Getting Out Of The City
There are a million travel articles about the things to do in Beijing. Not many people realise that the best things to do in this city, lie just outside of it. Forget Tiananmen and Houhai, Beijing is all about the outer suburbs of Changping and Huairou.
Exploring the outer suburbs is a bit trial and error, somewhat hit and miss. In this most recent adventure, we wanted to find the China North International Shooting Range (北方国际射击场), and we wanted to make a weekend adventure of it.
I started looking for hotels in the area and found that online, our choices were limited to a very expensive one right next to the shooting range, or a bunch of super-seedy small hotels in the Changping town itself.
Anyone who has spent some time in China will know that these small chain hotels usually have their own KTV (karaoke) rooms in the hotel. One might also know that KTV here means hookers, groups of men away on “team building weekends”, and other shady behaviour. These hotels -which average 200 rmb per night- are loud, sketchy, and not much fun.
Instead of ending up in boring hotel, or surrounded by ne’er-do-wells, I used the, very comprehensive, Baidu Maps equivalent of Google Street View. I worked my way from Changping Town, up the nearest mountain by a reservoir. Once I found somewhere pretty, I searched nearby using the Chinese word for villas and farmhouses (山庄 and 农家). On a street called South Sheep Road (南羊路) I saw photos of a quaint little motel called 老三届休闲垂钓山庄 or “Old Three Sessions Leisure Fishing Villas”. A regal name for something that amounts to a carp pond and a dozen rooms in a weatherboard shack. After calling our local innkeep and ensuring he had space for 14 of us, we were set for that Saturday night.
We booked a minibus to take us on the two-hour journey to Beijing’s northern suburbs on Saturday morning. The drive out of Beijing always impresses me. The transition from grey, flat, ugly skyscrapers, to lush, green mountains is so quick, you could easily think you had been magically transported to somewhere in Southeast Asia.
The Chinese Nongjia Motel
After arriving at the motel we were greeted by the friendly owner and his family. We made ourselves at home and found our rooms. These types of motels in China, known as nongjia (农家) are abundant and wonderful. They are super basic, with tiny bathrooms just big enough to bathe over the toilet, and the beds are rock hard. But they are clean and the sheets are well laundered. They are not luxurious, they are not very comfy but they cost around $10 a night per person including meals. If you think of it like camping with a roof rather than a hotel you will be fine.
The true beauty of the Chinese nongjia is the hospitality you receive. These places are family owned and run. The types of Chinese people that you don’t aways meet in the cities. Nonchalant types who don’t seem surprised that a bunch of white people just showed up at their place speaking Chinese and requesting cold beer. They are cool, calm and don’t really give a sh** about much. They take you in to their homes but leave you alone to do whatever you want. On this occasion, we wanted to eat, drink, and be merry.
After eating a ton of fresh, home-cooked food from their kitchen and many beers, the staff built us a beautiful bonfire and we sat around it till we all grew sleepy (and tipsy enough to sleep on those hard beds).
The next day, after waking up to a perfect sky and a view of The Great Wall of China, we had a breakfast of freshly made Chinese flatbread with porridge and pickled radish. If you are not used to Chinese food, you are more than welcome to take your own groceries to these types of nongjia motels. We supplemented our breakfast with our own coffee and snacks. Our kind host then called up a bunch of his friends with cars who agreed to take us to the gun range for a small fee. We paid the bill for the whole experience and the total came to 200 rmb per person. Thats under $30 each, including all of the beer, dinner, breakfast, rooms, and bonfire making skills.
The Shooting Range
The drive to the gun range was about 30 minutes back down the mountain. When we arrived, we saw the pricey hotel that we had considered staying at. Though the beds may have been much softer and the toilets would have flushed, we were still glad that we stayed at the nongjia. This hotel was inside the military compound that the gun range is a part of. The place was heavily guarded by very serious looking security people and we would never have been able to get raucous by a bonfire had we stayed there.
A long walk through the beautiful grounds of this military complex brought us to to the China North International Shooting Range. We were all shocked at the scale and grandeur of the building and the whole compound. We were definitely expecting a back paddock, outdoors, down-and-dirty kind of experience. This was none of that. We had to register with a passport or Chinese ID card to get in and once inside, it was all business. The first order of duty was going into a room and literally ordering guns off the wall like food in a restaurant. The glass cases serving as our menu and our personal guide/waitress explaining the caliber and origin of all the weapons around us.
Our choices were honestly dictated more by price than anything else. You pay per ten bullets. With each round of ten costing more than all the accommodation and food from the night before, we were a bit careful with our choices.
We chose some handguns and some rifles and our guide took us back to the front desk to pay in advance. Once inside, they were very clear that we were not allowed to take any photos of the guns, people shooting, or the range itself. Of course, me being the rebel that I am, I got plenty of pics anyway.
The gun range was a weird experience. I am definitely anti-gun as a rule. I don’t believe people should have easy access to them, and certain countries should certainly be tightening up their gun regulations. All that being said…. damn its fun to shoot a gun!
I had our bus pick us up at the shooting range and the drive back only took a bit over an hour. To visit the place from Beijing would have been completely reasonable, but getting out of the city is really worth it, and spending time at a nongjia is one of my favourite things to do in China.
Disclosure; you will need a Chinese speaker to make a trip like this one work out. No one at the hotel or the shooting range could speak any English and getting around is not easy without some knowledge of Mandarin.