May 1. The first day of the 4 day holiday and at 9:30am our adventure begins…
Of course, in China, you don’t get a 4 day holiday for nothing. Officially the Wednesday (May 1) is the public holiday. But in order to get the Thursday (May 2) off, the government officially swapped the day with the previous Sunday, and the Sunday became a work/school day. Then in order to get the Friday (May 3) as a holiday, the following Sunday (May 5) became a work/school day, making for a 6 day work week following a 4 day holiday. So it was slightly painful to work 2 consecutive Sundays (and to have our morning church rearranged to 7:30pm). But that’s the price you pay for a 4 day long holiday!
Anyway, back to the adventure. Armed with charged public transport cards, backpacks and a couple of small pull-along bags, we head for the subway station and out to Dongzhimen. So far so good until we arrive at the Dongzhimen Transport Hub to notice that we are not the only ones trying to get out of town for the holiday! We get the feeling that the bulk of the travelers are ‘going home’ rather than on vacation. We join a queue that snakes its way around the bus terminal. About an hour later, at about 11:20am, we finally board public bus 980 bound for Miyun 密云.
GREEN is the best way to describe us as travelers in China. The approximately 10 people in front of us opt to stand back and let us board. Great, we think, why wait when you can get on the next bus? We quickly throw our bags under the bus and jump on board. There are certainly 4 spare seats on board, but they are all separate. No problems, we think. We’re only going 7 stops. We can grin and bear it. And we promptly scatter and take our seats.
Before long it is evident that a good number of Beijingers are also leaving the city for the holiday. The highway north is jammed with car after car. The bus starts and stops. And chugs. And chugs again. What was meant to be a 1 hour drive stretches into 2 hours. Gosh I wish I hadn’t put my water bottle and snacks under the bus. Dread starts to fill me as I imagine the long journey ahead, painfully aware that every kilometer this bus takes me away from Beijing means another dreadful kilometer back home again. Just past the 3 hour mark, famished and dehydrated, we tumble off the bus beside the river in Miyun.
The Miyun area is very pretty. The perfect place to refresh. We cross the road and head straight for the Muslim restaurant. Fantastic roasted meats and a great toilet. Totally worth the trip!
We enjoy a stroll along the river and a play in the playground before searching for onward transport. We don’t have to search too far. There are plenty of drivers (black taxi drivers) looking for a fare. One after the other they follow us as we wander around Miyun.
Our next plan WAS to ride bus 25 a harrowing 60-something stops along a 60-something kilometer winding road, then walk 1 km to the guest house we had booked for the night. When the 3:30pm bus arrives, we can see it is ‘standing room only’. The lady black taxi driver who is following us at this time points out that the buses come only once per hour, and that the final bus of the day arrives at 4:30pm. We let go of the bus idea, and follow old Ms Zhang to her van.
After 1 ½ hours on the windy road, and without any stops, we are glad to pay this lady 200RMB to take us the rest of the way to the guesthouse.
Ms Zhang, our driver, is a lively woman, with a deep understanding of the region, having spent her whole life in the Miyun area. She has worked as a 980 bus driver for 32 years. Considering she has a 30 year old daughter, her bus-driving career predates her mothering career. Ms Zhang proudly tells us how she drives bus 980 1 or 2 rounds down to Dongzhimen and back each day, 3 days in a row then with 1 day off before the cycle begins again. That particular day was her ‘off day’. She would drive down to Dongzhimen again tomorrow. She volunteers that her salary of 8000RMB per month is sufficient for her needs, especially in a place like Miyun. Together with her husband she has bought and is renovating their own 4 walled house in Miyun. Their daughter has bought a property within the Gubei Watertown.
** I totally recommend you ask for Ms Zhang or her husband He Qiang to drive you to/from Beijing and or the Miyun area. They are friendly and helpful and offer abundant local experience.
Finally at 5:30pm we reach our day’s destination, a comfortable 4 walled house at the foot of Panlongshan Great Wall, the Cheng Tao Xiao Zhu Folk Inn. We are greeted by the friendly owner, Angela, and her 2 active kids. The 7 year old girl is delighted to discover that we have brought a couple of Chinese-speaking kids along with us (our children!) and she quickly takes them off to meet the dog (named ‘Apple’), as well as the chickens and geese out the back. Immediately we become aware that this guest house attracts foreign tourists from all around the world.
Angela’s friendliness and helpfulness really add to the experience. While she chats to and serves the guests, her husband and his parents take care of the cooking and cleaning. They make a wonderful team. Every meal is home-cooked with care. Really wholesome!
My kids love the guest house. They follow the grandma and grandpa around, helping them pick wild fruits & vegetables from the common land across the road, washing them in large tubs. What an amazing experience to be part of this extended Chinese family for a couple of days. And to top it all off, the guest house is just around the corner from the Gubeikou Cultural and History Tourism Area (Panlongshan Great Wall) and large wooden playground for kids
(see separate entry). And in the other direction is a lake with a view up to the highest Great Wall tower in the region. Who could ask for more?
For bookings, contact Angela directly at Cheng Tao Xiao Zhu Folk Inn.
Or for further assistance with bookings, transport, accommodation, guided tours etc, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org