• Beijing Rural Family Fun
  • Nov.12, 2015

    It's easy to miss out on Beijing's best spots when we limit our advantures to expat favorites like Sanlitun, Houhai, etc. In the comfort of those venues there are so many "foreigners" that we don't need to speak Chinese. Nobody stares at us, western food abounds, and coffee shops are everywhere. But, despite the cultural comfort of these places, some of Beijing's best family fun spots are still left undiscovered by outsiders. My family recently discovered an off-the-beaten path destination that rarely sees foreign faces, a place that is now on our list of favorites.


    Wali(洼里) is a genuine rural family experience. Located in Beijing's northern suburbs just outside of 6th Ring Road, visitors quickly forget the urban crowds, traffic, and hurried pace. Wali is a hard place to define. One Chinese website calls it a 乐园(le yuan). My iPhone dictonary defines le yuan as paradise, but Wali is not heaven. It does not display the colored lights of an amusement park and it's anything but Disney. Wali is a simple country setting with lots of fun things for kids and families to enjoy together, all for the low cost of 25 Yuan for the whole day(30 on weekends).



    Just inside the entrance, visitors climb, swing and balance on ropes and chains, along an obstacle course that leads to a swinging rope hanging over a pit, resembling something my dad would have made. One of the great things about Wali is that most of the equipment is also strong enough to support adults. My son is swinging on the rope in the picture above, but I was next in line. Wali also features huge wooden-seated swings and large plank seesaws, strong enough to hold any member of the family. Most of Wali's equipment is rugged and durable.


    As expected by the low entrance fee, there are no motor-powered carnival rides. Wali's hands-on and hand-operated contraptions include two small zip lines, an extra wide slide, two walk-through mazes, two large barrels for kids to walk in rolling them along a short section of railway track, and sundry activities not found in other parks. There's a small area sectioned off for smaller kids that includes two "manual" rides: A sort of merry-go-round that has old wooden school chairs instead of horses, and a circular swing powered by parents, as seen in the picture below where my wife and I are turning the wheel in the center to make the swings go around.



    A favorite for many is Wali's real working corn mill where kids step back in time and pour shelled corn into a primitive stone grinder and walk around it pushing long wooden poles until the course powder comes out around the edges. Next, they scoop it up with their hands and carry it over to a larger rolling stone on a round stone table (pictured below). There, they push the roller around, smashing the course product into cornmeal.


    Unlike most zoos that have "don't feed the animals" signs posted everywhere, Wali actually encourages visitors to feed their furry hosts. They even sell greens outside the gate for this purpose. While there doesn't seem to be a lot of staff supervision in the animal park, which most likely violates some safety codes, visitors enjoy reaching over fences to pet the heads of horses, camels, and other friendly animals. There are no tigers, lions, or other dangerous predators. Feeding the animals is something our kids always enjoy, but the most unique feature of Wali's animal park is the large fenced in area where humans can enter and "interact" with the animals.



    The mix of animals is also unique. We can walk among cows, ducks, chickens, rabbits, goats and even ostriches. Two of these little friends are pictured below. My daughter fell in love with a tiny black bunny that actually tried to follow us out.


    Every time we visit Wali, we discover something we didn't notice before, like the little agriculture museum displaying antique farm tools and a huge round craft room where kids(for a small fee) can create their own take-home crafte. And, if you don't mind wearing extra layers of clothing, go during the off-season. Wali's location is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's difficult to get there without a car, but on the other hand, this difficulty makes it a lot less crowded than popular sites like the Beijing Zoo and Fragrant Hills, where going by subway and bus is almost too convenient.



    For my family, one of Wali's best charcteristics is the primitive environment, with the absence of excessive regulations and supervision found at many of the city's more "developed" sites. This freedom is a blessing at lunch time. Even though Wali has its own restaurnats, they don't forbid, or even discourage, brining in outside food. They even have running boiled water for visitors who tote their own instant noodles. Lunch for the animals is also less regulated. As mentioned above, visitors can purchase greens for feeding the animals, but Wali's animal park also takes no measures to prevent people from brining in their own cabbage, carrots and bread for the animals. Wali is genuine Chinese, but in many ways it reminds me of the freedom I enjoyed in my childhood on a Midwestern farm.


    If you're only looking for city lights and dance clubs, Wali may not be on your list of must-visit destinations. But if you're craving simple family fun in the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, then Wali may be just the place for you.