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Fairy-tale Town, Big City Splendor
Article and photography by Michael Morcos

Think back to when you were a child and the many exotic ideas China would elicit in your imagination. The grandeur and you will get a glimpse of all this in Gubei Water Town. Perfectly restored historic buildings, cobble stoned streets, arched bridges, water canals and the majestic Great Wall as a back drop would be the ideal setting for a child’s fairy-tale novel. This is a marvellous atmosphere by day as well as a romantic setting by night.

Gubai would be just the beginning of a two city tour that would end in the dazzling city of Beijing.

Gubei Water Town

Situated in Miyun County in Beijing, Gubei Water Town lies on the shore surrounding the beautiful Mandarin Duck Lake Reservoir and contains the Simatai Great Wall, a majestic section of the Great Wall.

For visitors, Gubei Water Town has a myriad of attractions with its combination of mountains, water and ancient villages and has developed into a large-scale sightseeing and holiday destination.

I started my visit with a boat ride on the canals which was very relaxing and offered wonderful scenery. The best part was that the pilot would only use muscle power to get around, so there was no motor to disturb the silence.

I then visited the garment museum with its exhibition of the fashions of this ancient land – enlightening and beautiful. Another fascinating part of our visit was a trip to a liquor making facility that makes Chinese style spirits. A great experience and one that offered some interesting taste tests.

I also enjoyed many Chinese delicacies in restaurants throughout the city.

Simatai Great Wall

This would be the third section of the Great Wall that I have visited. The other two were as magnificent as this one is, but the Simatai section is far less crowded, so much so that I felt at times free to just sit and imagine of the many centuries through history it has been there.

Being situated high in the mountains would make one believe it would take hours and a lot of effort getting there, but this is not true. A cable car quickly and comfortably whisks tourists up in mere minutes.

The views were breathtaking. Below us was the Gubai Water Town and endless miles of uninhabited natural environment. The Wall itself went on for as far as the eye could see with equidistant watchtower stations. It is times like these that I think of how incredible our earth is and how innovative and industrious humans can be, after all, the wall stretches for thousands of miles and was built without modern mechanical tools.

Old Town to Big City

The tranquil and serene visit of Gubai and Simatai would be left behind as I would now venture to a completely different atmosphere after the short drive to the cosmopolitan city of Beijing.

Beijing Dasein Youlan Hotel 

In the past, I would be in modern high rise hotel complexes, but this time I found myself in a small boutique style hotel. Unlike the large hotel that would be situated on busy boulevards, the Dasein Youlan Hotel was hidden in a tranquil alleyway. The area was so quiet that I could hardly believe I was in one of the most populated cities in China.

My room, like the hotel itself, was straight out of the last century. Very basic accommodations that were comfortable and extremely relaxing, yet I had high speed Wi-Fi and all the creature comforts you would want in a hotel. The decoration was unmistakably Chinese and had a sense of peace, quiet and offered guests a relaxing state of bliss. The meals served were unbelievably delicious and highly nutritious. A wonderful place to stay.

The Forbidden City

My third visit here and I still find things I missed before. This is one of the star attractions of not only Beijing, but of all of China. This time around I would see the many highlights of the Forbidden City but would also witness a remarkable tourist trap that made me laugh with delight.

As with every visit, I am always struck by the scope and opulence found here as it was the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 – 1911). It is the world’s largest palace complex and is surrounded by a moat, a wall and contains more than 8,700 rooms.

Everywhere you tour on the grounds or in the rooms, the opulence is amazing to behold. Vases, linens, gardens, all with history and worth small fortunes!

This time we also got a treat. Somewhat tacky, tourists can dress in imperial clothing and have their pictures taken on a throne. Why not, I thought, this is after all is the best and most desirable position in China for centuries!

Other Beijing sites and experiences

The Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum contains a vast collection of ancient Chinese architecture, with exhibitions displayed in throughout several halls and rooms. I highly recommend that visitors go to this house of marvels.

Tiananmen Square is the main square is in the centre of Beijing close to the Forbidden City. I like it for its central location that makes it a hotspot and many Chinese visitors enjoy coming here, as it was where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

Another in the long line of locales to visit is the Temple of Heaven, which has been one of the most holy places in the whole country for more than five centuries. I was lucky to visit in the morning, and saw the morning workouts of dozens of people practicing all types of kung fu and others just chatting or playing games.

For flower lovers and gardeners, you must visit the Summer Palace, an imperial garden that has been preserved with rich landscapes and cultivated gardens. Exact and transcendent, it was added to the world cultural heritage list in 1998.

A visit to the old Beijing hutong areas, where the narrow, twisting streets offer a touch of the “real life” of Beijing, I wandered the passageways and courtyards filled with traditional compact homes. Tours of the hutongs cover the attractions that normally include the Drum Tower, courtyard neighborhoods and Prince Gong’s mansion.

There is so much more to see, do and eat in this worldly capital. I never get enough!