China Day 9- Sunday morning in Jingshan Park

Day 9… our last day (and not even a full day at that) ended as any busy trip should- with a lazy Sunday morning stroll through a park.

Not just any park though. Jingshan park.. which I hadn’t even known was a thing until we arrived in Beijing and our first tour guide mentioned it to us. Luckily our hotel was an easy 5 minute walk from the East gate of the park.

View of the park hill from our hotel breakfast
It costs a couple of coins ( I suspect to keep beggars and homeless out) and is well worth the visit. We bought our tickets easily at the windows by the gate and headed in. The major draw of this park are the pavilions at the top of the hill, from which you have a sprawling expansive view of the Forbidden city. As we started our trek up a hill we passed a choir singing traditional music which we heard almost the rest of the way up.
At the top there were a few photographers setup with props you could pose with for a fee, and several others milling about but on this particular Sunday morning at 10, it wasn’t crowded at all. We snapped a few photos from the top pavilion we got the best view of the Forbidden city in all its symmetrical and colorful glory. But it’s also to note how cool all the other directions are to see. You can see the temple to the North, West, and East, as well as city sky scrapers a little further out. It was peaceful up here among the small temples with view of ancient and modern combined in one.
The best views of the Forbidden City

 View to the West with the city in the distance 
 Temples to the North of the park 

But my favorite view is still of the Forbidden City
We headed down the hill to the West side of the park thinking we’d make a circle. At the bottom we passed a group of seniors perfecting the art of the Chinese yoyo, called a Diabolo which is a single or double string that the performer uses a stick in each hand to manipulate. The movement is like a dance and the performers were more graceful than I think I could ever be. The coolest part for me was the sound that comes from the Diabolo… the combination of sound and grace were mesmerizing and Braden had to practically drag me away from the group.

Luckily as walked we passed another group of seniors dancing in a square with a boombox playing more traditional music and it seemed that no matter how far we walked,  we were surrounded by music. The park has so many paths and gardens intertwining that you could wander it for hours, especially on a sleepy Sunday morning when families young and old wandered hand in hand.

As we continued back toward the East gate to exit where we entered, we passed a historic marker of memorial plaques and the tree planted on the spot where the Emperor Chongzhen hung himself rather than suffer the humiliation of surrendering to an insurrectional army in 1644. While a little grim it was interesting to read about and see the spot itself.

We spent about 2 hours wandering around before we headed back to our hotel to pack our bags and prepare for the long day of travel ahead of us.

Unfortunately the hotel we stayed was not convenient to a subway stop and as I detest buses, we had about a 25 minute walk to the closest stop. Once we made it though we were set with only a few transfers before we were on the airport express train back to Beijing (PEK) international airport. As you enter the airport it lists the flight numbers with the ticketing counters you should go to for check in so we spent about 45 minutes in a line to check in with Chinese Airways before being informed we had to go to a different counter for United (even though the sign had TOLD us to go to that counter) luckily United had no wait at this point but we lost a lot of our airport time for final shopping and lunch which was sad. From the counters we crammed onto the inter-terminal train (barely avoiding being guillotined by the doors) and had another 40 minute wait or so to go through customs and a higher security (which was combined though again super cautious as they take more pictures and finger prints as your leave..)
Once we were finally through all of security,  the shopping options were limited (as were the eating) and we had quite a bit of cash to burn and only about 45 minutes before boarding. We grabbed sandwiches that were ok  and pastries from a coffee stand and since I couldn’t find any descent souvenir shops (they were all expensive designer shops) I ended up with way too much chocolate. So word to the wise.. don’t end up at Beijing airport with more cash than you need. Haha
That’s it! It was a wild ride but I hope my posts help you travel to China! 

Day 9 costs: 
Breakfast included in hotel stay
Jingshan Park entry: $0.58
Train to airport $8.16
Lunch at airport $19
Day 9 Total: $27.74

Total costs in country: $2,220 for 2 people

Overhead Costs:
Plane tickets: $860
Visa Cost: $490
Dog Sitter: $120
Phone Bill: $100

Total Trip Costs for 2 people: $3,800

China Day 8 – The Summer Palace/ Forbidden City Tour

Our day started on a train and similar to our last sleeper train experience, I was up at the crack of dawn unable to fall back asleep… starting what would be a fairly long day. Luckily we didn’t have to worry too much about organizing our trip as this day was our 2nd tour and was organized for us.
About the Tour:
I didn’t book this tour through a website or by happening upon someone’s page but instead was referred to the tour guide Lisa from a friend who had previously visited Beijing. The cost was the most affordable I saw comparing to online prices for a private tour and the biggest benefit was since we had a private car for the day, we didn’t have to worry about what to do with our luggage while we explored the city. While we didn’t get to meet Lisa personally (she had a family emergency) we did have a great tour with one of her associates. Our stops would be the Summer Palace and Forbidden City and would only end up taking about half a day. If you are wanting to book with Lisa, send me a message and I will give you her contact information.

Pickup: We arrived at the South Beijing Rail station right around 9AM and were met right outside our gate by our tour guide for the day. He had excellent English (the best we encountered on our whole trip) and seemed very knowledgeable as he lead us to the car park where we met our private driver who was also very nice. We hopped in and had about a 1 hour drive to the Summer Palace for our first stop. (Traffic was pretty rough)
Once at the Summer Palace, our guide stood in line and bought our tickets for us which was nice, and we headed in. We were unfortunately visiting on a Saturday so it was VERY busy.
. The first couple of buildings we passed were beautiful but hard to admire around all the people. Our guide however made up for it by giving us interesting information on the symbology used  in the ancient architecture, which would be helpful throughout the day. (ie. How to tell the difference between the female and male lions at the temple gates) He also explained Feng shui to us as both the Summer Palace and Forbidden City incorporate that into their design.
The giant cauldron of bronze was also used for fire safety measures which I found interesting.
Visiting the Summer Palace if on your own:
1. By Subway: take line 4 and get off at Beigongmen and exist from D- it is a 3 min walk to the N palace gate.
2. Entrance fee to the park is cheaper but does not include going into any of the buildings. See pricing info and hours below:
As we walked around the giant complex that is the Summer Palace, it was interesting to learn how it was all designed and built for just the Emperor and the Empress.. and for only a few days out of the year.
The lake is completely man made and most of the soil makes up the hill on which the temple sits. Despite the crowds, as we moved around the lake, I started to really enjoy this place. It was just. so. Beautiful. And I found myself wishing we HADN’T taken a tour here so we could’ve spent more time hunting out the quite spaces to site and relax, or renting a boat to paddle around the water. But alas, we had one day to see the sites, so a tour was what we were left with.
The famous 17 arch bridge crossing a section of the lake

The History of the Summer Palace
It was originally built in 1750, by the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, and was called
“the Garden of Clear Ripples”
In 1860, it was destroyed by the Anglo-French Allied Forces and rebuild in 1886.
It was again destroyed in 1900 by the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers.
In 1912, it was rebuilt as one of the final acts of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).
In 1924, it was opened to the public as a tourist attraction and was made an official UNESCO site in 1998.

The layout of the Summer Palace follows the same format as the other imperial palaces in China with the front court buildings serving as the Emperor’s business and ceremonial spaces and the area towards the rear of the court being mostly gardens, relaxing spaces, and living quarters.

We left lakeside and headed for the world’s longest covered promenade: The Long Corridor. While the lake was beautiful, I can’t even begin to explain the feeling that is the long corridor. It stretches on for 2,388 feet/ 728 meters ALMOST HALF A MILE with 273 crossbeam sections. And if the sheer length and colors of this corridor don’t strike your fancy, the over 10,000 paintings of landscapes and folk lore that line the ceiling and side pillars definitely will.
While walking the corridor, you forget the crowds and for a moment, picture yourself an Empress walking a path only meant for you.
Beautiful colors along the ceiling covering every inch of wood
Unfortunately both my husband and our tour guide felt like marathoning this section so I didn’t get to spend nearly the amount of time I would’ve liked photographing it, but word to the wise, save your photos for the second half of the corridor. A LOT less people and quitter space for contemplation and photos.
A beautiful gate section about halfway along the corridor and about where the crowds thinned out.
Closeup of one of the thousands of paintings.
After the long corridor, the last truly spectacular architecture is the Marble Boat. The boat served as a sort of living room for the Empress alone to read and relax in. It was originally built on a base of stone with a wood structure in 1755 but was burned down in 1860. It was restored in 1893 in a new 2 story structure, still made out of wood, but this time painted to imitate marble throughout. Each floor also encompassed a large mirror that would reflect the water around it to further along the feeling of serenity.
After the Marble boat it is a pleasant walk back to the exit passing a few small parks and over some scenic bridges. Our private car and driver picked us up close to the exit and we had about an hour drive to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
There are only a few entrances to the square as you are required to go through security checkpoints to even enter but once you are in, the space is huge and is in fact the 7th largest city square in the world. The world Tiananmen means “Gate of Heavenly Peace” as the square serves as a gate to the Forbidden City on the Northern side. One the other 4 sides are the  Great Hall of the People, National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong who proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in that very square on October 1,1949. (Tip: Don’t visit Beijing on Oct 1 as our guide told us it is one of the few federal holidays, and the crowds that amass at Tiananmen square are huge, hotels sell out, and people sleep within the square.
There is a Monument to the People’s heroes erected in the square that we checked out before heading to the Forbidden City. There are huge tunnel underpasses to the city from the square and you have to cross from bridges to enter as well. The crowds were very thick here which made it a little miserable, but again… we were here on a Saturday.
The crowds were very thick here which made it a little miserable, but again… we were here on a Saturday. After yet another security checkpoint and our guide showing our tickets, we made into the inner city.
Feng shui is again another important part of the design of the Forbidden City. The moat, and a few small pools near the entrance make up the southern ‘water’ requirement. Then Jinshan hill to the north makes up the hill requirement. Additionally there are temples in each direction N,E,S,W.
The moat itself is 170 feet (52m) wide  and 20 feet (6m) deep. (most of the earth excavated from the moat went towards building up Jinshan hill to the North) In addition to the moat, the city is completely walled in by a 22 ft wide wall that is 32 feet (10m) high. Quite the defenses which makes entering the city even more impressive.
Standing in front of the Hall Of Supreme Harmony (the most important building in the Forbidden City)
The first set of buildings (the outer court) our guider referred to as the “governing” buildings as important business and government officials were allowed into these buildings to conduct their business with the Emperor. These buildings also included the main ceremonial halls, the first being the one used for coronations that contained the golden Dragon Throne and is known as the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  The second building directly behind it would be the hall of Central and is where the Emperor would rest, practice speeches, and prepare for sacrifice rites before departing for the Temple of Heaven. The last great hall is the Hall of Preserving Harmony which was used for banquets.
Fun Facts:
1. The Forbidden City consists of more than 90 palaces and courtyards: 980 buildings… over 8,728 rooms
2. The Forbidden city is the world’s LARGEST palace at 7,750,000 sq feet which is over 3 times larger than the Louvre in France. (also for comparison the Vatican only measures at 1,443,569 sq feet.
3. Originally it was called the “Purple Forbidden city” and is now simply referred to as the “Former Palace” in China.
4. The city took 14 years to complete and was finished in 1420.
5. It took over 1,000,000 workers with more than 100,000 of them being craftsmen
6. It was the home of 24 emperors — 14 of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasty and served as the Imperial palace of China for 492 years.
7. It has not had an Emperor in residence in 1912 and has been a museum since 1925.
Details outside one of the ceremonial halls
Looking toward the Northern inner court where the imperial family lived with Jinshan Park in the background
The second half of buildings (the inner court) were the more private living quarters for the Empress, Emperor, and his many concubines. On the outside, these buildings are virtually identical but there is an addition of a garden that boasted a lot of the same cool boulders/ rocks as the Summer Palace. (said to come from a sacred lake in the south of China.)
A female lion (always on the left) standing guard at the entrance of a hall.
Points of Interest other than the great halls are:
A clocks Gallery
The Treasures Gallery
A Porcelain and Ceramics Gallery
A Bronzeware Gallery
All the other architectural details everywhere!
The crowds largely thinned once we were in the city, but our guide still rushed us quite a bit. All in all I doubt we spent more than 1.5 hours within the walls which was a little disappointing for me as a photographer. We learned plenty and I enjoyed all the stories and history bits but I would’ve liked more time to wander for sure since there are so many little gardens, galleries, and rooms you CAN see. We mostly just made a straight line through, only checking out one of the galleries for a living quarter.
The carpentry and colors of the buildings are largely symbolic with yellow and red being regarded as a symbol of good fortune and yellow a symbol of supreme power. (yellow was only used by the imperial family) There’s even small animal carvings in rows along the ridge line of the halls were used to differentiate the importance of the buildings. For example, there are 9 animals along the Hall of Supreme Harmony (the most important building) and 7 animals on the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (where the Empress lived)
Exit through the Northern gate looking across the moat.
How to visit if on your own:
  1. Take Subway Line 1 and get off at the Tiananmen West station (Exit B) (more direct to the Meridian Gate at entrance to the city) OR you can take Subway Line 2 and get off at Qianmen Station (Exit A) and walk through Tiananmen square.
  2. Most visit the Forbidden City through the Tiananmen and Meridian gate and work their way N. When exiting through the N Gate of Divine Prowess only bus options are readily available with the subway being a good walk away. (Or just book your hotel in the close vicinity and walk to it!)
  3. Ticket price is 60 CNY April-October and 40 CNY Nov-March. The Treasure gallery, clock, and watch gallery all cost an extra CNY 10 each
  4. If you are in Beijing the day before you wish to visit, it is highly recommended to purchase your ticket the day before (as tickets DO sell out) and you can purchase tickets at a ticket window near the Meridian Gate. If you have Chinese friends or speak Chinese, you can purchase tickets online though a book website.
  5. You need to show your passport when buying tickets and will have to show your passport with your ticket when you visit.
  6. Opening hours: CLOSED ON MONDAYS!!! See hours below:
One of the many government buildings in the area
Once we exited out the Northern gate we walked a short ways away to a spot our driver could pick us back up, then it was only 5 minutes to our hotel where our tour was complete and we were able to check in. It was only about 2 or so but we were exhausted. (likely from another night on a train) so we ended up eating the snacks we’d bought from the train and hadn’t eaten yet for lunch and napped a while till it cooled off.
A beautiful cathedral we passed on our evening walk. (no surprise, there were people taking wedding photos outside)
We ventured back over to the Wangfujing shopping area ( a pleasant walk from our hotel) to do some more souvenir shopping with our last night (not to mention get another one of those fantastic Mcdonald’s ice cream cones and some dinner).
As the sun started setting, we wandered back toward the Forbidden City wall to walk along the outside moat and follow that back to our hotel. The area was quiet and peaceful and it was fun to see people actually fishing in the moat.
The moat makes for awesome photos in the evening!
Quiet shops opposite the moat and Forbidden City as we walked north.
The North gate at sunset
Looking down the moat at the East corner watch tower.
We had a short 5-10 minute walk back to our hotel and called it a day.

Day 8 costs:
Breakfast/lunch snacks from store previous day
Tour: $218.62 for 2 people on a private tour
Mcdonalds dinner/dessert: $5.38

Hotel: King Parkview hotel $67

Day 8 total: $291

Day 7- The Latest and Greatest (maybe) Disney

Bring it on Disney! This was our 4th Disney Park together (having already visited Disneyland Anaheim, Disneyland Paris, and Disneyworld in Orlando) and we were ready to see what the latest Disney park had to offer. 

Disney spirit at the metro stop


TIPS FOR VISITING SHANGHAI DISNEY
1. Download the Shanghai Disney app before hand. This app is handy for seeing wait times/ ride closures, a map, places to eat, OH and it’s the only way to select FAST PASSES.
2. Bring some cash. All of the restaurants accepted credit card but the little snack stands only accept cash. (and everyone knows you can’t go to Disney without getting some ice cream or popcorn)
3. DONT BOTHER STAYING ON PROPERTY. Seriously. You get to elect 1 FP about 30 days before hand and that’s it. There’s so many nicer affordable options and the metro drops you off at Disney’s door. Save some money here.
4. Purchase park tickets online: This way you can find the best deal/ discount codes and won’t have to wait in ticket queues once you get there.
5. This goes along with getting the App, but make sure you have a data plan for your Disney Day. The wifi was pretty awful in the park and not reliable at all. You NEED internet to get your FP and use the app.
6. Download a QR reader app as well. Most of the lines had QR scannable games to help the wait go by faster. (might need better internet than what we had too, I couldn’t even get an app to download in the first place.)
7. If staying until closing, buy your return metro tickets when you arrive so you won’t have to stand in the queues at the end of a long day just to get back to your hotel. 
8. Get a locker…. a lot of the rides don’t really have a great bag storage option. 
9. If you like to pin trade, bring along some pins! While I didn’t see an amazing different selection from what we have in the states, it’s still fun to do some trading.
10. Lastly, don’t listen to the reviews that say this park is DIRTY, people are RUDE, and that it is TOO CROWDED. While we were there on a weekday in the school year, people were very nice, the park was IMMACULATE, and even when it’s crowded you can still get fast passes to help with waits and the walkways are nice and wide. 
We loved it! (Though nothing quite compares to Disney World Orlando in my mind)
Our day started at 8:30 with an included breakfast from our B&B. They were so sweet about getting us lots of options and while breakfast again was pretty different, it did the job. (sugar helps with the rice porridge! Ha) Since we’d checked our bags the day before we didn’t have to worry about luggage (though our hosts would’ve stored bags for us) and our hosts were lovely enough to drive us to the park for free! 
It was raining a decent amount as we headed in but luckily we’d brought our rain jackets with us.
The entrance was very Disney with lots of music playing and lights. The first World of Disney store we came across I was in pin trading  and we were at the actual entrance just after opening at 9AM. Despite school starting and the rain the lines were a little long to get in. All we needed to go through the gate was our passport and electronic verification of our purchase. They printed the tickets at the gate and we were in.
As soon as we had tickets in hand, I signed in to the Shanghai Disney app to make our fast pass selection  which we selected the Tron coaster for in a little over 2 hours. Then we promptly found a locker to leave the small backpack we had brought with us and we were off, making a direct line for Pirates of the Caribbean. (the ride I was most excited for which also didn’t have Fast passes… so promptness to avoid a line was key) 
Exploring the lands of Pirates on a hot day: this misty play area would be pretty enticing… We were already wet enough as it was haha! 
Pirate Queen!
Alas as soon as we got to the ride we discovered it was closed for technical difficulties (though expected to open later…) so we meandered instead to Fantasy land.  
We stopped at a few spots for photo ops and decided to hit up the Peter Pan ride first. It was a fairly quick line (about 10 minutes) and just like the original.
Alice in Wonderland Maze
Next door was a boat ride through multiple kingdoms (like other parks that have a “story book” ride) which had a line of about 15 minutes, so that was next. It was a fun little ride with boats like the Jungle Cruise, and fun water show fountains and music along the path. The line moved really slow but it was an enjoyable ride so if you have a short wait… I’d say go for it. 
We hit up the Tron Coaster with our fast passes next. Their fast pass system was like Disney world. We pulled up the fast passes which showed a QR code which we scanned ourselves at the entrance to the FP line. The walk through line was VERY cool and once we joined up with the rest of the line it was only 5-10 minutes wait. The ride was one of our favorites too, as the seats are motorbike style and you get launched out at the beginning. Unlike Space mountain and other mini coasters, the design of the track was very smooth and avoided all “figure 8’s” for those of you who get sick with that style. (I’m looking at you dad) The screens on the inside track display your opponent light cyclist that you are racing and the sound effects are all perfect. 
Overall the only disappointing thing about this ride is that it isn’t long enough. Lol Even still, we rode it at LEAST 5 times to make up for that. 
It finally stopped raining! kind of…. 
The Shanghai Disney currently has the LARGEST castle of all the Disney parks at 197 feet (60 m) tall and unlike the other Disney parks, was designed to represent all of the Disney princesses. It is known as the Enchanted Storybook castle and has an interactive walk through of Snow White’s story (which we wasted like 20 minutes waiting in line for.. save your time) While the technology was cool and it’s always fun going into the castle, everything was in Chinese so even though it had interactive story exhibits.. it was just SO busy and not worth waiting for in my opinion. 
Next we rode the water ride in Adventure Isle (since we were wet from the rain anyways) which was reminiscent of California Adventure’s water raft adventure. You climb on board a giant circular raft and start praying you won’t be the one to get TOTALLY drenched because this ride… is all about that. Waterfalls, fun white water drops, and amazing animatronic monsters were the name of the game in this ride. Very cool technology again for the inside portion, and cool landscaping/ effects for the outside. 
Finally after this, pirates was open so we B-lined it over there. This ride tied Tron for favorite. It’s a lengthy ride with a cool line queue. Even with new high tech effects, it retained some nostalgic elements such as the “jail scene”, pirate ships firing out at you, and talking cross bones. There’s a good little “drop” in the dark as well. The new effects are giant 3-D like screens and the boat ROTATES around like in Haunted Mansion style so you are viewing everything you’re supposed to see. There’s real fire as well. Overall REALLY cool ride. We rode it probably 3-4 times and luckily only had to wait 20 minutes at its longest. 
*There’s no FP line for this ride.
Following the blue brick road through Treasure Cove
Lots of fun little shops and colorful photo ops in the Treasure Cove area next to Pirates. We had a lot of fun walking around and enjoying the “movie scene” feel. 

Entrance to the Pirate of the Caribbean restaurant called
Barbossa’s Bounty. 
Since we now successfully rode the rides we HAD to ride, we could take it a little easier… starting with a lunch break. Like Disneyland Anaheim, this POTC ride has a restaurant INSIDE the beginning of the ride so you can dine while watching the riders float by on the start of their journey. UNLIKE Anaheim, this is a quick bite location and much more affordable. That being said, it also probably had the best food options in the park. For only $12 I got a really good grilled squid with garlic rice that included a slushie drink. Braden tried the BBQ which was also good (though different style BBQ for sure) Ordering was easy and fast and you got to choose where you sat, which we lucked out and got a spot under the twinkling lights by the ride, but all of the styled rooms in this eatery were cool. Captain Jack was also walking around for photo ops so if you want to catch him, this is a good place to do it.
Dining tables in the largest room (by the ride) 
BBQ Chicken with rice and really good grilled squid with garlic rice
The canoeing “ride” that gave us a good laugh. They hand you a paddle but the boat is definitely on a track. It was entertaining to see people wait 30+ minutes for this experience. 
Cool themeing outside the POTC ride. 
Treasure Cove looking over at Adventure Isle’s water ride
After lunch we hit Tron again and realized we had to hit up Soarin around the world at some point. Because Orlando switched out their Soarin last year, we’d already gotten to ride this but it’s a good ride, and still worth checking out! The queue is way different, departing from the typical “aviation” that the other Soarins hone in on. It has a mystical line with a milky way sky winding around ruins. Plus the safety instructions video is a fun mystical lady who (I think) talks about soarin like an eagle as she transforms. So an interesting departure from the story.
Other attractions we did were the Winnie the Pooh ride(just like the other parks but in Chinese), and Rex’s Racer in Toy Story land which was a cool boomerang like coaster. (we waited longest for this ride, about 40 minutes.. but we’d ridden all the other rides of interest so thought, why not!)
We didn’t catch any of the shows (there seemed to be just a few like a Star Wars one and maybe one other) and unfortunately had to miss the night time spectacular. I did bring about 15 pins to trade but there seriously weren’t any really cool ones. The staff had pins just about everywhere but most were the same old ones you find in the US. (I only found 1 Shanghai specific pin) 
    
We headed out around 7 as we again had a train to catch (at 9:30 PM this time) and even though we’d gotten to hit everything we wanted to see, the magic of Disney at night is a whole story of its own and we were sad to leave. We grabbed dinner on our way out at the closest OPEN eatery. We wanted the Toy Story one but it closed earlier and the next option we wanted to try: Tangled, was to far out of the way. SO Pinnochio it was. They had a couple pizza options so Braden got an interesting BBQ Chicken one with doritos and peanuts on it? Lol and I had a safer margarita with balsamic glaze. They were both tasty, if a little weird. 
Walking out, it finally wasn’t raining, the twinkling lights were shining, Disney music playing, and overall just magical. Definitely made it hard to leave.
Entrance to Toy Story Land 
Always have to get some Disney Treat action! We tried this interesting style Corn Dog, their caramel popcorn (which the smell of throughout the park is practically intoxicating…) and of course Micky Ear icecream! They had both original and White Chocolate Strawberry which I couldn’t resist. SO GOOD. 
The castle at night 
Nigh time at Disney is always the most magical! 
One final glimpse behind us down Micky Avenue as we left the park.
It’s a short walk to the train station from the park and then navigating back to the same Shanghai train station was much easier this time. Still busy, but we didn’t have to squeeze on quite so dramatically. *Note if you plan on staying until closing at Disney, purchase your return metro tickets BEFORE going into the park. The queues to buy your ticket later won’t be any fun  to stand in after a full day at Disney.
 
Back at the Shanghai station, we went back to the luggage check to pick up our backpacks and then found our entrance/ waiting room. Once through security and in the station, we picked up a few more snacks and waters for the train ride (just in case). 
Our sleeper train this time was an express sleeper train, designed to get from Shanghai to Beijing in 12 hours (traveling at 156 mph) and thus much newer than our Huangshan-Shanghai train. While the beds were about the same (maybe cleaner but hard to say), this train actually provided toilet paper, and there was a lot more table space, nicer window shades in the compartment, and quieter sliding doors. The beds and bedding were about the same though this train made fewer stops and was a little smoother so sleeping was made easier.. kind of. We were bunked with a Chinese mother/daughter duo who didn’t really speak to us at all and the mom/ older lady? Spent a whole lot of time watching me which was a little uncomfortable. Lol but we made do and the next day we were back in Beijing! 
A look in our little compartment. We’d already folded up the comforters which are really nice, but you can see the table with a kettle and little bin. Both trains had the kettle so pro tip.. bring a thermos, bottle you can pour piping hot liquid into since the train itself only provides boiling hot water. 

Day 7 Costs:
Breakfast included in hotel stay
Luggage Storage(at Shanghai Train station) day 2 $8.74
Disney Tickets $116/2 people
Fancy Corn Dog $5.83
Pirates lunch $24.78
Icecream/popcorn snack $10.93
Pizza dinner at Pinnochio cafe $24.78
Metro to train station $1.75
Snacks for train $7.72

Hotel: Sleeper train $287/ 2 people

Day 7 Total: $487.53 

Day 6- From Ancient water town to modern sky scraper- Shanghai highlights

Day 6- Exploring Shanghair from ancient water towns to modern skyscrapers: We wanted to see all we could in a day of what the Shanghai area had to offer. 

The train from Huangshan dropped us off just short of 8AM at the Shanghai station.
*Note there are a few “shanghai” stations as well as airports so it’s important to know which one exactly you will be arriving at. 
 First matter of business was dropping our big packs off at a luggage storage so we wouldn’t have to lug them around all day. We took a random exit from the train station and found one right at the exit. (I think there are multiple) It was about $4/bag/day so we sorted out what we’d need for the next 2 days and said sayonara to our bags. 
Next order of business: Mcdonalds for Breakfast. We went to a very cool underground Mcdonalds… you could say we felt very “hip” going here. Fed and happy we were ready to start exploring. 
So now onto the fun stuff: Zhujiajiao Water Town! Don’t pay $200 for a private tour here, it was super easy to get to! (as easy as any metro goes that is) Unfortunately we were heading out during Shanghai’s morning rush hour, so it took us over 30 minutes to buy our tickets from the kiosks. * TIP: Pay attention down there to the top of the machine and whether you can pay with bills or need coins! 
Tickets in hand, it was easy to follow the metro map, we only had 2 train transfers to worry about, but it still took around 90 minutes of travel to get to the Zhujiajiao station. Then it was another 10-15 minute walk using Google Maps as guidance to the start of the town. 
*The cat statues pictured above signified our turn down to water town. The train station had signs to put you on the major street walking down, but then the signs were all gone and we had to rely on google. 
Beautiful waterway right by the train station 
Crossing the giant bridge into the water town 
About Zhujiajiao
Zhujiajiao is a water town on the outskirts of Shanghai, and was established about 1,700 years ago.  There are numerous water pathways (no roads!) and thus many stone bridges: 36 in fact! Each one more beautiful than the next. While we visited for the bridges, other points of interest include:
North Street: the best preserved ancient street with buildings that date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)
Kezhi Yuan Garden: garden dating back to 1912
Qing Dynasty Post Office: exhibits include old post cards of Shanghai and letters written on bamboo
Fangsheng Bridge: The main bridge coming into the town. It was built in 1812 and is said to be the largest stone arch bridge in Shanghai with five arches, about 230 feet (70 m) long, and 19 feet (5.8 m) tall. 
While maybe not having a ton of other stuff to do activity wise, this little town is one peaceful village. We picked up some beautiful art for souvenirs, had a few drinks/ snacks as we meandered, and watched the little boats go up and down the canals. (We didn’t ourselves take a boat tour this time… it was just too hot, but if interested here’s some info:
Boat Trips/Gondola Rides:
 Each gondola can hold 6 people. There are two kinds of trip – short distance and long distance.
The short distance trip only takes passengers up and down the main canal
price is about 80 yuan/per boat for about 10 minutes.
The Long distance trip goes all over the town and back
Price is 150 yuan/per boat.
Tickets can be bought in the small wooden ticket booths by the docks

Views along the walkway. Some of the bridges are only 1 meter or  under 3,5 feet wide!
If you are interested in visiting the gardens, post office, temples, or other historical buildings there is a small fee. The town/ bridges/ etc are free to enjoy visually but if you want to go in any of the historical buildings, visit the tourist info center for combo tickets. 
Here’s a map of the “attractions” for reference 
Highlights for me: Bridges and Willow Trees 

Roof of the Buddhist Temple. 
Time to head back to Shanghai
A carving we came across at one of the entrance points to the water town 
Waterways you pass walking to and from the train station. The area is pretty scenic all around! 
We headed back to the train/metro station which was a 10 minute walk back, and a short wait and then we were headed back to the city. We got off at the Dongchang Road Station and started exploring the skyscaper financial district. 
. There are 2 buildings you can go to the top of in Shanghai that are popular: the older Shanghai Pearl TV station tower, and the newer Shanghai World Financial Center. The latter was cheaper so that’s the one we chose. We bought our tickets and walked through a short exhibit for the building itself, and the massive growth of Shanghai over the last couple of years. 
Display at the start of World Financial Building tour
Then you hop in the elevator and ride (very quickly) to the 94th floor. Here they have a couple more exhibitist that are part of a different ticket, and you take the escalator up to floor 97. You can peep out the windows here, but the view is much better from the 2nd elevator ride up to the 100th floor so you may as well hold tight.
The building was also currently hosting a Studio Ghibli exhibit and so there were references to the movies in a few places along the normal “100th floor” visit. The exhibits were separate and fairly expensive so we held off on visiting figuring one day, we will visit the main exhibits in Japan/ 
Lots of people at the “very top”
It was crowded and hard to get any decent photos with me in them, but it was cool to look out  at the sprawling expanse of buildings that make up Shanghai. (though I could’ve done without the smog which lowered the visibility somewhat) 
You can see the other popular building, the Pearl TV tower in the background
After gawking at the view for a little while, we made the journey back down and found a pizza place in the restaurant/mall portion of the building for a lunch/dinner
More Studio Ghibli exhibit references on the escalator 
After eating our fill, we headed out to continue our trek through the financial district to the river where our next stop was: The Bund. We walked to the Lujiazui station to ride one stop to the East Nanjing Road station. Since the Huangpu river is so wide, there aren’t any bridges in downtown! And so the only way to cross the river is via metro in a tunnel! 
Amazing buildings we passed on our walk to the station 
From the East Nanjing station it was a short 5-10 minute walk through shopping areas to the Bund photo area. 
Made it!
From here we got to admire the buildings we’d just come from (and visited the top of!) which was very cool. We’d considered doing a night cruise on the Huangpu river (which is generally considered a MUST DO) but we had a decent trek out of the city for our hotel that night so we called it a day around 6:30 and headed on our way… 

Lots of people and other cool buildings at the Bund 
Panorama  
Heading back to the station
Unfortunately we were headed to our hotel… in the MIDDLE OF RUSH HOUR. 
Never before have I stood so close to other humans, or narrowly avoided being guillotined by subway doors. We had 2 connections we had to make and at both of them we had to wait for 2 trains before we could squeeze our way on. That being said, it did finally start to empty out after we cleared the main city center. We even ran into an end station for one line where everyone got off but us and we sat there like confused idiots when the train returned to the station we had been at prior. *facepalm BUT the next time we realized in order to continue on our line we had to GET OFF the train and cross the platform. Oh boy. Other than that, painless to take the metro all the way out to Disneyland Shanghai. 
Once there, we walked out into the dark and after a little walking we found a lot of cars lined up that were essentially like uber taxi drivers. Our hotel was only 3 km for Disney but we didn’t want to chance walking in the dark so we paid a couple bucks to have a drive take us. Our hotel was sort of a converted house into a B&B and when we got there, no lights were on and there were several buildings to choose from. Our taxi driver looked at us like we were crazy when we got out… and we thought we were too. (seeing as there was literally a dude bathing outside at one of the buildings, and dogs barking at us everywhere)
Eventually after e-mailing and calling the property (about 10 minutes) the hotel owners came out to guide us in. And everything was peachy from there! We settled into our little room and prepped for our next Disney adventure exhausted but satisfied with everything we saw in one day. 
Day 6 costs:
Breakfast $6.63
Luggage check for the day $8.74
Metro to water town $2.33
Water town souvenirs/ drinks $30.61
Metro back to city $2.33
Top of the Shanghai Financial Center $46.64
Lunch/Dinner $26.23
Metro to Bund $0.85
Mcdonalds treats $3.65
Metro to Disney $1.45
Taxi to hotel $4.35
Hotel: Hua’s Cottage $45
Day 6 Total: $178.81 for 2 people

China day 5: The Western slopes and Guest Greeting Pine

Day 5- our 2nd day on the mountain. We were both kind of waking up around 5:30 and noticed lights of people/ groups out hiking to a peak to watch sunrise. We both had rough sleeping, but felt good enough at least so we got dressed, gathered our small pack of things, and headed out to check out sunrise. In the interest of not getting up early enough and being hungry for breakfast, we only did the short walk back to the cloud dispelling pavilion where we’d watched the sunset. I wish however that we had just done the jaunt up to Purple Cloud Peak as that was probably the best/ closest peak to our hotel and was tall enough we would’ve been able to see the East side of the mountain. 

Ah well, still not a bad view from the pavilion. 
We hung around for 10-15 minutes as the sun was already almost up when we got there. The views and affects were similar to the night before… no morning clouds/ fog for us. Then we checked out of our hotel and grabbed breakfast around 6:15 (narrowly avoiding the rush) and I will say breakfast was decent. They had a large array of food, I mostly stuck with rice porridge, rolls, hard boiled eggs, and a ton of fruit. But they had lots of “noodle” options and even toast. They also had an intriguing “orange juice” that was basically orange fanta made from boiled water. So it was hot. Haha at least we knew it was safe.
Then we were headed out onto new terrain. We backtracked to complete the loop in the center and take the path b Xihai hotel up to Bright top. There were a few “hotel” paths that looked like they may be the one we wanted but had no signs so that confused us but eventually we found the sign and trail split we were looking for (further East of the hotels). In other words, if there isn’t a sign, it isn’t the path. Hahaha! 
Morning light filtering through all the pines. We really hoped we’d spot a monkey, but alas… we did not. 
It was a pretty strenuous up hill walk to Bright Top with stairs continuing forever. It took us at least 30 minutes and we were definitely over it. While the trees were pretty, there wasn’t much of a view and thus I deem this path not really worth doing.
Beautiful reservoirs of water that act as holding tanks on the mountain. While the area gets a decent amount of precipitation, it definitely still needs plenty of water to support all the visitors and hotels! 
Made it to Bright Top (view again looking toward the Western Sea)
Trail Stats from Paiyunlou Hotel to the Mercy Light Pavilion (bottom of the Western Steps)
Distance: 8.3 miles
Elevation Gain:1,300 feet
Elevation loss: 3500 feet
Estimated 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. 
Points of Interest: Turtle Peak (separate trail), Lotus Peak (closed to peak bagging but you can see it), Celestial Capitol Peak, and the Guest Greeting Pine . 
Peaceful morning on the trail 
Looking up at Bright Top, the main focal point of the mountain by diving it into quarters 
On Bright Top looking over at Turtle Peak (a great sunset/sunrise spot if staying at the Baiyun hotel) 
Clouds way in the distance 
Once at Bright Top, it was easy to continue following the signs for the “Yuping scenic area, otherwise known as the “western steps” and the path we planned to take down off the mountain. This side was pretty unique with the granite tops being more rounded and boulder-y looking than the peaks on the Eastern steps. 
We were glad we started early! 
The craziest part of this mountain were the numerous porters offering their services to carry people. And there were.. several people that we passed taking them up on that. (this lady we are pretty sure was carried all the way from the Baiyun hotel area to the top of the Yuping cable car. 
Prices for reference! Only $15 to be carried 2 km! (one of the more flat paths I suppose) .. but like what?! 
While I couldn’t myself pay someone to carry me, I don’t blame some of the older folks as this side of the mountain was a LOT of up and down. One part was the steepest set of stairs we came across on the mountain (maybe ever), “the ladder to heaven” and unfortunately we had to go up it. 
Our first view of the incredible Celestial Capital Peak. 
We walked for probably another hour-1.5 hours before we started seeing the crowds from the Yuping cable car (getting to the area then right around 8:30 or so)
You can see the Yuping cable car far down below it. (those were also already very high for reference)
A cool part of the trail walking under some boulders. 

My favorite! Pine trees! 

And then we hit the crowds full stride close to the Guest Greeting Pine and entrance to the cable car. If you want to have the tree to yourself, you’re going to have to start pretty early. As bad as this looks however, the distance to the tree wasn’t too bad and it took maybe 15-20 minutes or moving through the queue to actually get to the tree. 
I affectionately refer to this tree as the Mona Lisa Tree because I have NEVER seen SO MANY PEOPLE trying to take selfies and pictures with 1 thing. It was hard to even get close; I basically scaled a small rock and even then I couldn’t get a great photo of it. I tried for a bit to have my photo taken with it when one lady really nicely let me down my small rock to stand in front of it. It’s still a terrible photo though so not sharing it here. haha 
Once we took the trail past the tree, the crowds dropped off a fair amount but still a steady number of people seemed to be heading for the Capitol peak. 
Which when I saw it, even I thought they were crazy. The stairs looked a lot like the “ladder to heaven” stairs and seemed never ending. They must’ve climbed 1000-1500 feet almost immediately with no break. (I’m talking worse than Angel’s landing- steep STEEP stairs) Granted our previous day had left me tired and somewhat sore, but even feeling fresh I don’t know if that peak would’ve held appeal for me. 
But neither would what we ended up doing as it would turn out. My one piece of advice when it comes to exploring this mountain, is to TAKE THE CABLE CAR. On either the Eastern or Western steps, please don’t try to hike down them, and seriously don’t go about walking up them. While I’d read the scenery was much better on the Western steps (hence I chose to take the cable car up the East steps, and WALK down the west steps) I found it never ending stairs and boring. Seriously the steps. Never. End.
You hardly get any scenic views and just see a lot of trees. Save your time and energy for hiking the peaks up at the top and just take the cable car. 
At the bottom of the western steps walking path, there is a beautiful building that sometimes seems to serve as a visitor center, and a shuttle bus stop. We bought our tickets back to Tangkou and hopped on. 
Which, here comes mistake #2 of the day. We forgot that bus stop map photo I’d taken and so when the bus turned down a different road than we expected, we panicked and got off at the first stop. At that stop we were harassed with sellers as soon as we got off so we hurried away from the station. It wasn’t until we were well past the station that we saw the buses were going back to the main road and thus… were going the way we had wanted to go. *face palm 
At this point we just continue to walk thinking the hotel we’d left our bag at was just down the road 10 minutes or so

We got off the bus WAY too early. Our stop we wanted was the very last one on the route! 
That “10 minute” walk became a blazing hot 30 minute walk with little scenery. By the time we reached the hotel, we were dehydrated and exhausted from our walk DOWN the mountain and then through town. 
The light at the end of the tunnel dawned however as we ate at the restaurant yet again (our favorite.. it was so good) and decided that since we had 6 hours until we needed to leave for the train station and had nothing to do, we may as well book a room. Lolololol Weird, I had a hard time explaining that since we were taking a sleeper train to Shanghai that night, we wanted a place to shower, change, and NAP before we headed on our next phase of our journey. $35 well spent my friends. That green tea foot soak was just as great on this day and the nap was even nicer. 
At 5:30 we picked up some snacks/dinner for the train and our hotel called us a cab to take us to Huangshan train station. Here’s where it gets good again. Even though I clearly say HUANGSHAN and not HUANGSHANBEI I notice on google maps that our cab driver is taking us through weird back streets, neighborhoods, and most definitely NOT the most efficient way back to Huangshan town. When I tell him not to go to Bei, he doesn’t understand and thus we end up at Huangshan Bei (the HIGHSPEED train station that we’d first arrived at) anyways. So now we have an hour to go before our train departure. We show him our train ticket and say other station a few times and he gets it. So then we are off on another 20 minute ride back to the run down station in town. We did try to pay him extra for having to drive us further but he ended up giving it back to us instead of accepting it. Ah well. In we went where we had about 10-15 minutes wait in the large waiting room, and then we got on our train.
Photo from our next sleeper train, I didn’t get any of this one
It was an older style train for sure, with clunky sliding doors. They were bunk room compartments since we booked a “soft” sleeper so our bunk room had 4 bunks with Braden on the top bunk and I had the lower. We happily discovered that our bunk room was shared with a couple from the Netherlands who I enjoyed talking with for a 2-3 hours about our different experiences on the mountain and around town. It was even the latest we stayed up since we had our ramen noodle bowls and chatted for so long.

Sleeping was an experience. I slept rather well considering it was on a train, but overall I still only got maybe 5 hours of sleep. While maybe not the most “restful” sleep, I found the movement of the train comforting, and my individual bunk comfortable. The train provides a sheet to lay on top of, a decent pillow, and a really nice comforter. So moral of the story, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to book a soft sleeper again.
And thus concludes our epic trip around the Huangshan area, stay tuned for a recap post for hotel, trail maps, and useful tidbits to come all in one post!

Day 5 Costs:
Breakfast included in hotel
Shuttle bus to Tangkou $5.54
Lunch $19
Extra hotel… $35
Store $8.45
Taxi to train station $26.23
Sleeper train $99

Day 5 Total: $193.25
 

China day 4: The Fairy Walking Bridge

Day 4, part 2 continued: The hike to the Fairy Walking Bridge.
Once we reached the bottom we took the Northern rail car back up to the top which spit us out near the Baiyun hotel. (where I would personally recommend staying for location and reviews) We debated going to check in at our hotel but the day was still young (it was only 11) and we were right at the top of the SOUTH trail around the Western Sea. This was the trail I originally planned on taking all the way down but was told it was closed half way. 

Map of the trail to the Fairy Walking Bidge, then to Bright top peak to Flying-over Rock, and then onto our hotel. I circled Purple Cloud Peak even though we didn’t trek up there, as it would have made for an excellent sunset/ or sunrise spot. 
The top of the rail car was nice and serene. We stopped for a rest before continuing on along this beautiful tree lined path. 
The Southern path was still open to the Fairy Walking Bridge (even though it was closed just after) so we debated looking for lunch/ checking into our hotel or heading down. Since we were RIGHT at the start of the trail, we decided it would be our best bet to just do the trail first. The hotel advisor said it would take 2 hours RT to visit the Fairy Walking Bridge but there were signs at the start that said 2 hours TO it. Rest assured, it was a leisurely 40 minutes down to it for us. 
Looking across the way to the Northern Route you can actually see the path in several places if you look hard enough. 
The trail was WONDERFULLY devoid of people. We only passed 2-3 other small groups of 1-2 people each going down. No groups or loud speakers here. And while the trail wasn’t overhanging sheer cliffs, it did beat an amazing path through stone which I found equally beautiful. 
Trails Stats from the Rail Car to the Fairy Walking Bridge AND Hotel :
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain:1,400 feet
Elevation loss: 1,400 feet
Estimated time: 3-5 hours
*These figures are based on maps I saw with distances and elevations of the points of interest called out and are rough estimations. 
Points of Interest: Turtle Peak (looking up at it), the Fairy Walking Bridge, The Western Sea Grand Canyon overlook, Bright Top Peak, Flying- over- rock. 

The Western Sea overlook

There were so many lovely views and sections of trail here, as well as lovely stone picnic table spots to take a short rest at. If I were to visit this mountain again, I would still prioritize this trail. 
Getting close. When you see the incredible pine tree cliff and look down to see the terrace, you are just about there. 
YES! Made it. We actually passed through the tunnels and crossed the bridge already to get to this spot on the terrace. 
The view looking from the bridge toward the terrace. It was amazing being surrounded by such tall, sheer cliffs. 
The South- West of Huangshan mountain, mountains everywhere! 
Looking up the sheer cliffs that somehow a trail weaved its way down 
a cute “little” fairy bridge 
Crossing the main bridge
balanced rocks easily seen from the terrace 

How is this place even real?! 
favoite
I wish I could tell you this epic bridge was constructed centuries ago by gravity defying monks fleeing religious persecution or something cool like that, but alas this was just built in the 80s to connect another one of the valley trails to the top of the mountain. (Amazingly we actually saw a few backpackers hike up from the valley this way) 
Looking down the crevice from ON the bridge… a long way down! 
Crossing back across the bridge to return.
Unfortunately the lighting, was terrible for the time of day we were at the bridge, with half the bridge in shadow making photos hard to get right. We waited around an hour or so to see if once the bridge was completely in shadow it would help. It didn’t really since the other wall was still so bright. So hungry and running low on water, we decided to call it and head back. It only took us 45 minutes hiking back but we were pretty tired and thirsty by the end.
Trail signs! 
Hiking back along this stunning trail
Lookig at the “flying rock” from the summit. You can see our hotel off on the right a little ways further
When we reached the Baiyun hotel, we bought the first bottle of water we found and realized we still had more up to do… We had to go up and over the Bright Summit to get to our hotel. (and this is why I recommend staying at the Baiyun hotel… hahaha)
Looking back up towards the bright top summit.
We made it to the summit in only about 15 minutes (of straight stairs) and picked the path my hotel receptionist told us to go on day 1 to our hotel. I imagined it as only 30 minutes walk but man… it was a tough walk of 3 km and almost an hour! We had a few more ups and a LOT more downs to do before reaching our hotel. It was still so hot. Thankfully I’d bought a souvenir fan down in town because I used that thing constantly. (Probably looked ridiculous, hopefully not offensive… but a necessary tool)
As exhausted and frazzled as we were, we couldn’t just walk on by without capturing this incredible “flying” rock. 
A sea of clouds… and mountains

We finally made it to our hotel around 3:30 and checked in. Unfortunately we were on the top floor of a 6 story hotel that lacked an elevator which meant.. more stairs. It was pretty run down inside and the layout was pretty bizarre… and don’t get me started on the room. Definitely our worst hotel of the trip (and 5 times as expensive as our hotel the night before) The 2 twin beds in our room were basically box springs with yellowing comforters. We found a few small beetle like bugs around the room, which left me on high alert for bed bugs. No A/C either which after sweating all day, made the room an un-welcome relief. Needless to say, we were pretty appalled. Did I expect luxury on top of the mountain? No but at least a little better than what we ended up with.

Dinner….
Anyway the show must go on, no matter how thoroughly exhausted we were, we still had hours in the day. We showered and rested a bit before going out in search of food. The hotel just before ours, Xihai seemed like an easy enough walk and a little more fancy so we thought we’d check their restaurant out… WELL It was closed for some reason. (5:30 PM…) so we’d walked that way for nothing. We headed back to our hotel which appeared to have a restaurant and a street food type vendor. Apparently they are one in the same. What was advertised as pick 3 entrees , rice, and soup was really, you get what you get: which in this case was 3 questionable entrees, rice, and hot seaweed water. It was pretty terrible. The thing on the left was more seaweed? With some other texture, probably tofu, that I couldn’t quite accept. The middle dish was just eggs and tomatoes so a little better, if at least edible. The last entree was sweet potatoes and the safest of them all. The hot sea weed water was as bad as it sounds, and rice was rice. 
Anyways, if you come here, just do yourself a favor and haul some ramen noodles up in your back pack. And if you don’t want to carry them, buy those at the little stores up top instead of trying to eat any of the street sidewalk food. 
We ate what we could and headed back down to the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion which was thankfully an actual easy walk (with few stairs) from our hotel for sunset. 
Crazy sun beam peaking over the mountains. The lighting and colors were just crazy beautiful
After hanging around for a while, we decided to continue along the Northern route again (the first hike we did) at least until we started to descend a lot of stairs. It was just so peaceful without all the people and with the magic lighting on the mountains. We probably went about 3/4s of a mile or so to the start of the descent where the tunnels start and what I’d consider the “opening” of the Northern route
No this is NOT a scene from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. What you’re seeing is the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion everyone. 
We caught some pretty sunset light at the Purple Cloud cable car station (and spotted the peak where most people apparently go to watch the sunset- Purple Cloud Peak)
Another view from further away of the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion with our hotel Paiyunlou behind it. 
The start of the tunnels and major descent down on the Northern Grand Canyon route. 
(This spot is maybe a 30 minute walk from the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion)
Exploring the narrow passage with the dying light
Straight drops from this viewing platform- you can see why these mountains are the 
“Yellow Mountains”
More views from along the trail at sunset 

Almost dark- so headed back to the hotel 
Sea of Mountains
We stopped at the little convenience shop on the way to pick up a coke and oreos to follow up our terrible dinner and spent the rest of the evening in our room. Thankfully at night it cools off SIGNIFICANTLY and with the window open, the room was just right. The room also had a nice small but deep tub that I soaped down and soaked in which was extra nice. Though we slept terribly due to fear of bed bugs (we had yet to spot any) it wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be. (because neither of us actually got bitten by anything)
So solid day! So glad we made it down to the Fairy Bridge and caught such a glorious sunset. Day 4 part 2- SUCCESS. 

Day 4 Costs:
Breakfast from store: $10.20
Shuttle to scenic area $4.08
Entrance to park $33.50/adult $16.75/student
Yungu Cable car ride $23.32
2nd tram ride/ Western Sea Rail car  $29.15
Large bottle of water $3.64
Dinner $20.11
Oreos and a coke to end the day $5.10

Hotel: Huangshan Paiyunlou Hotel $144

Day 4 Total: $289.50 for 2 people

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