Toilet star rating = 3 star
We took a "No Shopping" tour to see the Great Wall at Mutianyu, about an hour or so north of the capital. The tour went straight to the wall, allowed us about two and a half hours to explore, stopped for a buffet lunch and then visited the Ming Tombs on the way home.
This was our first experience of Chinese driving so I should probably explain the road rules. In China they drive on the right hand side of the road. Or in the middle. Or on the left. Okay, so they aren't actually road 'rules' per se. People just seem to drive wherever they can see a space. Within the city there is a bus and bike lane that runs alongside the footpath that is supposed to be reserved for buses, motorbikes and bicycles, but it seems like everyone uses it, driving both with and against the flow of traffic. And if things get a little congested, the bikes, scooters and and motor tri-shaws have no hesitation to jumping the curb and riding on the footpath.
So the drive to the Wall was a real eye opener, as in wide-open in terror kind of way. Our bus driver liked the middle of the road especially, swerving back into the right lane whenever an oncoming bus or truck forced him to. Pedestrians too are a constant danger on the road. Out in the country the roadway is pretty much just an extra wide path and people wander across the road and stop in the middle to talk without looking out for traffic. Country people also use the road to dry their produce - corn especially - and to prevent damage to their crops, they place rocks in the road to force the drivers around them. Drivers have to be extremely cautious.
But we arrived safe and sound at our destination. All in all it wasn't too busy at Mutianyu. We took a cable car up to the top and set off walking. The wall itself is an amazing feat of engineering. It runs along the spine of a mountain range that used to separate the Chinese and Mongol kingdoms. It must have involved hundreds of thousands of workers, labouring endlessly to quarry the stone and transport it up the steep mountainsides. The Wall was originally started by the emperor QuiShing, the imaginatively titled First Emperor (he decreed that every subsequent emperor was to named in numerical sequence only - no names or titles. It didn't catch on) as one of his monumental state building exercises. He also built the Tomb of the Terracotta Warriors so more about him later. The Great Wall isn't really one wall, but a sequence of walls built at different times and for different reasons and then linked up later.
Some of the sections of the wall were extremely steep, almost like stairs. The last section was too steep for me with my fear of heights but Shelly continued on while I waited at the bottom like a little girl. Some of our group went down via a tobogan run but we took the chair lift.
After the Wall we visited the Ming Tombs situated in a valley some kilometres away from Beijing. The emperor Yongle, who moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing in the 15th century built his tomb out here and there are some 13 tombs in the valley, Only one has ever been excavated and that was the one we visited. Inside it was like a concrete bomb shelter and not very exciting. We could safely have skipped this excursion.
That night we chilled around the bars at Beipan Lake, just north of the Forbidden City before we picked up our bags at the hostel and headed to the train station. We had booked a hard sleeper berth on the train to Datong.