Gubeikou (古北口) fits the bill perfectly. It's one of the easier sections to hike, it typically draws few tourists, and the surrounding landscape is spectacular. It's only a few short hours from Beijing, so if the Great Wall is on your travel radar, Gubeikou is a great section to consider visiting.
Having lived in Beijing for the last three years, Katie and I have visited the Great Wall many times. Contrary to popular belief, the Great Wall isn't one continuous wall. There are many sections; some have eroded to almost nothing, others remain relatively intact, and still others that have been completely restored to their former glory. My favorite sections (as you probably guessed) are un-restored, yet still hike-able.
At the end of our disastrous bike trip through Yunnan (read more about it here), Katie and I had one last day to spend around Dali's old town. We decided to rent a bike and pedal around nearby Erhai (洱海) Lake. Shaped like an ear (“Erhai” means “ear-shaped sea”) and at 1,972 meters (6,470 feet) above sea level, the lake is the second-largest highland lake in all of China.
Katie and I had been planning to get married for the last few months. And now, we were both back in the States for the summer. We spent a few weeks making our final preparations, then our big day came. And what a day it was! I don't even remember it very well, it went by so fast. But everything seemed to go smoothly. And this was a great chance to get caught up with friends and family we hadn't seen in a long time, especially considering that we live on the opposite side of the planet.
Shanghai, population 24 million, is the biggest city in China. By some measurements, it's the biggest city in the world. I've visited Shanghai three times since moving to China, two years ago. The city is all business. The Pudong district, on the far side of the Huangpu River, is full of skyscrapers, including the Shanghai Tower, the second-tallest building in the world. The French Concession has beautiful broad avenues and boutique shops. Even in “old” places such as the Yuyuan gardens, shopping is the name of the game.
Last summer, Katie and I traveled to Berlin, where she lived for two years. Katie was a great tour guide, taking me to her old haunts and to the city's many parks and tourism attractions. I had a great time getting to know this world-class city for two full weeks. Many thanks to Maor, Christina and Liese for hosting us. I hope to see you again in the next few years.
Here are a few of my pictures from our trip:
Our Train arrived in Da Nang at 6am. We walked to the main road and got on the bus to Hoi An. The attendant was wearing sunglasses, and a mask covered her mouth. A local woman who boarded the bus in front of us paid 20,000 dong. I tried giving the attendant the same amount, but she demanded 40,000 each. After getting ripped off – and threatened with a knife – in Can Tho, I was already leery of Vietnamese bus attendants. And now we were being charged double, simply because we were foreigners.
I looked out of my taxi's window and took in the city. There were few cars and thousands of motorcycles. Lane markers meant nothing, but there was so much traffic, it was impossible to drive quickly or aggressively. Filth and poverty were all around me. Many foreigners, too. Like the locals, they drove motorcycles, and squeezed between other bikes whenever a tiny space opened. They wore shorts, muscle shirts and flip-flops in the sweltering heat. One motorcycle passenger leaned back and clenched the seat behind him. His hair was pulled into a bun behind his head. His driver wore a helmet, but he didn't. He looked happy as the breeze whipped against his unprotected face. This was Phnom Penh, the sprawling capital of Cambodia. It was my first day in Southeast Asia.
According to legend, early in the thirteenth century a nomadic tribal leader went on a hunting expedition to a mountain at the eastern edge of the Eurasian Steppe. As he stood on the summit, the spectacular view of the surrounding grasslands and forests inspired him. The man suddenly realized his desire to unify all of the tribes in the region. He gazed at the golden sunrise and commanded to his tribesmen, “Moerdaoga!” – “Ride into the battle on your horses!” The man's name was Genghis Khan, and this land would soon fall under his rule.
Wangfujing is a popular shopping district in central Beijing. One day, Katie and I were walking along Wangfujing's main street with Brendan, a friend from home. We found an alley that turned out to be the famous “critter market.” This place looked like it was designed intentionally to gross people out with its strange foods and beverages for sale.