We chose to do all of our big sight seeing trips through a tour company, organized through our hotel. We all talked about the pros and cons of using a tour agency.
- It might cost a bit more than going on our own
- We would have to travel with strangers
- Might be touristy
- Less freedom to do/see what we wanted
- We would be on a schedule
- Everything was done, all we would have to do is pay and show up
- Communication to and from would be provided
- Transportation to and from would be provided
I personally loved that all we had to do was pick what day trips we wanted to go on, pay, then show up the day of. No internet research, no transportation to figure out. They were easy tours.
We went on two trips with the tour guides.
1. Ming Tombs, Jade factory, Silk Factory and Great Wall
2. Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Pearl Factory
On our own we walked around Tiananmen Square, outdoor food market (mystery meat on a stick), Pearl Market (knock off shopping) and an outdoor street market for shopping.
We fit in everything we wanted to see in our short trip.
Looking back on our pros and cons of using a tour group, it was the perfect choice for us. Our tours were small, 20 people on one and 5 on the other. The cost was very reasonable. I think they were all about $50 dollars a person. And we only ran into a few touristy spots.
The Great Wall was the sight that I wanted to see the most. In the tour we signed up for we started off with a quick tour of the Ming Tombs. At first I was disappointed because I thought this little pit stop would cut into our time hiking/walking the Great Wall, but I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed this stop.
The name "Ming Tomb" is very deceiving. We never actually saw any graves or tombs.
The Ming Tomb that we toured was just a huge road that lead to the tombs of different Kings/Emperors. The road was used as a kind of road to the after life kinda thing. The road was lined with huge statues of warrior/animals that were put in place to protect the spiritual world for the dead Kings/Emperors.
We went early in the day with our small group (maybe 20 people) so the crows were small and our tour guide spoke great English and was very enthusiastic.
Early morning on the bus.
How cute are the Randall's with these huge ancient statues?
It was amazing to see these statues in person. They are huge and full of detail. If I remember correctly, Peter told us that each individual statue started out as one big hung of rock. It was then carved and brought to this road and have been here since. Pretty amazing.
We had a stop at the jade factory. It was basically a huge jade shopping center. Joe and I each bought a small jade animal from our year on the Chinese calendar. Joe was born in 1982, the year of the dog and I was born in 1985, the year of the ox. Although we didn't mind walking through the "jade factory", it was just a huge tourist scam. Peter told us all about the heath benefits of jade while we were on the bus. Jade increases blood flow, improves circulation, memory, helps reduce arthritis aches and pains... blah, blah. It was interesting but I doubt half of his stories were true, or as true as he made them sound. Debbie ended up getting a jade bracelet, in 6 months she hasn't taken it off.....because she can't. Ha. I think half the reason she bought it was because after the sales girl put it on her, she couldn't get it off. First of all, there were 2 sales girls for every tourist. You couldn't make eye contact with a piece of jade (in any shape or size) without one of them running up to you, "hey lady try dis one." Then to get the correct size bracelet, they put a small plastic bag over your hand then slipped the bracelet over it and pulled the bag away.
Poor Debora got suckered into trying on a bracelet, the sales girl hit pay dirt when she spotted Debbie. The bracelet was on and stuck in no time. I'd have to confirm with Debora, but I don't think the jade has brought her all of those health benefits Peter had promised.
After the jade factory we were off to the Great Wall.
The Randall's on the Great Wall
Nothing like a little Tsingtao, aka skunk beer, after a little stair climbing in 100% humidity.
Ew, just thinking about the smell of that beer makes me gag.
The Great Wall was a once in a life time experience. I loved climbing the wall and sharing the experience with Joe and M and D. I will say I was disappointed that so much of the wall had been fixed up and re-built. It was touristy down below where the bus parked and a few Chinese had carried coolers of snacks and drinks up the wall (that's where Joe and Mike got the tasty beer).
That was the end of our first tour. We took the bus to a silk factory, but we were all a bit wiser and didn't get suckered into buying anything.
That night we had the best roasted duck. Beijing roast duck was on our "to-do" list from the start. We have BBQ duck in Korea all the time and it is one of our favorite dinners. The Beijing roasted duck was delicious. It was served with a plum sauce and rice wraps. We went back another night for dinner, it was THAT good!
We also tried this Chinese liquor. I think we decided to call it Dragon Fire or Liquid Dragon. It's hard to tell in this picture but its a tiny little bottle. (Less than 3 ounces, I know because we packed some back with us) You don't very much and to be honest I don't know how much you could drink. It was like liquid fire. It burned. But after a thimble full I had a buzz.
Tour number 2: Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Pearl Factory
This tour was like the other. We signed up a day or two before then all we had to do was show up in the lobby.
It was really rainy this day. We all bought a poncho and we were off. Our tour guide was Jenny. Her English was perfect and she was really laid back.
I thought there were a million people everywhere we went and it was raining. I couldn't imagine what these places would be like on a nice day. Oh and the pushing. Even with smaller crowds, there was pushing and shoving at every line, gate or glass case display. barf.
Here are some pictures from our day.
This tour was just the 4 Randall's and this big black guy from Washington DC. (I wish I remembered his name, I think it was Jerry) His wife was here on business and he traveled with her to see some of the sights. He was a really nice guy but the poor man was being harassed by the Chinese tourists. They would run in front of him to take his picture or stand near him and have a picture taken with him in the background.
On our way back to the hotel we had a stop at the pearl factory. Another tourist trap, but wow! These pearls were beautiful and it was kinda educational.
There were like 35 pearls in that one oyster.
The night market was at the top of Mike's to-do list. He found video's online of this night market showing people eating scorpions, frogs, bugs and various animal testicles. Oh fun! Mike made a map and walking directions for us to find the market.
M and D found a few treats to try. Joe and I played it safe with some deep fried mango.
BBQ octopus tentacles I think... yum.
Overall Beijing was a great trip. Would I go back, no. But I am SO glad we went. I can't imagine another time in my life that I will be able to travel to China with my family. We got to see some amazing sights and we made some great memories.
Peak and Pit from the trip:
Traveling with my family: I love my family and I love traveling with them. I LOVE that M and D came all this way to see us and travel with us. I love that Joe and I get to travel.
The Great Wall: It wasn't what I expected but it was amazing. It's hard to even understand, or wrap my brain around how people actually built this huge wall.
Haggling when shopping: I love fighting for the price I want to pay. It was fun in China because most of the little shop owners played into it and wanted banter back and forth. And I got some great prices.
Reconstruction: I was so disappointed to learn that so many of the sights we visited had been re-build or re-painted. (some of if for the 2008 Olympics) I liked the idea of seeing the original structures, no matter what condition they may be in. Knowing that they were not originals or that they had been changed made them loose the magic a little for me.
But that's it. We had a great trip!