After our first full day in Beijing, we woke up with sore backs thanks to the rock hard beds in our hotel (apparently this is the norm in China, so we knew to expect this). Despite this, we were feeling energized and excited thanks to the fact that we were going to be at the Great Wall of China in a few brief hours!
But let me back up a first. We had decided that navigating the Beijing public transportation system by ourselves was too stressful during the Chinese holidays. So for our trip to the Great Wall, we chose to be part of an organised tour as arranged by our hotel. They picked up Faraaz & I as well as a French couple from our hotel and for the next hour, the van continued to pick up people from various hotels in Beijing (mostly Europeans). Just when the bus was full, we were asked to disembark on the side of the road and change to another bigger bus, with more people!
But we reached The Great Wall at 11am after a smooth and stunning ride out of the city into the mountains. Although the Badaling section of the wall is much closer to the city, we decided to take the extra time and go all the way to the Mutianyu section. This section is a much longer restored section of the wall, and from what the guide was saying, a much more scenic section. Its known for its beautiful surroundings- dense woods and rich pastures that change colours with the seasons. As one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall, Mutianyu used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. It also had some more interesting features and still had some of the old sections of the wall in place. It’s also the section of the wall Bill Clinton went to visit when he visited China.
We took the cable car up… does this look like a cable car?
I felt terribly scared sitting on this flimsy bench while we rose higher and higher. I closed my eyes a lot while Faraaz laughed at me and took pictures.
Of course there are tourists at Mutianyu, but you’d be hard pressed to call them crowds. What’s nice about Mutianyu though is that because it isn’t very crowded at all, the further down the hike you go (to where the typical tourist has run out of steam), there are large sections where it’s just you and the wall. It’s only then that you can transport yourself to the time where soldiers patrolled the wall, moving back and forth between patrol towers on the lookout for crossing armies. You can also begin to imagine the superhuman effort of getting all of these stones to the top of the mountain… it’s no wonder they say that it was built partly with the bones of deceased Chinese workers.
I was really shocked by how steep the wall was! We didn’t walk that far along it but if you’re in good shape you could hike for hours.
The pictures don’t convey the grandeur of the Wall but here they are anyway:
We had lunch at a small restaurant at the base of the wall. Chinese food is really lovely especially when compared to Korean cuisine. This was one of the few areas where China won out over Korea!
On our way back to the city, the tour guide announced that they could drop off people near the Olympic Park if anyone wanted to head there. Faraaz and I thought this would be a good idea since it would avoid the hassle of taking the metro but from our hotel.
The van dropped us (and a few others) on the side of a freeway/highway/motorway. We had to walk ten minutes to a metro station and proceed to transfer twice underground. GRRRR!
We arrived there, amidst another huge crowd and went through a security check. Gosh China really?! This was our first visit to any Olympic Stadium and we were not disappointed. This relatively new park, was created for the 2008 Olympic Games and has won awards for its design.
The entire complex has now been converted into a huge tourist spot. They sell all kinds of knick knacks like stuffed toys and replicas of the stadium etc. Apparently, the stadium has been used as a venue for several concerts sort of like our Fifa World Cup Stadia in South Africa. We had a bit of fun with our new tripod:
The iconic ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium
The Beijing National Aquatics Centre– also known as the Water Cube- was built for the swimming competitions of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
After the Olympics, the building underwent a big revamp to turn half of its interior into a water park that offers fantastical escapism to an emerging urban elite who can afford the hefty entry price.
Just be aware that to take a picture with the mascots costs ten yuan (!!) and the best time to go is around sunset so you can get shots during daylight and the night. You only have to pay an entrance fee if you want to enter the stadium and water cube.
After another horrendous journey home on the metro, we agreed that the next day we would only take cabs everywhere instead of returning home with injuries given to us by uncouth Chinese.
So in one day we visited a wonder of the world and our first Olympic stadium. Not bad at all!
Coming up next- China: A heavenly temple, heavenly shopping and a heavenly massage