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  Beijing Scene

Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 6, November 19 - 25

Summer Palace Pleasure Cruise
by Joseph Brown

For an alternative trip around the capital, the boat from the Summer Palace (yiheyuan) is not only a great way to see some little-frequented parts of Beijing, but is also the fastest route from the northwest university district to the heart of the city in rush hour. The Beijing Water Conservancy Bureau recently launched a passenger boat service along the network of canals that run throughout Beijing. Among the fourteen-boat fleet are barges outfitted to resemble ancient imperial pleasure ships complete with dragonheads and faux-tile roofs. The more modern-looking crafts come in two sizes, the larger having more outdoor seating.

In preparation for the boat service, the canals were dredged and a stone lining capped by a balustrade was laid over the banks. There are currently two routes open to the public, both originating just south of Kunming Lake in the Summer Palace at a dock featuring two traditional arched stone bridges.

Heading south from the wharf at Kunming Lake, the boat first glides past the Long River Bridge (changhe qiao). On the west side of the canal, the Military Command College is camouflaged among the mostly residential neighborhood. Although many dilapidated traditional-style buildings dot the riverbank, it is hard to imagine that the property along this newly renovated waterway will remain undeveloped for long.

After passing the Military College, the boat drifts under the Eternal Spring Bridge (changchun qiao) before arriving at Changhewan Wharf. This is where the canal forks, with its eastward leg heading toward its terminus at the Beijing Zoo. Along the way, it passes through the Wanshousi Temple and the Wanshousi dock and the elegantly refurbished Purple Bamboo Park. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Empress Dowager Cixi and her entourage used to head south from the Summer Palace for day-long pleasure cruises, disembark at Wanshousi, and be carried back to the Summer Palace in a sedan chair.

This east-west span of the canal was once connected to Beijing's central lake district: Houhai, Beihai, Zhongnanhai and the moat around the Forbidden City. The stretch from the Zoo to Houhai is currently not navigable, but there are plans to reopen this section and the entirety of the old Beijing city canal system (huchenghe) for boat tours within the next few years.

The alternative route continues south for some way after the fork toward the Yuyuantan Park terminus. A more urbanized stretch of land lines the eastern bank, while on the west lies the attractive Linglong Pagoda, which is unfortunately closed to visitors at present.

The boat turns east after the Fucheng Road Bridge and passes the Binjiao dock, at the confluence of the Jingmi Aqueduct and the Yongdinghe Aqueduct flowing in from the west. As the boat approaches the West Third Ring Road Bridge, the 405-meter China Central Television Tower rises into view like a modern-day pagoda. Once the boat enters Yuyuantan Park's Bayi Lake and nears the dock, the guide jumps out, wraps a line from the boat around a cleat and hauls the boat in. Although there are future plans to open a 36 km. stretch of river running from Yuyuantan Park to the Temple of Heaven and sites on the old canal system further east, for now this is where you must disembark.

Capital Water Tours
Tel: 6823-2179 (office)
6821-3366 ext. 4402/4403 (on-site)
Tickets: one-way RMB 40, round trip RMB 70

The map that comes (on request) with the ticket features an aerial photograph of the canal and its environs, with place names overlaid. It serves as an excellent way of familiarizing oneself with landmarks along the route.

Boat Timetable
Depart Bayi Lake/Yuyuantan Park 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 13:00 and 15:00
Depart Beizhan Back Lake 9:30, 13:00 and 15:30
Depart Summer Palace for Bayi Lake 9:05, 10:05, 11:05, 14:05, 16:05
Depart Summer Palace for Beizhan Back Lake 10:45, 15:15
Call to confirm schedule and ticket availability as prices and times are subject to change.

The ticket booth and pier are a kilometer south of the South Gate of the Summer Palace. Above-deck seating is limited so arrive early. Standing on deck is permitted.

Reservations cannot be made over the phone. Charters and night rides may be arranged. The eastern route is nine kilometers, the southern route is 10 kilometers; trip time for either route is less than an hour total.


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