After a fantastic few days in Yangshuo, we were headed back to Beijing to spend three and a half more days sightseeing, hanging out with the family, and enjoying the city before it was time to fly home.
Our final day with ExoTravel held an attraction we’d definitely been looking forward to: the Great Wall.
As I’ve said before, Exo and our Beijing guide, Selena, were fantastic. I had requested that we be taken to a less occupied part of the wall, so we drove about an hour to an hour and a half outside of the city to The Great Wall at Mutianyu. For us, this location was an ideal mix. We didn’t want to take up too much of our limited time on a super long drive out to an even more remote area of the wall (although it is on my list to camp on the wall when we’re in the area during a more agreeable season!), but we also didn’t want to be battling huge crowds at one of the sections within the city.
Exo struck a great balance of informing me about the details of the days they put together for us and adding a few surprises that fit well with other activities I had requested. One such surprise was our trip down the “Great Wall Toboggan!” Fun, quirky, and a change of scenery from the chairlift we took up!
Next up: The Summer Palace!
This place was gorgeous and Jon really put it best when he said “I could totally Summer here. I mean, without all these other people.” Tough to argue with that.
Many of our destinations on this trip were obviously huge tourist attractions, dominated, as landmarks in the US often are, by local tourists. Some were crowded, but all were definitely worth seeing. While off-the-beaten path stops are generally my favorite, and I can’t imagine a trip stocked with only Top 10 Trip Advisor attractions, these monuments are still well worth the effort battling crowds. At the end of the day, there is a reason the tourists flock and we read about these marvels in elementary textbooks. They’re often awe-inspiring, and usually come with an ample helping of of history and perspective.
The next morning, having completed our “official touring” portion of the trip, we took my little cousins to school. As I mentioned before, the driving in China was a bit… different. On this day, we were running a few minutes late to get the boys to school on time. Mr. Sun was clearly not happy about that and he really didn’t like how things were looking once we saw that traffic was completely backed up leading to the turn into the school. Pretty soon, we were driving down the road the wrong direction. People were surprisingly accommodating.
It was great to see where Luc, Jack, and Dominic went to school everyday, and as for driving the wrong way down the street… All’s well that end’s well!?
Next up on the agenda for the rest of the group was a tea tour! The Tea Market is best described as a four story shopping mall filled with nothing but tea and tea accessories. Our guide was a lovely woman originally from Australia who has lived in Beijing for nine years and is, as you might suspect, fluent in Mandarin. Her language skills and tea knowledge provided us with an experience we definitely wouldn’t have had on our own, and a new found appreciation for Chinese tea.
We snuck in lunch near (in?) the tea district as well, and on our tour guide’s recommendation enjoyed an incredible hand-pulled noodle place. Our guide graciously translated and ordered for us before departing. Easily the best noodle bowl I’ve ever had.
Our last full day in Beijing featured an incredible motorcycle sidecar tour that took us through the main sites of the city as well as through the hutongs, or narrow alleys that hold historic neighborhoods.
Hongqiao Pearl Market was calling our names for a little bit of shopping. While some of the market is very similar in appearance to a mall in the US, other parts were under construction with shops still operating. The photo shows the path we took to one of my uncle’s favorite shops.
Within the market, we found everything from upscale jewelry and jade shops galore to technology, chopsticks, or pretty much any souvenir you might want. If you’re not sure whether you’d be interested, know that you can also enjoy a Tsingtao (or other) beer while you meander, or wait on your traveling mates to shop. Jon thought this would be a great addition to malls at home. As we wandered, we stumbled upon this incredible view, which would have singlehandedly made the stop worthwhile.
Our final day in Beijing arrived all too quickly. Early in the morning, Mom, Kenny, and I went for a walk through a neighborhood market, and found all sorts of fun things. I had to try one of the sugarcane drinks (interesting), strawberries, and a few other goodies.
As we made our way back home, we saw dumplings being made on the street and couldn’t resist a taste. Kenny asked the vendor how much one was and we were told the price was about 93 US cents. We nodded, handed the vendor a bill, and walked away with the entire platter, or about eight dumplings! They made a delicious breakfast along with some strawberries and coffee!
And so concluded our time in China.
I left with a stronger desire to explore more of Asia, convinced I’d better make it to Shanghai and other parts of the country before my Visa expires, and with an even longer travel wish list than before–which I wasn’t sure was possible.
Leaving wanting more was a great feeling, even though I would have gladly enjoyed more time exploring… and my appetite for more likely would have outlasted any length trip.
Until next time, China!
What is your most unexpected favorite destination?