Overshadowed, but Never Underwhelming


Member Rating 5 out of 5 by TianjinPaul on March 9, 2010

In terms of fame and the volume of visitors it receives, this particular attraction is dramatically overshadowed by its next door neighbour, the Forbidden City. Were it in any other city in the world, Beihai Park would surely be one the biggest attractions on show. However, in Beijing, it is often relegated to little more than an afterthought. For many, it is the place tagged on to the tour of the Forbidden City. This truly is a shame as Beihai is one of Beijing's greatest treasures, and, was also the site of one of the funniest accidents I have ever seen.

Most trips to Beihai begin at the southern gate, which is just 200m from the northern gate of the Forbidden City. As soon as you pass into the park, you are greeted by a spectacular view of the central Dagoba, a giant white creation over 20m tall. However, depending on the season, the actual contents of this view can change dramatically. In winter, the Dagoba towers over the naked branches of the surrounding trees and the frozen waters of the lake. In spring, things are far more picturesque as many of the trees shed a wonderfully delicate pink blossom around the whole area. And, in summer, you are greeted by an explosion of colour as the lilies in the lake burst into bloom.

Also, close to the southern gate of the park, stands one of the few remaining traces of the Yuan dynasty. The Yuan dynasty sprang from the exploits of Chinggis Khan, who first conquered China, before his descendants assimilated into the pre-existing culture. Because of the nomadic nature of its funders, the Yuan dynasty failed to put down any significant roots. Therefore, by the time it was overthrown by the Ming less than two centuries later, little remained. One of the few things that we can still see today is a giant goblet built for Kublai Khan that sits in a glass case close to the southern entrance.

Aside from the last remnants of the Yuan Dynasty, there are some other fantastic sites in Beihai. Of course, the Dagoba is spectacular from almost every angle in the park, and the lake is a picture of loveliness in summer. However, probably the most striking of all is the Nine Dragon Screen to the rear of the park, near the north entrance. As you might imagine, the screen contains nine dragons. Each of these are created from glazed ceramic tiles and come in fantastically striking colours. One is a stunning shade of cobalt blue another the finest of golds.

So, this brings me to the accident. It was 2006. Two of my friends were visiting from the UK and we were taking a boat ride. We were in a plastic pedal boat, expending huge amounts of effort and making very limited progress across the lake. In front of use were two electric motor boats, doing their top speed of 3kph. The two were on a head to head collision course. However, things looked pretty safe as there was 30m between them and they were moving at slower than walking pace. Sadly, things began to go wrong, badly wrong. Both boats were occupied by families with mother and child in charge of the steering. As they saw each other, both mothers began to panic and both children began to cry. The gap began to close … slowly. Thirty meters gradually became twenty-five. Twenty-five agonisingly became twenty. All the while, the people on the boats were screaming and completely ignoring the possibility of simply turning the steering wheel. Eventually, in slow motion, the two boats hit. It was possibly the most anti-climactic moment in Chinese history. As the boat were going so slow, there was just a slight bump and everyone stopped. The whaling gave way and the boatrs eventually went their separate ways.

Beihai Park is just next to the Forbidden City and is certainly worth the visit. Most people tag it on to a trip to the famous neighbour, but it is certainly worth an afternoon in its won right. Entrance is a very reasonable 30rmn.
Bei Hai Park
1 Wen Jin Street
Beijing, China, 100034
+86 (0)10 6403 1102

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