Beijing and the Great Wall to Seoul, South Korea

Beijing Travel Blog

 › entry 44 of 111 › view all entries

Over the next few days we chilled out and explored Beijing, which to be honest really underwhelmed me and left me disappointed to be leaving China from a place I didn’t really enjoy. Maybe it was the dreadful hostel, or the fact we’d just come from picturesque Pingyao to the big grotty city.

The two main reasons we headed to Beijing were as a convenient departure point for South Korea, and for visiting the Great Wall.

We had planned on taking the night ferry from China to South Korea but as there is virtually no up-to-date accurate information online we thought it best to wait until we get to Beijing and ask someone there about the options. We knew that the ferry departed from various ports nearby such as Qingdao and Tianjn, but upon enquiring, no-one knew anything about it (you’re best to ask someone in the port city you wish to leave from).

So doing lots of research I finally found the ferry operator’s website, (all in Korean and Chinese) so asked a staff member at the hostel to call them for me and find out the sailing dates.

Our visas were due to expire on June 24th so we had to leave the country by then (or extend the visa, which is difficult to do in Beijing apparently). The hostel staff told us the sailing days, which were either the following day, or the day before we had to leave.

I’d read stories about people turning up at the port and not being allowed to buy tickets as they didn’t have a visa for Korea in their passport (they didn’t need one as they were British) and were sent away to get a flight instead. If we were turned away at the port and couldn’t get a flight until the next day our visa would have expired and that’s a 500RMB (£50) fine every day, each, for overstaying it.

On top of that it could end up being an extortionately priced flight.

We checked scheduled flight costs from Beijing and compared it to the cost of the ferry and trains to get to the port. The train/ferry would have cost £90 each for an 18-24 hour journey. We found a couple of flights for £120, taking just over 2 hours.

We asked at the hostel if they could quote us on flights and they told us 1200RMB each for the same flights. With the exchange rate that day (12RMB to the £), the we actually saved money buying them through our hostel. We booked them straight away, relieved to have one less thing to worry about.

The next thing we organised was our Great Wall trip. We’d been recommended to visit the Simatai Great Wall as it was the least restored and most authentic.

We chose to do the Jinshanling to Simatai section.

The Great Wall experience is something that cannot really be described - it’s very hard work - much more than you expect (well on the Jinshanling Wall - the Simatai section we did is much easier). On a comparative scale, the hardest parts were about 5 times more difficult than the first few days climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, and about half as difficult as the summit day.

There are sections of the Great Wall which are incredibly steep, and to add to that, they are crumbling so can be very dangerous.

Despite what the guide books tell you, you WILL see other tourists on this section of the wall. People flock there BECAUSE they think it’ll be deserted. Don’t get your hopes up if you’re looking for every photo you take to be wall and scenery only.

Also, as Fab learned quickly, don’t run up the steep bits on an empty stomach and without being well hydrated, you’ll just end up feeling like death. (Running up it is fun though!)

We took a tour organised by the hostel, and met some nice people along the way including our friendly American friends from Portland; Missy, Derry and Ian, and of course Jay (aka Jackie) Chan from Hong Kong.

Fab said to me, “after travelling for 4 weeks through mainland China and a few days in Hong Kong, I finally got to meet Jackie Chan”!

The Great Wall trek is definitely something to be done while in Beijing, just don’t underestimate it.

The rest of our time spent in Beijing mainly consisted of shopping in the markets and wandering around.

The Silk Street market is highly recommended for any souvenirs and gifts you want to purchase. Just remember to haggle hard - do not pay more than 10-15% of the initial asking price unless you want to be ripped off.

One thing we had been looking forward to during our trip to China was Peking Duck. We decided that on our last day we should push the boat out and spend a small fortune at a fancy restaurant and try the duck. It was quite an affair, with the chef serving it at our table, and the server demonstrating how to wrap the pancake around the meat properly.

We tucked in and it was  very tasty, although there was not much to go around. We paid around 100RMB for half a duck, including pancakes, sauce, cucumber and spring onions.

We headed back to the hostel to take our gifts to the post office.

When you send things from China, there is a huge process to go through. First you take your things to the desk where a staff member will check it is suitable to send. I had a pack with a toothbrush and toothpaste with my things, (one of those freebie ones from the airplane) and that was rejected as ‘unsuitable for sending’. I was aware of this process and decided not to send my Rough Guide to China home as it has a map considered to be ‘politically insensitive’ inside it, and I didn’t want it confiscated.

Anyway, after your things are checked, you can pay for a box and bubble wrap etc and the person will help you pack the items inside. You then pay for any boxes/wrap you have bought and it will be weighed. You then fill out a really long form requesting the details of the contents etc and once that’s done, take it to the desk to pay for the postage and send it off.

Do not be decieved; international postage from China is expensive. We each paid £30 for a small box containing just giftsto the UK. It can’t have weighed more than 3kgs for each box. However, the postal service in China (Beijing at least) is very reliable and it’s worth the money for the peace of mind. It took around 7-10 days to arrive.

Later that evening we decided to try hotpot for dinner as we still hadn’t done so. It was an interesting experience - a huge vat of broth, of which you choose the flavour, is poured into the pot on your table and bubbles away in front of you. You pop the meat and vegetables into the broth until they’re cooked, dip them into your chosen dipping sauce and eat them up! Very delicious!

We were both getting full and Fab wanted to get back to the hostel so we paid the bill and left.

On the way back Fab started getting stomach cramps and I noticed him going quiet but speeding up a lot. I rushed along beside him and when we reached the hostel he dashed directly to the bathroom. Sorry for the details to come, but things were not good… it was like someone had turned on a tap in his belly. I sat there laughing and thinking how lucky I was that my stomach had been fine for the past few months.

Fab emerged from the bathroom, looking a bit more relaxed and then, my stomach started cramping. I rushed to the bathroom too and oh my goodness… I have never, ever, ever had such a bad stomach in my entire life.  It was the bloody duck we paid a fortune for earlier that day. Now Fab was the one laughing at me. I had it a lot worse than he did.

The worst thing was, our bathroom was an ensuite but it didn’t have a door, just a privacy shower curtain as a door,  so noises, smells and everything else was shared with our bedroom. I’ll leave the rest to your imaginations…

The following morning we departed for the airport for our 9am flight. We decided to cut it a bit fine timewise and take the subway which doesn’t open until around 7am, since is was only going to cost around 52RMB (2 for anywhere in Beijing and 50 for the airport express - buy the ticket at the booth after the barrier) and was much more convenient than the bus. The airport was nice and clean and our flight was on time.

Goodbye China, hello South Korea!

P.S. Funny moment at the subway station - a man shouting on his phone then just throwing it against the floor again and again ’til it was destroyed.

Loss of face much?

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Great Wall of China, Jinshanling …
photo by: Deats