When it comes to travelling there are two different kinds of experiences you could have. First are the well-known sightseeing spots that the area is renowned for, known world over. They include experiences found with a little bit of research and sites offered as part of a package tour. These unfortunately include the ghastly tourist traps.
The second type of experience are those nobody tells you about, the hidden gems. The ones that nobody other than the locals know about. Places left out from “must-see” lists, purposely or otherwise. The latter is the category which Baihe Valley and Yunmeng Gorge falls under.
As hard as it might be to believe standing in the concrete jungle of Beijing’s street, the city limits holds some incredible examples of natural beauty. Just a stones throw away from the chaotic madness, you’re able to escape into a blissful paradise.
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Perhaps part of the reason that Yunmeng Gorge is so un-spoken is the difficulty it takes to get there. Despite being “outside” Beijing, its still within the vast expansive grounds of the city, in the furthest north-eastern district of Miyun. Its a short two-hour or so drive from the centre of Beijing.
Getting transport there isn’t exactly a breeze. For example, I travelled with a large group of others, enough to warrant a mini-bus to be hired. This can be done surprisingly easily given you have the right contact. There are a number of independent drivers you can hire to deliver you at a particular spot and pick you up at an arranged time and place. The cost of which was roughly 2000RMB (About £200) between around 10 people.
Its also accessible (although not recommended) by public transport. Taking the number 980 bus from Dongzhimen. However this will only take you part of the way, after which you’ll have to hire a black car to take you to your preferred destination along the river.
Those are your only viable options. The only other being taking a cab or a didi to take you directly from A to B. However believe me, the cost will put an enormous dampener on your time in the gorge.
Naturally, this experience isn’t a free one. There will be a few costs along the way. Firstly as mentioned, the price of transportation will vary considerably depending on the method. However rest assured it will be the major cost of this trip.
If you plan on camping (which is highly recommended) then prepare for another expense, which we’ll explain later on. Another point to consider if you plan on camping is the possible cost of gear you’ll need. Baring in mind even in the height of summer the temperature can drop considerably, particularly at night. You;ll need plenty of the right gear, as well as having to feed yourself the entire time.
Although the gorge is a day trip distance away from Beijing’s centre, nothing beats camping. In past years you’d be allowed to camp directly next to the waterfall (one of the highlight spots along the gorge, with a convenient large area perfect for camping). Sadly, that’s no longer possible, due to apparent government restrictions. In the last year a tourist had died while camping along the river, for unstated reasons. As a result, camping is not permitted beyond the loosely guarded gates.
The gates into the gorge are guarded by men that appear to just be hanging out at the entrance, casually instructing and taking money from their plastic furniture. These will also be the men you’ll pay for the privilege of being able to camp in the area. Scam? Potentially, its not exactly official. Who knows where they come up with their price, which apparently had changed according to the campers who’d previously visited. However, in the end it cost 150RMB per person for the luxury of 2 days.
The allotted campsite is in an area behind some minor building developments and down a set of stairs to the riverbank. Don’t worry it’s not as sketchy as it sounds. The sandbar is located right against the river with its own set of mini waterfalls and equally awe-inspiring surroundings. The high walls remove any reminder of the civilisation that lays above the stairs as you’re surrounded on 3 sides by the monstrous gorge.
Once there, simply lay back and enjoy everything that the pristine natural wonder that surrounds you. With a campsite volley-ball court and permission for fires (given a bit of convincing) you have everything needed for the perfect campsite.
Bare in mind, due to the allocated campsite, you’re not very likely to be camping alone. Other groups will also be in the area, so be prepared. However some visitors are much friendlier than others.
From the campsite you’ll be pass through the half-heartedly guarded gates to enter the park, and unleashed onto one of the most picturesque yet striking hikes of your life. The incredible surroundings are mesmerising and ever changing along the well worn tracks.
You’ll walk along-side the river as its gains moment and mass. Along the walk you’ll start to notice deeper pools, providing the best opportunity to escape the heat of the canyon. However the best along the gorge is found at a point simply known as “the waterfall“.
This is a point along the river which in years previous was the perfect spot for base-camp. Here you’ll find a very deep pool along the rivers travels, deep enough to launch off from the path small wall above. It also provides an opportunity to cross the bridge on a rickety swaying bridge. Onward from here you’re able to trek (or rock-climb) upwards the side of the gorge towards a waterfall at the very top. Bare in mind, even in the hottest point of summer, the water is ball-shrinkingly cold, only bearable for a couple of minutes, and particularly out of the sun.
All along the incredible trek you’ll be faced with some of the most stunning and awe-inspiring scenery you’re likely to find. The pure untouched wonder of nature, its hard not to be completely fascinated with each step and ever changing cliffs edge. Perhaps its spending months of living in Beijings claustrophobic smoggy streets, but the tranquil gorge appears to be paradise.
You’ll run into an unique breed of flora and fauna. Admittedly you’re not going to be able to spot any large mammal or anything too spectacular. However with a watchful eye you’ll be able to spot a few interesting critters, some of which very unique.