You have to see a ‘proper’ bit of the Wall when you visit China, so we’d made arrangements to join a tour. We could have had a private guide and driver for the day, but that would have cost ¥800 (£80), plus admission charges, plus cable car tickets, and we would have had to buy our own lunch; that lot quickly adds up.
For the bargain price of ¥740, we joined a small (9 people), all-inclusive tour. (Apparently this was a very ‘special’ price, a discount of at least ¥100 each. Allegedly.)
The downside of joining a tour is that some of the ‘extras’ aren’t always wanted. We were picked up from our hotel at 7:10 (yawn), then had to criss-cross Beijing to make pick-ups from two other hotels. Then a brief stop for a photo opportunity near the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest (mostly a waste of time because of the haze/fog/smog). A visit to one of the many jade factories (each of which claims to be the only place that guarantees to sell you genuine jade), where your group are promised a ‘special’ discount (but only on items which aren’t already discounted, which is just about everything except the really expensive stuff).
And so, three-and-a-half hours after leaving our hotel, we’re still not at the Wall, despite being told it was just two hours’ drive away…
The bus dropped us at one of the car parks beneath the Wall at Mutianyu at 13:10, five hours after we were picked up. We were told to regroup in two hours, but before we could get on the Wall our guide had to pick up our entrance tickets and cable car tickets, leaving us about 90 minutes by the time we’d ridden the cable car. That was probably enough for anybody, unless you’d gone fully-equipped for an expedition; it was very hot and humid up on the Wall, as the many sweaty-looking photos prove.
Clare, veteran of many Wall trips, thought this was one of the best sections that she’d seen: the wall was in reasonably good condition without having been overly repaired; there were few enough visitors that it wasn’t too difficult to get a clear photograph; and the Wall itself was quite undulating and winding, with a variety of steps and slopes.
After traipsing along the Wall for as long as we had time for, stopping for a selection of arty and cheesy photos along the way (including some in a Black Horse cap; pity it doesn’t fit!), and running the gauntlet of the obligatory tat vendors (“You wan T-shirt? One dorrar!” “One dollar? Really?” “OK, OK… two for a dorrar!”), we met back at the minibus and were taken five minutes back down the road to a “fish” “restaurant” that we’d passed on the way up. The food was pretty good, but would have been better if the Spanish couple hadn’t taken a third of the fish for themselves. The complimentary drinks weren’t excessively generous: the standard over-sized shot glass each; extra beer, for example, was ¥20 (£2) per large bottle.
On the way out, we stopped to admire the restaurant’s fish pond (you can catch your own lunch), and noticed that the header tank was used for beer storage. Also dead fish storage. Lovely. I hope that was one that had been recently caught…
Another hour’s drive now, off to some sort of tea ceremony place; something else we didn’t know about when we booked this trip.
So, the tea ceremony place wasn’t very ceremonious, more a basic introduction to different kinds of Chinese tea, their origins, and their alleged beneficial properties. And, of course, an opportunity to try to sell us overpriced tea, tea sets, novelty mugs that change pattern when they’re full of hot water, etc. I think I’ll just wait until the next time we’re in a local Chinese supermarket. Either that, or get it from Pumphrey’s as usual.
We arrived back at the hotel over ten hours after leaving. Thoroughly knackered and ready for bed again, but it was a pretty good day out at the price. We’re both suffering from whatever lurgi was going round the teachers at school, with added assistance from the delight Beijing air quality, so it’s an evening in bed until we wake up, and maybe join the others at the local KTV place. If we don’t wake up… well, we obviously needed the sleep.