The only exception was the Forbidden City, as the last visit was a rushed one where we were practically herded through the central route from one entrance of the Forbidden City to the other. This time, I took my time walking around, and rented an audio guide to fully understand and appreciate what I was seeing. Even then, with the short 2-3 hours that I had, I didn't manage to set foot to the Eastern Palaces and only managed to visit part of the Western Palaces. So looks I'll be heading to the Forbidden City again should I have the chance to visit Beijing again.
The main hall of the palace
The largest stone carving in the palace
A pavillion in the Imperial Garden
Two cypress trees with interlocking branches, symbolizing loyal love. It was said that Emperor Puyi and Empress Wanrong, the last emperor and empress, had their photograph taken in front of these trees after their wedding ceremony.
The other few hours of free time I had was spent walking around the Back Lakes area, which comprises of three idyllic lakes – 前海 (Front Lake), 后海 (Back Lake), and 西海(West Lake) and the tree-shaded neighborhoods that surround them. These lakes were once part of a system used to transport grain by barge to the Forbidden City. It is now a happening area with plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants. I also stumbled upon numerous 胡同 (hutong）, where many families have lived for generations.
I ended my walk at the Drum Tower and Bell Tower, opposite each other. Drumming performances are held several times daily inside the Drum Tower, and I managed to catch the last performance for the day.
Drum performance in progress