Strolling through Shichahai, it's hard to believe you are in the middle of a bustling metropolis.
Whether you're out for your daily walk or you want a serene place to share a drink with a friend, you will leave Shichahai feeling content.
The lakes create a focal point for the many eateries that surround them. Willow trees line the shore, providing shade for those playing traditional Chinese chess.
Despite signs warning 'No swimming', local men strip down to their swimming trunks and use the water to cool off and keep their fitness levels up.
Shichahai is the perfect mix between old and new. Pedicab drivers sit around chatting, while motorized boats are docked preparing to whisk visitors from one side of the lake to the other.
The area is a popular gathering place for those wanting to indulge in a game or two of table tennis or alternately read a newspaper in a quiet nook and catch up on world events.
As sunset approaches, the bright lights and traditional lanterns in the many bars and restaurants provide a festive atmosphere. The area transforms from a quiet escape to one bustling with excitement and energy. Locals and expatriates meet and ganbei together.
A must see for any visitor to Shichahai is one of the many historical residences.
The late honorary president of the People's Republic of China Soong Ching-ling, spent the last 18 years of her life here and it's easy to see why. The manicured gardens and established trees, some as old as 300 years, provide the perfect retirement setting.
Wandering away from the lake-side, you stumble across numerous Hutongs. These small paved lanes are home to traditional dwellings and small shops alike. A pleasant change from the high-rise buildings of the big city, these Hutongs are steeped in history. The traditional style buildings and architecture provide a sense of 'the old world'.
Shichahai's three lakes once formed part of a system of waterways that fed into the Grand canal and into the city centre. Pleasure boats now take the place of trade boats passing under the Silver ingot bridge. Once called "The first natural beauty in Beijing city", the stone bridge differentiates Qianhai and Houhai lakes.
With an area of 147 hectares, this unique district has something to offer everyone. Whether it be a history lesson, a nice meal, a chance to stretch your legs or simply a moment away from busy daily life, you will find tranquility and fun at Shichachai.
(chinadaily.com.cn by Laura Bond July 9, 2007)