Our alarm went off at 6am and we jumped up quite quickly considering the early hour. We have arranged to meet the taxi at 7.30 and set off for The Great Wall. We’re all very excited about today and have been looking forward to this a lot. We did some research on the net and decided not to visit the wall at Badaling. It is the closest place to Beijing but the pictures on the web showed the wall completely rammed with tourists and we both felt it was important that we had the space to enjoy such a hugely anticipated experience.
Instead we are visiting the wall at Simatai 110km northeast of Beijing. Our guidebook describes it as a more exhilarating wall experience and not for the faint hearted as this section of the wall is very steep. The original wall was begun over 2000 years ago and linked separate walls that had been constructed to keep desert nomads out. During the Ming dynasty the wall was rebuilt and strengthened, taking over 100 years to complete and a tremendous cost in effort and resources.
The journey takes around 3 hours and we are entertained by our taxi driver along the way. He has got a quick sense of humour and makes us laugh as he catches on to English expressions with lightening speed. The happy grin is unfortunately wiped off his face though, as Simon points something out to me, he looks too and we drive up the back of the car in front. He jumps out to inspect the damage and gets back in looking very unhappy. The grill is all caved in. It must have been his lucky day though as 5 minutes later whilst stuck in a traffic jam the car in front reverses into us with a crunch. He is out of the car in a flash and pointing out the damage, makes a huge fuss until the family agree to pay him the full amount for a new grill!
We arrive at Simatai and decide to eat lunch first; the view from the cafe is outstanding. The Great Wall snakes off across the steepest mountain tops and into the distance and looks absolutely awesome. We finish lunch and make our way to the entrance where we pay for tickets to the cable car. As the mountains here are so steep we are going to take the cable car for the first part, then a miniature train and walk the last (extremely steep) 200 metres to the wall. The cable car is a bit of a problem for me as I’m so scared of heights but there is no way I’m walking all the way up to the wall and I want to try and be a bit braver anyway.
The views are amazing over the mountains and although my legs feel like jelly all the way I don’t cry. The mountain range goes on as far as the eye can see and although it’s not the misty vision I have seen in books it’s very beautiful in the hot afternoon sun. Then at last, after an arduous hike up the steepest steps we’re there.
There are lots of towers along the length of the wall and we are standing at tower 8. We are going to walk to tower 12, the wall itself has been partially restored here and is fairly safe although very steep. We make our way along the wall and stop frequently to take photographs. It feels almost unreal to be here and amazing. What a fantastic experience for us all, I feel so lucky to be doing this with my family and it’s a memory that I will always treasure.
We stop at a small stall (The hawkers make it everywhere!) and buy a book of photographs of the wall, 2 brass plates for the kids with their names and the date they climbed the wall on ( Tacky but irresistible!) and some ice lollies. Maisie gets her tongue well and truly welded to her ice lolly and that causes a bit of a stir whilst the delicate operation to unstick it is carried out!
We make our way back down the mountains and head back for the car. It has been a wonderful day out and exceeded all our expectations. The kids loved it and said it was one of the best things we have done since we started our trip. No one could fail to be impressed and I would recommend it to anyone who was considering a trip to China.
We get back to the hotel and head straight out again, we are now very short of time and are rushing to get everything sorted whilst in Beijing. We walk around to the guitar shop and after some haggling and bargaining agree on a price for Ali’s guitar. We are buying him a second hand Takamine guitar, a good make and at a decent price. He is thrilled with it but sorry to say goodbye to his present guitar. He has had it for 2 years and really learnt to play well on it.
We finish the day with a visit to KFC, absolutely massive over 3 floors and for a junk food addict like me a little bit of Kentucky heaven.