Finally, the cold winter weather is getting warmer. This past Sunday was beautiful. The Air Quality Index (AQI) was low (below 50) and even with the chili breeze, my family was itching to get out and explore.
I mentioned in a previous post that living in the suburbs makes it difficult for us to get into the city, especially since every Saturday and Sunday we have commitments like Kung Fu lessons for my son, Skype calls to family back at home, and church on Sundays. We live far enough out that a commute into downtown takes up a lot of time, but we just couldn’t help ourselves on Sunday. We came home from church, grabbed a snack and left right away. During our explorations, we found a treasure that will surely become a favorite place for my family—a park I know we’ll go back to many other Sunday afternoons.
This park has two names. My tour book calls it only by Chaoyang Park, but the ticket entrance lists the name only as Sun Park. Other travel guides use both names.
I have to confess that this is actually the second time we went to Chaoyang Park. Our first visit was a disaster, and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. On our original visit, we made the mistake of going during Chinese New Year when they were celebrating a Spring Festival in the park. The crowds were so massive, I felt like I was suffocating in the masses. That first visit, once I entered the park, all I could do was move with the current of the crowd while trying to explain to my very frustrated son why it was so hard for him to see anything. It was so crowded that every time we stopped, we were being pushed out of the way as others tried to crowd in. We ended up letting the kids do one ride on an overpriced children’s ride and then leaving. That first visit was a complete waste of time. So my first and biggest recommendation when it comes to Chaoyang Park—don’t go on a Chinese holiday or when they are advertising a special event.
As difficult as that first experience was, I had heard such good things about this park, I had to give it another chance when they weren’t holding a special event. I am so glad we did. This will surely become a favorite, and my family will go back multiple times.
With the windy weather, it was a perfect kite-flying day. At the south entrance of the park stood several kite vendors, and the kids were excited to give it a try. While numerous kites flew very high, there were plenty of other families in our vicinity who were struggling to get one airborne. We had a grand time trying until our kite got stuck in a tree. We did manage to salvage the kite, but by then we were happy to move on to something else.
Close to the South Entrance, we found a bike rental where we rented a bicycle for four. Until we started riding and looking at the maps around the park, I had no idea how massive this park is. We spent two hours here and only explored half of it—we never went north of the yellow loop in the map. The kids thought it was a blast taking turns in the front seat and trying to steer the car. I enjoyed getting some exercise and soaking in the nice views.
The Rug (A Nice Restaurant for Brunch or Dinner)
After a couple hours of playing in the park, we were pretty hungry for dinner and wanted to use a gift certificate to a restaurant close to the South Entrance called The Rug. The food we ordered was excellent. They had a small play room for kids, but I didn’t find the menu to be very kid friendly. We were not offered a separate kids’ menu, and it wasn’t easy to find something for my picky eaters to eat. It was a more expensive restaurant than one we would have chosen for ourselves had we not had the gift certificate, but it was a good experience and the menu had an interesting selection of things to try. It’s definitely worth going at least once.
Finding it can be tricky because it is on the bottom floor of an apartment building. After going out the South Gate of the park, cross the street and turn left. Walk until you see a sign that says Lishui Garden. Go through the gate and it will be on the first floor of the apartment building inside.
Getting There and Other Logistics
Getting there from Shunyi district was a bit time consuming. We are still learning how to get around. It is probably easier (and quicker) to drive to this park. But even though my husband has a Chinese driver’s license, he often doesn’t like driving downtown. Traffic in Beijing is horrendous, and even when a place is easy to get to, parking can often still be an issue. This time we drove to the closest subway stop and then took the subway downtown. It took us one hour (and two train transfers) to get there in the subway. With all the walking, it’s about one-and-a-half hours from our house in Shunyi to Chaoyang park. This link from China Travel Guide will give clear directions on how to get there on the subway. It also lists which buses will take you there. The link also gives prices for entrance into the park (8 RMB–very inexpensive and definitely worth the price) as well as the prices for bike rental and other activities that are offered.
I’m beginning to understand what the attraction is to Beijing. Moving is hard. Getting settled is hard. And as smooth as the transition has been for us, and as happy as I am to be here, I’ve had a bit of a sour disposition to Beijing as a city. I’ve been missing Seoul—the clean air and the mountains and a culture that is polite, where everybody follows the rules. Beijing has a chaotic feel that Seoul, as busy as it is, never really has.
I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to the traffic here. (On Sunday, during this one afternoon that we were out, I saw two scooters come about two inches from being hit by rude drivers. I saw countless traffic violations that would never happen in the US . . . or in Seoul.) But on a cool day with blue skies and clean air, like what we had on Sunday, I can understand the overall attraction to Beijing as a city. I can understand why there are so many expatriates here who have chosen to stay for over ten years.
I’m trying to get out of my habit of comparing. Perhaps comparing the unknown to the known is my way if making sense of things I don’t understand. My family had such a wonderful time in Chaoyang Park that on our way out, I couldn’t help but to reminisce on one of our favorite places to go in Seoul—World Cup Park. How many afternoons did we spend at World Cup Park riding bikes, or feeding cracker crumbs to pigeons, or (when it was hot) letting the kids run through fountain sprinklers? I couldn’t help but think, “This my new World Cup Park. I could spend so many afternoons here.”
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that the two places are completely different—the activities, the atmosphere, the landscape—they are unique in so many ways. I guess what connected them in my mind was having a place to go outside and simply enjoy being a family. And that we did—we had a great time.