The modern development of Gubei Water Town was constructed and opened to the public in late 2014. Located at a significant distance from Beijing proper, the cleverly branded ‘Beijiing Wtown’ is an immaculately presented and extremely modern replica of the ancient water town of Wuzhen (located in the deep south of China, in Zhejiang province). Its newness doesn’t seem to bother the millions of Chinese tourists who flock to it each year. All in all, its careful design and pristine waters still make for an enjoyable experience. After all, Wuzhen is a little far from northern China so why not enjoy a southern water town in the north? And, besides, who wants to go to an old and run down ancient city when you can experience mint condition near Beijing?!
Though it feels a little contrived, like walking through the set of a period-style Chinese soap opera, yet it is a great opportunity to experience ‘ancient’ life with all the modern amenities. Ladies carrying selfie sticks wander the town in traditional Chinese costumes.
We enjoyed the plethora of ice cream stores. I would have liked to have seen more snack stores and ancient crafts.
Everything within the town is immaculately designed to fit the style. EXCEPT, I’m amazed that someone allowed the huge ugly hotels to be constructed on the outskirts of town. Built in modern style, these monstrosities rise imposingly above the town and spoil the otherwise quaint experience.
I would say that the town is more beautiful by day than by night. Even though it is famed for its night beauty, I believe the developers could have found a better lighting designer to highlight the ancient architecture.
[My friend Petra is a brilliant Lighting Architect, and I cannot recommend her enough:
https://www.lightingdesigner.com.au/. Because of her I am forever dissatisfied with lighting design!]
The night highlight was certainly seeing Simatai Great Wall by night. It is apparently the only part of the Wall that you can view at night. It is also reputedly dangerous. I was happy to keep my feet on solid ground and to enjoy the Wall from afar!
Gubei Zhiguang Hot Spring Holiday Hotel古北之光温泉度假酒店
We stayed the night at the Hot Spring Holiday Hotel, a pleasant Resort buried deep within the town, just above the snack street. The hotel provides a welcome oasis from the crowded streets outside. It also provides the unique opportunity to drink directly from the taps. The water is delicious. Accommodation at this 5 star resort includes free entry to Gubei Town, breakfast, and a soak in a hot spring spa center – an experience not to be missed (make sure you bring your swimwear, though cap and goggles are not required)!
There are 2 spa options: the Gubei Spa Center separates men from women and apparently allows for an outdoor spa experience with a view up to the Wall. We chose the Grand Royal Hot Spring Center, newly renovated and reopened just days before our arrival. It allows for families to soak together in the one area. The Hot Spring Center also has baths with a view out to the Wall. By arriving in the late afternoon we not only enjoyed a day view, but also got to enjoy a night view – the Simatai Wall lit up at night. We also appreciated the snack bar. We could order hot and cold food and beverages delivered to us as we soaked in the baths.
By far one of my most bizarre experiences in China was the entertainment at the Gubei Spa Center. As we were enjoying our soak in the spa, I pointed out to my husband the stage, complete with a pole, in the very center of the pool complex, surrounded by all the little pools we were soaking in. At 7:30pm, staff mopped down the stage, and announced that the entertainment was about to begin. Bright disco lights lit up the room. Loud music disturbed the otherwise tranquil spa setting. Suddenly just about the only 5 foreigners in Gubei town skipped and pranced their way onto the stage, clad in their sequins and tassels. These 4 ladies + 1 man then proceeded to step out their several demonstrative routines, including one Dirty Dancing routine, before the crowd of Chinese toddlers and grandparents who were soaking in the baths. Everyone looked on in wide-eyed amazement, clapping politely between routines. I looked on in horror, awe at times, as a decorated lift descended and ascended the stage between acts, allowing various combinations of dancers to enter and exit the stage with ease. I suddenly remembered that I was about my own children’s age when Dirty Dancing was released onto the big screen. I remember convincing my mother to take us to watch it, and then her cringing as she realized it was not entirely appropriate for our young eyes! At that very moment I wanted to cover my own children’s eyes. Or maybe they won’t notice…
My mind was baffled by the identity of these foreigners. Do they live in Gubei? Do they also dance at other gigs each night, perhaps interspersing the Chinese Opera and traditional Chinese dancers at the Sun and Moon Island Stage? How much do they earn on the stage of a Hot Spring Center, dancing to a crowd of polite and confused Chinese families as they soak in hot tubs?
There is a Chinese phrase 哭笑不得 – not knowing whether to laugh or cry – and that certainly describes my experience at the spa that night. If the Chinese now have a better impression of foreigners, I can only smile.
Getting there and away: Forget the public bus option to Gubei Water Town (buses 980 from Dongzhimen + swap to 51 or 37). It’s slow!
Take the specialized private bus from Dongzhimen to Gubei Water Town Car Parking Lot 2. Cost is 48RMB per seat, trip is approximately 2 hours. See here for more details: https://www.gubeiwatertown.com/Getting%20there%20%20away/express-bus
Even better, drive yourself if you can. There is ample parking available.
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