Katie woke up a bit before 6am when the train attendant brought in our coffee, tea, and cake. JT woke shortly after once Katie had packed up and started drinking tea.
Our Z20 train reached Beijing West two minutes early at 6:58am. We exited slowly and then easily made our way to our hostel, Beijing Drum Tower Youth Hostel, via three different metro lines. Once at the hostel, they convinced us to pay for our room before checking in since otherwise we might lose it! I guess a reservation is not worth much at this hostel! Then they scanned and made us unpack our bags in order to store them in their baggage room. It was all very strange.
Once our bags were stored, we decided to eat at the café in the hostel for breakfast. JT ordered a Mexican breakfast for ¥30 that included a breakfast burrito and toast and Katie opted for a ¥30 American breakfast that included two eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast. Both came with free tea, and were delicious comfort food.
After finishing breakfast, we set off on the metro for the Summer Palace. Despite the distance we had to cover, our metro tickets were still only ¥5/person! All of the metro systems we have ridden in China have been very inexpensive.
There were no clear signs about which direction to turn to get from exit D at the Beigongmen station to the Summer Palace. We turned right and followed the crowds – this ended up working well.
Once at the entrance we got in a long, 5-10 minute line to buy tickets. We opted for the garden-only ticket for ¥30/person instead of the all-inclusive ¥60/person ticket. Since the garden-only ticket includes most sights, and you can buy the sights you want to see separately, we believe the garden-only admission would be best for most visitors.
We walked on the bridge above Suzhou street. Suzhou street required extra admission, so unless you want to shop or eat on it, it probably is not worth the admission fee as you can see the beauty of the street from above. Then we walked towards the south-eastern part of the Kunnming Lake, where we walked along the causeway that had been designed to mimic the Su Causeway in Hangzhou. There was a restaurant in a boat that looked peaceful and had decent prices, but we skipped it since we were not hungry yet. We eventually took one of the tourist boats out to the island to cut off a lot of the walking. It was only ¥15/person, and left about every 15 minutes. There did not seem to be much to see on the island so we walked over the 17 arch bridge. We bought a small potato snack for ¥25, which was way too small for the price. We continued exploring the grounds, including some palace buildings.
At 2:30pm we decided that it was time to leave the Summer Palace if we hoped to reach the Bell and Drum Towers before their 5pm closing time.
We climbed the large hill towards the Incense Tower, got some decent views of the lake, and then descended back towards Suzhou Street and the north gate. Then we took the subway all the way back to the city center and the Drum and Bell Towers.
We had planned to catch the 4pm drum demonstration at the Drum Tower, but when we arrived, we found the drum demonstrations were at different times than our guide book listed. No worries, there was a drum demonstration scheduled for 4:45pm so we bought our ¥60 combined tickets (they must both be used on the current day) and visited the Bell Tower first.
The stairs leading up the Bell Tower are pretty steep. But at the top you can enjoy views in all four directions, albeit these views are from behind bars. There is also an ancient, traditionally cast bell, and signage in both Chinese and English with information about the bell, tower, and the bell making process.
At 4:30pm we headed over to the Drum Tower to see the 4:45pm drum demonstration. We climbed the steep stairs and then explored the limited signage and views (you may only look west). People were sitting on the floor waiting for the drum demonstration, so we sat with them. Everyone else seemed to follow suit.
The drum demonstration began with 5 drummers walking out in red and white outfits. The demonstration was pretty fun to watch – it is more of a show than a musical performance – and we certainly recommend trying to schedule your visit to coincide with a demonstration.
After the demonstration was finished, the security guards quickly ushered everyone out since it was closing time. We enjoyed the slice of local life in the plaza between the Drum and Bell Towers before heading to the hostel.
At the Beijing Drum Tower Youth Hostel, we went through a slow check-in. Despite having provided or passports and paying for our room in the morning, they still required us to pay an additional 100 deposit and provide our passports again for more scanning and questions. They asked about our arrival date in China, why we arrived on different dates, and whether our visas were new. We had not went through this much scrutiny at any other hotel, so it all seemed excessive and not very welcoming.
Once we settled into our room (312), Katie went down and bought a token for the washing machine on the 4th floor for ¥30 (which came with soap). We washed our clothes and hung them in our room to dry since the outdoor drying area was full.
We opted for dinner at the dumpling place right next door to the hostel. We ordered two orders (5 dumplings per order) of the special shrimp dumplings as well as beer and fried rice. Apparently you can not order single orders of dumplings, and they close at 9pm. But otherwise, the food is great and cheap (our entire meal was ¥x).