If you’re OCD about budget travel planning, read on. If not – scroll down and enjoy the PHOTOS! We’ll try to give proper details how to get there for cheap, and have some tips at the bottom! The night before we managed to get some decent information about Great Wall day trip options. We were lucky that the receptionist girl spoke some English and translated the names of a couple of bus stops to Chinese for us. All the hustle for THIS beauty:
Scroll down for photos.
Armed with a little note with some characters in Chinese and instructions from the website we got up at 4:30, ready for Mutianyu. Nice coffee and amazing healthy foods do quicken up the waking up process.
(Beijing vegetarian post HERE)
Leg 1: metro – bus station
After 5am it wasn’t all that dark and the metro station opened at 5:25 but the first train was later, at 5:38. At around 6:06 we were at Dongzhimen, quickly glanced at the station map, and got out of the subway using exit E.
Leg 2: bus station – Huarou Beidaijie bus stop
Once above the ground we saw the station entrance on our left and it was like 6:08. As we were running, we scanned the signs for bus 916, luckily ran the right way, saw the bus, literally jumped on it and took off at 6:10. Wow. And all this info was available on a Chinese government approved travel website. We scanned our IC cards upon getting on the bus (have to scan yourself out upon exit, too) and sat together – yay. First thing that happened was I think some people took pictures of us! The bus had a route map with stop names in English AND announcements in English. By the way, you enter the bus through the front, exit through the middle doors. You can scan you metro card on the way in and out, or pay in cash if there is a conductor near the middle door.
After leaving the station we drove past many tall buildings for like 10 minutes, and after that, there were only trees and grass and bits of rivers and lakes – no developments whatsoever. So far compared to Bangkok, Beijing is much greener, quieter and more organised with transport, bike lanes in the suburbs, and public toilets everywhere. Beijing 1 – Bangkok 0.
We arrived at Huarou Beidaijie bus stop (which by the way doesn’t look like a bus stop at all, there are no signs or anything) at 7:15 and were straight away greeted by a minivan offer “CHEAPA CHEAPA TWO PEOPLE LET’S GO, 30 YUAN EACH”.
Leg 3: Huarou Beidaijie bus stop – Mutianyu
When he saw us looking at the phone for directions he said “H24 wait bus 2 hour”. He was right, the next H24 on the timetable was at 8:40. But we declined his offer and said we will wait. 30 yuan per person actually was a very decent offer. But we had this indescribable itch to see if it’s doable by public transport. There was H23 given as an option, although with no timetable. But we didn’t need to wait long, at 7:20 H23 showed up and suddenly the minivan guy realised that we know about this bus too, so he said something like ‘H23 come back’, trying to make us believe that H23 doesn’t go to Mutianyu, it only comes back from there. He was right again, when we showed our little note to the conductor inside the bus, her and about 5 other people on the bus started enthusiastically pointing to the other side of the road. With all this and the minivan guy trying to convince us he’s our only option we decided to cross the road (to China Mobile side).
There were a few people waiting for the bus, and we tried to “ask” them: point to the Mutianyu Roundabout written in Chinese characters, point to “H23” written next to it, point to the ground accompanied by “Wait here?” and a question facial expression. They had a short discussion among themselves, pointing to the direction of the roundabout (again, thanks to “maps.me” app we knew our whereabouts) and in the end seemed to agree that we need to wait here.
So now on the other side we got on H23 at 7:33 (going in the direction we came from, but taking a different turn at the first junction), the conductor nodded in agreement to our note for the roundabout, we paid 3 yuan each in cash, and felt like stars of the village getting all the looks. The ladies at the back were prodding the men to move so we could sit.
Just before the roundabout the conductor patted Auste on the shoulder and pointed in the direction of the wall. We were dropped off just past the Mutianyu roundabout. The lady that got off with us did the same by showing us to walk back for the turn (sign for Yangqi lake). When you’re in that area, the whole village knows you’re going for the wall.
8am and the pretty fog’s still here! Don’t get on random buses that stop opposite the Great Wall Culture Exhibition Center – walk past the gates, use the free restrooms on your left, and keep walking straight for the ticket counters (they are outside). We paid 60 yuan each, including shuttle bus to the actual wall (they don’t ask you if you want it). Coffee stand didn’t have set prices and 25 yuan coffee quickly became 15 as we were walking away and yet sold for 20 as she started bargaining all over again when we turned back! It wasn’t good anyway so save yourself some cash.
Walk past Burger King (opens 9am, yes we checked…) to go to the little bus station. We departed 8:29. 8:34 we were already dropped off and proceeded through the ticket check: started the climb 8:45, first stop 8:50 lol!
A breezy 4-pages of instructions later – WE ARE HERE.
We reached the Tower Post number 10 at like 9:05, that’s including a few quick photos on the way up. With each tower the view only got better as you could see more of the wall in the foggy horizon. There were only a few people and we had literally empty walls to ourselves. Around 9:30 more faces showed up in all directions, and whilst stopping for pictures we reached the cable car Tower number 14 at around 10:30. The wall past there is supposedly even prettier, but we couldn’t be bothered going further because of the crowds (I can’t even imagine going to Badaling…)
The views are pretty stunning, especially early, when you can also hear the birds and enjoy the soft wind. Our experience was actually the opposite of our expectation of sweating like crazy all day. We hiked with t-shirts, but enjoyed our meals in jackets. It wasn’t busy, and it would be pleasant to walk about if you’re not a photographer-type.
We had lunch at Tower 13, the one right before cable cars. At 11:40 we started slowly moving back the same way, and reached the top of the steps at 12:05. Slowly stepping down and taking pictures, we got back to the shuttle bus at 12:30. It’s hard to believe but we walked up quicker because we wanted to avoid the masses! At 12:40 we went for the bus H23 just outside the complex, at a stop marked with bus 936. Before heading out some drivers offered us vans to Hairou Beidajie for 100 each. No, thanks.
Tip: when Chinese see foreigners and quickly approach to help you, don’t be fooled. Many tried to help us… by offering van rides! They will say “Bus” (not van) and it will not be to Beijing, but to Huairou Beidajie (they know you’re trying to make a cheap trip…), but all it is, it’s their private van. Nobody will randomly approach you to try and help you find your way using public transport. Just keep ignoring them, be calm and patient, wait for your bus and ask the people who show no interest in you.
Luckily, the bus conductors are not working together with the van drivers, so once you get a nod for your little paper from them you know you’re heading in the right direction.
From 1pm until 1:20 we waited for the bus, then caught H23 and bought tickets on the bus again – we had to save our IC card balance for 916 to Dongzhimen as we saw no conductor there. You know you’ve lived in Thailand for too long when the conductor asks ‘Huairou?’ and you automatically say “Chai…”.
Nobody, even older women, wanted to give seats and deliberately sat with their legs spread out to save two seats for themselves. Push it – you’re in China. 13:47 we were dropped off at the same place where 916 stopped in the morning, and then we crossed the road to China Mobile side and 13:48 got on 916 towards Dongzhimen (one had passed us at 13:47). 916 seemed pretty frequent as we saw a couple passing by while we were waiting for H23 in the morning. We met a cautious Polish couple who were like “We have to stick together to avoid these guys (points to man offering van)” – funny. Just like us. Arrived at Dongzhimen at 15:10.
If I haven’t mentioned yet, there’s a kitten and a cat groomed into a lion at our hostel. Just. It’s a nice hostel, but we kind of felt someone had been in our room while we were out today. Also, whilst we were chilling in the evening, with doors just slightly open, a random dude came in as if he had mistaken his room. Come on mate, there’s only 3 of them, you can’t really have gotten lost… you may say some Chinese are reflections of their government – very nosy.