For this overnighter we'll make a base in Cuandixia, a 500-year old Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644) village that is sometimes referred to as "a living museum".
We'll be staying in a basic-but-comfortable courtyard guesthouse and sleeping on their big kang beds.
We'll head out on Saturday afternoon, aiming to arrive just as all the tour buses are carrying away the scores of visitors to this picturesque and popular place to visit. After checking in at our guesthouse, we'll have time to explore the village and to take a short hike up to a lookout point in the hills opposite to the village. We'll have time for a walkabout on Sunday morning as well.
On Sunday we'll drive over to Dragon Gate Gorge, a long and scenic canyon with sheer cliffs and a small stream flowing down. We'll climb up to a temple in the hills near the entrance to the gorge, and then take a hike up the gorge, going as far as we please—which could be quite far!
Cuandixia: the Ming Village
The name of this village – ‘Cuandixia’ – translates roughly as ‘Under The Oven,’ which could be interpreted as meaning a good safe spot that’s hard to find. You’ll also find it on maps as ‘Chuandixia,’ as the character for Chuan (川) is much less complicated than that of Cuan (爨).
More photos from Cuandixia
The village lies on the side of a hill on the old road between Beijing and Xi’an, and is made up of many well-preserved stone buildings, including about 70 courtyards. The majority of these courtyards are now guesthouses, and the owners are usually happy enough to let people explore. In the village we’ll find much history, with old Cultural Revolution slogans slowly fading on some of the walls, and art, stone, and wood work from the Qing and Ming Dynasties. Cuandixia was lucky to escape destruction during the war, while some other villages in the area were destroyed almost completely.
Dragon Gate Gorge
More photos from Dragon Gate Gorge
Further west from Cuandixia is the Dragon Gate Gorge, a long canyon that runs deep into the Mentougou mountains. The entry to the gorge was developed into a scenic area that didn't really catch on – there are people hanging about to charge entry fees, but the development has stopped and the park doesn't typically see a lot of visitors. A pity for them, because the scenery is really good!
The first part of the park is done in a typical style: big ornamental gates, paved paths, small pavilions, and whimsical names for natural features. We'll hike up past all that and head for a small waterfall further in, and if there's time and interest we can walk in even further.
The best features of the gorge are the tall cliffs – some hundreds of metres tall – and all the trees and greenery in the canyon.
Around the corner from the park entrance are some stairs that lead up to an old temple built into the side of a hill, amongst firs and pines. As with the park, there's a little ticket booth, but the temple see so few visitors that it's obviously not worth hanging around in the off chance that someone will show up and pay an entry fee.
We'll climb up to the temple and take a look, and see if anyone has been up recently to leave any offerings.
After a good look around the area we'll drive on back to Beijing, stopping for lunch at a local restaurant on the way.
We will stay in shared rooms in a courtyard guesthouse, sleeping on the big platform beds. Bedding will be provided. There are taps and washing bowls for washing, but the shower is not reliable.
Saturday dinner: Chinese food cooked by our host.
Sunday breakfast: Toast, cornbread, omelets, jam, honey, fruit, coffee and tea.
Sunday snacks: A banana, an apple, one Snickers bar, nuts, water, and a sandwich (ingredients provided).
Sunday late lunch: Chinese food in a local restaurant.
12:30 – Bus leaves from Liangmaqiao Subway.
13:00 – Bus leaves from Lido Hotel Starbucks.
15:00 – Check in at guesthouse in countryside.
16:00 – Option for walk/hike before dinner.
18:30 – Dinner at guesthouse.
19:30 – Free time, beer club, bedtime.
08:00 – Second group up for breakfast, make lunch, tour the village.
10:30 – Drive to Dragon Gate Gorge.
11:15 – Explore Dragon Gate Gorge and surrounding area.
15:00 – Start the drive back to Beijing.
15:30 – late lunch / early dinner at a countryside restaurant.
19:30 – Back in Beijing (approx.)
Things to bring
- A change of clothes, including something warm for night time.
- Waterproof jacket.
- Washbag, toothbrush, toothpaste, small towel.
- Flashlight optional but handy for midnight toilet trips.
- Bedding and pillows provided.
- Main meals provided, bring extra snacks for the big hike!
- Entertainment: pack of cards, book.
- Cameras, chargers.
With 10 people signed up, this trip is all go!
Reasons you might not enjoy this overnighter
- The toilet facilities in the village and guesthouse are rather basic, and you'll need to wait til you get home before you can shower.
- Our guest house is comfortable but small, and you'll be sharing a kang bed with one or two other hikers.
Note about photos below
The photos linked below include shots from the 27km hike we do as part of the tougher version of this overnight. On this trip, you'll see Cuandixia Village and Dragon Gate Gorge, but not the Yellow Grass Plateau.