We’ve been in China now for one year. The ease we had in returning to China after our summer break in the States shows just how much we learned during that first year. The second year in a new country is so much easier than the first.
Though our transition last year went as smoothly and easily as it possibly could have, I look back on my family’s first year in China, and can’t help but notice that we didn’t explore China all that much. For most of the year, we were consumed with finding a house, getting settled, figuring out how to get around, and helping the kids find their groove and thrive in it. For the most part, we worked hard to find our comfort zone and then we decided to stay there.
With the exception of a staycation and the Sundays when we went to church and then made a mad dash to go downtown or to get out and enjoy the fresh air, most of our first year in Beijing was consumed with mundane, daily activities and with shuttling kids to Kung Fu, dance, and swimming lessons.
We’ve been in Beijing a year and have yet to take a family trip to the Great Wall. There’s no excuse for that.
I’m hoping for something different this year.
In that first crazy week that school starts, when parents scramble to sign their children up for after-school activities, I took a step back to reflect on our previous year and how things might be different. I decided to skip some of the extracurriculars that I had my children in and chose to keep our Saturdays free. This year, Saturdays will be family adventure day. Rather than have Kung Fu or gymnastics at 2:00 pm (making us committed to staying home when we really don’t want to) Hubby and I decided to commit to getting out as a family more often and exploring China.
This post is the first of what I hope to be many others that describe our Beijing family adventures.
On a recent Saturday, we found ourselves wanting to get out of the city. Hubby took the reigns on deciding where to go and, since he’s not really one to plan ahead, he looked at a map, found a place away from the city that he thought might be interesting, put it into his GPS, and we took a drive to see what we would find.
We ended up at Taoyuan Valley Scenic Spots. We loved it so much that we look forward to going again.
Taoyuan Valley is about ninety kilometers from the outskirts of the city. It is an area of about sixteen square kilometers that contains hiking trails, vegetation, streams, and a variety of scenic landscape. The trails, though wide, clearly marked, and easy for children to hike, are not stroller friendly. My children (ages six and four) were capable of walking the trails and climbing the many stairs without complaint. There were enough interesting things to look at along the way that the kids were generally content during the two hours we were walking. Periodically we ran into animals (goats, chickens, geese) that they were happy to look at, and climbing the stairs to the top of the waterfall was exciting for them.
Because we didn’t leave for Taoyuan Valley until early afternoon, we only had a few hours to explore, but we probably would have been happy to hike here for five hours or so. It could have been an all-day event. We passed a couple restaurants, but I can’t attest to the quality of food inside. We brought our own healthy snacks and only used the vendors to buy ice cream during one of our rests from walking.
One of the best things about this trip was the absence of crowds. It seems everywhere I go in China, I have to navigate through hordes of people and always feel like I’m pushing or getting pushed. Our trip to Taoyuan Valley provided us with quiet trails where for several minutes we wouldn’t hear or see anyone but ourselves. Granted, this may have been the time of year we went. Though it was a nice clean-air day, August in Beijing is hot. It was a hot day to hike. While walking, we made plans go back in the fall when I imagine that the trees would be beautiful with fall colors. After I return, I’ll be able to update you and tell you whether I’m the only one with that brilliant plan or if everyone else in China happened to come up with the same idea.
It was about an hour-and-a-half drive out there from Shunyi and a two hour drive back. It can also be reached by train, bus, or shuttle bus. The transportation information on how to get there can be found at this link. If you’re driving, see the pin below for the location. The price for entrance into the park was 45 RMB for each person. Children six and under have free entrance into the park.