Beijing or Bust - Hiking the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City
Happy Lunar New Year!
Otherwise known as Seollal in Korea, and as it is often observed in the U.S., Chinese New Year.
Welcome to the Year of the Pig! Seeing as the Lunar New Year is being celerated this week, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally share the story of our travels to China!
Hasta La Visa, Baby
Okay this is quite embarrassing, but we had some mini drama just getting the visa to go to China. Poor JD must have gone about 5 times to the Chinese Embassy. The first time was a failed attempt as JD couldn't manage to find the office before his work shift started. Each time after that we just forgot something. We either missed a signature, or omitted the exact itinerary details. When we finally submitted our complete visa applications we realized there was one last issue. We realized we would be flying out to Jeju the day following our submission. How can we fly to Jeju if we just submitted our passports for processing at the Chinese Embassy? This resulted in JD going back again for an emergency retrieval of our passports.
Beijing Arrival At Last
We had left late Friday night from Incheon Airport. The decorations at Incheon Airport had exploded in Christmas cheer. Seriously, Incheon airport is a sight to see on it's own. We stopped to watch this cool screen that showcased the weather in various destinations. A nice older gentleman who noticed us marveling at the screen, offered to take a photo of us. The image switched to Beijing just as he snapped the photo. Meant to be.
JD and I celebrated our successful visa acquisition by sipping on mini wine bottles and eating cookies. Fancy. The China Southern flight was a tad bumpy but we arrived to China on a bone chilling evening. As it turned out, that weekend in China was one of the coldest weekends on record. It was so cold and windy that we didn't want to wait long for a taxi. A woman who appeared to work for the taxi company or airline, told us the wait would be over an hour, so we were redirected to hitch a ride with a private taxi driver. We later learned we overpaid, but it was late and we had an early morning planned. Plus, we can't speak a word of mandarin. After 45 minutes, we arrived to our hotel, The Metropark Lido.
Jd and I woke up early the next morning to prepare for the highly anticipated Great Wall hike! We found a tour that offered pick-up service from our hotel, so we thought it was perfect. We walked down to the Starbucks, had breakfast and waited for the tour to start. We met our tour guides, Victoria and Jin who were extremely friendly. One of the 1st questions I was asked however, was if I was Chinese. Me? (Seems I should look into 23 and Me to see if I have a different ancestry than initially believed.) We hopped on a small bus; there was only about 7 of us hiking that day.
During the 2 hours bus ride, Victoria and Jin gave us a brief history of the wall, fed us some snacks, and gave us each a map of the day's trail.
The Great Wall of China - Gubeiko Trail
We hopped off the bus, took a quick bathroom break and looked at the tiny town we were in.
We couldn't wait to finally hike one of the great wonders of the world. We booked our tour with Beijing Hikers.
Victoria and Jin had set out to show us the Gubeiko Trail.
This Great Wall Loop trail would take about half a day to complete and is actually considered to be unpopular for tourists. This is because this section of the wall is mainly unrestored and built on ridges, making it a bit difficult for the everyday tourist. Many sections of the trail were steep and lined with crumbling uneven stone steps. But for this reason, we loved the hike. The sky was clear and due to the cold there was barely any foliage obstructing our views.
We could see the Great Wall lining the ridges as far as the eye could see! It just kept twisting and turning. Our tour guide said that if we wanted to hike the entire thing, it would take us 2 years to complete. Though we faced bitter cold conditions, we remained distracted by the vast beauty of it all.
We got to explore the ruined towers along the wall, and it was impressive how sections of both the towers and wall managed to remain in tact. The towers were really neat because they naturally framed the views.
Seriously, the views just got better and better. Not only that, but because this part of the wall is mainly popular with the local hikers, we had the wall all to ourselves! It was a bitter cold weekend as well so we noticed only a handful of hikers in the beginning. Besides that? It was just the 7 of us and the Great Freaking Wall of China.
We trekked for a couple of hours in the cold with nothing but the wall ahead of us. We stopped at the last tower on our list to soak in the views and have a snack before looping back and taking a detour off the main trail to get lunch.
Our tour guide told us that it was popular for people to book homestays in villages along the wall and hike the wall over a course of a few days or even weeks. We visited one of the homestay options and had the most amazing Chinese food of my life. Sorry to the "Great Wall" restaurant back home in Bedford.
The bus dropped us off and we were glad to be back in the warmth of our hotel. Success!
Sunday Funday - Tiananmen Square
We grabbed a taxi to downtown Beijing so that we could explore Tiananmen Square. Sadly our flight was leaving that evening so we only had a couple hours to cover both the square and the Forbidden City. We didn't realize how vast the square was. It must've stretched a couple blocks.
We noticed armed guards surrounded the circumference of the square and that there weren't too many tourists around. Honestly, the vibes were a little strange, but it also could have been because we were hit with culture shock.
The Forbidden City
We had no issues getting in, though it did take us a couple of minutes to figure out where to buy entrance tickets. The Palace grounds were huge and contained many palaces inside.
We really enjoyed the detailing of the palaces, the bright colors, and of course all of the dragons.
We took a brief stroll through and made our way to the Imperial Gardens at the back of the palace. (Notice the golden pig at the bottom left of the picture below) There were many museum shops inside, but surprisingly, not many accepted credit cards.
Highlight of the Forbidden City
Again, since we had such a short time left in China, we rushed through the place so that we could get to everything. We noticed a pagoda on a hill across the street and decided we had time to check it out. We are so glad we went! The climb to the top of the hill was worth it as it offered a complete view of the Forbidden City.
Feeling satisfied, we got a taxi back to the hotel and headed towards the airport for our flight back to Seoul. We were shocked at how eager we were to get back to Korea. We even saw a bridge in Beijing that resembled the one in our neighborhood in Seoul!
Looking back, we honestly wished we had more time to explore China than just the weekend. It was hard to get the full sense of the culture and were left with only our initial impressions and experiences. We're happy we crossed off a big bucket list item though! *Cue 'Let's get down to business, to defeat the huns'
Thank you so much for reading! Cheer's to a happy, healthy, and adventurous year of the pig!