Friday, April 22, 2011

I Finally Conquered the Great Wall of China

I chased cherry blossoms in South Korea in 2010 but we're a little bit late. Spring has weathered already to prequel green of Summer. But I did not give up. A year after, I chased cherry blossoms in Beijing and not only i breathe Spring flowers but saw, felt and conquered the Great Wall of China.

Barely three hours since we arrived, we managed to wake up at five and started our first day in Beijing with our Great Wall of China escapade. But more than that, it was a day when we took the first glimpse of the ironic beauty of Beijing.  Having arrived past midnight, we had nothing to see but only a few street lights.  It was too dark and seemed like the city slept early.  More so, looking at at the neon lights of Candy Inn as we passed through the narrow alley a few meters from the main street, I did not expect grandest of  Beijing, only a typical Chinatown ambiance that I've experienced in Hongkong, Bangkok, Singapore, Malaysia and even in Binondo, Philippines.

Well, not a so good first impression.

Neon lights of Hai Inn/Candy Inn from the main street
the main street from Candy Inn at daylight 
However, as we passed through the subways, getting out of the exits, walking with the locals (maybe some tourists too) the next day, I found there's more in Beijing.  In a flashback (or sort of summary), here's like a smooth directions of getting to Great Wall of China in Mutianyu entrance.
the early morning scene in our Day 1 in Beijing
We left Candy Inn at 6:30AM and headed to Yonghegong Station entrance. From Candy Inn to Yonghegong Stn, turn right to the subway station. Along the street is an array of restaurants and Chinese stores for incense and other Chinese stuffs used for the Chinese ritual at the nearby Lama Temple. Upon entering the entrance of Yonghegong Station, don't enter through the turnstile of the first subway entrance, that is for Line 5. Instead, proceed to Line 2 (barely 10 mins walk). You may ask for the direction going to Line 2. Take Line 2 subway and get off in Dongzhimen (one station from Yonghegong). Then, take Exit B of Dongzhimen Station and just walk going to the bus transit hub. It's just a 5-minute walk from Exit B. From the bus transit, take Bus 980 going to Huairou District/Minyu. Travel time is approximately one hour and fare is CYN15. Tell the driver to drop you off in Minyu. In that bus station, there are mini-vans waiting for tourists going to Mutianyu Great Wall. Travel time from Minyu to Great Wall is approximately one hour as well and we rented the van for CYN80 each round-trip where the driver waited for us at the parking area of Great Wall Mutianyu entrance.

Seemed like easy, right? But sharing with you the "hiccups" of our journey to Great Wall of China, I'm proud to share with you our adventure.
Ready to conquer the road and streets of Beijing
When we got out of Dongzhimen Station Exit B, we're a bit lost looking for the bus transit. There's no sign of buses parking nearby but only flock of people going to one direction and seemed to be gone when they reached that intersection.  We were clueless. Where are the buses?! Luckily for us, a kind lady approached Anna who seemed to notice her kept looking at the printed itinerary and map.  She showed it to the kind lady that we where looking for the bus to Minyu. She told her she's a bus assistant and offered to accompany us to the bus station.  She was so kind to bring us to right bus (Bus 980), got us a good seats (just behind the driver), took our fare as we didn't understand the driver on how much is the fare and told the driver to drop us off in Minyu.
our first good samaritan in Beijing
When the bus stopped at Minyu, a middle-age man of medium built and quite tall went up the bus and seemed like looking for someone. He then pointed to me and Anna and waved to us like inviting to get off the bus.  Even though we did not understand a thing, we got off the bus anyways.  He just said, "Great Wall" and seemed like everything had just coincidentally put together and there us riding his van to Great Wall of China Mutianyu entrance. I'm not sure though if he and the lady knew each other because it was surprising that he was looking for us in the bus. Anyways, our driver was very nice and smiling person. He can't speak much of English but we managed to understand each other by hand gestures.  He even talked a lot on our way with his key English words, always smiling and I managed to answer back as if I understood him (I sat at the passenger seat in the front to get a good shot on the road).  He was telling me about the places we passed by, what are those and others that I just assumed or managed to understand.  Looking back, I don't why but we had a good talk.
On our way to Mutianyu

one of the landmarks near Great Wall Mutianyu entrance
Our journey to Great Wall is not only about climbing and hiking the stretch of the snake-like man-made fortifications of walls from both sides that made the famous Great Wall of China for centuries. It made me realized one thing,"A genuine smile and courteous gestures are the main language of humankind".  
with our Chinese driver who was fatherly enough to take care of us

Here some of the options as written in Anna's itinerary (if you're not lucky enough to meet these good souls in Beijing =))

Directions (from our detailed itinerary prepared by Anna)
Option 1 via Bus 916 (trip 7am / 8am)
Walk to Dongzhimen (东直门长途站) station
and take bus # 916 (16 CNY 1-way)
Tell the driver to drop you off Huairou District
and take a mini bus to Mutianyu Great Wall
Last trip back from Huairou to Dongzhimen (2pm/3pm)

Option 2 via Bus 936 (trip 7am / 8am)
From Dongzhimen outer street, walk east & show
this to any local "东直门外大街"(Dongzhimen Outer Street)
When you get to the bus station ask the driver
"这个巴士到慕田峪吗?"(does this bus go to Mutianyu?)
(yes) 不是(no) 不知道(I dont know)
Take bus to the foot of Mutianyu (16 CNY 1-way)
Bus travel is 2 hours
Entrance fee to Great Wall (45 CNY)
Cable car lift / Toboggan (65 CNY)

We arrived Mutianyu at nine and agreed with the driver that we could finish the walk and hike for three hours so we were expected to go back by noon. We paid CYN45 for the entrance fee and CYN65 for the cable car lift and toboggan ride. 

Why we chose Mutianyu Great Wall?

Tourists don't usually visit this area and not crowded like Badaling or Juyonggan sections of Great Wall. We hiked and climbed the approximately 2.5 kms stretch which allowed us to explore around 8 towers and looked at the valley on both sides. By noon, we went down via Toboggan and had our first taste of authentic Chinese lunch. We bought some souvenirs too like magnets and dolls. Make sure to haggle even up to 90%. Magnets were originally sold at CYN65 but we were able to buy it at CYN5 each for 6 pcs - the power of wholesale haggling! =)

In going back to Beijing, we just waited for Bus 980 and get off in the bus terminal. 

the happy faces who just conquered The Great Wall of China

My Top Five Take-Aways from my Great Wall of China experience:


Wikipedia's information about Great Wall of China:
"The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthern fortifications in northern China, built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups. Several walls have been built since the 5th century BC that are referred to collectively as the Great Wall, which has been rebuilt and maintained from the 5th century BC through the 16th century. One of the most famous is the wall built between 220-206 BV by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains; the majority of the existing wall was built during the Ming Dynasty".

I felt the tears in my eyes as I looked at the panoramic view of the Great Wall of China from the cable car lift and at the last Tower 14 that we successfully conquered amidst the aching feet, thirst and short of breath. This is one of the original Seven Wonders of the World and recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site!  I only read and studied about this in my History class back in high school but was able to see it and step on in person!! I finally chased my dream.


The chairlift moves 550 meters in total length where we enjoyed the panoramic and scenic beauty of Mutianyu Great Wall easily. The lift is enough for two persons and we were just surprised when the assistants where shouting of words that we didn't understand. I only figured out that they wanted us to be ready for the chairlift and you have to be quick. =) That guy even lifted me to the chairlift. I really enjoyed the view and couldn't get enough of the flowers and cherry blossoms everywhere. True enough, almost 96% of Mutianyu is covered by trees, orchards and chestnut blossoms in spring.  

Going down, we took the Toboggan and it was so much fun - another adventure scribbled in my travel chronicles (can be compared to the Luge of Singapore's Sentosa) and the in-land version of the Giant Water Slide in Samal Island, Davao.

Toboggan is also called "Nanirrigated farmland sled"(verbatim from the brochure) and made by Weigang Company in Germany in stainless steel. It allows the tourists to do speed driving in a snake-like path down to the foot of Great Wall.

3. FLOWERS, FLOWERS, FLOWERS (Indeed, I breathe Spring!!)

I prayed that I can see some cherry blossoms in Beijing since I was not able to see it in Seoul. Fortunately, our travel was scheduled exactly when spring started to bloom in Beijing. The scenery is very beautiful with many kinds of flowers everywhere. I saw apricot blossoms, cherry blossoms, magnolias, cloves, pear blossoms and peach blossoms. I am not sure though if I was able to find peonies as they all looked the same. =)

4. Captured moments and memories.

One thing I can say about Beijing - dumplings overload!
They served 12 doz of dumplings for a very cheap price (almost Php 70 only).

our lunch at Great Wall restaurant

Back in my high school History class, Great Wall of China is one of the Seven Wonders of the World (now it is labeled as 7 Wonders of Medieval World, or, New 7 Wonders of the World).  It is indeed a "dream come true" for me as I marked a check in my bucket list of fulfilling my dream to travel the wonders of the world.

It was so genuinely blissful trip that I even won a chic luggage when I submitted a photo entry to a travel magazine - a raw photo, not photoshop nor edited, just capturing the beauty of Great Wall and my blissful aura.

What is your dream travel?

1 comment:

Christine |GrrrlTraveler said...

Wow, I have avoided China the entire time I was in Asia but you've got some lovely pictures which make me rethink that. I can't believe how many cherry blossoms there were! Glad you found some & congrats on winning the photo contest!