour at the Eastern Gate. Entry was Y10, which included admission to the White Dagoba on Jade Islet. We then crossed a bridge onto Jade Islet and climbed a set of well worn steps to the top, stopping on the way to admire the view north near the Painted Walkway. At the top stood the White Dagoba. This Tibetan style monument dates from 1651 (but was rebuilt in 1741) and commemorates a visit by the Dalai Lama. It is said that the landmark contains Lamaist Scriptures, robes and other sacred objects. I was impressed by the intricate stone carvings in the walls and balustrades - we were to see identical features at several other Qing monuments including the Forbidden City. Just in front of the Dagoba stood the Yong'an Temple of Lamaism Shanyin Hall, covered with hundreds glazed tiles depicting Buddhist statues. You could climb up to the Hall but it cost extra so we contented ourselves with the view from the ground.
We descended the hill down a steep set of steps on the south side. Our path took us through a series of buildings and court yard, one of which was The Temple of Eternal Peace (although I'm not sure which one...) The buildings housed many Buddhist religious figures. In one of the courtyards was a 'wishing pot' filled with Chinese coins. I threw an Australian 10 cent piece in, although I can't now remember what I wished for.
We exited the Islet by Yong'an Bridge and passed the Round City on our way out the South Gate. We had missed out on several other park attractions including the Nine Dragon Wall in the north of the park (another one!) and the imperial gardens of Emperor Qianlong in the east. But perhaps most disappointing was having to forgo a trip in one of the many bizarre watercraft floating on the lake - particularly the duck shaped paddle boats!