29 OCT 2018: Before sporting enthusiasts flood the plains of Beijing for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics this Olympic host city has plenty of reasons clients should make the great trip now. Mine starts with the Great One. On a recent direct flight to Beijing with Air Canada none other than 'the' Wayne Gretzky was on board albeit in first class.

Yes, The Great One, it's been reported is venturing to China to spearhead the next new hockey franchise and his legendary hockey expertise is being harnessed for Beijing 2022.

I joined a Canadian media group as part of this year's Canada-China year of tourism partnership. It was a whistle-stop tour to explore some of the big tourist attractions in Beijing and in Xi'an, which surprisingly had moments of solitude. In a country of 1.4 billion there were times we were the only people around.

Sound unusual? Not really.

Off season

It helps to travel during autumn when the temperature isn’t scorching and the domestic groups haven't reached peak season. On this visit, I noticed less incessant honking in the capital. Everywhere the streets were spotless. Canopied trees cover several urban thoroughfares to help combat noise and filter the air. As they did on my previous trips, the locals took a shine to my Western look that resulted in a variety of group selfie shots.  

One of the most appealing ways to discover the vast country is to venture to the lesser known parts at 'the' most visited attractions.

Here's my tip-sheet on how to beat the crowds.

Beijing

The Great Wall of China – Forget the busy Badaling Great Wall area, head to the Gubei Water Town. Located in the Miyun County beneath the shadow of the Simatai Great Wall of China, this recreated village is a 1.5 hour drive from downtown Beijing. Four companies invested 6 billion Chinese yuan in creating a traditional Chinese-style village that has shops, restaurants, museums, and various workshop demonstrations. We saw a distillery, a textile-making venue with a modern gallery of silks, batiks and early photos showing the textile-making process. For a sense of this place, watch the video on Gubei Water Town.

Purchase a ticket package and gain entry to the village, round trip cable car, and entry to the Simatai Great Wall.   
 
Spend the night to see the Great Wall take on a whole new form amid the sparkling lights too.

Clients can stay at one of the hotels available in the walled town, from boutique style inns to a new 409-room property called the Gubeishui Town Hotel. This ancient castle design has resort sensibility with an indoor heated pool and outdoor rooftop pool. Watch the video:

The big deal about Simatai Great Wall

It's considered the only Great Wall in China that preserves the original appearance of the Ming Dynasty. The Times once rated this heritage site as “the world's top-not-to-miss 25 landscapes” because the Great Wall is so steep and the walls are very low. For a sneak peek of this extraordinary Simatai Great Wall. Watch the video:


The ForbiddenCity   

Forget entering by the Tiananmen Gate area, it's always busy. Instead head to the Meridian Gate, which is the south gate. Once used during the Yuan Dynasty period, this garden-rich location has a pathway lined with 300-year-old trees, where the only thing bound to pass you is an electric scooter.

The Ancient Architecture Museum

Not typically on the tourist radar, the museum is on the former grounds of a Ming Dynasty temple (the Temple of Agriculture) between the Temple of Heaven and pavilion-rich Taoranting Park. Home to hundreds of artifacts of early Chinese architectural ingenuity, there's a venue dedicated to the 'use no nails – only wood beam' construction of cantilevered arms and brackets. You see this style used in temples, pagodas and at the Imperial Palace in Beijing.

Trip Advisor rates this place as an “undervalued gem” in the city. I agree. The private courtyard has a similar feel to the inner courtyards of the Imperial Palace, and the best part is, that there are no crowds.

Xi'an

This beguiling capital, historic home to 13 imperial dynasties is ground zero to one of the world's most spectacular architectural finds: the army of Terracotta Warriors.

For clients who have done busy Beijing, cosmopolitan Shanghai, this capital city in Shaanxi Province is a must-see and doable by plane from Beijing.

We flew China Eastern, had a meal and beverage service during our 2.5-hour flight and touched down in a city that has enthralled people for centuries. From the second century BC to the 14-century, Xi'an was the eastern end of the ancient Silk Road.

March 29 1974

The day the western world watched NASA's Mariner 10, the space probe that flew by the planet Mercury, three farmers digging a well made a monumental discovery: the burial place of the Terracotta Warriors.

Terracotta Warriors

Clients can visit the location, the home of the 8,000 terracotta soldiers at the renowned museum. To beat the crowds here is not an easy task at any time, but we went on a rainy day so perhaps the weather helped.

The venue is comprised of three pits with the biggest one where the warriors are on display. You can take a complimentary shuttle service or an easy 15 minute walk to get to the 3 pits. The tourist site has a restaurant with noodle making demonstrations (Xi'an is famous for its noodle known as Biang Biang), post office, and a gift shop selling miniature reproductions where haggling is possible.  

Outside the museum exit, a whole other world opens, where vendors selling pomegranates and persimmon have neatly placed stalls. There are unique sellers of scorpions and other critters who showcase their merchandise by attempting to snack on the venomous insect.  Watch the video.

A Great Farewell

My final evening in Xi'an was Chinese hospitality of epic proportions.  At the Crowne Plaza ballroom, among fellow Canadian travellers touring China, we dined on Xi'an delicacies. We watched performances like a Chinese opera singer's shrill voice accompanied by a dance troupe of toddlers. Over? Not yet.  

We transferred to a downtown urban park known as the Tang Paradise Park for Act 2. On the site of an ancient Tang Dynasty lotus flower lake bright lights illuminated buildings in a glow of candy colours.  A costumed Tang Dynasty emperor surrounded by a bevy of beauties escorted our group to a theatre to watch one of the love stories from Chinese history unfold.

A surprise? Yes.

But that's China. A discovery seems to occur when you least expect it. One of the final headlines I read described a new airport coming to Beijing next year. Once completed, the yet unnamed airport will be able to accommodate 620,000 flights per year and handle up to 100 million passengers and four million tons of cargo annually.

Isn't it time to book that trip now? Air Canada has a daily direct 12 hour 45 minutes YYZ-PEK service.

For China packages, tour operators selling China include Globus Family of Brands, G Adventures, China Star Holidays, and Nexus Holidays.

Canadian tourists need visas.   

Images by Stephen Smith


GREAT CHINA
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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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