There are many areas around Beijing where you can visit China’s majestic Wall. Some parts are fully restored while others are more authentic. The area around Gubeikou has both and it is famous for a stretch of “wild” Wall. After a great night of sleep and enjoying breakfast in the garden, it was time for our first meeting with the Great Wall.
We decided to do a hike called the Coiled Dragon all the way up to the 24 Window Tower. The first part of the hike is the really old Wall, and it is not restored at all (wild Wall). As a matter of fact, it could easily just be any other hike, you don’t feel like walking on the Wall. Apparently this area looked completely different in the 1920’s. But after the invasion of the Japanese and the war after, big parts were destroyed. Mao gave his approval to use the stones of the Wall to rebuild houses in the area. Therefore the first hour of the hike the leftovers of the Wall merely consist of loose stones. But as soon as you reach some view points located a bit higher the real wonder of the Wall reveals itself. From the moment we arrived at the first watchtower, we could see how far the Wall stretches on the ridges of the mountains. As far as the eye can see, you see the curves of the Wall and its towers. It is a breathtaking view and its makes you feel extremely humble. It is only after 1,5 hours that we met the first people on the Wall. On one of the watchtowers a lady was selling cold water and beers. On the top of the tower, we met a Swiss couple and in their fifties who had decided to travel the world for a year as well. They clearly had seen a lot of the world in the previous years and were infected by the traveling virus. They convinced us that we have to go to Kamchatka someday. If feels comforting that people older than us, also feel brave enough to embrace freedom for a year and just go traveling.
The hike on the rest of the Wall was really magnificent. We took our time to enjoy some snacks while enjoying the view. The final stage of this hike is the 24 Watch Tower, claimed to be the only 3 storey tower left. From this point you can see the part of the Wall called Jingshanling and the military base. Jingshanling is claimed to be one of the most impressive parts you can visit, but unfortunately the trail was closed during our trip for renovation and is supposed to reopen in October. From the sight of it, it is worth to come back someday to do this part.
At the end of the afternoon, after 5 hours walking, we arrived back in the Great Wall Box house. We had a few beers, and discussed today’s adventures with the other guests. Since it was my 30th Birthday today, Koen fixed a few ‘cakes’ at the local cake shop to celebrate. It was a great evening with our new Italian and German friends. People that know me well, known how much I love to chat with people, curious about what their lives are like and their traveling stories. We truly hope that Claudia and Sven will receive their container safely in Beijing! Not a bad way to turn 30!
The next day we decided to go for the real deal and do the steeper hike called the Crouching Tiger. This part contains a rather short stretch of the Wall, but what it lacks in length, it makes up in steepness. It is build on some very steep ridges of the mountains and ends on a peak. We were super happy that the weather was cooler than the previous day. The last hour of the climb is the adventurous part. You have two options, either follow the path beside the Wall or climb on top of the Wall and find your way up. We preferred the second option, which really makes you seek for the best steps, while using your hands for stability. All the efforts were not in vain. From the top tower you have a fantastic 360 degrees view of the surrounding mountains and the other stretches of the Wall. In the valley you can see the small villages. It is really nice, but we still prefer the other hike over this one. You have a much prettier stretch of the Wall on the Coiled Dragon hike, while this hike is more about “conquering” the Tiger. It is more about the physical challenge.
Satisfied but exhausted we arrived back in the guesthouse. The team of the Great Wall Box House had really outdone themselves for dinner. Every night the home cooked food was delicious and super fresh. They are trying to make the food as much as possible with the vegetables from their own garden and their Tomato with Tofu is to die for. We decided that we like this place that much that we wanted to stay one night longer. One day extra in this pristine area instead of spending it among the crowds of Beijing.
The next morning we left the guesthouse at 4am to catch sunrise. We left with clear skies and stars, but as soon as we arrived on the first viewpoint, thick foggy clouds started appearing out of nowhere. By the time we reached the watchtower where we wanted to enjoy sunrise, we could barely see the path beneath, let alone see the next tower. No sun, no sunrise. We waited a little, but the sky did not clear. We decided to go back, a little disappointed, but at least we gave it a shot. After a few more hours of sleep we decided to relax the rest of the day. This gave us the opportunity to have a relaxing Sunday on which we worked on the blog, enjoyed the good weather and just chilled a bit. It almost felt like holiday, instead of traveling ;-).
We discussed our Monday plans with Song, and decided to accept his offer to take us to Simatai, a more touristic area of the Wall. It is a restored section, where you can either hike towards the wall or you can take the cable car.
The next morning Song drove us to Simatai. We arrived a little before 10 o’ clock, which turned out to be half an hour late for the ticket office for the Wall. Visitors to Simatai have two options: either you buy an expensive ticket for entering the “old” town, using the cable car and visiting the Simatai section of the Wall. Or you buy a tickets which allows you to use the shuttle bus and visit the Wall, which are much cheaper. The downside of this ticket is that the ticket office for these tickets has limited opening hours to prevent overcrowding. If you miss out on the opening hours you have to wait two hours for the office to open again. So we had to wait until 11.30 for the office to open again. Highly irritated we waited, because we refused to buy the expensive all-inclusive ticket. After we finally obtained our tickets we only had two hours left to climb the Wall, go down and meet Song on time at the parking lot. So we had to rush our Wall visit.
If you walk towards the lowest tower you have an amazing sight on the Jingshanling section. From this point you can climb the 5 watchtowers of Simatai, which have been restored. It was nice to see this part of the Wall as well, and it was less crowded than we expected. To not have Song waiting we decided to skip the final tower and headed back down. Where we had to wait for 20 minutes to take the next shuttle bus, because we were not allowed to walk back through the old town. You need the expensive ticket for this. We asked a Chinese guy if we could call Song with his phone to inform him about our delay. 45 minutes later we were back in the car with Song and headed back to quiet Gubeikou.
On Tuesday, it was time to go back to Beijing. The bus back was a lot easier since we knew where to go. It was however already late when we arrived to our hostel. Apparently they had some trouble with a double booking of our room. We wanted to celebrate our final night in Beijing in the fantastic street food restaurant that we had found a week earlier. We discovered that the restaurant had three floors which were all packed with locals. We had our favorite Rajimao again and some other tasty dishes. Our neighbours had an interesting silver bottle on the table. Curious as I am, I asked them what it was, which ended in free beer. With a full stomach, we headed back to the hotel and checked our emails before packing our bags for an early departure to Hong Kong. We had a unpleasant surprise in our mailbox. Our flight to Hong Kong was cancelled due to Typhoon Hato. After the hostel made a call to customer service (which promised all sorts of things, but did not fulfill any of them) we continued to wait on a new flight offer, which of course did not come. Around 2am we decided to call it a night and just go to the airport the next morning to see if someone could help us. We left early to go to the airport in the hope that we would still have a flight that day. Turns out patience is not our thing. After playing the waiting game it was final, the earliest flight we could take was on the 25th of August, which meant 2 more days in Beijing.
We booked our first Airbnb, which turned out to be an amazing first Airbnb experience. It was located right in the middle of a lively Hutong, had a great bed and bathroom and a fantastic roof terrace. If we compared the weather in Beijing to the weather Thomas and Charlotte were experiencing in Hong Kong we were the lucky ones. We had blue skies and a lot of sun. To avoid letting this delay spoil our time here, we decided to explore the area and have a well deserved beer in the Great Leap Brewery. Here we met three American bankers, enjoying some free time. We shared a few beers and decided to have dinner at Zhang Mama, a Sichuan restaurant. With help of Jerwyn, who had spend 6 months in Shanghai, we ordered all the dishes mentioned in the Lonely Planet, which resulted in a table full of hot and spicy dishes. The first dish was on every table, so it had to be good. The five of us attacked the dish and immediately realized that Sichuan cuisine is indeed spicy. For the first time in our lives we all cried from the heat of the chillies, I honestly never had something that spicy before. The rest of the meal was (thank God) less spicy and really delicious. A great end of a day that started shitty!
We decided to use our extra day to relax and have a stroll around the Hutongs. We had coffee in a really cute coffee bar called Metal Hands. Great coffee and cheesecake and a lot of interior design inspiration later, we headed walked a Hutong tour recommended by Lonely Planet. I don’t think it is the most interesting walk, but it was a good way to enjoy the weather and it passed by Great Leap Brewery again, so …we had to take another beer :). Just around the corner of the Airbnb there was a BBQ restaurant that was always full of locals. Obviously, this was the place for our last dinner in Beijing. A gold wat to end our extra days in Beijing. That evening, we didn’t receive an email from the airliner, so we could go to sleep without worries and be fresh to meet up with Thomas and Charlotte in Hong Kong!