Monday, 31 October 2011

The Wall Less Travelled

[A bit of a rewind here - a blog post we wrote before heading off to the Hermit Kingdom, but couldn't post - we may have mentioned we've had some minor issues accessing Blogger :-) 
Anyway, here are a few notes about our Great Wall of China adventure.]

The terrible contradiction of modern tourism - 
  1. You want to see all the cool stuff, but -
  2. You want to avoid the crowds
Because fabulous sights just aren't as fabulous when you're being elbowed in the ribs by nine thousand other sweaty tourists, many of them from cultures substantially less polite (and substantially less conscientious about personal hygiene) than your own.

So while Sam and I were desperate to see the Great Wall of China, we also really, really wanted to avoid the crowds. Which is far from straightforward, because the Chinese Government funnels tourists to just a few sections of the wall (Badaling chief among them), to enable more efficient separation of tourists from their tasty Western dollars. Which means that on your average day, Badaling looks something like this:
Ah, the tranquility
(Image from
If you're willing to hire your own driver, though - and willing to forego the 'I Climbed the Great Wall' T-Shirts - it's possible to see the most amazing sections of the wall, far from the madd(en)ing crowds. In fact, you can have miles and miles of Great Wall, entirely to yourself. So Sam and I skipped Badaling altogether, and headed here:

Spot the tourists
This is the wall at Huanghua - a tiny village about 70km north of Beijing. It's a pretty unorthodox tourist experience - first you pay this man 2 yuan to scramble through his back garden:
That's 20p in real money
And then (with the locals' encouragement) you ignore the signs the Chinese government has plonked around the place to scare potential tourists away:

That's not what the guy whose garden we just scrambled through told us
The payoff is the most incredible hike through completely deserted mile after completely deserted mile of glorious wall. The downside, for those with a health & safety bent, is that the guard rails at the highest sections are a little, um... non-existent.

This would never be allowed in England
Oh, and the stone in some of the steeper sections has been worn completely smooth. It's not somewhere you'd want to come on a frosty morning.
Don't slip
By the time we got back to the village after a few hours of climbing, our legs were shaking with exhaustion. We were also starving. Lucky, then, that the cost of our driver also included a barbecued fish lunch from a little local restaurant. As we scrambled back down from the wall, we saw the chef crossing the road holding a huge, muscular brown fish, wriggling in his hands. He waved at us, then nonchalantly smacked the fish against the sink. Lunch would be ready soon... 
Looks terrifying. Was delicious.
Maybe it was all the exercise, or maybe the best restaurant in China is a tiny roadside shack in Huanghua... but it was the most delicious meal we've had on our trip.
The dishes just kept coming
So thank-you, Huanghua, for an unforgettable experience. And thank-you Chinese government... for keeping out the riff-raff.

1 comment:

  1. looks absolutely amazing
    clever to find out about it
    loved the pix of the food with a Coca Cola bottle!