I’m cheating a little bit here, because our story actually begins on the previous day. After returning to the hotel, but before going to sleep, we set to work arranging our transportation to and from the Great Wall for the following day.
This was far more stressful than we had expected.
Kat’s Lonely Planet guide assured us that hiring a car (with driver) for the day should cost no more than ¥400 (about CAD$65). We asked at our hotel’s reception desk if they could arrange a car for us in the morning, but they told us that bookings could only be made through the hotel’s business centre. Upon enquiring at the business centre, we were told that they only did car bookings through one company, and the cheapest car was ¥800 for the day. We (by which I mean Kat) attempted to negotiate a lower price, but they were unyielding.
Our alternatives were to head to a different hotel the next morning and hope for a better deal, or catch the public bus and spend a few more hours of our day in transit. I was in favour of swallowing our pride and paying the inflated price in order to maximize the use of our remaining time in Beijing. The Missus wanted to try heading down alone and seeing if she could get a lower, Asians-only price. Kat, on the other hand, was fed up with being scammed, and began to succumb to what she termed “culture shock”. The culture in question was the one that appeared to be constantly trying to lie, cheat and steal its way into our wallets. Perhaps “severe culture aggravation” would be a better term.
Sleep being nature’s best coping mechanism, we left the planning for the morning and went to bed. Upon waking, The Missus headed down to try to get a lower price. She did not, so we paid the full fee, went to breakfast, and then hopped in our rented car.
We arrived in Mutianyu, which is about an hour away (by car) from our hotel. The Mutianyu section of wall is mostly restored and is relatively well-frequented by tourists, although it is apparently not as ridiculously crowded as the Badaling section of the wall. Be that as it may, the Mutianyu section of wall is certainly popular enough to ensure that the area leading up to the entrance is stuffed full with vendors selling clothing and knick-knacks.
Although we did not buy any goods on our way up, the ladies did employ the services of a costumed man for some photo ops. He was dressed as a soldier or warlord or some such thing. He posed, engaged in mock combat and was generally a good sport.
We passed through the toll-booth entrance to the path that leads to the Great Wall. We weren’t sure what we were expecting, but it certainly wasn’t an immaculate garden with waterfalls, bridges and ducks.
Much like the Summer Palace, the entry garden also featured caverns. These ones were more explicitly tourist-oriented, with artificial lights, pathways and even electrical outlets installed. The stalagmites and stalactites looked legit, though, and we greatly enjoyed ourselves.
We left the cave and found some stairs that lead to the Great Wall. Actually, “some stairs” might not be entirely accurate. The Chinese generals who supervised its construction appeared to believe that it was a good idea to put it on top of a bunch of mountains. On the one hand, this made it awfully difficult for enemy troops to approach the walls from their side of the wall. On the other hand, having to scale a mountain in full armour just to go to work seems like a pretty raw deal for the wall’s defenders.
There were some comically small tables mid-way up the climb, so The Missus and Kat stopped to discuss military strategy.
We eventually arrived at the Wall, exhausted but not defeated. We were greeted by a vendor who looked like an Asian Luigi. He sold cold water for ¥10 a bottle (roughly CAD$1.65, about three times the usual price). He asked us where we were from, and gestured enthusiastically at a Canadian pin on his bag upon hearing our response. His admiration of our homeland might have seemed more genuine if there weren’t dozens of other national pins surrounding that one.
There were similar vendors at each guard tower (although the resemblance to Luigi varied considerably from tower to tower). They were all very friendly (and well-equipped with national pins), and all sold the same goods for the same prices. If you dawdled too long by one vendor, he or she would try to further build rapport by posing for photos with us and getting us to try on hats. This was all part of a ploy to get us to purchase commemorative “I climbed the Great Wall” plaques with our names engraved. Kat’s Lonely Planet guide warned us about this, as these plaques are very expensive (and you learn the price after your name has been engraved, natch). We did not buy any plates.
We did take the opportunity to pose for some photos on the Great Wall. It seemed appropriate, given the circumstances.
We set about the serious business of exploring the Great Wall. We took to our task with gusto.
The Great Wall was spectacularly picturesque. We took over 1,000 photos over the course of the day. Here are some of my favourites.
All told, we spent about five and a half hours on the wall. It was a full and exciting day of sightseeing. All good things must come to an end, however, and we soon found ourselves catching a cable car down to the base.
We arrived at the base and ran the gauntlet of tourist trap vendors. Kat stopped to buy a fan, a dress and a bathrobe. This took some time, since commercial transactions in China are more of a bloodsport than a discussion. The Missus also bought a dress and a bathrobe, but could not find a particular speciality item that she has been trying to buy for a friend.
We headed back to the hotel, where the ladies got dressed up for a night on the town. Our plan was to go see the Chaoyang Acrobats at the Tiandi Theatre.
We left the hotel a little late (my fault – blogging takes time!), after which we got thoroughly lost. We did not see the acrobats on this particular evening. We cut our losses and caught a cab to a local restaurant that came highly recommended in Kat’s book of secrets.
With our cameras and bellies full (but feet still unmassaged), we returned to the hotel for our last night in Beijing.
Tomorrow we spend our last day in Beijing and fly back to Hong Kong.