Great Tour of the Great Wall and More

Beijing Travel Blog

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Our tour guide Song talking to us about the different Ming Tombs

Our tour guide, Song, was right on time. He had informed us the night before that he would pick us up at the hotel between 8 am and 8:10 am. Just as we were walking out the door at 7:59 am, our phone was ringing. It was him telling us he was outside.

We joined more people on the bus, including the tour guide, the driver and a couple from Vancouver  - Soon and his partner (whose name I unfortunately did not write down) and a couple from Israel - Timmy and Naomi. Soon informed us his family was from China and he and his partner had been visiting Soon’s family for the Chinese New Year holiday. His partner told us they had off due to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, so they thought they’d get away from the traffic and come visit Soon’s family.

Learning about Jade
It worked out well for them. It was great for his partner, because Soon was fluent in the local language so he was able to help his partner order meals and such. The other couple, Naomi and Timmy were originally from London, but had moved to Israel over 20 years ago and had four children and five grandchildren back home. All of the other tourists on the bus and our tour guide may the day trip extremely enjoyable.

We started out our tour by going to visit the Ming Tombs first. On our way there, we drove past several landmarks our tour guide talked about, including Peking University, where students gathered to protest for the new revolution in 1919. He talked about the original Forbidden City areas, on which buildings and the city itself had been built.   The Ming Tombs were interesting.

Taking the cable car to one of the sections of the Great Wall
He took us to the oldest and largest of the Ming Tomb. Though the Forbidden City was built before the Ming Tombs, our tour guide told us that the Ming Tomb we were visiting was the oldest standing building because of the fact that the Forbidden City structures have had to be rebuilt more than once due to fires. So it was neat to see such old structures standing still in good condition. We looked at some of the artifacts that had been excavated from one of the tombs. This consisted of jewelry and silverware and clothing and other such articles. I learned that the royal family considered and used silver more than gold because silver was more practical. Emperors and their families were able to tell if a drink was trying to be poisoned because silver would turn color, whereas gold would not. Silver, therefore, was of more value to the imperial family. After walking around and learning about the Ming Tomb, our tour guide took us to the Jade Gallery.
View from the cable car
There we learned about jade, and how structures and jewelry are made from jade. We saw the jade factory, where workers were carving jade. It seemed like very tedious work and the workers were not even wearing goggles or anything, as they worked the jade material. It actually seemed dangerous for the workers’ eyes.

After we saw the factory area, we were ushered into a room where you could purchase jade jewelry and structures. The staff there must work off commission, because immediately everyone swarmed around us to try to get us to buy anything. If you even looked at a piece, they tried to convince you to purchase something. We didn’t purchase anything, nor did the couple from Vancouver, but Timmy and Naomi purchased a jade carved ball with other carved balls inside of it.

Voila! The Great Wall
Larry had liked those pieces when he saw them inside.

After visiting the jade gallery, our tour guide took us to a place where we had lunch. All the different entrees and appetizers were placed in the middle of the table on a rotating device, and we all shared all the different offerings. Everything tasted good. It was all local foods. There were dumplings, egg rolls, rice, soup, sweet chicken, spicy chicken, fish, oranges, and more. There was a good variety and plenty of it for all of us to share. Our tour guide didn’t join us for the meal. We all joked around and said this is what they feed the tourists, while the tour guides ate other stuff in the back. It was interesting to learn about the other couples and their backgrounds and their travel experiences. They suggested other things for us to see in Beijing (and even in other cities and countries).

Soon spoke very highly of Egypt, for example.

The highlight of our tour was next. We got to the Great Wall by about 1 pm. Our tour guide gave us ample time to walk around on our own. We all took the cable cars up to the Ba Da Ling part of the Wall, which is actually the very touristy part of the wall, but due to the season, it was the most easily accessible part of the wall at this time. Though we wanted to see less touristy parts of the wall, which are said to be nicer and less swarmed with people, we were happy to see the wall at all, versus not seeing it. It was awesome! Just seeing it for the first time, made us feel like… Wow! We’re at the Great Wall!

It was a shame that the weather was muggy and cloudy (though Larry says it looks muggy all the time in Beijing, because it’s so industrial) because it did not allow us to really see way out.

We were told that on a clear day, the wall looks endless - you just see the wall go on and on. We walked along the wall for hours. There are parts of the wall, as you walk, that are extremely steep. There are also many steps. We knew we’d be in for a nice, long, tiresome walk back. Tiresome it was! I was pooped by the end of the walk. I was hot and had to take my coat off, though it was cold out. You could tell everyone else was tired, as well. I was glad I had worn comfortable shoes. There were other women walking along the wall in heels! Visiting the wall was breathtaking, even if it was the touristy part of the wall. I was in awe!

After visiting the wall, we rode back towards Beijing and passed the Olympic village along the way. We passed the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest (stadium) on our way.

The tour guide pointed these landmarks out and talked a bit about each. He showed us where the athletes stayed. Larry thought it looked nice, but I thought it looked like average apartment units, though it’s probably nicer in comparison to local living units.

We arrived at a silk factory towards the end of our day. There we learned about how silk is spun from silkworms’ cocoons. It was so fascinating to learn how they make silk bedding and clothing. I had no clue what this process involved before, but here they showed us the silkworms in their different life stages (which takes about 2 months) and then how they use the cocoon to make the silk. After learning at the silk factory, of course, we were ushered into a shopping area where we could purchase bedding, clothing, ties, pajamas, tablecloths and other silk articles.

I loved all the clothing, though not sure how often I’d wear some of it. But I saw a shirt I absolutely loved and purchased. Larry looked for a tie, but didn’t find one he liked.

On our way back to the hotel, we learned our tour guide lives close to our hotel, so we asked him for some recommendations for places to eat and to hang out. He gave us some recommendations.

Larry and I got back to our hotel at around 6:30 pm and decided then to drop off our stuff and venture out to find food. We decided to try one of the tour guides recommendations. He was spot on!!!

His recommendation turned out to be fabulous. I don’t even know the name of the restaurant (because I can’t read Chinese characters), but they have picture menus, just as our tour guide told us they would have and all we had to do was point to the picture.

They do have some short descriptions of the meals below each picture. I got a chicken, vegetable and rice meal, which was absolutely delicious. The price was great, the food was awesome, and the location was convenient. Larry loved his meal, as well. The restaurant was in the New World Shopping Center where Larry and I were perhaps the only tourists. Everyone else was a local.

Larry and I noticed, that everyone stared at us. Actually, in general the Chinese stare at anyone that looks different than them. We've noticed this when we see other tourists too. I know we stood out, and there’s no disguising we’re tourists. I’ve tried to hide my camera and guide book to try to blend in more, but Larry assures me we still stick out like sore thumbs - ha ha ha! Of course we do!

As we were leaving the restaurant where we had our very delicious dinner, I heard Larry who was walking behind me stop to speak to someone.

Guess what? Our tour guide was there with his wife eating dinner. We stopped and chatted with him for a minute and were introduced to his wife. He was glad we went to a place he had recommended. We planned on visiting another recommended location for breakfast the following day.

After dinner, we stopped and got ice cream for dessert, then called it a night.

What a great day - good beginning, fantastic tour, great company, lots of knowledge gained, and phenomenal ending! What more could we ask for?

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Our tour guide Song talking to us …
Our tour guide Song talking to us…
Learning about Jade
Learning about Jade
Taking the cable car to one of the…
Taking the cable car to one of th…
View from the cable car
View from the cable car
Voila! The Great Wall
Voila! The Great Wall
The Birds Nest
The Bird's Nest
At the silk factory the lights wer…
At the silk factory the lights we…
Larry learning about making silk b…
Larry learning about making silk …
photo by: Eric