Exploding with blossom in spring, the well-tended Běijīng Botanic Gardens, set against the backdrop of the Western Hills and about 1km northeast of Fragrant Hills Park, makes for a pleasant outing among bamboo fronds, pines, orchids, lilacs and China’s most extensive botanic collection. Containing a rainforest house, the standout Běijīng Botanical Gardens Conservatory bursts with 3000 different varieties of plants.
About a 15-minute walk from the front gate (follow the signs), but still within the grounds of the gardens, is Sleeping Buddha Temple. The temple, first built during the Tang dynasty, houses a huge reclining effigy of Sakyamuni weighing 54 tonnes; it’s said to have ‘enslaved 7000 people’ in its casting. Sakyamuni is depicted on the cusp of death, before his entry into nirvana. On each side of Buddha are arrayed some sets of gargantuan shoes, gifts to Sakyamuni from various emperors in case he went for a stroll.
On the eastern side of the gardens is the Cao Xueqin Memorial, where Cao Xueqin lived in his latter years. Cao (1715–63) is credited with penning the classic Dream of the Red Mansions, a vast and prolix family saga set in the Qing period. Making a small buzz in the west of the gardens is the little China Honey Bee Museum (中国蜜蜂博物馆; Zhōngguó Mìfēng Bówùguǎn), open 8.30am to 4.30pm March to October.