On the first full day of our trip, we woke up with sore backs thanks to the rock hard bed 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!
Our transportation was arranged for 9am, so we wandered the streets for a bit to find an ATM that would work with our Debit Card as well as a spot for breakfast (the hotel wanted the equivalent of $8 Canadian each! In Stephs opinion, way too much!). We had no luck with the ATM, as there were none in the area we quickly scoured. We were able to grab lattes for a much cheaper price than the Starbucks we had yesterday! We opted to hold off on breakfast in the hopes of grabbing something more authentic along the way.
Our guide met us at our hotel at 9am sharp. His name was Joe of Joe-Service and he is a man in his early 30s who was born and raised in Beijing. The pride he
holds for his city and it's history is astounding. He knows even the smallest detail and was the perfect guide. His English was almost fluent and he drove a new Puegot car. We paid only 500¥ which is about $80 Canadian for his guide service & transportation to and from the Great Wall. Although Beijing has a population of over 22 million (please take note that per the 2011 census the population of Canada in its entirety is 30.5!!) traffic surprisingly was smooth and we made it to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall by 1020. We were quite surprised to see a Subway in the village! Needless to say we opted for some more authentic food this time, and had some Chinese pancakes made from a food cart. Joe urged us to attempt to barter, but considering we paid only $1.25 canadian for both, we didn't really feel the need. Sometimes we feel better paying the original asking price rather than barter, because it's peanuts to us but makes a huge difference in their life.
We took the cable car up the wall, which is the same as a ski lift. It was around 2 degrees, and
oh how for a brief moment we wished we could ski off the lift and down a mountain. Then reality sunk in - we were at the Great fricken Wall of China! One of the Seven Wonders of the World. And we weren't just looking at a picture or watching a David Attenborough documentary on it. We were at it in the flesh!
Joe stuck with us from towers 6-9, explaining to us all sorts of things from the structure of the wall to the smoke signals made from wolf feces the men would let off from the surrounding watch towers when the enemy was spotted.
We then hiked the wall alone, only seeing a few people here and there. We knew in advance to expect it to be steep at points, but it was hard to really imagine until we were walking it ourselves. We trekked for quite a while, taking off layers as we hiked because despite the cold there was still sun shining!
To get back to the village from the wall, we of course had to take the toboggan down! Colin had been looking forward to this for months. He planned to videotape
himself going down at a high speed and post it on YouTube - all went according to plan, and he was making excellent speed, when he almost ran into the girl ahead of him! She started way way WAY ahead of him, as he purposefully stalled his start to be sure that she was almost finished by the time he started. And if she had been going at a normal pace, she certainly would have. But no, she was going down the wall inch by inch, with one hand putting the brake on full, and the other hand pushing herself down. Total toboggan fail! Steph nearly crashed into Colin, and someone else nearly crashed into Steph, because of how turtle slow this girl was going!
After we finished, we checked out the goods in the village and met Joe back at his car. We then asked Joe to take us somewhere for authentic Chinese food. He took us to a restaurant about 15 minutes from the Wall, that upon first impression looked run down and unappealing. However after spending a few hours getting to know Joe we knew that if he recommend it, we could trust him. We were
treated to a private room (as Joe explained, Chinese people will often smoke while they eat, so he will typically ask the restaurant to seat Western guests in a private room). We asked him for his recommendations on top of the veggie fried rice that Steph was dying to try. BBQ Trout and an eggplant dish it was. The trout was caught fresh from the pond at the restaurant, and amazing doesn't even begin to explain it! The entire meal was out of this world. We don't think we will ever get to eat such delicious Chinese food again.
After our delicious and very affordable lunch, Joe dropped us off at the Olympic Plaza. Having just experienced the Olympics in Vancouver, we really wanted to check out Chinas versions of the venues. The Watercube and Birds Nest definitely were worth seeing, but we didn't feel it was worth the cost to go inside of them (yes, they charge an entrance fee just to step in the door let alone the cost of activities inside!).
By this time it was after 4pm so we decided to take the subway over to the Forbidden City area. Of course we kept
picking prime rush hour times to take the subway, but the system is so well set up that the 44 minute ride with 3 transfers was a breeze.
As soon as we stepped onto the street, we were greeted by two Chinese girls in their 20s. Steph recognized the trap immediately, but Colin having done significant less research for the trip than her, began to engage with the girls while Steph hung back.
"hi, where are you from?!"
"we love Canada! We have always wanted to go there. Where are you headed now?"
"we are going to try and find the night market"
"oh us too! But it doesn't open until 630. We are from south in China and are touring the area. Did you want to come with us and we will go to the night market together later?"
Steph then interjected with "we are just going to wander the area by ourselves. Bye!" and as we walked away, explained the scam to Colin! Basically, if we agreed to go with them, they would attempt to bring us to an expensive restaurant or shop in which we would be faced with
an exorbitant bill at the end - the girls would receive a large cut of this and a good chuckle from scamming tourists.
As we walked down the street, we had a few more greetings from pairs of Chinese girls, but this time we ignored them and carried on.
We had no idea where we were going - all we knew was that the night market was along Wangfujing Road and as the girls had told us, opened at 630. Little did we know that Wangfujing Road is a very busy shopping destination. It is huge and filled with bright signs (think Times Square) and high end and Chinese stores alike. We couldn't help but run into the Nike store to check out the prices - we were shocked that the cost for everything was more than in Canada! In the States, Steph buys her Nike Frees for $85- in Canada they are priced for $125. In China, they were equivalent to $138! With no export costs, this was a huge shock to us and shattered Stephs dreams of buying a new pair!
We were freezing at this point so we went into a McDonalds for
some coffee - McCafe is prevalent over here. We relaxed for a bit inside, warming up while drinking our lattes and people watching - it was packed! Then we headed on our way down the street to continue our journey towards finding the night market. We stumbled upon an arch with a swarm of people walking through to an alley way - this was obviously the night market. We wandered around, memorized by the exotic foods (actually, disguisted may be a better word!) and looking at the various trinkets they had for sale. Knowing that we wanted to save our shopping money for Thailand, we only bought a set of chopsticks for Colin's younger sister who loves using them!
On a few separate occasions, we smelt what we would consider to be hands down the most repulsive smell in the world (taking the honors from - nurses you will know this one - cdiff!). Steph is pretty sensitive to nasty smells already but when even Colin "guts of steel" says he is feeling sick, you know it's bad. We couldn't believe that people were eating the food with this smell around. There was such a variety of food (starfish,
all kinds of bugs including scorpion and beetle, baby chickens or perhaps they were ducks, squid, the list of nasty goes on and on - apparently there is also seahorses and sheep penis) but we couldn't believe that people would risk eating whatever THAT SMELL was stemming from!
Needless to say, we booked it out of there and took a few minutes to assess whether we were even hungry at that point and if we were, could we even fathom eating Chinese food? The answer was yes, we might feel hungry as soon as we were more removed from that smell, and no, there was no way we could eat Chinese food again - at least not this night. To McDonalds we returned, where we enjoyed Big Mac meals that tasted exactly like they do in Canada... Aaaaahhh......
This pretty much wrapped up our day, as we just headed back to the hotel and called it a night. Despite the smell that still lingered in our memories vividly, we were in disbelief that we had spent a large portion of our day wandering the Great Wall of China. The memory of our experience there will certainly remain vivid
throughout our lives. The fact that for 50% of our time on the wall, we had it to ourselves, made the experience even more mind blowing. We don't know if we will ever get to experience the Great Wall again, but we know that we will never forget a moment of our time there, and can proudly say that we have been there!
Taking out money is easy to do in China with your ATM card. The exchange rate will be better than what you exchange it for at home. You can bring cash and exchange at a foreign exchange counter, but ATMs are more readily available than those and aside from nominal bank charges it won't cost you much more. The ease and convenience is well worth the $5 our bank was charging us! Remember to let your bank know in advance that you will be traveling out of country.
If you choose to go the night market, the more direct route is to subway to Wangfujing and then walk down the street of the same name turning left outside of the subway. You will see the entrance about half way down the street
- it is a narrow ally with an arch over the entrance. There is also another night market with primarily food - if you continue past the first market, it will be at the very end of Wangfujing. We walked past it but didn't stop to look. Apparently it has an even more exotic variety of food. Eat at your own risk!
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