Holy China! Part 2 of 2: Beijing & The Great Wall

After 4 really incredible days in Shanghai, it was time to leave it all behind and head onto Beijing by way of the rail. Our tour guide brought us to the station, and right up to the waiting room where after a bit of waiting we eventually boarded the 12 hour overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing. We had a 4 person soft sleeper car to ourselves (there were 3 of us) and after we ran around a bit in utter excitement we got down to business: charging up all of our electronics and playing some cards. I'd love to say that we did something wild and crazy but realistically we were all getting pretty sick so we called it a "night" and I for one had an amazing night's sleep in a warm train car regardless of how incredibly awful I felt. We were then woken up to a pretty awful "western" breakfast around 6:30am, and then after all of the announcements were in Chinese and the train stopped and everyone got off, we realized we were the last ones ON the train when they turned off all the lights. Ah well, these things happen.

We waited in the coldest weather I have felt in years in front of the railway station for our 2 other friends to get off of their train and head to the hostel. They found a pretty great hostel in the 365 Inn near Tianneman Square that had separate rooms with bunk beds in them, and private bathrooms - all for a hefty $6 a night. Not to mention the downstairs had a full service restaurant/bar that was pretty amazing. It comes HIGHLY recommended.

After settling in we didn't waste a minute of our short time in Beijing together. First was our official Chinese meal at some hole in the wall place that was pretty damn good, and then doing a bit of haggling for some Chinese schwag. We headed to Tianneman Square where we effectively froze our asses off, onto to the Forbidden City (officially sponsored by American Express now) where we made one to many 'it's Forbidden!' jokes, walked a bit to the hutongs (the oldest neighborhoods of the city that are so close together cars and just barely fit down the streets), and off to some frozen lake that people were stupidly running around on. After attempting to be one of those idiots and feeling one step away from frostbite, we decided to regroup back at the hostel to wait for our last friend to arrive. Hot Chocolate and cakes all around.





Once our final friend showed up, we spent some quality time drinking in the hostel with random old and new friends - an Israeli (friend of the group) and some random Parisians. That's what hostels are for right? We all parted ways and the core group went onto meet another friend from college at a really nice dinner of traditional Peking Duck. It might be good to say here at this point we are officially on New Year's Eve Day/Evening time. The dinner was incredible, and the duck was delicious, but not something I'd ever crave again I suppose.

Our group once again, now full, and one or two of us being just this side of death, and another one or two of us feeling especially drunk from Chinese Bai Jiu, cabbed it back to the hostel at 11:30pm to ring in the New Year with water and promptly be in bed by 12:30am awaiting what will go down as one of the absolutely monumental days of my life.

A quick 5am rolls around and all but 1 of us spring into action. A 3 hour bus ride to the wall for a 6 mile (10km) hike along the Great Wall of China from JinShanLing to Simatai. The most touristy area is Badaling and while I did not see it, I would NOT recommend it. Too many people and the wall is entirely rebuilt. The trek we did was not only beautiful, but physically challenging, and unbelieveably rewarding, and completely devoid of people. The whole thing cost 270RMB (~$39) and it included 2 portions of the wall, the toll on the bridge at the end, transportation to and from our hostel, breakfast and lunch.





At 1pm Beijing Time, 12am midnight New York time, 5 New Yorkers popped open a bottle of champagne and toasted to it officially being 2008 on the Great Wall after 3 hours of grueling hiking with a good ways still to go. Don't let me fool you, we bitched and complained every step of the way - but it was all for comedic purposes. At one point I considered not going to the wall because I was feeling so horrible from being sick, but I powered through and do not regret that decision in the least.






I cut it pretty close in time as we returned from the Wall at 6:45pm and I had a 9:15pm flight back to Seoul to catch. However, I made it with plenty of time to spare and I wouldn't have changed a thing. One of the best trips I've ever taken, hands down.
Jenn PeddeTrips