Our parents and sister just visited China for the first time. We won’t bore you with the details on what we did in Shanghai, but since many of you are hosting visitors and/or visiting China for the first time for the Olympics, here are some of the highlights from our travels to Beijing including suggestions for elderly and disabled (something we couldn’t find anywhere else online).
We were looking for a moderately priced (by our Chinese-like standards) and centrally located hotel close to a lot of the famous tourist sites. A friend in Beijing inspected some of the cheaper “suggested” hotels listed on Elong.com and Ctrip.com and found them to be shabby at best and wretched at worst. In the end, we decided on the chain Motel 286 (the luxury version of Motel 168), located directly across from the new Hyatt. The rooms were decent sized with modern, Ikea-like decoration. The only odd note is that many of the bathrooms have partial, see through glass walls, which can be a bit uncomfortable for guests who don’t want to know each other that well. Shanghaiist booked online and paid RMB 378 (USD 55) per night pre-Olympic madness. Motel 268 Wang Fu Jing Inn, Address:NO.19 Jin Yu St, Bei Jing, Tel No.:86-010-51671666
The Forbidden City is huge and daunting, as it was designed to be. But for the disabled and elderly, the 2+ hour walk may seem too challenging. However, there are options! Once you make it as far as the ticket gate, the Forbidden City offers free wheelchair service with a RMB 500 deposit (look for the booth on the left side, just before you give your ticket). The caveat, though, is you’ll need to push the chair yourself (we also suspect you also need to return the chair to the front gate, not the back gate where everyone exits, but that’s unconfirmed). A great alternative is an enterprising businessman who for 200 RMB (with no deposit required) offers to push the wheelchair through the Forbidden City and returns it to the front gate. He has 10 wheelchairs and offers some type of full day service for 800rmb. Our wheel chair pusher spoke fluent English and was extremely helpful. His number is (86) 13552812818 or 13683620828 or you can find him waiting around the wheelchair booth.
There are three popular spots for visiting the Great Wall from Beijing. Badaling is the closest and most touristy, Mutianyu offers amenities like a cable car and toboggan slide, but sees less people, and Simatai is the most remote location. For the avid outdoorsy types, there is also a 4+ hour hike from Jinshan to Simatai.
Shanghaiist opted for Mutianyu (40 RMB entrance fee) and the 2-hour walk from the enclosed cable car (35 RMB one way) to the ski lift car. For those physically challenged, we definitely don’t recommend this! The Great Wall is basically made up of steps up or down with no handrails and once you start walking there is no exiting until you reach the end. The walk was very difficult for our parents and in retrospect, we would have gone up in the ski lift car (since it’s closest to the car park), walked around for a while and then taken the same lift down or used the toboggan run (40 RMB and loads of fun).
For lunch, we stopped at the quirky School House Restaurant on the way to the Wall. They have a limited, but good selection of Western food and free tortilla chips with salsa (our Mom couldn’t get enough after eating Chinese food for days). When the sky is clear, you can see the Great Wall from their terrace top dining area. They also have a Chinese restaurant built into the Wall.
To get to Mutianyu, you can join a tour group, take a bus, or rent a car. Shanghaiist hired a private car with an English-speaking driver, John Ping. John is a very friendly guy with excellent English. His phone number is +86 13146889929 and website is www.beijingcardriver.com. John typically charges about 600 RMB for the trip to Mutianyu from the Wangfujing area. This is about the same price we were quoted from non-English speaking drivers, too. We ended up paying 700 RMB as we also visited the Beijing Zoo to see the Panda bears (20 RMB and right now the zoo is housing many of the Sichuan earthquake refugee pandas) and stopped by the Bird’s Nest so we could snap a few pictures.