Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 1667: Great Wall Marathon Tour
By Jeff H from New Hampshire, Spring 2009
Trip Description: Highlights of a trip with four old friends in Beijing and Hong Kong for 10 days 11-21 May 2009.
Destinations: Countries - China
Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Day Tours; Sightseeing; Walking/Hiking; Package Tour; 3-4 people
Page 1 of 1: Great Wall Marathon, Beijing and Hong Kong
Since the four of us were part of a larger tour group, which in turn was part of many other tour groups headed for the Great Wall Marathon, my report will be somewhat superficial, as we were not allowed much free (Slow Travel) time.
Getting There: 3:00am start, long layover in Dulles, 13+ hours to Beijing using the polar route. The arrival hall/terminal is awesome and new. We had plenty of time to check it out since we had to wait two hours for our tour guy to get the bus and get to hotel.
Beijing is huge (population 15 million, and 6500 square miles); grid pattern layout; wide streets, well kept, flowers down the median of lots of the wider streets and lots of high rise construction. The country village of Huangyaguan where the race was is two hours out of town, nestled in a valley between two mountains. Out in the country there was lots of disrepair, demolition, reconstruction everywhere (like after an earthquake); lots of clay and loose stone, brick and concrete laying all over the place, appears to live off Great Wall tourists.
Hong Kong, of course is compact, with well engineered system of flyover roads, tunnels and elevated walkways; a gorgeous skyline of colorful sky scrapers and a laser show across the city at 8pm.
Beijingers are friendly. After the Olympic experience they may still be getting used to foreigners. The transplants from the small villages are especially curious of “Big Noses,” as they refer to Westerners (many have never seen a Westerner); Hong Kong is also friendly, but not as “enchanted” with foreign visitors, since it’s been an open import/export city for 150 years.
Both cities are doing quite well by appearances; construction can be seen in most any city block in Beijing; a huge 118 storied building going up in HK on the Kowloon peninsula – Bamboo scaffolding everywhere; lots of late model upscale brand name cars in both cities.
Transportation and Prices
Taxis are inexpensive, especially in HK; food and drinks are reasonable in Beijing and, although more expensive in HK, Happy Hours abound in both cities.
The Marathon Course and The Great Wall
We went to the course on Thursday for orientation and back on Saturday for the actual race. The Great Wall part of the course is spectacular and a difficult walk, run or climb – 2600 steps spread over 2.2 miles of up and down terrain across the ridge of mountains; some dangerous parts with steep and deep drop offs of hundreds of feet and no railing or other restraints on some stretches (China needs to invent OSHA!); a goat path was slippery clay along the final steep drop of 1000 feet into the valley and the Yin and Yang Plaza in town, which was the nexus of all race-related activities.
Highlights of the Tour
Olympic Park area, Pandas at the Zoo.
Lowlights of the Tour
Street hawkers in Beijing; lost travel document wallet in Hong Kong; $500 left in room safe when checking out; scuffle with an irate street hawker.
Specific Sites and Attractions
Beijing: Basically none, except several evenings and late nights inside the hotel bar, lounge and Italian restaurant.
Hong Kong: Re-explored Stanley Market; Went to Lan Kwai Fong – Schnurrbart’s for German dinner (left my travel document and passport wallet in the taxi); Two nights of dinner in Kowloon within walking distance of the Renaissance Kowloon hotel.
Being on a tour itinerary cramped our options somewhat, but insured we saw the basics in both cities and kept us from wasting our time; although it kept us from checking out the more “local” restaurants, markets and pubs, too, something four old high school friends would have enjoyed.
The countryside couldn’t be more different from the city of Beijing, which is very “westernized” with all the international food and clothing and car franchises represented and with lots of shopping, hundreds and hundreds of high rise apartments and plenty of traffic on wide and flowered streets. Outside the city there is lots of flat terrain for many vegetable farms all being worked by hand, with few machines or tractors. Also a number of nondescript low-slung buildings that dot the landscape. These could have been small manufacturing plants, or farm storage buildings or even rural housing.
The people in Beijing are very friendly and many are fond of unabashedly staring at Westerners. They have limited English skills, but seem to be trying. HK is more businesslike, having been open for 150 years. English is spoken everywhere.
Olympic Park is massive – the Water Sports building and the Olympic stadium are humongous. The entire Olympic Park complex is watched over by a 20 story security tower, which was somewhat disconcerting, but must have been a requirement for the Olympics themselves, rather than now.
Those Beijing hawkers mentioned above sell anything from trinkets to scarves to handbags to gifts of all sorts and they will not relent! For me, they spoiled the whole experience of visiting the wonderful tour stop sites. They hover in the parking lots and sidewalks surrounding the actual sites and it felt like running a gauntlet at each stop. Some people find the “art of the deal” fun and encourage the interplay. I find it a distraction, especially since what goods they have are low quality knockoffs and seconds – why waste time and energy getting a “good” price on a piece of junk? I’d rather be listening to the guide tell me the history of the place or what to look for, photo opportunities, etc. and being bothered (harassed) by these “Hello” people drove me to distraction.
Accommodations and Food Tour food (lunches and dinners) was meant not to offend anyone’s tastes, it was always Chinese, but restrained and pretty bland; not very exciting, but safe. The Italian restaurant in the Renaissance Beijing Capital was very good – we ate two dinners there. In HK we ate out all three nights and two lunches, but only once in HK city.
We stayed in Kowloon and it appears to be experiencing a bit of an upsurge in attracting name brand retail, restaurants and hotels and is attracting a higher percentage of people from its big sister city (Hong Kong) than usual. There are a number of alleys and side streets lined with bars and casual restaurants along Salisbury Road and Nathan Road.
Renaissance Beijing Capital is ultra modern, clean and big, with five restaurants, a bar and a nightclub on campus; good breakfast buffet; sculptures and modern art in the common areas; large rooms; state of the art rest rooms!
Renaissance Kowloon is older and perhaps one star less – smaller rooms, less “on site” options, but a good buffet breakfast and very large bar-lounge.
Both cities have a wide range of food options, although we chose on site Italian in Beijing twice, not very adventuresome, but the hotel Italian restaurant was very good. In HK we went to Schnurrbarts in Lan Kwai Fong for German, and nearby the hotel for German again for lunch and then a short walk to dinner at Mama’s, which was continental with a Mexican twist on things, a dinner at Wooloomooloo (an Aussie place) one night, one of a string of eight to ten restaurant along Salisbury Road in Kowloon with indoor/outdoor seating, – and one lunch down in Stanley after a quick beer at Smugglers.
Unusual Events and Problems
My friend Nick finished second in his age group for the 5k part of the race.
One New Yorker in our larger group ran into a business associate on the streets of Beijing (neither of them knew the other was to be there!).
A hawker took a swing at one person in our group and Nick and I had to restrain the hawker by shoving and grabbing while he flailed away – he apparently had “lost” a negotiation and was arguing to "undo" the deal several minutes after the fact. He was irate that the woman from our group ignored his plea, saying, “A deal’s a deal!” He tried to punch her, Nick stepped in and shoved him; he tried to punch Nick, I stepped in and grabbed him and pinned him to a wall – when I let him go, he tried to punch me and I pinned him again and he finally calmed down. Bet he’s in trouble with his boss – for making a poor deal and for attacking his livelihood - Tourists!
I left my travel document and passport wallet in a cab in Hong Kong the first night in town. We ate dinner and hailed a cab from the same company. I asked the driver from what the protocol might be when this occurs (must be a pretty regular occurrence in a city the size of HK); he called his dispatcher and his lost and found department and gave me the number. I gave it to the hotel desk when we got back to our hotel. The cab company had the wallet and the cabbie in whose cab I had left it, delivered it to me personally at 1:00am that morning at the hotel in Kowloon.
As we left Beijing on the bus to the airport, Nick remembered that he had stowed $500 in the room safe. He was dropped off a two blocks from the hotel, told to take a taxi to the airport after he got his money – we grabbed his luggage upon arrival and waited until he showed – maybe 20 minutes.
Coach seats over and back – unusual, no; a problem, YES. 13+ hours over and 16 coming back – not good.
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