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Walk The Great Wall + Xian Extension WGT
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I've just about settled back into the humdrum of daily life at home following a fantastic trip to China. It was a busy trip - so no long lie ins, but when you have China on your doorstep - you do want to get up and get out there!
The itineary was pretty busy if you took part in everything on offer -but thats good - might as well make the most of your time there. Accommodation was fine too, considering we were off the tourist trail at times.
We started with a couple of days in a rather foggy Beijing, seeing Tiananmen Sq, Forbidden City, then a rikshaw tour of the Hutongs and a lovely lunch in a local familiy's home. More scrummy meals and also enjoyed a bit of culture at an acrobat show and also Beijing Opera.
Then we moved on to the main part of the holiday - the reason I had come to China - walking the Great Wall of China. It really didn't disappoint. The itinerary was great - we travelled to different parts of the Wall, some restored, some unrestored - both at the sea, at a reservoir, and snaking along the tops of hills which seemed to roll on for ever - pretty amazing. I visited in October so the weather was nice - not too hot, plus the Autumn colours were just beautiful. I was quite surprised as I expected the Wall to be really busy with other tourists, but because the tour takes you off the beaten track - some days we felt like we had the Wall all to ourselves which was an unexpected bonus.
You do travel around a lot on this trip - almost a different hotel every night (certainly when trekking on the Wall), sometimes travelling by train (including an overnight sleeper train which was great fun!) but otherwise by our own private bus. I have to say that the bus journeys were a highlight in themselves, I found watching the Chinese countryside way of living passing by quite fascinating.
We were lucky enough to get a gorgeous sunny day for our day trekking on the Wall between Simatai and Jingshaling - I think probably the highlight of my trip.
Our tour guides were really great (thanks again to Peter the tour leader) and the group was fab as well - much to my relief as I was travelling alone, but I needn't have worried as the group was great. Leaving the Wall, some of us continued on to Xian to go see the Terracotta Warriers - another highlight as they were pretty amazing.
Another unexpected highlight was the city of Xian itself - a great city. So all in all a great holiday and I would recommend it to anyone. My advice for those travelling... probably best to pack some walking boots - I hadn't and although not a problem, it would have been good to have them, as the Wall was sometimes quite rubbly underfoot, and maybe pack walking sticks too as the wall is quite steep in places. There was always the option not to trek though if anyone was didn't want to continue, and the guides are great and were on hand to give you a helping hand if necessary.
My only other piece of advice would be ensure that you have a spare camera memory card with you for the trip as I took loads of photos! p.s. Also a note to say thankyou to Jane on the Explore 24hr helpline - bad weather on my journey home delayed my internal China flight such that I missed my main flight connection. I was travelling alone, so I was a little overwhelmed/bewildered trying to sort out replacement flights in Beijing airport for the next day - and also trying to get the airline to put me up in a hotel for the night - but a few phonecalls to Explore really helped me and reassured me, it was so nice hearing a friendly helpful voice on the end of the phone -keeping me right and keeping me calm! (WGT -10th July 2010)