A visit to the Beijing Olympic Park

Having visited the Olympiapark in Munich, I was quite eager to visit the Beijing Olympic Park to see the unique architecture in the park constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Getting to the Olympic Park is easy. Just ride the subway to the Olympic Park station and the Olympic Park is within walking distance.

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This is the map of the entire Olympic Park, found in front of the entrance of the park. It looks like there’s quite a bit of distance to cover.

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The primary interest for my visit is the Beijing National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) and the Beijing National Aquatics Center (Water Cube). Having seen them on television during the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, I wanted to see them up close now that I am in Beijing. I bought admission tickets for both buildings from the nearest ticket booth (not a good idea and I’ll talk more about this later). The tickets also included a free guided tour around both buildings so I took up the offer for the tour.

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The first stop was the Water Cube. I like how the structure looks like a rectangular tank filled with bubbles that are about to burst out of it. In actual fact, the Water Cube is made up of almost 4,000 Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) bubbles. Because of its massive size, my 16mm lens couldn’t capture the entire the Water Cube in one shot before entering.

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Remember I mentioned earlier that there’s a free guided tour? I was very disappointed that the tour guide disappeared the minute everyone entered the Water Cube. Vanished without a trace. Fortunately I have my ticket for the Bird’s Nest so I decided not to search for the tour guide and explored the Water Cube myself. Inside the Water Cube, I went to the swimming pool where all the swimming events for the Beijing Olympic Games were held. The first thing that I was impressed with was the ETFE bubble ceiling. Not only was the ceiling very beautiful, it also allowed plenty of natural light to penetrate so the entire swimming pool (including the spectator stands) was well-lit without any artificial lighting.

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I turned around and there’s the diving platform used in competitions.

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The problem with most Olympic stadiums is that after the Olympics, the host country finds it hard to sustain the maintenance of these stadiums. The Water Cube solved this problem by building a water theme park inside the stadium. The Water Park takes up half of the Water Cube and tourists flock to ride the water slides.

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When I was at the Water Cube, there were tons of tourists in the Water Park. I wasn’t too keen to join the crowd. Especially not for the 200 RMB admission fee to enter the Water Park.

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Personally, I find that the Water Cube wasn’t really worth visiting unless you plan to visit the Water Park. Looking at the Water Cube from the outside is well, good enough for me. Next up, the highlight for the day, the famous Bird’s Nest. From the outside, the Bird’s Nest looks pretty awesome with the complicated nest-like design.

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After going in the Bird’s Nest, I took a look up close at the complicated nest-like design is made up of steel beams. Still looks pretty randomly placed to me, but I’m sure the designers designed the placement of each beam strategically.

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The interior view of the stadium is quite overwhelming. I like how the curves of the ceiling above the spectator stands. The seats are strategically colored in red and white so that the Bird’s Nest looks like it’s on fire.

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During the Beijing Olympics, Segways were used by staff to move around the huge Bird’s Nest. These Segways have been re-purposed into rides on the tracks. Tourists can pay 150 RMB to ride the Segways around the track for 20 minutes. Not exactly the best way to use a running track, but I guess someone has to pay for the maintenance of the Bird’s Nest.

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Near the Bird’s Nest is the Olympic Torch where the flame was lit during the games. It was originally fixed on top of the Bird’s Nest and was moved to an exhibition near the complex to allow visitors to see it up close.

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I didn’t have the time to stay in the Olympic Park till the night but I would advise visitors to visit the Olympic Park in late afternoons and stay till the evening where the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest will be lighted up, providing a magnificent night view of the park.

Remember to bring a tripod if you plan to visit the park at night.

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