China Special Report: A Look Back at Beijing

As part of Travel Agent's continued Special Report on Hidden China, we present to you Beijing. This past summer, our Asia reporter Meagan Drillinger took a 12-day journey through China's lesser-known destinations, but her tour kicked off in Beijing, a must for any first-timer to China. Here is her report:


I'm not a first-timer to China. I had been before, but it was, admittedly, a whirlwind three-day tour that left much to be desired. As far as exotic destinations go, China had never really been on my bucket list. I've always been drawn to the Thailands, the Balis, the New Zealands. China, for some reason, never seemed that exotic to me. But all of that changed when I first hit the Great Wall. For me, I never truly realized how badly I wanted to see the Great Wall until I was actually on it, surrounded by misty mountains and silence. It is captivating and unexpected.

A great spot for first-timers to check out the Great Wall is the Mutianyu section. This section is open 365 days a year. General Admission is RMB 45, and from here guests can take the cable car, hike the steps and/or toboggan their way down. Mutianyu has a 1.5-mile stretch that allows for walking more than an hour to explore 22 watchtowers and the valley on either side. Though it still sees its fair share of tourists, it is a relatively less trafficked section than other parts of the wall. Nestled up against the Great Wall of China are the villages of Mutianyu, Beigou, Xinying and Tianxianyu. Founded by the original builders of the Wall, these villages have retained their wonderful unique character and are a microcosm of Chinese rural life. Real working villages, these family-friendly towns offer a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of tourism. 

China is by no means a new destination for travel agents. It's the next "must-see" destination after Europe and has become "been there, done that." So this may be old hat. But for any first timer it is still that breathtaking. It is unbelievable to stand on a structure that has stood for more than two thousand years and holds so much significance throughout a blood-soaked history. Once you walk (or rather, hike) the Great Wall, you are aware of the labor and toil that took place to put it together. Yes, you can see it from space, but have you? Probably not. Putting one foot in front of the other, stone over stone, step after step, you feel the weight of its importance…all down your legs. It's exhaustingly wonderful. 

Stay tuned to for the rest of our Special Report on China's hidden gems.