So normally we are reluctant to join organized tours but in the odd situation we find the options are slim picking and for the Great Wall of China and Summer Palace tour we bite the bullet. We had originally planned three different tours with the same tour company only to cancel two in favour of independent travel and local transportation. This wasn’t an easy option for the Great Wall of China and Summer Palace Tour and with minus temperatures and windy conditions we needed the easy option. Having had a ‘not so great’ experience on our Terracotta Warriors tour in Xian we were understandably hesitant but for no reason. This tour exceeds all expectations. We travel with Beijing Tours (in no way sponsored) $30 per person and unlike our squashed fun bus experience in Xian we travel more in luxury with comfy reclining seats. After our 8am pick-up from our Beijing Hotel the only two joining the tour are a couple from Singapore staying at the super swank Peninsula Hotel. Note $30 dollars includes all the below, entrance fees, food, no hidden costs.
The Great Wall of China at Badaling
Adding to freezing temperatures are high winds which during our visit force the cable cars to terminate. Not a great start but in honesty I feel we get the better deal. Freezing temperatures, windy conditions and closed attractions means a lot less tourists which gives that rare opportunity for tourist free photos. So we arrive to the entrance gate and immediately split from the group (as we always do) to stay on the first tiers of the Great Wall nearer the entrance. As most people join the lengthy walk round the walls we instead opt to not rush the course and instead relax and enjoy the views. After roughly 2 hours we meander back to the entrance and meet the group again for the next destination. (Here for full post on the Great Wall of China).
Jade Carving Factory (Friend Yongsheng)
Did you know in China cabbages are lucky? Well this is all we take from our visit to the Jade Carving Factory. That with the fact that jade is green and expensive but we already knew that. So this visit is one of those prolonged sales pitches following a route around the gallery in hope you will fork out at the end for overpriced trinkets. Again we pry away from the group and while not as simple as before we blag our way to the toilets then follow up with a sudden bout of sickness to get us early lunch in the adjoining restaurant. This was the planned lunch stop anyway (Jindian Restaurant) and as we relax with a free beer, Kung Po chicken and other Chinese nibbles the Singapore couple opt for extra time spending crazy amounts of money.
Chinese Tea House (Doctor Tea)
So I am one of few non-tea-drinking-Brits but in China I find tea to be oddly exciting. The fragrances, the processes, the reckless splashing of boiling water; the whole tea room experience feels somewhat therapeutic and beautiful. Unfortunately this a similar prolonged sales pitch which takes a bit from the experience but I was very happy to go along with it. Once the pitch is over we are allowed to leave the table as the Singapore couple stay to negotiate deals and spend more crazy money. Do you know how much Pu-Erh Tea costs? Well here it is very expensive and a fist full chunk was near double the overall tour price. At the table we do sample Pu-Erh tea along with an intriguing Oolong, a Jasmine loose leaf and a happy fruit tea.
The Summer Palace in Winter
The Summer Palace is more than a palace, it is a huge compound with distant walks to smaller Pagodas and housing far perimeters. Our visit therefore felt a little rushed as a full day could be easily be spent here. With an hour or two we do get the gist of it but I’d happily return some day albeit away from the tour option so we can just relax and enjoy surroundings. The gardens, the architecture, the frozen winter lakes, the Summer Palace in Winter, it is all undoubtedly beautiful. While still somewhat touristy in Winter the crowds don’t compare to the warmer months.