Roadtrip to Panlongshan Great Wall, Gubeikou, Beijing, China

Having a drivers licence in China (or a boyfriend/girlfriend/good friends that don’t mind bringing you along who have one) turns out to be of great great advantage when living in Beijing. On weekends you can spontaneously rent a car (i.e. from Avis near Dongzhimen for 290 RMB/day), pick one of the many sightseeing spots that lie just outside of the city, and get started. So yesterday we did just that and started our trip Friday night after work – en route out of the city center traffic jams are notorious and unavoidable anyways, so you might as well get it over and done with then, and start the saturday and first day of your weekend trip after a good night’s sleep in closer vicinity to your destination.

Yesterday we set our target on Miyun 密云, a smaller district some 50k out of Beijing proper, and spend the night in a hotel there. Although a very Chinese-style breakfast was included, we quickly packed our stuff at 6:30am the next morning and drove the remaining 50k to Panlongshan, east of Gubeikou Village. With a nice headstart on all the other tourists, we arrived there at around 9:30 am, but we needn’t have worried: although it’s supposedly the only part of the Great Wall that has never undergone any reconstruction, it doesn’t attract many visitors. The small parking lot was almost empty except for some 10 cars, and during the entire time of our walk along and on the Wall we met only a handfull of hikers. And a hike it was. The short ascent through the “forest carnival” (= the obligatory tourist entertainment park/trap along the entrance area, complete with jungle gym and rope garden) leads you up a few hundred steps, before you reach the actual Wall. Compared to other much more popular parts, Panlongshan Great Wall doesn’t have such steep climbs and/or hilly sections and it simply continues on the soft ridges of the surrounding mountains. It is however far less developed and you oftentimes walk next to the wall due its high degree of decay. You definitly have to have good physical condition and some experience walking on uneven terrain. The trails are littered with debris and the steps up (and far worse – down) are crooked and of various sizes, shapes, and hights, so make sure to wear sturdy footwear. Yet, all of this contributes to this tour’s unique charme and natural beauty which all the other parts of the Wall I visited so far lack of completely. You won’t have all the souvenir shops and map sellers here, so remember to bring enough bottles of water and some snacks, because there are also no vendors along the way.

As the pictures below will show, we were exceptionally lucky in terms of the weather conditions. Even though it was already fall according to the Chinese moon calendar, temperatures still climbed above 30 degree C during midday, and those of us who remembered to apply sun screen in the morning definitly had an advantage.

There are two major watch towers along this tour, the General Tower, which has two sides with four windows and the other two sides with three windows, and the 24 Window Tower, which has – as the name correctly suggests – six windows on every side. Or used to have: two sides of the tower were destroyed during the Japanese invasion, so you need some imagination to envision the whole building today.

After making our way back down from the wall we were pretty starved (remember, no vendors along the way), so we entered the Gubeikou Ancient Village and were suprised to find it almost deserted. Lucky for us two lonesome men dressed in military uniforms (wtf?) were just setting up chairs for a wedding ceremony (WTF??) and the guy instructing them on how to align the rows was married to a women living close by who agreed to cook lunch for us. Obviously she didn’t have a menu to guide us through the food options, so she prepared us a meal from the ingredients she had at home (…I hope we didn’t eat all her supplies for dinner with her family…). We ended up with a fairly delicious choice of dishes, ranging from chicken marinated in soy sauce, over a cooked cucumber salad, to thick slices of bacon with a side of crispy onions.

Shortly before we began our drive back home, massive storm clouds darkened the sky and a major rain and hail storm came pouring down on us. It was quite impressive to see the weather change so quickly, having bright blue sky on the one side of the horizont, and dark menacing clouds on the other. As suddenly as the storm came, as quickly it was gone again, leaving the streets and everyone who didn’t make it home in time soaked and steaming in its wake.


Five Day Trip to Seoul, South Korea

One of the banes of living abroad (and especially in China) are visa runs – being forced to leave the country simply for the purpose of renewing your residence permit. So why not use the compulsory trip to catch up on some long due traveling, in our case bridging the 1000km distance from the Jing to the South Korea. More precisely to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, a stone’s through away from their atomic neighbors. The pictures below were taken on our five day trip to the capital, which is about the time you need to get a rough idea of the friendliness of the people and the cleanliness of the food. But first, let me (take a selfie…) give you a small list of impressions that were the most remarkable about Seoul, either compared to Beijing or compared to the general public opinion about Seoul:

  • You don’t need a visa to enter the country (at least not as a German passport holder), which was a very good thing given that we talked about looking up the visa regulation for Korea but in the end totally forgot to check again (that would have been one nasty surprise at the border)
  • Flight time between Beijing and Seoul is something like two hours (again, I didn’t have the time to gather more concrete travel information about this trip, so I simply assumed that it would take more than a few hours to get there. Which is also why I devoured that aweful plane meal, being under the impression that I wouldn’t get any food for the next couple of hours…)
  • The traffic (and the general demeanor of pedestrians and car/bus/taxi/motorbike/bicycle drivers) generally adheres to the rules
  • People in the streets don’t spit/fart/burp on a crowded sidewalk
  • Contrary to common notion the people of Seoul don’t speak English (at least using English won’t get you much farther than it would in downtown Beijing and sign language is still the means of communication for any non-Chinese speaking visitor)
  • You can buy beer that doesn’t taste like stale water (which is especially nice for people used to German brews)
  • Juice is actually made from fruit (we bought the most amazing fresh apple juice in an ordinary convenient store)
  • Koreans have a high quality coffee culture, so even smaller cafés tend to have portafilter machines (plus the milk that’s used tastes much better than in China)
  • One can receive ashtonishingly decent public wifi connections (we didn’t manage to buy a mobile phone card, so we used the public wifi, and except for some smaller bumps we got along quite well)
  • Art & history museum are for free, because the government provides cultural education for everyone (you do have to pay to gain access to the shrine and temples)
  • Shockingly we weren’t able to use WeChat in every store (which is a major problem once you fully got used to the comfort of not having any cash in your pockets). AliPay would have worked though
  • People tend to have good oral hygiene, so you don’t keel over everytime someone yawns in a crowded subway next to you
  • The public education videos in the subway actually seem to have an effect on the behaviour of the metro users (i.e. the majority sits with their ankles crossed instead of shoving the soles of their shoes into your knees
  • Contrary to the general opinion, Seoul didn’t turn out to be a shopping metropolis for us. With a european size 42 and shoe size 39, I didn’t find a single piece of clothing that didn’t look ridiculously like something a manga character would wear.
  • It was however ok with regards to their assortment of cosmetics. Especially in the main shopping street in close vicinity to the M Korea Tower, stores specializing in body lotion, facial creams, lip sticks, fake eye lashes, contact lenses, neon eye shadow, skin masks, hand lotions, and whatever else you can think of to smoothen out those wrinkles or lighten up your tone of skin was offered in one street.

So without furher ado find some of our travel pictures below…Enjoy.