Thursday, 1 March 2012

Five Days in Beijing: Part 5 - The Great Wall of China

We woke up pretty early on our third full day in Beijing ready for our tour to the Great Wall of China. We had heard that is was possible to visit the Wall yourself by taking public transport or by hiring a drive but that could be fiddly and confusing. As we only had a short amount of time in Beijing we opted for the tour so we could make the most of our 5 days. 

There are several different parts of the Walk that are accessible from Beijing. The most well visited part is Badaling, 50 miles northwest of Beijing City. We decided not to go there though as we had heard that it was a total tourist trap that would be heaving with tourists and people trying to sell tacky souvenirs and that the Wall there was so heavily restored it looked virtually brand new. Instead we went to the Wall at Mutianyu, 70km northeast of Beijing. This part of the Wall was older than the Badaling section and not s heavily visited for some reason.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu (care of Wikipedia - it was really misty when we went so none of my pictures were this clear!)
We had booked this tour through our hostel and had to wait around  a bit in the morning as the minivan was late picking us up. I was still feeling ill after eating that dodgy street food the day before so was doing my best not to eat anything at all to avoid feeling any worse. The minivan finally picked us up and e got to experience real Chinese style driving. It was a cultural experience I'd really rather not repeat. It was so bad it made Korean driving look good. Driving on the wrong side of the road at full speed while honking your horn and trying to scare the oncoming traffic into a ditch is not the most relaxing way to travel. By the time we made our first stop at a jade factory I was ready to puke my stomach lining out.

As with other Asian countries we've visited, when on a tour they made us stop at random places on the way to the destination and on the way back to give you the 'opportunity' to buy random overpriced stuff you never realised you wanted. This was quite annoying as we were tired on the way back form the Wall and they left us in some hugely expensive silk factory store for an hour getting constantly hassled by staff to buy silk sheets and clothes that would have cost double our entire holiday budget. 

Watching how they make objects out of jade and marble was actually pretty interesting.

These things were pretty cool, all carved from a single piece of jade.

Here's one being made.

A pair of carved lions awaiting a buyer. Unfortunately they didn't quite fit in my backpack.

Our first non-commercial stop was at the Ming Tombs, the cemetery of the 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. The tombs cover a large area in a valley at the foot of the Tianshou mountains about 50km away from Beijing. They took 200 years to build and were finished in 1644 when the Ming Dynasty collapsed. As well as the 13 emperors' tombs there were also 7 concubines' tombs and one for a eunuch. We had a look around the sacred walk to the tombs and were able to go inside the Dingling tomb which was the only Ming tomb that has ever been excavated.

Gate at the start of the sacred walk leading to the tombs.

Entrance to the Dingling Tomb, home to the 13th Ming emperor and his two empresses - or at least it was until an angry mob of people dragged out their remains and posthumously "denounced" them and set fire to them in 1968 as part of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. 

Inside the Dingling Tomb (care of Wikipedia).

After a guided wander around the Ming Tombs we speeded off again in  our deathtrap minivan and then stopped near the Wall for a bit of lunch. It was okay apparently but I didn't dare eat anything. A dodgy stomach on the Great Wall was the last thing I wanted!

Bowls of random food for lunch.

Then, at last, we headed for the main attraction, the Great Wall. I was a bit disappointed it was still so misty but hoped that the lack of a clear view of the Wall would be made up for with atmosphere instead. We started by getting loaded two by two onto a chairlift that took us up to the Wall.

The chairlift was really high and swung about a bit in the breeze. Not good for those with a fear of heights!

On the way up on the chairlift we saw this toboggan track below us. We realised that we would be able to toboggan down the hill and were super excited!

Tobogganing down the Great Wall of China!

When we reached the Wall proper we were greeted by this amusing warning sign.

And this view.

Climbing up and down the Wall was hard work - there were so many steps and they were really steep!

Our dog Fawkes perched on the Wall with a guard tower in the background.

Looking down along the Wall.

People standing on top of one of the guard towers.
The final ascent up to the last guard tower on the part of the Wall that was open to the public.

We made it!

Inside the last guard tower.

The Wall was closed to the public after that tower but some people still tried to have a look along there.
It looked like this - totally overgrown.

After walking to the last open guard tower and back again we were all geared up for the toboggan ride down. But disaster struck when we were told that the toboggan slide was closed due to the mist creating water on the track and making it unsafe. We really wanted to go on the toboggans as did the other people in our group so after a lot of nagging our guide and hanging around the ride finally opened up again and we were allowed on! Hurray for people power over safety!

The tobogganing track was pretty high up.

Me coming down the slide on my little one person toboggan car. You just pulled the lever back to go. It was cool though some girl in front of us got stuck and slowed everyone down which was annoying. We should have just rammed her off the track!

Some video Rowan took of tobogganing down the Great Wall of China.

The tobogganing was awesome despite the traffic jam halfway down and I was so glad we had the chance to do it despite the mist on the track nonsense! The Wall was pretty awe inspiring as expected and I was really grateful for the metal handrails as we climbed up the steep slippery steps. One wrong move and it would be a sticky end for you as it was a long way down. The journey back was uneventful apart from the terror of Chinese driving and another pointless factory stop. 

We had met an Aussie girl on the tour called Kerri and decided to go for dinner with her at some fancy restaurant on on of the big food streets bear the hostel. We always try to have at least one fancier meal when we're in a foreign country - it's all part of the cultural experience innit! So we met in the evening and took a wander down the restaurant street, I forget what it's called but there are loads of places to eat along there. 

Restaurant street near our hostel all lit up with lanterns.

We wandered into a quite fancy looking place with no real idea of where to go or what to look for. It was a big restaurant with lots of smaller rooms off of the main one filled with Chinese families and a few tourists eating huge spreads of food.

We weren't sure what to have so we each just picked a few things to share. Of course we ended up with far too much food but it was delicious!

The things in the centre are duck wrapped with pastry I think. They were lovely.

Rowan ordered this roasted pigeon which was presented with everything still on, including its beaked head cut off and sliced to reveal the brains inside.

Rowan eating the pigeon's head. He licked the brains inside the skull and even ate the beak. He reckoned it was "crunchy".

Chef preparing duck. 

The bobbly looking things in the centre were a sticky toffee crispy dessert and they were really tasty!

There was even some entertainment put on at the restaurant including this plate spinning chap and another guy doing the Sichuan Face Changing act.

Unfortunately my photos of the face changing guy were blurry as hell but you get the idea - he moved very fast!

After forcing as much food down our necks as we could manage we went back to the hostel for a couple of cheap beers. We had to leave Beijing the next day so this was our last night in the nice hostel. In the next post find out about our final day in Beijing including camera lens shopping in the smoggier parts of the city, a visit to see the mummified remains of Chairman Mao and a quick trip to the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple in China. 


  1. i like the pigeon brain action shot!laura

  2. I like The Great wall, I like Chinese food, and I like China
    Thanks for your sharing

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