China Day 4- Huangshan- The Eastern Slopes and Sea of Clouds

2nd best day of our trip (after the Great Wall) as the mountains and sites we saw this day were EPIC. but let’s get things straight.. this day was a TONNNN of stairs. 


Our hotel receptionist told us 9AM would be a good time to head up so we didn’t set an alarm but my jet lag woke me up at 3 anyways. I killed some time waiting for Braden to wake up and started noticing tour groups around 5:30. (the first buses to the scenic area leave at 6). So we decided to just get up and get ready. We got some breakfast from the store across the street. (The owner was so friendly! She didn’t speak any English, but she gestured to her mouth and looked like she was asking us if we needed breakfast, and when we nodded yes, she took us directly to the BREAD section. About died. She knew exactly what I wanted. Hahaha) So snacks in hand, we checked out of our hotel, leaving our big bags there and walked the short distance to the scenic bus stop. (literally our hotel was the closest one to the stop)
“Civilized travel starts from me” … words to live by! haha
We bought our tickets for the Yungu Temple which was the start of the Eastern steps and Yungu cable car then queued to get on the bus. This area was SO organized, it was like Disney again. While it was getting busy, we just slowly followed everyone through the lines to get on a ready busy and once it was full, it left immediately for the scenic area.
We were feeling.. pretty proud at this point not going to lie. The bus ride was around 30 minutes and climbed at least 1,000 feet with sharp switchbacks passing through Bamboo forests before coming out in more open alpine plains.  
View from the winding bus ride 
Once off the bus, it was a short walk to the ticket counter (no lines yet) to pay our entrance fee to the mountain as well as buy a cable car ride to the top. The entrance fee was pretty EXPENSIVE, so if you are a student, make sure you bring your ID as it makes the cost less than half! Braden thankfully had brought his…  I wish I still had a valid one. Haha There was a shorter 15 minutes line to board a cable car which we shared with 4 others (2 couples) who didn’t seem to enjoy the ride much. They looked pretty terrified.
Following Braden along the path from the bus stop to the cable car ticket counters
Giant sign right before the ticket counters for park entrance and the cable car
I found the cable car ride pretty thrilling. It was SO beautiful as all of the granite peaks we slowly unveiled the higher we got. Admittedly there were sections that were over such steep drops, I myself was a little afraid… particularly when the wind started to blow our cars. We reached the top after about 10 minutes and were immediately surrounded by hordes of tour groups whose guides spoke with large speaker phones.
So WITH that, here was our plan for our first hike and first half of our day:
Yungu Temple to the bottom of the West Sea Grand Canyon
Distance: 4.5-5.5 miles
Elevation gain: 500-900 feet
Elevation loss: 1300-1500 feet
Time: 4-6 hours 
*These figures are based on maps I saw with distances and elevations of the points of interest called out and are rough estimations. The shorter distance/ time is if you go straight down with the longer distance/ time if you add in Beginning to Believe Peak and Lion Peak. 
Points of Interest: Beginning to Believe Peak, Stone Monkey Watching the Sea, Cloud Dispelling Pavilion, and just about everything after that. 
We snapped a few photos around the top of the cable car before hurrying away down the path to try and stay ahead of them. But it was too late. We should’ve started earlier as even though we passed several groups, there were always more ahead. By this time it was almost 8AM. I had an idea of where the mountain would be less crowded so we skipped the Beginning to believe area which I’m sure put us in front of many tour groups.
We reached the Beihai hotel very quickly and decided in the absence of too many tour groups there, to detour up and check out the “stone monkey”
The views were absolutely stunning of the surrounding peaks around us and though we skipped the peak, I was definitely “beginning to believe.” 

These little trash receptacles were everywhere and I have to see this mountain was kept IMMACULATELY clean. If we saw trash, it was in these bins, but we also saw the bins being clean out frequently. So it was awesome how well they are managing trash up there… even if the amount of plastic waste is astonishing. 
After a fair bit of stairs, we reached the monkey! Do you see him? This was one amazing view! 

A photo with the monkey! We had our breakfast snacks we’d brought along up here where it was quiet. We concerned going the short extra distance to Lion Peak, but it was closed, so we headed down back to our original path instead. 
Amazing views near the Dawn Pavilion.
After hiking down from the monkey, I used the public toilet at Beihai hotel which was horrible, but then again, on the main path for giant tour groups and by this time (8:30ish) was getting very busy. Recommend holding off until getting to the next hotels if you can. 
Story of our day. 
A view more of the views around Beihai hotel. 
It was maybe a 30 minute walk from Beihai to Xihai hotel, and then another 15 minutes or so to our hotel at the start of the West Sea Grand Canyon (North) route, the Pai Yun Lou hotel. We unfortunately had to weave in and out of several tour groups along the way but seemed to make decent headway. 
The path was pretty easy to follow with all of the signs at cross roads having the English names so as long as you knew where you wanted to go, you’d get on fine. The map we had showing the trail intersections was also helpful so between that and the signs, you really can’t get too lost. 
The worst bit, was that way more groups were headed for the West Sea than I expected. All the information I had read (from 2013 and older mostly) indicated this area of the mountain was scarce with people… well that’s a load of baloney. 
No matter though, as this area is worth the crowds, the hype, and the multitude of stairs
The Cloud Dispelling Pavilion 
There were moments on the path that were people free and glorious! And there were moments we couldn’t appropriately enjoy because of the people blocking views or speaking loudly into speaker phones. Overall however the trail was so unique, beautifully crafted, and with incredible views, that it would be impossible to not appreciate it.
A really narrow part of the trail. I enjoyed running through it and having freedom to move period as up until this point, the crowds were pretty thick. 
Views looking south and of the west sea. (our 2nd hike this day would take us over there) 
Some of the many stairs. We had to descend like 3000 feet in around 1.5. Stairs were a necessity. 
Worth it. 
I left Huangshan with a deep obsession and love of these pine trees. 
You will see many, many more photos highlighting these beauties….. 
Some more stairs…. 
Some of the pretty details of the trail. Everything was rock solid but detailed to look like pretty pavers or wood. While I didn’t enjoy the crowds, I did enjoy the unique structure of this trail that basically hung over massive drop offs the whole way. 
I spy, a boyscout. 
One of the other few spots on the trail we had to ourselves

The trail looked like this most of the way, just jutted right out of a sheer cliff. 
More stairs.. but pretty ones at least 

Floating stairs 
Once at the bottom of the Western Sea- Grand Canyon you can hike back up (not recommended) or you can just pay the $15 or so for a rail car ride back to the top. #worthit
We didn’t see a SINGLE person climbing up these stairs. haha no one is crazy enough to do it I guess. IF the southern route which also connects down to the rail car station had been open, I may have been tempted to climb up a different way but alas, it was closed. (I’m really torn up about it) 
Finally at the bottom thus concluding our first “hike” of the day. We had a short wait for the rail car to take us to the top and then we’d start the 2nd trail of the day. More information about the hotels on the mountain to come.
To be continuted… 
Day 4 cost to this point: 
Breakfast $10.20
Shuttle to scenic area $4.08
Entrance to park $33.50/adult $16.75/student
Tram ride (Yungu Cable car/ Eastern Slopes) $23.32
2nd tram ride (Western Sea rail car)  $29.15
* Costs are for 2 people. 

China day 3- Adventures getting to Mountain land

Day 3, ahh the most stressful day of them all. We were up and at Mcdonalds again for breakfast round 2. This time we avoided the sandwich all together and ordered the “big breakfast” which was basically the makings of a sandwich but with scrambled eggs and a hash brown. No ketch up in site and a little more food although it cost more than twice what the previous day had cost. We stopped at a store for some snacks and then checked out of our hotel and headed for the metro. Getting to the train station was relatively painless but once there… we were a bit lost. 
We wandered to 3 different corners of it looking at the giant screens for our train number. The easiest way to think of it is like an airport and you have to look for your gate. Once you find your waiting room/”gate” you wait until about 30 minutes before departure when you “check in” and queue to go out to the platform. Once we managed to find our actual room and go through security, it was pretty easy and locating our seats was a cinch as well. We were at the front of a cabin which was nice for leg room, but bad as we hardly had any window. 
First High Speed train ride!!!

The train ride took 5.5 hours with a few stops but overall the train traveled at 300 km/hour or 187 mph. I mostly read my book, played with my camera, and people watched to pass the time. Once we arrived at our destination, HuangshanBei (north) we got off like normal and started looking for the bus to the scenic area Tangkou (which is the town right before entering the park’s gate) There were NO signs at all in English besides a “welcome to Huangshan” and tourist information sign. We found what looked like the bus area and translated signs that appeared to say “scenic area” but went to the information center to verify. Well they spoke no English either and just sort of pointed in that direction when we asked for Tangkou. So we went back out there and boarded the first bus that pulled up. I asked the driver “Tangkou?” but he was distracted and I don’t think he understood what I was really asking but he nodded so we paid him and found our seats.
Selfie on the mysterious bus not sure where we were going….
WELL I should’ve been suspicious when the fare was only 2 rmb/ person but as we watched our progress on google maps it became apparent after 30 minutes and turning the wrong direction onto the main highway that we were headed into Huangshan town instead of North to the scenic area. We waited until we were close to the main train station in town (thinking there would be buses from there), to get off with a short 10 minute walk from the stop we got off at. Well, it was SO hot and while it wasn’t a long walk, by the time we got to the train station I had already sweat buckets. The station was fairly deserted with no buses but had a sign in English at least that said “to Scenic area”. After no buses came for a while we walked into the station to ask about it where a little old woman told us (in chinese) repeatedly “tomorrow” (as we LATER found out) and lead us to her backwater hotel behind the station. I had a feeling that she was trying to talk us into staying the night there but hadn’t realized yet that she had meant there would be NO BUSES until tomorrow! Once we used a translator and found that out we wandered back out front of the train station and hope started to disappear, replaced by pure frustration. HOW WERE WE SUPPOSED TO GET TO OUR HOTEL? At this point we wanted to take a taxi but had no idea how to call for one (their uber is DIDI and is only in Chinese)
Thankfully a taxi driver stopped to drop people off at the station and we asked if he could take us which he could! Hurrah and he had a wonderfully air-conditioned car to take us there in. Driving to Tangkou took just around an hour and it was much cooler and rainier up at the town. We tipped our driver 20 RMB on top of the 200 fare because really.. he saved the day and after only an extra 1.5 hours of being lost in Huangshan and another 1 hour taxi ride, we made it to our destination! 
Check in was a breeze and our hotel for the night was really lovely. We both took quick showers and changed before heading down to look for food. The restaurant looked pretty good so we decided to just eat there and boy we were glad we did. This was hands down the best meal of our entire trip. Braden got a sweet & sour pork and I ordered a more regional beef stew as well as a sort of appetizer bread that comes with a stuffing. Our meal started with a traditional green tea (we didn’t order it, they just bring it to you first before you order any drinks or food) And then it all pretty much came at once. Braden’s pork was fantastic! Perfect taste, texture, everything. And my stew was right about there as well! We also finally started to make a little progress with our chop sticks so that wasn’t as painful. Overall, we ate until we were completely stuffed and then headed out. I stopped at reception as the front desk girl said she would give us some tips for the mountain.
WELL she straight up pulled out a tourist map, circled the hotel I said we’d be staying at, and then proceeded to walk me through a complete 2 day itinerary complete with 2 colored markers for day 1 vs day 2, prices and hours for the cable cars, expected hiking times, and points of interest. Her English was very good and while I had done a LOT of research before-hand I learned from her that one of the trails I had planned to do down was actually closed part way! So it was definitely helpful and we used that map non-stop.

Then we headed out to walk around the town a little which was cute with neon lights everywhere and lots of shops. We bought some snickers and souvenirs in one of the stores and then headed back to our room for the night. 
NEON everywhere! This was across the street from our hotel where we bought some food and souvenirs. 
Sign in front of our hotel that is where the CORRECT bus drops you off and where you connect to the scenic shuttle bus service. 
This map is important as it shows all the stops the scenic bus will take on the way back.. Should’ve pulled this up on our way back as we totally got off at the like 2nd stop. *face palm* More on that later… 
In our room it was the most comfortable of the trip, super clean, and while we didn’t have a bath tub (just a shower) they did provide a foot soaking tub complete with a green tea foot soak that was wonderful after the walking and traveling we’d done.
So all in all, what was a pretty stressful travel day ended in our favorite hotel of the trip and by far the most delicious meal we had. Read the next post for our epic Huangshan hiking days!
Day 3 costs:
Breakfast $7.29
Store $5.83
Metro to train station $1.17
High Speed train (2nd class seats): $181
Taxi $32
Dinner $23.32
Store (souvenirs) $12.39
Hotel: Cheng Jin Hotel $33
Day 3 Total: $296

China Day 2- The Great Wall

Let me start off… by apologizing about just how many photos are contained in this post. I could’t choose favorites.
When first planning our trip to China, I can’t tell you HOW many hours I spent agonizing over what section of the Great Wall to see. Do we visit the most popular one Badaling? Or the second most popular Mutainyu that is close to Beijing and has a cool Tobogan ride down? OR do we venture out further from the city to visit a less restored section, otherwise called the “wild” sections. There’s a section where the wall meets the sea (probably too far), a section with very scenic views of a lake and mountains, a moderate hiking section that was 50% resorted, or a HARD hike section where the wall is 100% wild. The pros of doing one of the first 2 is that we’d be able to combine the Great Wall with other cool historic sites like the Ming burial sites, temples, or sites in Beijing city. The cons would be they would likely be more busy (especially Badaling) and I liked the idea of seeing less restore, more wild.
SO once I worked out the details of the rest of our itinerary to ensure we’d have enough time in Beijing to see at LEAST the Forbidden City and Summer Palace, I decided to go with a hiking section. Cause ya’ll know I like to hike! 😉 So do I pick the HARDER 100% wild one? Or the easier 50% restored section. We ended up with the latter, Jinshanling, mostly from looking at photos and watching videos where I thought the one looked much more picturesque. Next I looked into how to get out there as this section was 2-3 hours driving outside the city, and the hiking route anywhere from a few km to 10+! Since it was slated for our first day in China, I decided to just make it easier on us and book a tour where driver and guide would be organized for us.

So bring on our tour hiking from Jinshanling East to West (Simatai)
I found a few different tours, most priced within $200-$280 total with the cheaper ones being in group toursand the smaller hiking tours private. All of the small group tours (while having good reviews) talked about being taken to a “shop” stop which I hate and so I decided paying $30 more or so to have a private tour and no silly wasted time shop stop would be worth it. (and I still agree with this!)
About Our Tour
The tour itinerary was pick up at 8 (before peak rush hour which is more around 9/10 AM in China) with a 2 hour drive to Jinshanling, hiking for 4ish hours, lunch (which was included) close to the wall, and then a 2-3 hour drive to return. We had a luxury mini van for the ride out with a tour guide that gave us lots of information, showed us tons of maps, photos, and pamphlets for the great wall as well as Beijing. Best of all though, they had car Wifi, which if you’ve read my Iceland posts, you’ll know I’m a big fan of it! So we also got some phone time in during the long haul out to the wall. They also provided water, hiking poles (they actually made Braden bring one haha), and an umbrella if we had wanted (we didn’t) Overall the tour company was AWESOME, excellent at communicating (even better if you have wechat), allowed you to pay with cash at the END of your tour, provided lots of information, and overall provided an effortless day for us. So big win on that front. 
So let’s get on with the tour shall we? 
The eerie walk up to the wall 

So we got up early to search for breakfast (which was not provided by hotel) and discovered there was a Mcdonalds close by that we thought would be easiest for breakfast. We walked over and ordered one of their breakfast deals a sandwich and drink combo, got them togo, and then hurried back to our hotel to eat there and ensure we were ready to go by 8.
Surprise surprise then when we got to our hotel and discovered… *gasp* KETHCUP on our breakfast sandwiches and A LOT of it at that. Neither of us are huge ketchup fans to begin with but considering this was a weird “sort of” ketchup mixed with melted cheese and egg on an English muffin, the result was pretty terrible. But we had 0 time to get anything else so we sort of gagged it down and the tour company was right there ready to go at 8.
After a short (ish) informative ride, we pulled up into a very gloomy overcast forest to start our hike at the East gate of Jinshanling (also referred to as Simitai West) Our guide told us this is normally where he ends the hike but he thought it would be better to get most of the “up” out of the way at the beginning and then have a more gradual down… instead of that in reverse. We didn’t care much so we agreed and ya… it was A LOT of up right at the beginning. Haha We pretty much climbed straight up stairs with little to no break for close to 30 minutes. Though it was definitely gratifying when we started to see our first tower! Fog or no fog.
The first tower where we climbed up and were on the wall
But fog was what we got. It was eerie  how thick the fog was with the wall sort of just materializing out of no where. You’d walk a few feet away from a tower along the wall and look behind you to find it completely swallowed up, or just a large ghostly shadow. The humidity was also really intense making any climbing effort (which there was a lot of ) even more challenging. Still we enjoyed seeing the wall in this creepy sort of way but when we got to what was probably a very cool “look out” it occurred to us that if it was like this all day, we’d never really get to see the wall in all its glory. (which was a little depressing)
A little about this section: Jinshanling
1. Jinshanling comes from the name of the mountain pass this part of the wall covers: Jinshan, which also means Golden Mountain Ridge
2. It was first built in 1368 by General Xuda but largely expanded and fortified by the famous General Qi Jiguang in the 1570s. 
3. The total length of this section is 10.5 km/6.5 miles and comprised of 67 watch towers (that are generally spaced about 320feet/100 m apart)
4. Jinshanling also has amazing pieces of original architecture as renovation really only happened centrally. It has original horse blocking walls, buttresses, and 2 beacon towers that stand apart from the wall. 
5. The general wall specs here are: a height of 16 ft/5m to 26 ft/8 m at an altitude of 2,297 ft/700 m above sea level.
This was seriously all we could see for the first while

Believe it or not, we came down from there
Slippery sections- hiking poles were honestly not all that helpful, particularly since ours didn’t have rubber bottoms. 
Looking back at the towers we came down FROM through the clouds 
An un-restored section of the wall

We were excited to be able to see anything at this point..
The steepest stairs of all. We came down them, and it was funny coming across the people going in the other direction who were just aghast that they had to go up that. (there was literally someone in bikenstocks…. at least I had HIKING sandals on) 
We pressed on for another 30 minutes or so through the thick clouds and it finally started to lift. We had another 15-20 minutes of low clouds but higher visibility before the sun actually came out. We got killer views the whole remainder of our hike, I mean I was obsessed with every bend and curve of the wall. Every direction was beautiful and even the scenery surrounding was gorgeous.

The clouds lifting finally!! 
Glad we had a tour guide… to take our pictures haha
It was awesome finally getting to see parts of the wall through the windows of the towers! 

Amazing scenery was the cherry on top
Looking at a restored tower through an unrestored wall
More about the Wall in general:
1. No you can’t really see it from SPACE… I mean looking at Google Earth satellites can you see it there? (Apparently the claim is you CAN see it with aid… ok)
2. Construction of the Great Wall is recorded in China’s history as beginning in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC – 476 BC)
3. Two of the larger construction campaigns were during the Han (206 BC – 220) and Ming (1368 – 1644) dynasties with the majority of the recognizable sites around Beijing originating from the Ming. 
4. The official length of the Great Wall in its entirety (over 6 dynastys) is 
21,196.18 km (13,170.7 mi)= HALF the Earth’s Equator 
5. The Great Wall is not a continuous line: there are side walls, circular walls, parallel walls, and sections with no wall (high mountains or rivers form a barrier instead)
6. 1/3 of the wall has already disappeared 
7. The last battle to take place on any section of the great wall was in 1933 during the second Sino-Japanese war. 

Information on visiting Jinshanling:
1. The most helpful link to a map of Jinshanling’s 3 gates. We started our tour with a ton of stairs at the Southeast slope and Wangjing Tower hiking all the way to West Five Window Tower and then getting off the wall through Zhuanduokou Pass, via the General Tower.
2. Entrance to the Jinshanling Great Wall will cost you $8-$9.50 for adults depending on time of year and $4.50-$5.80 for children. 
2. There are shuttle buses that run between the 3 main gates that cost $1.50 pp. 
3. If you don’t want to hike up to the wall, the cable car runs 8:30- 16:30 from April 1 to November 10 and costs $5.80 1 way, or $8.75 return trip. 
4. There are buses from downtown that cost $4.60 per person that leave every 40 minutes from 7:00 to 16:00. I personally hate buses so good luck if you choose this route. 
5. If you DONT want to have a tour guide with you and want to save money, I recommend the company we used for logistics alone. They will communicate well with you, provide a driver that will handle shuttling you between gates and to/from Beijing on YOUR time table, provide maps and information, as well as water. Visit here for more info on the cheaper tours. 
We saw over 40 towers on our hike from the East Gate to the Front (west) Gate
We hiked up… and then down more times than I could count
Getting close to the General’s tower which is about where the middle gate to either get on the wall of leave the wall is. 
We were alone on the wall for the majority of our hike. Only passing people here and there with the most people hanging out close to the cable car area. 
In a lot of the multi-story or covered towers were people selling goods, souevnirs, snacks, water, you name it. Be firm if asked to buy something. Braden asked “how much” for something we didn’t actually intend to buy anyways and we had a seller walk with us for at least 20 minutes waiting to see if she could convince us to buy something. She was very nice though and had amazing English, asking if I was alright when I moved slower down slippery sections. She eventually turned around when more groups were going the other direction. 
That red circle is the first tower where we started our hike along the wall. It looked impossibly far away and yet we still had a little ways to go. 

I think? That is the Simatai Reservoir…. 
This was getting close to the end. The last tower we went to see is the lower tower pictured here to the left. 
And in that same spot but looking the other direction from whence we came. 
Seriously EPIC day. 
I know it looks like more of the same but in the lower right of this photo you can see the ruins of some of the horse blocking walls that were built to stop cavalry from charging the wall on the more milder slopes. I didn’t think ANY of those slopes were that gradual, particularly after climbing all the hills ourselves. 
So many stairs! But very very scenic stairs! 

Eventually we reached the middle gate of the Jinshanling section at the General’s tower which was our exit point. Since it had only taken us like 2.5-3 hours to hike to this point our guide told us we could continue past the exit a little ways on our own if we wanted to see more (though we would have to turn around and come back eventually)
So continue on a little more, we did. 
One of the beacon towers. 
The last tower we climbed up to. 
We headed up just a little ways beyond to the next tower and while we were getting pretty tired, I still wish we could’ve gone on as the wall continued to get more and more wild it looked like. (grass growing along it and everything) I believe you can hike to the East gate but our guide said that would take another 3-4 hours at least. Still if you are super motivated and hiking prepared, might be worth it to try and loop that whole section.

Views looking out the last tower’s windows 

A classic window tower- one of the most prevalent styles on this section of the wall. 
You’ll notice the wall cutting in, this is an example of a Buttress. It added addition defenses for the hub of this section: the General Tower. 
Heading back to our guide, ready to call it a day. 
Looking up from the main entrance terrace below the general’s tower. 
After meeting back up with our guide we headed down from the middle gate into what felt a bit like Disneyland. They had a much larger entrance here with a statue and cannons, and while there was music playing at every gate we’d passed, the addition of decorative fountains, waterfalls, statues, and flags hanging from lamp posts as well as a wide road/path heightened the sensation of this feeling like Disneyland. The access point to this gate is shared with the sky ride up so it would make sense to be a little more developed. It also looked like they were developing it a lot more with lots of buildings and restaurants/ shops going in a little further down the hill. After walking a bit further and taking a large golf cart like shuttle to the main parking area, we met up with our driver and headed to lunch only 5 minutes away.

Disneyland Entrance 
First coke of the trip
The restaurant was housed in a small hotel and soft of gift shop that sold nice photography works of the mountain. Lunch was included in our tour price so we could order whatever! We ended up with a chicken dish and another pork dish (much more successful this time) and some “egg-fried rice.” We also got a couple cokes (my first one of the trip!) Everything was pretty good this time thankfully!
Then we were on the road again headed back to the hotel and what only took 2 hours getting out, took over 3 hours coming back during rush hour. By the time we got to our hotel, we were so ready to get out of the car! We both had read up on tipping etiquette on the drive back and decided to give our tour guide a solid amount and our driver a tip as well. Our guide, while not having the best English, was entertaining. He had a few jokes and things that didn’t quite translate right, told us a bit of how the country has been developing in recent years which we found interesting, and even let bits of his own life come out. Ie. You know not having like any money- eating bugs as a kid, serving a week in debtor’s prison, the usual tour guide stuff! HA Anyways I wouldn’t say we learned any crazy interesting history facts that we couldn’t easily learn by reading later but his impression of China was entertaining, the photos he took fairly good, and hey he trekked all over the wall with us.
By this time it was almost 6 and we were both pretty pooped. But, we headed down to Wangfujing street to look at the shops and ended up at another Mcdonalds where I had the best ice cream ever! For a little over $2 I got Mcdonald’s soft serve with a sort of caramel sauce in a thin waffle cone and 2 “Asian” dough sticks forming golden arches. It was seriously yummy. After a little wandering, we headed back to our hotel to hit they hay. SOLID, solid day.
Day 2 Costs:
Breakfast: $2.62
Ice Cream $2.33
Tour: Jinshanling to Simatai (west) with Wild Great Wall $265
Hotel: Tianan Rega Hotel $78.50/night

Total Day 2: $348.45/2 people

China Day 1- Learning the Beijing Subway and that we were hopeless with chopsticks

Ok so here comes the first post about what can only be called an overwhelming trip to China! Our travel day started at the 0-Dark hundred hour of 4:30 to get to the airport for a 6:40 AM flight to San Francisco. Smooth 1.5 hour flight and a short 2 hour layover we were on our way again to Beijing. Both flights were on United and fairly smooth apart from getting 0 sleep since it was pretty much all during my normal waking hours. We arrived in Beijing just after 2 PM. Customs was pretty similar to any other passport control apart from the passport control kiosks also requesting all 10 of your finger prints. 
Then you wait in a line with the kiosk receipt, go through passport control and customs. The process from getting off the plane to leaving the airport took just over an hour. (the line wasn’t too bad and we didn’t check bags) soo all in all not bad! We stopped at the first ATM in the airport we found to take out cash (which you need immediately to even leave the airport) then bought airport express metro tickets and hopped on the train. We had 2 interchanges on the metro that were pretty easy before getting off at the Wangfujing metro station and walking about 10 minutes to our hotel. The journey again took only around an hour so we got in right about 4:30 thoroughly exhausted.

 As far as the metro went, everything was farily manageable. After the airport express we had to buy metro tickets for the subway portion. Both train types require cash for payment. All the signs around the subway were in English and to tell which direction you are going to go, the signs indicate the next stop on the line which I find easier than having to know the “end” of the line like in NYC. Our walk was smooth since I paid for the day to have data and we had a VPN so we could use Google maps. The walk was pretty beautiful as we started to see a lot of the big government buildings and downtown hotels. We did notice a TON of law enforcement out, be it security, police officers, and the army which we thought was pretty crazy but as we later learned it was more due to an international conference that was happening that same weekend.


Our hotel was pretty awesome. It was less than 10 minutes from the metro station, the reception staff were professional/friendly and even upgraded our room for free! So instead of window-less queen room we got a king with a spacious sun-room/balcony add on. 


Once we were all settled, we checked out the rooftop of our hotel (awesome views) and decided we were too tired to explore much and to just eat dinner at our hotel’s restaurant.


The roofs of the Forbidden City as seen from our hotel roof! 
Flowers and Forbidden City from the roof

The menu had photos but even still.. it’s hard to tell what stuff was so we ordered the traditional Peking duck and a pork dish. We we got was a LOT of things we didn’t know what to do with (including chop sticks! Whoops!) The duck was pretty good. We sorted out that we were supposed to make a small ball out of the pancakes with meat, spring onions strips, and zuchinni strips, then put some sauce, salt, sugar and spices in the mix. I thankfully was able to pick stuff up with the chop sticks but as far as rolling everything into a ball and eating it.. I barbarically had to use my hands. The other dish I thought was terrible with no redeeming qualities. Braden ate most of it for us though he said he didn’t enjoy it much either. Luckily there was enough of the duck dish to easily share. After dinner we paid (again had to pay with cash) and headed to bed for an early night.

Traditional Peking duck 
Government Buildings all lit up at night
Day 1 Costs:
Airport express train $3.64
Metro $0.87
Dinner (pork and Beijing duck +1 drink) $24.78

Hotel: Tianan Rega Hotel $78.50/ night

Total Day 1: $107.80 for 2 people