During our National Week, I had a trip planned out to Longqing Gorge with the same group that took us to the Great Wall. Unfortunately, the day before, they messaged me and said that the trip was cancelled due to low attendance. With so little time left of the break, I was determined to take my family to see something near Beijing. A friend told me about Fragrant Hills park (also known as Xiangshan Park) and how it was a 400 acre park filled with temples, lakes, gardens, etc. So my family decided to head out and see the wonders of Fragrant Hills Park the very next day!
I was excited to discover that the park was only a 20-minute Didi ride from my apartment (about 40-60 minutes from the center of Beijing). We got up early and made it to the park around 7:30am. The drive there was so scenic, little one-way roads with shops and fruit stands on both sides. From what I understand, many locals take the buses to the park since it is so much cheaper and go along these stands to get snacks before they enter the park. Our Didi took us straight to the North gate so we didn’t get to get a closer look, unfortunately. Once we arrived at the gate, we noticed that there were very few people milling around out front. It was National Week and the place was bound to be packed, so where was everybody? We quickly discovered that even though the park itself opened at 6:00am, the cable cars and villas didn’t open until 9am. We went to the ticket booth and were surprised to discover that the cost of tickets for 2 adults and a child was only 25 rmb ($3.50).
Because of all the shoppings and building lining the streets, I hadn’t realized until we entered the park that we were surrounded by green mountains. It was a stunning view right as we entered and it made us all the more excited to see the park. We quickly found a beautiful lake with a bridge and other structures. The cable cars were just a few minutes walk from the North gate and weren’t open yet, so we got the boys a jianbing and continued to see the sights! We understand how Fragrant Hills got its name, the place is covered with flowers! Even with the number of people increasing in the park quickly, the park is so big that it still seemed quiet and serene. I couldn’t believe that this park lied just outside a city of 20 million people. One of the most interesting parts of the park was its long history. The park was formerly an imperial garden first created in the 1100s and eventually expanded to the size it is today (the signs were in both Chinese and English, so we were able to read the informational plaques). Unfortunately, it seemed that most of the buildings we saw weren’t original as they were burnt down in the 1800s by Anglo foreigners. However, the recreations are absolutely stunning and made us feel as if we were in ancient China!
Because we didn’t want to get lost, we headed back to the cable cars to begin getting in line about an hour after we arrived. We saw there was a small line when we got there, but I couldn’t believe that the line was already moving! It was a little less than 3o minutes before the cable cars were scheduled to run and they were already selling tickets and putting guests on them! It costs us each 80 rmb($11.19) to ride one-way up the cable cars to get to the top of Fragrant mountain. I thought the price was a little high considering that the mountain didn’t look very tall from where we were, but we went anyway based on a friend’s recommendation! The cars only fit 2 people so Calvin and I went first, Korey on the second behind us. Honestly, the best part of the trip was looking at the beautiful landscape from up above! I was told that the view is even more exquisite around November when the leaves change from a bright green to their magnificent red! As we reached the top, I realized…we weren’t at the top! The cable cars continued on higher for a much greater distance! It was fun taking more pictures as we went and waving to the people on the paths below that decided to walk up the mountain (I am really glad we didn’t do that). Once again we were about to reach the top…and it still wasn’t the top! There was a nice park worker standing on the top of this peak and he yelled at us to smile at the camera placed beside him. After another few minutes, we finally made it to the (actual) top and were pulled off the cars by workers so that the ride wouldn’t have to stop moving.
Now that we finally made it to the top, we were ushered into the next room where we had the opportunity to buy the photo that we took whilst going up the mountain. I purchased it because I thought it would be a great souvenir. Once the photo was printed to a nice, large size, I saw how unflattering the photo actually was! The background had a hazy hue to it due to the pollution, Calvin had his eyes closed, and Korey was caught in the background in his car looking absolutely melancholy. We had a big laugh about it and continued on to explore the peak. It was still beautiful, even with the unsightly haze over the city. There were plenty of pavilions and picnic spots to sit and enjoy the view, and a good thing too because the amount of people had definitely increased. I wanted to take a few good pictures to make up for the crappy one I had bought and dragged my family from scenic spot to scenic spot. There was one point where I thought a nice Chinese man was asking me to take a photo of him and his friends. I quickly dropped all my stuff and reached to grab his camera from him…only to find out he didn’t want me to take a picture of them, he wanted me to take a picture with them. This has happened to Calvin and Korey several times but never to me! So we squeezed my family and his friends onto a pavillion and took a few pictures, with each man taking the camera from the last to get a picture for the guy that had the camera before him. It sure was an ego booster let me tell you!
We began climbing down the mountain and were once again thankful that we decided to take the cable cars up. The stairs were PACKED with local tourists climbing up and down the mountain. I was amazed by how many families with young kids and grandparents were making the difficult trek up to the top. The pathway going up and down is newer, but it was a mix of rock and concrete and a bit uneven. This made it sometimes difficult to see steps and caused me (more than once) to stumble with a surprised squawk-like noise, much to the delight of the Chinese tourists! Fortunately it was only like this at the top and became much easier as our descent continued. I was surprised that every 150 meters or so there was a flat area with snacks and sitting areas for the visitors to relax. We eventually did stop at one because they had these GIANT swirly fried potato sticks with spices and Calvin wanted to try it. Only 20 rmb too! Further down, there were beautiful villas that recreated the former glory of the buildings made in the 1700s. Some were open and viewable to the tourists, others not. We only knew what they were because the plaques were also in English up here as well. We only saw a few before we started to get exhausted. I was kind of surprised at how tired we had become since we were only going downhill! Our legs did this cool, wobbly thing even though (at this point) it wasn’t a troubling walk.
We eventually made it down the mountain and with breaks, only took us about an hour and 15 minutes! By that time, we were plenty tired and ready to see the gift shop and head out. The gift shop wasn’t fantastic, but it did have a map of the entire park! It turns out that everything we saw was only a SMALL portion of this place! We had already been there for hours but didn’t even manage to scrape the surface! I know we will definitely be coming back to Fragrant Hills Park, maybe in November when the leaves are turning red? Thank you for reading and check out my other blog posts if you are thinking of visiting Beijing!