Our first day was absolutely amazing! After a nice breakfast at the Penta Hotel, we all loaded a bus and headed to our first destination: The Great Wall at Mutianyu. It was almost a 2 hour drive, but our tour guide Cactus kept us entertained and informed the whole way. She told us about the history of Beijing and the Great Wall in particular. She shared with us the saying: 不到长城非好汉 (bú dào Chángchéng fēi hǎohàn) — “He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true hero”. We were assured that by the end of the day we would all be true heros!
We unloaded the bus at an area that had several shops, restaurants, and a restroom (very important). Cactus suggested that if we could wait and walk a little further there was another facility with more “western” toilets available. The toilet situation is a bit different in China. Many of the toilets are more or less a hole in the ground – squatty potties. It was good to know where we could use a “normal” toilet. The morning was quite chilly, but the sun was shining bright. (In fact, I’m squinting in most of my pictures).
There are a couple of options to get up to the great wall. You can hike up to the wall or you can take a chair lift. Our group was given tickets to do the chair lift. It was a little unnerving as I have only been on a chair life a couple of times in my life and they weren’t my favorite experiences. I’m just always amazed at how much that little cable can withstand. I did not get any pictures on my way up on the chair lift as I had a huge fear of dropping my phone! That would have put a damper on the rest of my trip. They did however conveniently have a camera taking pictures as you arrived at the top.
When we got to the top, the view was absolutely amazing. After climbing a flight of uneven stairs, we were standing on The Great Wall of China! We took a group photo, and had some time to explore. From every angle, the view was spectacular! I almost felt that I was in a dream walking on this historic site (that may have partly been a result of the jet lag too). But we enjoyed the morning, soaked up the sights, and took many pictures. There were other tour groups on the wall that day, but it wasn’t very crowded. I know there was a group there with people from Mexico and Spain (they were speaking Spanish and I recognized the accents) and I think the other group was from Vietnam.
There are several options to get down from The Great Wall as well. You can hike down, take the chair lift, or the option we chose…the toboggan. I will admit, I was very nervous to get on the tobogan. I did not have a good experience when I was a child on a water slide. I got stuck and had to push my way down. I was scared to death that I would need to push myself down The Great Wall. As we were waiting our turn, the toboggan attendant started showing us his cell phone with pictures of sports players, actors, and even Michelle Obama. Who would have thought that that many celebrities had taken this toboggan down from The Great Wall?
I swallowed my fear and got onto the “sled”. The attendant wrapped my purse around the brake handle just to be safe. The instructions were easy, push forward to go and pull back to stop. They gave us a little push and off we went! I will say, this was one of the most amazing experiences ever! I would have even taken that scary chair lift again, just to be able to slide down the hill one more time!
Although China Highlights does not really allow much time for shopping, we stopped in a jade store where they demonstrated how the jade is carved. The lady showed us some beautiful pieces and told us about some of the traditional carvings such as the money dragon, the jade bangle, and the dragon ball. I did not end up buying anything at the store as I had not budgeted for this. (The pieces were not cheap, but they were very high quality. If you want to buy something here, you need at least $100 for some of the smaller pieces.)
As we got on the bus, one of the teachers asked, “what are we having for lunch?” Without skipping a beat, Cactus answered, “Chinese food!” We went to a restaurant that was like an indoor greenhouse. There was a beautiful garden and tables set for us in one section of the garden. Most of our meals were served family style. Plates and plates of food are served on a large lazy susan in the middle of the table. You simply served yourself as it was spun slowly around. Many of the offerings were similar to what one might find on a Chinese buffet here in the United States. However, there were many things that were unfamiliar. It was quite an experience to try the new things.
This day was a bit shorter due to the travel time to and from The Great Wall. Cactus offered us an option to see a show that night: The Golden Mask Dynasty. It was in a theater right outside of the Beijing Theme Park – Happy Valley. (This was an optional activity that was not included in the original price of the tour. It was an addition 580 CNY ($83) per person. If you decide to do this, you might want to include that in your budget). The show is about a Queen who wears a Golden Mask and creates a great dynasty. There are amazing dancers, acrobats, and costumes. Some of the highlights include dancers with live peacocks on their heads! At one point, the stage is flooded completely. It is a beautiful show, although I had a bit of trouble keep with the storyline (again, this may have had a lot to do with jet lag). I did enjoy it and if you like stage shows, I would recommend it.
We were pretty tired by the end of this day, but we were also hungry again. We wandered down the street to the restaurant we had visited the day before and tried a couple more items on the menu. Again, it was a very delicious and economical meal. According to my phone, we walked 3.5 miles that day. (We ended up walking around 60 miles on this trip. I will report my mileage per day. I highly suggest building up your stamina before the trip.)
- The Great Wall is amazing!
- Take the toboggan! It is a blast!
- Extra budget items: Extra shows and jade products
- You will walk a LOT on this trip!
Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)
Arrival in Beijing
Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty
Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)
Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)
Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)
Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai
Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)
Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)
Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai