How to Camp on The Great Wall of China

If I had to pick my top five experiences in China, this would be one of them. Seeing the pink sunset behind the Ming dynasty towers and watching the sunrise bring them back into focus, makes everything seem right with the world.

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The sunrise at Jinshanling

A couple of months ago I hiked from Jiankou to Mutianyu section of the wall which you can read about here.  This past weekend I hiked the Jinshanling section of The Great Wall which is 125 km Northeast of downtown Beijing in Luanping county. It connects with the Simatai section of the Great Wall in the West although at this time you are unable to hike from Jinshanling to Simatai due to renovations at Simatai. It is not clear when the Simatai section will re-open. To the East of Jinshanling is the Gubeikou section of The Great Wall.

So from East – West = Gubeikou- Jinshanling- Simatai

Jinshanling is a 10km wonderfully picturesque hike. It isn’t too difficult, with only a couple really steep parts when you get close to Simatai. There is a mixture of restored and unrestored section of the wall  but most of the hike is restored. Because it’s also farther from Beijing, it’s much less crowded than Mutianyu. Do not go to Badaling, it’s simply too commercialized.

So, below is my step by step how to get to and camp on Jinshanling.

1. Take Bus 980 from Dongzhimen long distance bus station. You can take the subway to Dongzhimen on line 2 and then you will see signs for the long distance bus station. This bus leaves at an interval of every twenty minutes from 6:30 a.m- 6:00 p.m.

2. Get off at a bus stop in Miyun County. You can show the bus driver these characters or you will simply know when you start seeing cab drivers boarding to bus and asking for people to go to Jinshanling.

3. Negotiate a price of no more than 200 RMB for a driver to take you and your group to Jinshanling. The drive from Miyun to Jinshanling takes about 1-1.5  hours.

4. You will be dropped off at the entrance to Jinshanling

5. Once you reach the beginning of your hike( there is only one entrance and it’s easy to follow) you will walk East. You will go through many beautiful restored towers and then when you get closer to Simatai you will start encountering a few unrestored sections.

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Towards the beginning of the hike!

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What a view!

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More unrestored sections on Jinshanling

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The second tower in the distance is the start of Simatai. This is around where we turned back.

6. Currently, you can hike all the way to the beginning of Simatai but the hikes don’t connect because of construction. However, you can hike sections of Simatai separately .

7. My recommendation would be to set up your tent in one of the towers closest to Simatai because your views of all the towers you hiked will be amazing at sunset and sunrise!

IMG_0703 Our tent on Jinshanling!

8. Crack open a beer or a bottle of wine and enjoy!

9.  Hike back to the entrance of Jinshanling where you can negotiate a cab back to Beijing.

Top Tips

* Check out: http://greatwallforum.com/ for the best and most detailed tips about hiking and camping on different sections of the wall. I think it’s the most informative resource out there!

* If you are looking to buy some camping gear, check out any of the Decathlon store in Beijing. Everything you need will be at that store and the prices are great! The tent you see pictured was only 150 RMB!

* Make sure you bring lots of water because it’s more expensive on the wall

* In the beginning of this post there is a link to my other information about another hike from Mutianyu to Jiankou. I hiked from Jiankou to Mutianyu and there are plenty of camping opportunities there as well. So if that hike looks more interesting,  head there if you want ! There are many possibilities when it comes to camping near or on The Great Wall!

* You can always book a camping experience with hostels or other companies, but this experience ensures that you get to travel on your own time and camp where you want!

Have any questions? Drop me a line! I’d love to help you with your hiking adventures!

Happy hiking my friends!

 

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A Beijing Summer

As I feel the first pangs of an autumn wind in Beijing I thought it appropriate to reflect on a Beijing summer.

Summer in Beijing is quite different from its other seasons. For one thing, , dare I say this, it’s far more crowded. Tourists are flocking in from all corners of the globe to get their hands on some Peking duck and to have a go at The Great Wall. But, what I’m surprised about is the sheer number of Chinese tourists in Beijing. When I head home from work I see an armada of buses full of tourists unloading at the subway. As I crane my head upwards towards the massive buses I see tourists with little red hats and tour leaders frantically waving their yellow flags around to keep everyone in order.

Although it’s crowded, it adds a whole new energy to the city. Students from all over the world are flocking to different parts of the city. My favorite areas like Shichahai  near Houhai and The Drum & Bell Tower are filled with families and children enjoying the summer sun. For anyone that has read my blog consistently, you know that Beijing’s hutongs have a special place in my heart and they come to life in the spring and summer.

Take a stroll down any hutong and you will see groups of elderly men and women waving their bamboo fans trying to cool themselves off . As they fan themselves they also sip tea from their thermos and comment on the quality of the food they’ve bought today. Lots of older men and women are wearing traditional Chinese slippers with high white socks and sitting on small Chinese stools that look child size but can hold the biggest of men. Their grandchildren are running around the alleyways pantless and looking for things that interest them. Occasionally their grandparents will yell at them “Guo lai!“Which means ” Come here!” Beijing’s three-wheeled silver box cars and bikes are fighting for space in the narrow hutongs ,weaving around children and their grandparents ambling about.  Sometimes I feel like Beijing is a world of babies and elderly people.

As the day slowly turns into night, little restaurants  haphazardly put table and chairs on the street. Men walk up to the restaurants rolling up their shirts and passing around their cigarrttes.  They take a seat on their little stools and order a round of Yanjing or Snow beers which only come in big bottles in Beijing. A small Chinese woman brings out ten bottles of beer single handedly and as the night goes on, the beers accumulate on the table and are never cleared until the party has left. It’s not uncommon to see fifteen beer bottles on a tiny little table on the street. Dish after dish is brought out to the table, which might leave you wondering how so few people can consume so much food . Head over to Gui Jie (Ghost Street) in the summer  and you will experience one of the best summer eating atmospheres in Beijing. Spicy crawfish and seafood  is a speciality on this street and as people wait for a table , they chew sun slower seeds and throw the shells on the ground. It’s not uncommon to feel like you are walking on a floor made entirely of shells.

Step out of any subway at night and your senses will be overwhelmed at the amount of little food stalls you see. Fried pancakes and  are being served up alongside my favorite freshly squeezed pomegranite juice. Mountains of grapes and peaches are being sold on little carts. Men and women are asking you to take a ride in their three-wheeled cart and the smell of cumin is intoxicating as raw meat is being rolled in the cumin and then put on an open-flame.

So for those of you that are hesitant to come to Beijing in the summer, you really shouldn’t. It’s a magical time  and you too will enjoy the pantless babies, crowded hutongs, oversized beer bottles and wonderful chaos.

10 reasons you should visit Thailand

For seasoned travelers, Thailand might seem like a cliché destination for one’s adventures. The country thrives on tourism which has transformed the country into an easily accessed and highly developed place. However, despite being cliché in some areas, I would 100% encourage any traveler to visit this place. To put it simply, Thailand is a truly magical place. I’ve visited several countries in Southeast Asia and this country is at the top of my list and I’m going to tell you why.

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1. The Land of Smiles

Thai people are extraordinarily nice and welcoming. People will go out of their way to help you and there is a kind of demeanor amongst the people who is felt throughout all places in Thailand. Whether you are going to a bar on Kao San  road in Bangkok or lying on the beach in Krabi, you will not be let down by the people.

2. Accessible & Developed

I believe Thailand is the perfect destination for travelers who may be a little more hesitant to travel to Southeast Asia. So for weary travelers, don’t worry about blackouts, breakdowns or anything of that nature.

3. Transportation

It is very easy to travel around Thailand. There are hundreds of flights, trains, & buses that can take you around the country. This point here can’t be said for every country in Asia and it is a major reasons why people choose Thailand and why they keep coming back to Thailand.

4. The beaches

While there probably will be people on the beach wherever you are going in Thailand, that doesn’t take away from their incredible beauty. What is incredible about Thailand is the karst rock formations that you can find throughout the southern region of Thailand. If you want to get excited about the beauty you will see in Thailand, watch “The Beach”. Albeit, it’s a terrible movie, it was all filmed in Thailand.

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5. The food

Thai food will forever be my favorite cuisine. There is simply so much wonderful food and you can get it at a cheap price.

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6. 60 min massages for $10 dollars.

Need I say more? Make sure you get a “traditional Thai massage” because it’s their signature one. It’s a very intense massage but you will feel incredible afterwards.

7. Getting up close and personal with elephants

Thailand has some incredible opportunities to learn and interact with elephants. I was talking to one traveler who was headed to a place where she was going to take care of an elephant for three full days! How amazing is that?

8. High value destination

Whether you want to go all out and spend the big bucks or live on $50 dollars a day ,like I did, this place can satisfy whatever kind of vacation you want.

9. A chance to go off the beaten track

While many part of Thailand are very developed, that doesn’t mean you can’t find some truly adventurous places to travel. Head up north for some amazing travel around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Up north, you can experience some incredible and authentic Thai culture. There are many opportunities to even visit the border with countries like Laos, Myanmar and China.

* note: if you hold a Chinese visa, you can cross over the border and visit the small villages that border Thailand.

10. Meeting people from all walks of life

Thailand draws in people from all over the world. As mentioned previously, it’s a magical place. If your like me, you know that one of the best things about traveling is the people you meet and the people who share the same passion for adventure as you.It’s amazing to be sitting on a bus, train, beach, plane and just strike up a conversation with someone. When i was there two weeks ago, I met a young Swedish man who was solo traveling Asia for three months and I met a southern woman from Georgia who had never been outside the United States. I’m telling you, all walks of life.

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Hiking Huangshan Mountain

Imagine standing above the clouds and watching them roll over mountains like a waterfall. Imagine granite peaks, unlike anything in the U.S., shooting up from the depths of the abyss below you. Imagine a perfect setting in which you realize that your view is the inspiration for so many famous Chinese paintings. This is Huangshan.

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Prior to coming to China, hiking this mountain was at the top of my list. It is said that James Cameron found much of his inspiration for the scenery in Avatar from this location.

About Huangshan

Huangshan is considered one of the top three most famous places to hike in China. Located in China’s Anhui province in south-eastern China, this mountain range is not to be missed for any avid outdoor enthusiasts coming to China.

Hiking Huangshan

There are MANY routes throughout Huangshan. Over a 100 to be exact. However the two most popular routes are as follows. Walk up the Eastern steps and down the Western steps or, you guessed it, walk up the Western steps and down the Eastern steps. Walking up the eastern steps is MUCH easier than walking up the Western steps. I hiked up the eastern steps and walked down the western steps and was more than satisfied with the experience.

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walking down the western steps

Getting There

From Shanghai you can take a regional flight to Huangshan airport, about 40 miles from the mountain range. If you want a cheaper option, there are many buses that run daily from Shanghai South Bus Station. The ride is about 5 hours.

Average Costs

Hostels: $25-30 USD  for two person room. $10 for a bunk bed in a communal room.

Meals: $5-$10

Huangshan entrance ticket: $40 USD

Do’s

  •  Bring lots of snacks
  • Try to go from September December when the crowds are less and the weather is cool.
  •  Spend the night on the mountain. You must do this. Seeing the clouds roll over the mountains at 6:00 was one of the coolest things i have ever done. There are lots of hotels on the mountain. If you are going in summer, MAKE A RESERVATION. There are several hotels, i believe six, that are on the mountain itself.
  • Make sure your hotel has a restaurant. You will be hungry. Our first hotel didn’t have a restaurant so we checked out and went somewhere else.

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  • Hydrate
  • Sunscreen. Seriously though, in a lot of parts there isn’t much coverage and you will fry without sunscreen.
  •  Relax after a long day of hiking, have a mountain beer and enjoy the most incredible sunset.

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Don’ts

  • Carry a lot of luggage. There are some very steep steps and your legs are going to already be sore as it is the next day.
  • Hire a guide. You will be ripped off. There are lots of maps around the park.
  • Rely on cable cars. In the summer you might have to wait for two hours just to get in line.
  • Be this girl.

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Suck it up and hike the whole thing. It is SO worth it!

 

 

Chuandixia Village

Although I visited this village back in November, it’s 100% worth writing about right now because it’s only a couple of hours away from the city and it is a must see for anyone visiting or living in Beijing for an extended period of time.

This is a Ming Dynasty village constructed of courtyard homes with a true historic feel. What’s even more wonderful,is that these houses are tucked away against the mountain so when you crane your head upwards you can see layers of homes. While this village make for a great day trip, I highly recommend staying the night in a local person’s home so you can wake up early and enjoy the village in its stillness. If you dare, enjoy some Baiju in the evening with some of the local men.

My biggest advice is to truly explore every nook and cranny of this village because much of the architecture is still very much preserved and there are some excellent opportunities for photos.

Note: If you have time, there are a couple much smaller and villages with fewer people only 30 minutes away on foot. Ask anyone in the village and they will point you in the right direction.

Getting there and away: Bus 892 leaves from a stop right outside of Pingguoyuan subway station.  Take exit D. Get out at Zhaitang (two hours) and then take a taxi for the last few kilometers. The entrance fee to the village is around 30 RMB.

 

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Peking duck in a Peking hutong

Everyone who is planning on traveling or has traveled to Beijing knows that Peking duck is a staple of the northern capital. It’s fair to say that there are more than plenty of places in Beijing to eat some delicious duck, but if you want to go to a place that is a bit off the beaten path and in a truly local area, head on over to Li Qun Roast Duck.

Li Qun is tucked away in a hutong about ten minutes away from Chongwenmen Xi Dajie near the newly revitalized Qianmen pedestrian street. It can also be accessed from the Wangfujing subway area. Don’t be afraid to ask people in the area if you get lost. You might have to use some body language but everyone in the area should know Li Qun.

If there isn’t anyone around, follow the ducks! All around the hutongs are ducks painted on the walls to prevent people from wandering astray.

 

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As soon as you arrive inside the restaurant you will be overwhelmed with the sweet scent of the roasting ducks. Upon walking in, you will actually see the ducks being roasted over an open fire.  The atmosphere is quite cramped but that’s what makes it so charming! Be sure to make a reservation before arriving there because this is a popular place for both locals and the international crowd. We were exploring the hutongs the previous day and were able to make a reservation using Chinese. While some of the staff spoke decent English, you may want to have a Chinese friend/person help you.

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Do be forwarned, the place is a bit pricey. For three people the price is about $50 U.S. dollars or 300 RMB. This is expensive by Chinese food standards.  You can  find cheaper ducks in Beijing, but they  might not be as good and the atmosphere will certainly not feel as charming and local.  You just can’t beat this duck restaurant being in a traditional hutong. After you have finished your duck, spend an hour or two walking that duck off by exploring all of the other hutongs in the area. I am a hutong fanatic and these are some of the best hutongs I’ve seen in Beijing!

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Fun fact: This place was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations

Address:Qianmen and Dashilan’r 前门大栅栏
11 Beixiangfeng, Zhengyi Lu (northeast of Qianmen)
Dongcheng District
东城区
前门东大街正义路南口北翔凤胡同11号

Phone: 010/6705–5578

Subway access: Chongwen & Wangfujing( a bit of a walk from Wangfujing)

 

 

 

Hiking in Fenghuangling

Located about an hour and a half from Beijing is Fenghuangling or “Phoenix Mountain”. It’s  a great hiking spot for anyone looking to get out-of-town and explore some great scenery around Beijing. Some articles call it the Little Huangshan because its’ rock formation is the same as the famed mountain in the South of China. Below are some details for anyone interested in a fun day trip. It should take you about an hour and half from downtown Beijing in order to reach the entrance to the park.

Hop on the subway and get off at the exit for the Summer Palace. Take Bus 346 from the East Gate of the Summer Palace to Fenghuangling. Fenghuangling will be the very last stop on the bus. From there, walk about a quarter of a mile to the entrance of the park.

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View of the mountain range from the bus stop

The hiking paths cover a total area of 15 square kilometers and are divided into three trails: the south route, the central route and the north route. The paths all link up and zigzag their way around the scenic resort.

We took the north route and it’s a  circular path that takes you straight up the mountain, snaking past pavilions and through caves along the way. We didn’t have time to do the whole north side of the mountain, but it would take about  three or four hours to ascend and descend.

 

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Sections of the path take detours that involve shimming through caves and crevices and scrambling up rock faces with only shallow steps and a metal chain to aid you (Ladder to Heaven); both provide plenty of “don’t look down moments”, along with incredible photo opportunities.

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Ladder to Heaven

The ladder to heaven was one of the highlights of the trip. It’s a very steep but short climb with some incredible photo opportunities.

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Getting there: Take Bus 346 from the East Gate of the Summer Palace to Fenghuangling. Fenghuangling will be the very last stop on the bus. From there, walk about a quarter of a mile to the entrance of the park.