Beijing - Great Wall at Badaling

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Where: Northwest of central Beijing for about 45 - 75 minutes, depending on traffic. You can’t miss it.

When: June 2007

When Beijing decided in the late 1970s that they were going to open the country up to the West, someone very smart must have made the point at a regional governors’ meeting: the Great Wall would be one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions, but it was in sorry shape and would cause China to lose face if put on stage without repairs (and restrooms.)

So they got to work, plotting out the places where the Wall would be most easily reached by tourists and prioritizing the spots for rebuilding where traffic would concentrate first. That first point was Badaling, a key mountain pass for the main highway and railroad running northwest from the capital to Inner Mongolia. 

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Now, all the bricks you see are new; the Wall itself was rebuilt for only about a half-mile to the east of the tourist gate and a mile to the west. The resorts on either side, shopping streets, concert venue, ziplines and gondola cable cars weren’t there in ancient times. Heck, they weren’t there in the 1970s, either.

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But it doesn’t matter, because the sight once you get up on the Wall is so amazing. There’s nothing else that compare to actually standing in a place to understand why earlier generations made their choices and how they fought their battles. 

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I’d say though that the crowd on the Wall is even more significant than the bricks and towers. Because that consultant in the 1970s was only half-right: yes, regardless of international politics, people from all over the world do want to come see it – but even moreso, the Chinese middle class which didn’t even exist at that point would grow to have the desire and income to come, too.

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Those hotels and resorts in the surrounding valleys aren’t for Westerners, and the shops aren’t particularly trying to get your dollars. It’s mass tourism for and by Chinese – the hundreds of parked buses on the access road and army of families walking for miles from the far-remote parking lots that you passed in your bus are the proof. They scrimped and saved, and are glad to participate in the capitalist hustle ahead, because they want to see for themselves. Tens and tens and tens of millions every year.

That’s got to mean something for the future of China.

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How to get there

High-speed and metro services are going to eventually reach the Badaling site, but realistically you’ll want to join an organized tour leaving from your hotel or one nearby. The bus ride is about an hour each way in light traffic, but the expressways can clog up unexpectedly at any time… and parking for the buses can be challenging at times. Here’s where a travel agent is a true value to you if you want everything booked before your departure – otherwise talk to the concierge at your hotel.

Nearby accommodation and activities

As a Western tourist, you would not be staying in or around Badaling, but rather at a hotel somewhere in central Beijing. Improving transit options make the central city’s key features accessible: the Temple of Heaven and Qianmen neighborhood south of Tiananmen Square; the Forbidden City at Beijing’s heart, of course; Jingshan Park and Houhai Lake and the hutong district to the northwest; the Summer Palace and Olympic Park further out.

The Wangfujing district just east of the Forbidden City is a family-friendly hub for hotels, shopping, dining, and nighttime entertainment. Respected hotel chains are represented there with:

  • Crowne Plaza Beijing Wangfujing
  • Novotel Peace Beijing Hotel
  • Park Plaza Wangfujing Hotel
  • The Peninsula Beijing (a chain usually priced out-of-reach for families, but rather reasonable rates at this location)
  • Lee Garden Service Apartment
  • NUO Hotel Beijing
  • Novotel Beijing Xinqiao

Other links

Impressions of… Beijing Hutong School

Impressions of… Beijing Forbidden City

What Your Kids Should Eat in Beijing

Our Beijing folder on Pinterest

Hong Kong - Stanley

Where: Hong Kong Island

When: November 2010

This trip was our daughter’s first time back to China after we’d adopted her, so it was especially emotional for us. We wanted to take in as many experiences as we could in the limited time we had – the city is so family-friendly, easy to get around, and full of fun activities and bright lights that we wanted to run all day and night.

Well, between jet lag and the necessary sleep schedule for a four-year-old, that impulse was quashed rather quickly. We found we could do one big adventure between breakfast and lunch, a siesta back at our hotel, and then a mini-outing at dinnertime.

Part of the genius of Hong Kong is for all the skyscrapers and neon signs and crowds, most of the territory is actually parkland and open space. After a few days of walking around Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok, and Central, we’d reached city sensory overload. What we needed at that point was exactly what we got when our city bus emerged from the Aberdeen Tunnel: smog-free blue sky, deep jungle, boats bobbing in bays.

Getting off the bus and walking down the block into Stanley Market brought such decompressing relief. The buildings weren’t taller than the trees or hills. No expressways or stream of trucks hauling cargo. The signs were modest, and the crowd as well. A human-scaled place with a relaxed and open attitude.

We had a late breakfast and stayed well past lunch, wandering the side streets, clambering over the rocks, finding a little beach and picking up sea glass, spotting containerships on the ocean horizon from Blake Pier, people-watching on the promenade, and doing a little shopping among the stalls in the marketplace. We didn’t worry about timetables or the four other things we’d also like to be doing that day.

We certainly saw enough high-priced sports cars and jewelry to know that working-class people could never afford to live here; the low-key lifestyle so unlike that on the north side of the island carries a high property price. But as tourists, the pizza we enjoyed while watching the waves didn’t cost any more than it would have in Kowloon.

Our bodies refreshed, our brains re-set, and with a valuable lesson learned about living in the moment, we were ready to enjoy the rest of our trip regardless of how many attractions we could check off.

How to get there

The number-one piece of advice for any traveler to Hong Kong, especially for families, is to obtain and charge up the stored-value Octopus cards. For MTR trains, the various bus companies, and trams, it’s your one-swipe discount ticket.

The number-one piece of advice for any traveler to Hong Kong, especially for families, is to obtain and charge up the stored-value Octopus cards. For MTR trains, the various bus companies, and trams, it’s your one-swipe discount ticket.

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    Click for the current MTR rail map

Click for the current MTR rail map

The MTR has only recently punched through the mountains to reach the south side of Hong Kong Island, running past the Ocean Park amusement park, but that’s still many miles away from Stanley. The easiest connection is to take one of the frequent buses from the MTR hub in Central (routes 6, 6A, 6X, or 260) – if you take one of the double-decker buses, be sure to sit up top for the best view! The 6 and 6A are “local” and take streets up and over the mid-island mountains, while the 6X and 260 are “express” which use the Aberdeen Tunnel. Travel time from Central is about a half-hour on the express buses; 45-50 minutes on the local buses.

There are several bus stops serving the Stanley area; you want the Stanley Market stop (this will be where most people are getting on and off.) English-language signage and announcements are standard on all Hong Kong mass transport, so enjoy the ride and pay attention to your map.

Nearby accommodation and activities

Affordable lodging for families right in Stanley is simply not available – the property values are far too high, and it’s too long a transit from the airport for casual tourism stays. However, since the bus links from Central are so convenient, and MTR trains are so affordable, you can stay in a wide range of neighborhoods and still have a pleasant day trip to Stanley. Some hotels on Hong Kong Island that are close to MTR stops that link to Central would include:

Metropark Hotel Causeway Bay – near Tin Hau station and Victoria Park

OZO Wesley Hong Kong – near Admiralty station

Best Western Hotel Harbour View – near Sai Ying Pun station

Courtyard by Marriott Hong Kong (Des Voeux Road) and Best Western Plus Hotel Hong Kong (also Des Voeux Road) – both of these are on the tram line about halfway between Kennedy Town and Sheung Wan

Hotel Ibis Hong Kong Central and Sheung Wan – also on the tram line

Holiday Inn Express Hong Kong Soho – about 2 blocks uphill from the Sheung Wan station

 

Of course, given how fast and frequent the MTR is, there are many hotels on the Kowloon side of the harbour you might consider as well.

Since Stanley is essentially “the end of the road” for this part of the island (the actual end of the island is the fishing village of Shek O, one more peninsula over, but there’s no bus line to connect it to Stanley), other family activities have to be found closer in to the center of the island.

The 6A and 6X buses also stop at Hong Kong’s homegrown amusement park and aquarium, Ocean Park.  This complex is as big as a Disney park, however, and given its (roughly) US$60 adult ticket price / US$30 for kids 11 and under, you’d want to spend a full day there instead of only a few hours.

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  Image by  katsuhiro7110  via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by katsuhiro7110 via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

For a cheaper (free) activity that takes less time on the way back to Central, stop off at the Repulse Bay Beach bus stop for a stroll along the water, exercise at the children’s playground, and contemplation at the Tin Hau Temple and its statues facing the waterfront. There are also cafes and shopping along the beach.

Other links

http://www.nextstophongkong.com/repulse-bay-stanley-market/

http://wikitravel.org/en/Hong_Kong/Southern_Hong_Kong_Island

http://gohongkong.about.com/od/whattoseeinhk/a/whattoseeStanle.htm

http://www.hong-kong-traveller.com/stanley-market-hong-kong.html#.WKiy2xiZPKY

http://www.hk-stanley-market.com/things-to-do.htm#.WKJ-xxiZPKY

http://www.hk-stanley-market.com/how-to-get-to-stanley-market-from-central.html#.WKJ-JxiZPKY

 

Our Pinterest folder for Hong Kong

Our Pinterest folder for Cathay Pacific Airways

 

Our Airport Guide for Hong Kong

Our article on the Dragon Boat Festival – Stanley hosts big race events in May each year

Guangxi – Yiling Village

Where: rural Wuming Township, north of Nanning, Guangxi, China

When: June 2007

Standing in the middle of this tiny farm village, with our newly-adopted daughter in my arms, I smell and hear and feel the connection with my great-grandparents’ farmstead in central Illinois from 100 years ago.

The heat and humidity of a Midwestern summer afternoon *begins* to approach what presses down on us this June day in the deep south of China. The highway is far behind us and all we hear are insects, a cowbell, and the whispered suggestion of a breeze. I haven’t heard any jets overhead since we got here, and no one’s cellphone has rung.

My grandfather as a boy would have been immediately familiar with the tools and animals around us. My mother told me stories about visiting that farm when she was a girl: collecting eggs from hens, taking care of horses, avoiding the pigs while climbing persimmon trees.

Persimmon trees are native to China, too. They line the roadway to where I’m standing.

The fields grow rice instead of wheat and corn, and the houses are built differently, but I can trace the loose bundle of power lines snaking their way into the cluster of houses and speculate when electricity finally came to the old Anderson property.

The genetics are different. The geography is different. I never met my grandpa’s parents. Yet I think they would feel at home here, and they’d instantly accept our daughter as family.

How to get there

This village is just around the hillside from the Yilingyan Park grottoes, about 30 km north of Nanning City off the G210 highway, but since it’s unlikely that a casual traveler would be renting a car out this far, your best bet is to find an organized bus tour to Yilingyan and see if your tour guide would walk you around the farmland. No one speaks English in the village and no one there is expecting to see tourists…

Nearby accommodation and activities

The charming city of Nanning is quite friendly to foreigners, as it holds an annual conference of the ASEAN trading bloc. Their Natural Museum, Yangmai Ancient Town, Museum of Nationalities, and Science & Technology Museum are all recommended, and there are a number of large parks nestled in the heart of the city offering pleasant walks and outdoor playtime for kids. The street-food scene at night in the downtown core is famous across Southeast Asia.

Recent years have seen a bloom of western-class hotel properties, such as:

Nanning Marriott (near the International Expo Center, on the eastern side of the city)

Yongjiang Hotel (central city, easy walking to shopping, restaurants, riverside attractions)

Wanda Vista Hotel(eastern side of city)

Wharton International Hotel (on Nanhu Park)

 

Other links

Our Pinterest folder for Guangxi Province