The Summer Palace is such a majestic and immense complex of pavilions, gardens, and views that I had to split it into 3 parts to be able to properly show its beauty. This is the first part of the series.
It takes about an hour to reach the complex from the city center as the area is located at the outskirts of the city.
The eastern and main entrance of the Summer Palace (頤和園 – Yíhéyuán, literally “to maintain energy and mellow the soul”), with two bronze lions stand guarding the gate, is very formal and imposing, although its features might be easily missed due to the large number of people wanting to enter the palace.
View of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill
After having purchased the ticket and entered the premises, only a short walk is needed to reach the very first breathtaking view: Kunming Lake and the Longevity Hill in the background.
One of the first places I visited in Beijing was the Yinding (Silver Ingot) Bridge in Shichahai. It was a totally unplanned encounter as, after over 12 hours on a bus, I really felt like stretching my legs while wandering around the new city.
Road next to Shichahai
It was a beautiful and surprisingly warm day (considering the previous gelid locations) but the breeze quickly reminded me that it was December after all.
The way from Ulanbataar to the Chinese border is quite long as it is over 600km and takes an overnight train to reach.
There are two ways to get to Beijing by land without owning a vehicle: the first is to hop on the Trans-Mongolian train, sit back and relax, the second one is to get a train to Zamyn-Üüd, get off, try to bargain a taxi over the border and then get on one of the many buses heading to Bejing from Erenhot (or Ereen for short).
As one can expect, the former option is easier but much more expensive, while the latter requires a bit more effort (and adventure) but can be as much as 3 times cheaper (around $80 instead of over $250).
I picked the adventurous option as it sounded thrilling and interesting to cross the border this way, as well as saving a good chunk of money.
Chinese Tuk Tuk
Even if this method can be difficult and stressful, it went quite smoothly for me, as a bus driver actually offered the border-crossing for free.
Ereen is located in the Sino-Mongolian border and is a common stop for people travelling to or from Mongolia. From the very first moment across the border, you can already feel that you’re in China.
This was only a short stop as an overnight bus would eventually lead me to the capital: Beijing.
The statue of Chinggis Khaan is so shiny and massive that it can be spotted from afar. It is less than an hour away by car from the national park.
The statue is made of stainless steel and is located in the place where, according to legend, he found a golden whip. It is a rather new monument as it was erected in 2008.
One of Chinggis’s bronze horsemen
We reached the park late on the same evening, where the host family welcomed us with a good dinner and warm beds.
That night, the sky was clear so the stars gave a breathtaking and chilling show as the winds howled through the peaks. In these little glimpses of heaven, the beauty of nature becomes so clear that one cannot help but get lost in some personal philosophical moment.
The next day the daughter of the family brought us breakfast and informed us of the plan for the day, which consisted of a horse riding tour on the snowy land in the park.
The dad waited for us outside the tent while preparing the horses for the ride. He was a large man with a strong Mongolian look, who spoke very little and smiled even less.
Countless times I have thought myself to be “in the middle of nowhere”, but when I actually found myself in a frozen desert in Mongolia, long away from a path resembling a road and with the only neighbors being the far peaks of the surrounding mountains, then I thought I must really be in the middle of nowhere.
It feels absolutely freeing being in an almost untouched land, very far from everything and yet not scared of getting lost.
Desert of the Gobi, Mongolia
The host and his camels
The host family was a small Mongolian family with 2 very curious kids joined by 2 horses and 3 camels.
Just few minutes after having left the capital, Mongolia looks completely different from the chaotic and stressful Ulanbataar.
Where just not long ago there was a sea of cars and buildings, now there is nothing but an empty vastness and an almost serene quietness.
Mongolian Fur Trader
We are headed to the Gobi Desert to stay with a local family for the night.
Our car speeding over the frozen roads makes the journey even more exciting and wild, as there are very few other vehicles.