Pat Sommer and her daughter Ellie (8), and Julie Johnson with her daughter Kaylen (10).
The total cost of the three-day trip was roughly RMB 1,300. Roundtrip train tickets set them back RMB 290, a double room at their hotel was RMB 310 per night; meals, tickets and taxis made up the rest of the costs.
The Sommers and Johnsons packed their bags for a last-minute weekend getaway to Shanhaiguan. There was a lot on the itinerary: exploring the Old City, visiting the Jiaoshan section of the Great Wall, swimming at the beach, visiting the Great Wall museum, and more.
The families booked a room through Ctrip.com at the Shanhai Holiday Hotel (33 5535 2888, www.shanhai-holiday.com) in Shanhaiguan Ancient City. Rooms are clean and modern, and the hotel has a lot of charm with its courtyard, beautifully painted eaves and red columns. Breakfast buffet serves mainly Chinese dishes but hard-boiled eggs, toast, butter and instant coffee are available. There are a variety of guesthouses to choose from, but make sure you book one inside the Old City, as some are located outside of the walls.
Families can easily organize the trip for themselves, purchasing train tickets at one of the many ticket offices around town. The families departed on the 1301 train, which leaves Beijing at 10am and arrives in Shanhaiguan at 4.20pm. Since the trip was booked last minute, there were only hard sleeper tickets left (RMB 115 for the lower bunk). Children can share a bunk with their parents with a "no seat" ticket (RMB 29.50). Families who plan in advance should book a soft seat (RMB 118) on the D5 train. It leaves Beijing at 9.15am and arrives in Shanhaiguan at 11.27am. Travelers should buy return train tickets at the Shanhaiguan station as soon as they arrive. The fast D10 train leaves Shanhaiguan at 11.03am and arrives back in Beijing at 1.14pm.
The History of the Town
Shanhaiguan, also known as The First Pass Under Heaven (天下第一关), is an old garrison town dating back to the Ming Dynasty. The Old City was built along the Great Wall, which meets Bohai Sea at the Old Dragon’s Head. In Imperial China, Shanhaiguan served as a frontier defense against tribes from Manchuria.
Despite renovations, this tourist town has an authentic feel. The main drag has been rebuilt but its original citizens remain, residing in small alleys off the main street. They gather in the shade of the bell tower in the evening, selling crickets in cages. Kids will love watching locals make peanut candy, the town’s specialty.
The Best Part
The beach is only 5km from the town and three-wheeled taxis will take tourists there for about RMB 15. At the famous spot, "Where the Great Wall meets the sea," kids can play in the sand, climb up the Great Wall and even stand on the Manchurian side. Warning: the beach is not pristine, but kids will love playing in the shallow bay after a good hike.
The Worst Part
Return train tickets should be purchased upon arrival in Shanhaiguan, so the length of stay is not flexible. Two nights and three days is enough time, but an extra night and day is optimal.
Shanhaiguan is the perfect balance of sightseeing and beach fun, but getting there is just as fun as being there. Kids have plenty of room to run around in the train, in contrast to being strapped down in a car.
If the climb up Jiaoshan is too steep, families can split off on another trail that avoids the highest peak. There is also an option to take a cable car down from the Wall. On the way to the First Gate Under Heaven, there is a stroller-friendly ramp. The food is Chinese home-style, priced at around RMB 12-15 per dish. It’s easy enough to find vegetarian dishes, but there is a lack of English-speaking staff and English menus. Carrying a phrasebook or dictionary is advised.