Enjoy a haven for birdwatchers
In the northeast of the city, past the mechanical birds of Beijing Capital Airport, is a haven for Beijing’s actual avian beasts – Hanshiqiao
, the city’s largest wetlands. It’s an expansive environment of verdant marshes and reed-covered lakes teeming with birds chirping happily, oblivious to the fact that the one of the world’s largest metropolises is only a few kilometres away.
Hire an electric-powered boat and cruise around on the tranquil water, carving paths through the algae and ducking under the wilting willow trees, or hire a bike and skirt around the edge of the lake, keeping your eyes open for rare species as you go. Don’t worry about colliding with anyone while you gawp – the place is so peaceful we only saw a handful of visitors on the weekday we visited.
Head for the Bird Watching Pavilion (15RMB) to the north for the best view of the wildfowl. The ‘pavilion’ is actually a large air-conditioned room with four telescopes for viewing behind floor-to-ceiling windows – a very comfortable way to get back to nature. We saw some pretty rare species: buzzards, pheasants, owls, even an eagle. Unfortunately they were all dead and stuffed, on display in glass cabinets behind the telescopes.
But there was plenty going on outside the windows, too; we saw mandarins, mallards and plenty of herons. Okay, so it’s no white rhino spotting, but if you’ve lived in wildlife-free Beijing for long enough, it feels like a pretty big deal indeed.
We saw plenty of other species but weren’t able to identify them – the biggest downside of the platform is the lack of a guide to help you spot breeds and give some background on the habitat. Instead we used their dead bretheren to identify them – very bizarre.But it’s the environment, not the wildlife, that’s the biggest draw here. A phenomenal landscape dissected along the horizon: innumerable shades of green below and a brilliant, clear-blue sky above. A perfect city getaway. LW
Get there Take bus 918 (5.40am-7.30pm) from Dongzhimen Bus Station and leave at Yangzhen ( 杨镇), taking around two hours and 30 minutes. Hanshiqiao Wetland Reserve (汉石桥湿地公园) is then a ten-minute taxi ride.
After traipsing around parks and scaling mountains, you’ll have earned the privilege of soaking your feet in the warming waters at Chun Hui Yuan
. In fact, given its remote location – situated in the outskirts of Shunyi – you’ll likely have earned the indulgence after merely getting there.
There are hot springs closer to the city centre but this is the classiest one around (no screaming kids, cheesy music or fake plants here), whatever time of day you arrive. Come at night and you can gaze up at the stars as you unwind in the outdoor dipping pools – which come in a variety of temperatures (39-42°C) and are filled with different floral scents. There are also hot tubs looking out over a large lake, prettily lit by buildings opposite. Venture inside and you’ll find a large pool, saunas, and hot-stone beds, which are perfect for lounging on in small groups. And if you’re feeling really indulgent, you can always treat yourself to a spa treatment – massages start at 350RMB for a 45-minute traditional Chinese massage, and cost up to 1,800RMB for a 90-minute massage and skin treatment. Go on, you’ve earned it. Gabrielle Jaffe
Get there Take bus 942 from Dongzhimen Bus Station to Yu Zhuang; from the stop, turn left and walk just under 2km to the resort. Alternatively, most taxis will take you direct from central Beijing.