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
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
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,
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.