China: The allure of dumplings and a hike on that Great Wall.

Why China?

The Great Wall of course!

Well, that plus dreams of Chinese dumplings, direct flights from Auckland, and the combined allure of exploring the Hutong alleyways of Old Beijing… It was definitely one for the bucket list.

Water calligraphy in Jingshan Park, Beijing.

[I almost wasn’t going to add China to our list of places for the website, as we actually visited both Beijing and Shanghai just over a year before setting off on our family travel year; BUT, I feel responsible to re-mention the issue of transit visas, and what those actually mean! (See details of the last post on the page, but long story short, Gavin and I ended up making a second trip to China in one year, after the organised ‘transit’ on our way back from Mongolia didn’t fit the criteria – you can’t transit to a second city within China!)].

We loved…

Hiking to The Great Wall

This was the underlying reason for our trip to China. We wanted to see this most famous Wonder of the World for ourselves!

We also (like with many of our trips) wanted to do it a little differently, and were not keen on the thought of a tourist bus delivery straight to the main section of the wall. We wanted the adventure of ‘climbing’ the wall, and found a tour that would pick us up from Beijing, drive to Jiankou and we could hike up the the wall and walk along to Mutianyu – the section of the Great Wall boasting the most beautiful scenery.

Officially zero degrees en route to Jiankou (beginning of November)….

We booked our tour with China Highlights, and although it was pricey it was worth it and we knew it was a once in a lifetime experience. The hike itself from Jiankou is beautiful, and starts on small paved paths through the last villages, before winding up the hills through bush trails and paths.

It is a surreal feeling after hiking steadily upwards for the first two hours, to suddenly look up and see The Great Wall looming literally above you! The first part of the wall is the Zhengbei Watch Tower where the base is connected to the wall by an old style wooden ladder. An exciting first connection with The Great Wall of China!

The views from the top of Jiankou, and the highest watch tower are breathtaking, and a welcomed rest after the climb to sit and marvel and take it all in!

In total, the hike takes about 5 hours to complete the distance of 10 km (6 miles) from Jiankou section to Mutianyu section.

The Forbidden City

Quite literally the largest imperial palace in the world!

The Forbidden City really is a city in itself — all 7.8 million square feet of it — and was built to serve as a seat for the Chinese government during the Ming Dynasty, from 1406 to 1420. Since then, it has housed 24 Chinese Emperors, from both the Ming and Qing Dynasties, with China’s last emperor living there until 1924.

At that time it lived up to its name, and was forbidden to commoners. Nowadays, it is the second most visited sight in China, and is certainly awe-inspiring to wander through!

Chinese FOOD!

Apart from the Great Wall, Bund, and Forbidden City, my China photo album rapidly turned into an album full of food selfies… It couldn’t be helped! The food is seriously amazing.

Some of our favourites…

  • Dumplings: ✔️✔️✔️
  • Gong Bao Chicken: ✔️✔️✔️
  • Peking Duck: ✔️✔️✔️
  • Beijing Hot Pot: ✔️✔️✔️
  • Fungus: ❌ ✔️ (a point for interest!)
Beer o’clock on Hugosai Road.

Dumplings: ✔️✔️✔️
A universe unto themselves! There are so many different types, names, fillings, and ways dumplings can be cooked in China, but quite seriously… You can’t go wrong with dumplings!

Dumplings with breakfast…
Rainbow dumplings: Had to be done!

Peking Duck: ✔️✔️✔️
We had to wait for almost an hour in the restaurant we had been recommended to try their speciality Peking duck, but oh my goodness it was worth it!

Beijing Hot Pot: ✔️✔️✔️
Paper-thin slices of meat and vegetables that come out full of flavour after even just being dipped into the hot pot soup! Mouth-watering.

Beijing style hot-pot and the first stage of what Gavin’s acting had managed to order us…
The hot pot that arrived after Gavin’s very professional acting display… (Can you envisage the actions?!)

One challenge in China…

Ordering food! We wanted to try only local restaurants, and had set off from New Zealand with the goal of not touching any Western food in China, and making the most of every opportunity to try something new…

We may have underestimated how easy that would be, as we assumed it would be straightforward to copy locals and point to what kind of food we wanted. Not so; locals assumed instantly we wanted Western food, and were shy to try and communicate!

However, we did stick with our goal and with the help of both Google translate and some brilliant acting skills that would rival some of the best, we tried so many new kinds of food and found a few new firm favourites in doing so.

Trying to match the recommend Gong Bao chicken dish (that was handwritten in Chinese characters) to the menu!

Where we stayed

  • Beijing: Sitting on the City Walls Courtyard Hotel [Awesome location in the Wangfujing Street & Forbidden City area; simple in-house restaurant; shared common space to relax pre-check in].
  • Shanghai: Hotel Equatorial Shanghai [Amazing breakfast!! Beautiful rooms; easy to find; friendly staff; handy to get taxi to and from to explore or five min walk to subway].
Table tennis park around the corner from our hostel in Beijing – the speed of these guys is incredible!

Don’t forget…

Ahem… If you are trying to visit China on a transit visa for only a few days, do NOT forget that a transit visa must enter China at one airport and exit to a third destination country. It will not work to transit to a second Chinese city, OR as a return flight transiting from only your home country. Do your research!

The Shanghai Bund: a fleeting visit, speaking from experience with transit visa complexities…!

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