18 to 28 May 2017
My last trip to Beijing was just coming into winter and it was definitely coat weather. What a change it was returning to Beijing in May to high temperatures and sunshine!
This time I was joined by a friend from Australia for a few days in the city, a scenic break to Sichuan province, and then a return to Beijing before her departure.
First up on the list was a visit to Tiananmen square, and an attempt to visit Mao’s mausoleum. Sadly we discovered that the mausoleum was closed for renovations until August! We still managed to fit in a wander around the square itself, and several hours exploring the Forbidden City palace. Neither of us had quite prepared for the intense heat and the amount of walking we did that day, and we both ended up with blisters by the afternoon… just what we wanted right before our Great Wall hike the next day! Thankfully a decent serve of dumplings for lunch, roast duck for dinner and a glass of wine cheered us up ok!
Along with another friend, we had organised a private driver to take us from Beijing out to the Jiankou part of the Great Wall – an unrestored section that is still in decent enough condition to walk on, and which joins up to the restored area of Mutianyu, which I had visited on my last trip. While I had read various blogs warning of the difficulty in finding the start of the path at Jiankou, luckily our driver knew exactly where to go and even decided to walk with us up to the wall itself. This was probably the toughest part of the hike as it was steep uphill for about 2-3km, along a rocky dirt track. Once we arrived at the wall itself, and climbed the first tower, it was literally all downhill from there! Only in terms of altitude; view-wise it was amazing!
From Jiankou, it was around an 8km walk through to Mutianyu. It wasn’t a particularly difficult hike, as it was mostly downhill, however the 35 degree heat made it feel like quite hard work! We opted to skip one part of the wall – Ox Horn Ridge – after hearing that it was incredibly steep, bordering on dangerous, to walk on. It was an easy choice to make given the heat, and the inviting shaded short walk through the trees to rejoin the wall after the U shaped loop. It was fantastic to see the semi-overgrown and crumbling parts of the wall, and then see the transformation to the restored (and more touristy!) section as we approached Mutianyu. We stopped several times to just enjoy the views and kept up our sustenance with some trusty vita-wheats and a tube of vegemite which had made its way from Australia in my backpack!
Once at Mutianyu, there was a slightly awkward scramble required across a bricked up wall but it was easy enough to get back onto the restored section. While my friends opted for the toboggan, I decided that once was enough for me and I took the cable car down instead, after treating myself to an outrageously expensive icecream! We met up with our driver at the base, after he had walked back down from Jiankou to the car and driver around to Mutianyu.
By now it was after 2pm and we were all totally starving. When our restaurant of choice turned out to be closed, our driver came to the rescue, found us a local home-style restaurant and proceeded to order a range of tasty dishes. I’m not sure whether it tasted so good because we were famished after our hike, or because it was genuinely great food, but whatever the case I was very grateful!
The next day we took it fairly easy, and focussed on one of the most important parts of visiting any city: the food! With Untours, we did a delightfully delicious walking tour of the city’s Hutongs (laneways), experiencing a range of street food such as jianbing, Beijing-style doughnuts, noodles, dumplings and almond pudding. After so much food (and still recovering from the hike) it was as much as we could manage to get a foot massage and then crawl home for a rest before our flight to Huanglong that evening!
Cut to a few days in Sichuan provice visiting Jiuzhaigou national park and Huanglong national park, and then we returned to Beijing for a final couple of days. Just enough time to fit in a historic walking tour of the Summer Palace, learning all about Empress Dowager Cixi who effectively controlled China for nearly 50 years through a mix of cunning, charm, manipulation and sheer ruthlessness. After the Old Summer Palace had been destroyed by British and French forces in 1860, it was rebuilt in the late 1800s with the objective of providing a retirement palace for the Empress. It was another hot day, but the palace was a beautiful location for wandering and enjoying the lake views and intricate artwork of the buildings.
Finally, we also checked out the eclectic 798 Art District of Beijing which contains converted warehouses which now host a range of shops, cafes, galleries and public art. This is where arty hipster life meets communist China!
All too soon, it was time to bid farewell to Beijing. So long and thanks for all the food!