BIKING NORTH OF BEIJING TO CHENGDE, AND INNER MONGOLIA -- SEPT 2011
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Attn: Selena Guo
34 DongHuangChengGen South St, Beijing
Tel: + 86 13381400738
+ 86 10 65229478
+ 86 10 65265857
Fax: + 86 10 58850982
Hutongs and Forbidden City Bike Tour:
Read our report on Trip Advisor or reproduced below.
GPS Track Downloads
These GPS tracks are in kmz format. They will automatically open in Google Earth. They are provided to show where we traveled. When you click on the link, you will probably be asked to open or save the file. If you have Google Earth installed, simply select open. While these tracks are accurate, they are not really suitable for serious GPS enthusiasts.
Biking around Beijing
The ride in green is the Hutongs Ride [AM]
The ride shown in Blue is the Forbidden City ride and tour [PM]
Biking north of Beijing
Each day's ride is a different color
Sections between rides were covered by van.
Van travel is necessary in order to see various parts of the landscape separated by great distance.
7 Day Tour to Great Wall, Chengde, and Grasslands of Inner Mongolia:
Day1: From Near Huanghuacheng Great Wall to Near Miyun
Total riding distance 48Km. Total elevation+300m -500m
This was a lovely warm up ride which started 16Km from the Great Wall. The 2.5Km out & back [5Km total with 300m of elevation gain] was exceptional – especially because we had great weather. After lunch and the hike, we rode another 32 Km to the outskirts of Miyun. At that point it made perfect sense to hop in the Van for a drive to our hotel. It would be easy for one to ride another 10Km. We simply could have started 26Km from the Great Wall instead of 16Km. However an earlier start would have added greatly to the vertical gain. We really enjoyed the scenery, the daily life, and the commerce in this area.
2: From Miyun to Jinshanling Great Wall
Total riding distance 58.5Km. Total elevation +450m -250m
We took the Van out of
Miyun to the north side of the reservoir. Then we rode a short 11.5km to
lunch. After lunch we rode another 47Km to the Jihshanling hotel. Toward the
end of the ride we were repeatedly asked if we had ridden enough and would like
to utilize the Van. In fact, we wanted to ride about 10km more and had some
disappointment that the hotel came so quickly. In the middle of this ride there
was a 16km stretch on the National Highway. It was very dusty due to
construction and was full of big trucks. That 16Km was not very enjoyable.
Otherwise we were having an excellent time with clean air and lovely scenery.
We appreciated the very pretty agriculture amidst the rolling hills. We were
surprised at the predominance of corn over rice. We noticed that Heber province
is not nearly as economically well off as Beijing province. Lastly, we enjoyed
the villages – some modern strip malls and some old style villages set back 100m
from the main road.
Our suggestion for this day would have been to start riding 20 to 25 Km before we actually started. This would have meant riding a good bit of the clockwise route around the west and north of the reservoir. The lunch spot was good. Then the van could get used for roughly 10-15km of the afternoon ride in order to avoid the worst stretches of the National highway.
When we got to Jinshanling we were offered the option to walk on the Great Wall. Normally we would have taken this option [and maybe most other guests would take this option]. We declined the offer because we had such an extensive Great Wall trek planned for the following week. We had instead hoped for a little more biking.
Day 3: Jinshanling Great Wall to Chengde
Total riding distance 64Km Total Elevation 225m up, 625m down
The morning started with a nice downhill ride of 4 km from the hotel to the national highway. Then we hopped in the van and drove nearly 30 km along the national highway thereby avoiding traffic. When we got to the outskirts of Chengde, the original plan was to get back in the Van. But we were all feeling strong so we road another 5Km into the city center almost to our hotel.
Once again we enjoyed the scenery. However it was beginning to look pretty much the same as we had seen the past two days. The ride into the city proper was memorable.
We got to Chengde early enough that we visited two Tibetian temples. We really enjoyed the visit and took hundreds of pictures.
Day 4: Chengde
We visited Mushroom Rock in the morning and the Summer Resort in the afternoon. This was a straight tourist day w/o any riding. George was a great guide and shard information and history and stories all day long. Bike Beijing provided an excellent agenda for this day-off from the bicycles.
Day 5: Chengde to Grasslands
Total riding distance 35km. Total Elevation +300m up, -300m down
According to plan, we took the take the Van 210km to Saihangba Village just south of the grasslands. It was a long ride through scenery which for most of the journey was much the same as we had already experienced and already widely photographed. Having the van cover this distance was welcome. About 50km from Saihangba we entered a National Forest and suddenly the scenery changed. We enjoyed the wildflowers and had the van stop several times so we could take some pictures.
Midway through the national forest we went to a tourist spot where there were boat rides, horse rides, ATV’s, amusement rides, games of chance, and more. We were not interested to do any of these things and I don’t think George could quite understand why as he claims these things are very popular in China. Well, we have these same ATV’s, horses, amusement, games of chance, etc in the USA. We can do them here whenever we choose. While in China we were more interested in doing the few things we cannot do in the US -- bike in China, bike in grasslands, Great Wall, etc. We spent about an hour at this tourist spot and would have preferred that we got to the grasslands an hour earlier so we could have had more time to ride.
We had lunch in Saihangba at a nice restaurant. Otherwise the town is not so pleasant as it is rather Spartan and full of hustle for nearby tour operators.
Around 3PM we got on our bicycles and headed for the grasslands and Inner Mongolia. The ride started in a lovely forest. After about 7Km, the forest gave way to green rolling grasslands. It was absolutely lovely. Our excitement quickened as we rode the next 17 km. We were at the nice village of Wulan Butonggu Zhanchang Ba. After some discussion we decided on this place for the night. We had just completed some of the most inspiring riding of our whole trip.
After settling in we decided for a late afternoon single track ride on dirt roads and horse paths. George queried the locals to find a route and then dispatched us to go explore [he could not accompany as his bike was a road bike]. We managed 3.5km out and back [7km total]. It was a splendid ride.
Day 6: Mongolian Grasslangs to Fengning.
Total Riding Distance 39.5km. Total elevation +300m, -300m
The plan called for a short morning ride and then a long drive to Fengning grasslands. We expressed some concerns about little time on bicycles and another long day in the Van. The compromise we struck was to start earlier ad get more off-road riding in the Grasslands. George switched from his road bike to the spare mountain bike and we set off for a wonderful 18+ km of off road riding. This morning ride was the highpoint of the entire trip.
Next we sadly rode the 21+ km back to Saihangba where we had lunch. It was 2:30 when we started the 6 hour 290 km drive to Fengning. Without any doubt, this was the least enjoyable part of the trip. The trip was especially uncomfortable for the last 20km which took about 1 hour over a very bumpy road.
Day 7: Fengning back to Beijing.
Total Riding Distance 29.5 km, Total elevation +75m up, -275m down
The next morning was beautiful in the Fengning – but not as pretty as the Inner Mongolian grasslands. George had sad news. Our schedule only permitted a one hour ride in the Fengning and then we would have to go back out the very bumpy road. We only covered 9.5km in our morning ride so we asked to bike the bumpy road instead of riding in the van. We actually beat the van to Datan on the main highway. Then we transited to the Jinshanling hotel for our Great Wall Trek.
Logistics for 7 Day Tour:
The bikes provided by Bike Beijing were excellent and required no repair. Shifts were smooth. Breaks worked well. Having a spare bike in the back of the van was an excellent idea. We appreciated your thoughtfulness.
As mentioned earlier this is the 7th week long bike trip we have taken. On 5 of those trips we had a guide situation just like Bike Beijing and George. On most of the other trips, the guide & driver would spend some time each evening cleaning the bikes and lubricating the chain. We noticed that was NOT the practice with George and Bike Beijing. It was not a problem, just something we noticed. Bike Beijing may wish to consider this since your competitors in other countries are doing this. And it would add to the overall positive experience.
Another bike company from Bangkok also packed moist mini-towels into a cooler and handed each of us one of these at our mid morning, noon, mid afternoon, and end of day stops. The cool moist mini-towels were wonderful refreshment kept our hands clean and removed sweat and dust. If Bike Beijing were to do this, it would add to the overall positive experience.
George was a great guide.
His English was excellent which was most important. He is familiar with the ways of westerners which means he understands our expectations. At the same time he is not overly influenced by western ways and therefore delivers a nice Chinese experience.
We did notice that George’s goals for km/day biking were less than ours. As a result, we were constantly asking if we could bicycle a bit further and ride in the van a bit less. George explained this could be an interesting cultural difference. Most Chinese think of the bicycle as transportation for a commoner and not as recreation. These same Chinese think of being chauffeured in a van as luxury. In the US & Europe it is the opposite. For most westerners, the bicycle is recreation. And being chauffeured in a van is simply a necessity.
A big plus was Bike Beijing’s responsiveness during the initial email discussion.
Selena Guo was outstanding. Her responsiveness, helpfulness and good English made us comfortable choosing Bike Beijing. I have to admit however it was a bit scary sending the money. There are lots of stories in the US about Chinese fakes . These stories create dark questions about Chinese business ethics. Paying the 1st half by PayPal felt OK [but I am an experienced PayPal user]. Paying the 2nd half in cash was definitely un-nerving. I would have preferred to pay the 2nd half also by PayPal even if it meant paying 3% more [to cover the fees]. This nervousness over payment would not have been present for a day trip; it only comes into play on a long multi day journey.
If Bike Beijing had a business partner in the western part of the world [USA, UK, Germany, Canada, etc] then I would have felt much more comfortable paying that partner. I might even have paid 5-10% more for the trip in order to have increased ‘peace of mind’.
Here is another small point. About 3 weeks before our trip we wrote Bike Beijing and Great Wall Adventures asking for some documentation of our reservation from our first night’s hotel . The reason was to have lower anxiety and reduced chance that the hotel would have a problem. Great Wall Adventures got a fax from the Jinsangling Hotel and sent us a copy of the FAX. Bike Beijing simply said that Red Wall has our room and not to worry. You can guess which time we were more relaxed.
Hotel in Beijing
The Red Wall Hotel was a great choice. We were most impressed by the location close to Bike Beijing and all the attractions and parks near Forbidden City. We were most concerned that Red Wall was not in a tourist hotel zone and therefore the neighborhood might not be tourist friendly. As it turned out, we totally enjoyed the neighborhood and went for walks every night to watch the locals live their lives. The locals watched us too and we were invited into several family photos. However we were very nervous before we actually settled in.
Before the trip, a second concern was that we were not in a western brand hotel like Hilton, Hyatt, or Marriott. One knows what to expect from these brands. We had no idea what to expect from Red Wall. Three weeks before our departure from US, we considered asking Bike Beijing to switch us to a western brand [even though it would be more expensive and not as good a location]. In the end, we decided that staying at Red Wall could be part of the overall China ‘experience’.
As a hotel, the Red Wall was well above average for China and somewhat below average for US/Europe. To get to above average by US/Europe standards, they would have to do a better job of cleaning and maintenance. We came to China for a Chinese experience, not a US/Europe experience. The Red Wall hotel delivered that Chinese experience in a comfortable and safe way. We so appreciated experience that we asked for another final night at the Red Wall instead of choosing a Hilton or Hyatt.
A challenge for Bike Beijing is to increase the comfort level of their clients with the Red Wall Hotel Choice while those clients are in the booking stage and are not yet familiar with Beijing. Perhaps some well written trip-advisor type testimonials and some photos for the Bike Beijing website would help.
Having Bike Beijing person meet your multi-day clients at the airport or hotel
helps ease the arrival experience for western visitors. Bike Beijing could
promote this service more strongly and may capture a few more bookings.
Bike Beijing’s offer to meet clients at the Airport is a good service. We declined because we wanted to see a bit more of local china. So instead we took the metro and really enjoyed it.
George met us at the Red Wall hotel and that was a very good service. He managed to help with a number of the check-in details [remember, we did not have a copy of a booking].
VAN & Driver
Our 7-Day tour with Bike Beijing is our 8th such tour. Bike Beijing’s Van was the cleanest we have had on any of our trips. The driver was clean and polite, he didn’t smoke in the Van, he didn’t play his favorite music in the van, his cell phone calls were short and business like. The Van did not follow too closely behind [a practice which can ruin some pictures] except for a few heavy traffic situations where its presence was appreciated.
We had no anxieties and only simple expectations about the van and its role in the overall trip. Bike Beijing exceeded those expectations and left us with positive feelings.
Hotels on the Road
The Hotels selected by Bike Beijing met and exceeded our expectations. On our earlier trips to china we stayed in a cross section of hotels some of which were in rather poor condition against our tastes. We had pre-trip anxiety that some of the hotels in this trip would be in poor condition – dirty, smelly, run down. Our fears did not materialize.
Red Wall Hotel was reviewed above.
Miyun Wen Jin Shibo Intl Hotel. This hotel looked nice in the lobby, but didn’t impress us. In fact, I think I got sick from making some morning tea because the pot in which to boil water was not cleaned. I noticed some foreign matter floating in my tea after my first drink. I threw the rest out, but the damage was already done. Three hours later I had fever. I took antibiotics and am happy that I experienced nothing worse than discomfort for the next 36 hours. The Internet did not work in the hotel. Our room was rather dirty and in need of repairs.
Jinshanling Hotel is charming on the outside and rundown on the inside. It seems that they too have forgotten how to do maintenance. We stayed there twice and both times our rooms had bad odors and were not really very clean. We have places in the USA that are similar in style that we call “rustic cabins”. Rustic cabin is a euphemism for “don’t expect much, once a nice place 50 years ago, now suited to low budget and/or people wanting to get close to nature”. Rustic cabins are most often found in spots of great natural beauty where people go for the attraction and are willing to compromise on the accommodations. It seems the same applies at the Jinshanling Great Wall. All in all, I am glad we stayed there rather than a small hotel in a nearby village or a quality place in a large city.
Yunshan Hotel was a great choice for our 2 nights in Chengde. Modern, comfortable, clean, good location. Internet worked great. Too bad the hotel did not have more Chinese character. The western breakfast was not very good, and according to George quite expensive. When we learned he went to the local McDonalds we insisted that we too go the 2nd morning. I would give all your clients the option to go to a Chinese McDonalds. It was a fine experience.
The Yurt Hotel in the grasslands was also a rustic cabins. That is exactly what we expected and we were quite happy with the choice eventually made by George. The experience felt a bit ‘touristy’ until we realized that a couple dozen local wranglers and workers lived in exactly the same accommodations right next door. We would gladly stay in the same accommodations again.
The unnamed hotel 20 km south of Datan gave us a beautiful room which once again was in need of repairs [we had to use our travel screwdriver to keep the door-knob from falling off]. At this property we appreciated the cowboy attire of the staff and were pleasantly surprised by the availability of Internet.
Bike tour of Beijing
The following is a reproduction of the review we posted on Trip Advisor in Oct 2011.
We recently did two tours with Bike Beijing. The first was a morning plus afternoon standard tour of Beijing City. We visited the Hutongs, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The second was a seven day custom countryside tour that included some Great Wall hiking, touring in Chengde, and single track riding in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.
We were very pleased with Bike Beijing’s service for both tours. Their guides – both David and George -- were intelligent, knowledgeable, safety conscious, and had fine English. The riding was easier than expected both in the traffic of Beijing and in the countryside. Bike Beijing made hotel reservations for us at the Red Wall Hotel which is very conveniently located on a block from the North East corner of the Forbidden City. Thanks to Bike Beijing, the bill at the Red Wall was less than half their front desk rate. The Red Wall hotel is a comfortable tourist class hotel constructed with typical Chinese construction shortcuts and superficial cleaning. But it is exceptionally convenient to Beijing’s major sites and just a 5 minute walk to the Bike Beijing’s shop.
Our guide met us in the Red Wall hotel lobby thereby eliminating all the anxiety of navigating Beijing. We walked a short 5 minutes to the shop where two bicycles were ready and waiting. They were a comfortable cruiser style typical of what is found everywhere in Beijing [and quite a contrast from the mountain bikes for our 7-day trip]. As luck would have it, a heavy rain started. Our reservation was rain or shine so out came the most amazing poncho’s designed for bicycles. We looked outside and all the locals were continuing business as usual while wearing their ponchos. The ponchos provided by Bike Beijing did an outstanding job of keeping us dry for the next two hours while it rained at least an inch. The only thing the rain dampened was our ability to take pictures.
Our route followed the neighborhood parks, small residential alleys, and boutique filled streets of Beijing’s Houtongs. We crossed two major avenues -- quite safely at intersections. We rode along Chinese locals as they did errands and shopped. Every few minutes, our guide would stop and offer narrative about the area, its history, and its commerce. Late morning the rain stopped as we rode through the more scenic areas around the lakes north of Bei Hai Park. We stopped for a delightful lunch in a relatively upscale restaurant. All total the Houtong ride was nearly 8 miles of riding.
By afternoon the sun was starting to shine [as much as it does in Beijing] and we rode to the Forbidden City south entrance. We parked the bikes with a local restaurant and spent the next two hours on a walking tour. David, our guide, gave us a fascinating tour plus history. We still had time and were not feeling tired so we rode south from the Forbidden City, past Tiananmen Square to the Temple of Heaven. After a quick tour it was time to return to Bike Beijing. The afternoon ride plus walk was about 12.5 miles.
Three little things stood out about our tour with Bike Beijing. First, at the end of the tour David remarked to us “I had fun today”. We think he really meant it based on the conversation we had enjoyed that day. Second, we felt as if Bike Beijing put the guests satisfaction ahead of the company rule and regs. At lunch we were offered a wide variety of choices without regard for prices. Last, both the office employee and guides genuinely took an interest in us as people. A week later we called Selena in the office and asked her if she could make a reservation at the Red Wall for the evening before our return flight. She willingly helped. Bike Beijing earned no commission. 10 days after our Beijing bike tour we were walking in the Houtongs area and guide David spotted us out of the crowd. He brought his current tour over to meet us and we all had a pleasant 5 minute visit.
We strongly recommend Bike Beijing to anyone looking for a little more active way to see this wonderful city.