I first visited Mutianyu in 2006 and unlike so much in China it has barely changed in six years. The only obvious addition is the shiny new Subway sandwich shop that greets visitors at one side of the car park.
We’d come to Mutianyu to entertain guests from the UK, so ignored the Subway and went to the small area of street food traders to buy breakfast. I wanted to introduce our guests to the joys of Jian Bing for breakfast, so ordered three to share.
A Jian Bing is a Chinese crepe that usually sells for 3.5rmb, so little that I don’t really ask the price any more. Handing over a 20rmb note for the three, the woman shook her head and pointed to a tiny sticker saying 15rmb. 5rmb is pricey for a pancake, but we’re in a tourist spot and I hadn’t asked the price, so my own fault. I waited for my change. She shook her head again and said “15rmb each”.
“Too expensive, it’s not even a good pancake!” It really was a stodgy, tasteless mess, but this comment made her rather angry, so I paid the 45rmb and left her screaming and shouting.
Welcome to China guys! As much as I love Chinese street food, this is one location where I’d suggest just going to the new Subway (or even better, bring a picnic).
Past the dodgy food stalls, visitors to Mutianyu are greeting by a melee of traders fighting for your attention to sell the usual Chinese knick-knacks, from Mao caps to mass produced porcelain plates depicting traditional China scenes like the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven and sword-fighting monkeys.
A small castellated structure marks the entrance to the cable car. Riding the fragile looking cable cars through the chill morning air we criss-crossed over the shiny metal toboggan run, accompanied by the screams of excited riders taking corners at speed.
At the top, there’s the choice of heading right for steep climbs and less visitors, or left for shallower gradients and a view of the wall trailing across the hills.
Having followed the wall along much of its length, from where it meets the sea in the west at Shanhaiguan, to the far eastern end in Jiayuguan I was too lazy to hike about much and left the others to it. I retired to the top of a tower to eavesdrop on an American tour group’s wildly inaccurate discussion on day-to-day life in China.
Curiosity sated, the others returned and we went to the top of the toboggan run. There was nobody else waiting so the attendants let us go immediately. I was at the front and set off at a reasonable pace. The sled goes pleasingly fast and it frequently feels like you could launch yourself over the side if you didn’t apply the break.
Back in 2006 a little caution was wise, as the tunnels were designed for shorter Chinese people, so the metal hoops crossed the track at my neck height! Six years and a few possible beheadings later the hoops have been raised to a safer height.
Halfway down I could see a white hat in the distance, but guessed they’d be finished before I could get much closer.
Slaloming down a few more turns the white hatted girl grew closer and closer until I was only one bend behind. An attendant berated her for going too slowly and he eventually gave her a rough shove.
She yanked on the break and came to a halt again. By now, I was only a few feet behind and had to slow enough not to hit her. A few seconds later, the others caught up and all shouted for me to get a move on.
“What the f___ are you doing?” – this loudly directed at me from a rapidly approaching friend.
She turned round and we locked eyes. She looked a bit offended and let the brake off a little.
This was still very slow, but at least she was moving
Now we’d built into a procession of five sleds, which those at the rear still berating me in a variety of languages, and the girl in front still thinking it was me shouting at her.
This little convoy slowly accumulated members, all unhappy with those in front for spoiling their fun.
By now we’re going so slow that gravity and momentum have given up and we resort to pulling ourselves along the sharp metal sides of the slope. This is much harder than just enjoyably sliding down, and the combination of sweating and freezing air is making me uncomfortably cold.
…much time passes…
Eventually we reached the bottom and the attendants are surprised to see eight people arrive almost simultaneously. The girl in front greets her bored looking friends, who presumably have been waiting as long as we have, and walk off without pausing to look at the train wreck they’ve caused.
Tips for visiting Mutianyu
The entrance fee is 45rmb, and the cable car an extra 65rmb, or you can walk up through the trees.
There are actually two cable cars. A new capsule type, or the older ski-lift type. Buying a ticket for the two seater ski lift type includes a ticket for the toboggan ride down.
We drove, but it’s possible to get there by taxi or bus. The most efficient way for a small group is to take the bus from Beijing to the town of Huairou then a short taxi ride to the Wall. Ask your taxi to wait as those who pick up at the Wall can and will massively overcharge.