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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 5: To the Great Wall for a One Last Time

After a satisfactory fourth day in Beijing, I had seen most of what I wanted to see except for the Ancient Observatory and Bird's Nest. On the fifth day I was hoping to visit the former first thing in the morning and the latter in the evening with the hope that they would light up the thing. So I had a several hours of free time in between and a few choices as well. I could either go see 798 Art District which was supposedly very impressive, just walk the streets getting a taste of the lives of locals, stay at the hotel relaxing or go see The Great Wall again, hopefully a different place this time. Finally I decided on the last option for a) I was so inspired by it I didn't mind a second look, b) I wasn't really satisfied with the pictures I took there the first time I went and c) though I love art I was sure there was no Michelangelo stuff. Since I had visited Badaling already, this time I wanted to go to Mutianyu but was faced with the problem of how to get there. A quick inquiry from the front desk revealed that it would cost me around 700 RMB for a taxi to and from the Mutianyu Great Wall. It wasn't a huge amount per se, but a considerable amount nonetheless. So I turned to ever so faithful Google - though it was google.jp as they've blocked the .com site over there (yeah, makes sense) - that I visited for real. It told me that I could take a bus so to make sure I called Lynda and she e-mailed me the details on how to get there. I needed to take a bus to a town close to the Great Wall and then either take a taxi or hire a car. The bus fare - I'm not kidding - was 11 RMB and a taxi or a car would cost about another 25, so it's about 70 to and from there, one tenth of what a taxi would cost. I didn't need any convincing.

But first I grabbed a taxi and headed for the ever so elusive Ancient Observatory which I so wanted to see. No it wasn't avoiding me as such, but the circumstances prevented me from seeing it so far. The ride was only a few minutes and upon arriving there I got off the taxi to face, for the first time in Beijing, a deserted entrance to a tourist attraction. I was not sure even if it was open, but a quick inspection revealed that it was though nobody had bothered coming there. Maybe, no, surely, not everyone is an astronomy fanatic like I am. I bought a ticket and entered to find an amazing and unexpected sight. It was an oasis at the heart of Beijing, masked from all the noise and chaos. The place was very quiet and with a bunch of trees inside, very cool and beautiful. I could stay there for hours I didn't have other plans. There were so many ancient astronomy related instruments with lots of descriptions and I spent a good hour or so there chilling. And taking pictures of course.

Once I had seen all that was there to see I proceeded to the next step. Which is to find the central bus station where I was supposed to take a but to the hills. Another few minutes' taxi ride later I was there and quickly found the correct bus with the help of a information counter lady. However I had to fend off a couple of guys who offered 'cheap' rides up there, and believe me getting rid of these people is not easy. Finally I bought a ticket and was seated inside the bus which was pretty comfortable. Unfortunately an oldish looking couple sat next to me who wanted to talk to me despite them not speaking a word of English and me not speaking a word of Chinese. It must have been hilarious to see for others though I didn't exactly feel that way at the moment. Finally I just shrugged and turned away to listen to my iPod and they got the message so they left me alone for the rest of the trip which was a little more than an hour. Towards the end of the ride I saw there was a young foreign couple sitting a few seats away from me and we exchanged one of those "phew, glad to see another alien here" nods and proceeded to talk. Turned out that they were a French couple - Homar and Mili - who were living in Vietnam and travelling around in China for their summer vacation.

Upon arriving at our destination we got off the bus and were immediately approached by a couple of locals who again offered us 'cheap' rides to the wall. Cheap ride being 50 bucks each. But I as well as the French couple had done our homework and we knew it shouldn't cost any more than 25 so we said no thanks and headed away from them. Just as I expected one guy started following us, nagging us to go with them saying there were no taxis. And we quickly realized that unlike in the central Beijing it is indeed hard to find a taxi there. But we still feigned disinterest and got down to bargaining.

"Sir, no taxi here. I take you fifty, fifty, fifty", said the dude pointing at each of us.

"No, fifty's too much. Way too much."

"Okay, give me forty."


"Okay sir you tell me price"

"Fifteen" we said, though I felt a little bit of guilt even.

"Noooooo sir no fifteen. I give you thirty. Best price."

A little more bargaining later we managed to get it down to 20 each, and if we persisted a little more we could probably have taken it down even more but decided it wasn't worth the hassle. A few minutes later we jumped in his van and was on our way to Mutianyu which was about fifteen minutes away. At the entrance I bought a return ticket for the cable cars while they bought only one way saying they wanted to come back on foot. Upon arriving at the wall we said our goodbyes knowing that we will probably never meet again in our lifetimes. Wasn't to be so, but that's for later. Then I turned my attention to the sight that was there, and I shall not waste your time again trying to describe the scene there like I did the few posts ago. I could use the words like spectacular, amazing, breathtaking, awe-inspiring and many more but they will all fail me, I'm sure. It is worth saying though that this Mutianyu wall is much less crowded than the Badaling wall but probably more scenic. If you ever intend to go there, I suggest you go to Mutianyu if you have time to visit only one. This time around I spent time there to my heart's content (or more like till I got exhausted) and took a bunch of nice picture. I also met a few tourists including a bunch of Americans who walked with me for some time, a family of Indians who were very keen to inform me that they lived in America though I didn't ask and finally an elderly South African couple who got very hesitant about walking the rest of it seeing me in my exhausted state. We chatted for a while and found out that the gentleman was as big a sports fan as I am so we got to talk about Tri-Nations and the Bocks' pathetic display this year until the old lady interrupted asking us to stop with the 'stupid rugby talk'. We parted after a while and I took a cable car back ending my second and probably the last Great Wall visit.

Next and final post will bring you the story of how I met the French couple that I thought I would never meet again, and also the details about my thank-god-I-did-it moment that night.

Part Six


  1. Hi Sach, please upload some photos of Mutianyu.

  2. Google, I've uploaded some of them to my Flickr stream. Here's the link to the album, you can find the Mutianyu pics there.


  3. Great collection of photos Sach. Now I know what to develop, if I have time to write programs, a people eraser (from photos).

  4. Thanks mate!
    And tell me about it, having so many people just destroys the whole photo but I can't really complain as I'm also destroying someone else' photo by being there.

  5. I've SO enjoyed these posts of yours... will definitely add China to my wishlist of destinations! :D

  6. Thanks Angel!
    And yes, you really should go there someday. Will be well worth the buck.