Beauty outside Beijing: Miyun County
The blue of the water against the green mountains at Miyun Reservoir contrast starkly with the concrete and buildings of Beijing. [Lauren Ratcliffe/China.org.cn]
A trip to Miyun from Beijing starts with the long-distance bus. For foreigners, the buses can be especially complicated because they are not bilingual. Be sure to bring someone who knows which bus to get on for how long, or traveling to Miyun can be difficult. For me, an American intern at China.org.cn, I was fortunate to have He Junqing, 20, and her friends from the Communications University of China invite us to go with them. We wedged our way into the line for the 980 bus, and wished we would have been there earlier because the lines were quite long. The bus ride itself is about two hours, but then a taxi or van driver is needed to get out into the countryside.
Be careful when choosing a driver. If you're not up for adventure, take a taxi where you want to go. When we got in the van He had chosen, our driver immediately began having a debate with her about which direction to go. She had planned to go to a certain restaurant, but the driver drove us in the opposite direction. The food at the restaurant our driver took us to was delicious. We ate reservoir fish, served whole, tofu soup, pancakes, fish tail and fried shrimp. For an American, seeing the entire fish served on a platter was a bit unnerving. But the food tasted delicious. So to the timid: try the food!
The reservoir itself was pristine. In contrast to the dirtier water of the inner parts of the city, the blue of the water sparkled. Coupled with clear blue skies, the green mountains around the water created the image of an oasis. The reservoir is a refuge from the smog of the city, a refreshing change from everyday life in Beijing.
Outside of the reservoir, several fruit stands line the street. In the U.S., you don't typically see these types of stands unless you are in very rural areas or specifically designed farmer's markets. We bought apricots for 5 yuan and they were so sweet and delicious, the perfect ending to a long walk in the reservoir park.
After spending the afternoon at the reservoir, we headed to a hostel for the night. I'd recommend staying in a hostel to get a taste of local village life, if you're with someone who can speak good Chinese. We slept on a Kang, or traditional northern Chinese bed, ate a delicious home-cooked meal and were able to explore the Shitanglu Village. It was interesting to see the small concrete houses with chickens penned up in rooftop cages. It was a taste of a seemingly forgotten way of life, what seems like a different world from the tall skyscrapers in the big cities.
During our second day at Miyun we went hiking in Black Dragon Pond. This national tourist attraction was worth every bit of the 45 yuan we paid to get in. Towering mountains with yellow rock cliffs surrounded us as we walked along the path through the gorge into the park. Green trees stood in contrast with the rocks and the blue of the sky in a combination that will leave you speechless. The air was so clean and the water running in the creek was so clear it was hard to believe we were so close to Beijing. Once we were in the park a ways, the hiking became steeper. Although the pathways were paved with stones, many were actually steep sets of stairs. You'll get a great workout climbing up those stairs to get to the pools. Even though the stairs and hiking will be tiring, the countless moments of beauty that take your breath away make every step worth it.
If you're looking for a beautiful, exciting getaway from the city, Miyun is the perfect place. The fish are delicious and fresh. The air is clean, the sky blue and the mountains pristine. So much natural beauty so close to Beijing is too good to pass up. So hop on the bus and go explore over a weekend. Leave on Saturday morning and you can be back in time for dinner Sunday night. You'll feel refreshed and ready to tackle the next workweek.