72 Hours to visit the Great Wall of China in Winter
… That’s all you get… just 72 hours, that should normally be under the visa limit, but we are traveling to a second city, well according to everything I read online, that means we need a transit visa. So, transit visa it is! We took our passport to the Chinese Visa Processing Center in Toronto, the lady at the desk kindly informed us that a transit and tourist visa cost the same, but the transit visa only allows a one time entry whereas the tourist visa allows multiple entry and expires when your passport does (so hopefully you have a relatively new passport!) We decided on tourist visas because who knows, we could go back to another city. We started to plan our trip, the main attraction of course being the Great Wall of China.
We arrived in China at night around 5pm and decided that taking the airport train into the city seemed easy enough. We hopped on after going through security (every subway and attraction entrance has a bag scanner and people who wave metal detectors around you). We took the train as close to the city as possible and decided that we would take a taxi from there as we hadn’t quite oriented ourselves yet. The taxi attempted to charge us RMB380!!(Which is about $75CAD). We knew from asking our friends that a taxi from the airport should be approximately RMB80-120, so he was trying to be cheeky! Seeing as we had taken the train all the way into the city, we knew it had to be at least half of that, but we got into the taxi anyway. While we were driving however, I was not afraid to bargain with him (as his meter was not turned on and he insisted on no receipt). So by the time we made it to the destination I had gone down from RMB 380 to RMB 200, though he said to call someone to confirm the 200, I think this was an intimidation tactic. Once we got out of the cab, I had RMB 20 ready to give him (always start lower than what you want to actually pay). I faked that I thought 200 meant 20. The taxi driver said we would drive away with our bags, unfazed I responded with, “okay, 40, 40.” He still shook his head and said “100”. I looked at him and said “50.” He said “80”. I said “50” again. He knew I wasn’t going to give up, so he gave up and took the 50, which was still likely an over pay, but we got to our hostel, and he got his money, win, win. The hostel was in quite a nice area, close to the Regent Hotel. It was about $35CAD/night. We had not made a definitive plan on how to get to the Great Wall as we did not want to go to the main touristy part (which is the Badaling section of the wall). I asked at the front desk how much it would be to get a taxi to the Great Wall and she told me RMB500 (I had read online that you could get a round trip to the Great Wall for around RMB150). I had enough of being tossed around for one evening and asked how much a tour would be, she pointed to the wall and said RMB200. I said okay and that I would let her know. We started unpacking and doing some more research online on the best way to get to were we wanted to go. We settled on taking the subway to the bus.
Initially we were deciding to go to the Great Wall on our second day, but once we arrived, jet lag kicked in and we were up at about 5am, so we made a last minute decision to go on our first day. We waited for the hostel to offer breakfast, which started at 7am and decided to head out after that.
We hopped on the subway and did our best to use the English signs to find our way. (Click the Download link earlier in this post for a map of the subway.) Once we got to the stop where we were supposed to take the bus, we quickly learned that there would be no bus because during winter they don’t run to as many parts of the Great Wall. We went over to the cutest cafe every called Momoa, which had a picture of a cat in a coffee cup for a logo. I was hoping it was a cat cafe (which meant that you could go and pet cats while you sip on your tea or coffee, and even adopt them, but no such luck), however it was still the cutest cafe I had ever been to, well lit upstairs with hanging plants and scenery murals. We managed to speak with an English speaking server who directed us on a way to get to the Great Wall. She was so sweet and very helpful and mapped it out for us. We took pictures of the map on her phone and found our way to the right bus to get on. Each bus ride was between RMB1-2 ($0.20-0.40CAD). After another hour on the bus, we got off and a man standing at the bus station looked at us and said “Badaling?” We said “Yes!” He pointed up the stairs and we followed signs to find the Badaling bus which was behind a large building. A one way ticket to Badaling on the coach buses was RMB12 ($2.40CAD).
After another hour and a half, we arrived in the parking lots for the Great Wall. We hiked up to an area where there was what we thought was a ticket booth as well as some food and shopping stands. This initial area is only where you can buy a ticket to take a train down the mountain. We opted not to as it was RMB200. We began our hike through the food tents and up a paved road to the actual ticket booth. We used the bathroom before entering, but there is washrooms all along this part of the Great Wall as we discovered later. There is both the North Wall and South Wall, we decided on heading to the South Wall first as it seemed like a more picturesque view. (If you do decide to take the train down the mountain, you will want to start on the South Wall because the train leaves from the North part of the wall.) We trekked up and down the winding wall being very careful as we stepped because, as I mentioned, we went during January which is in winter and there was ice and snow on the wall making it quite slippery in some parts. Once we reached the end of the South Wall (it is fenced off and you can not go any further), we turned around to head up the North Side. Though it is all paved with stones, the steps can vary in height and it can be very steep in some parts, this can make it quite tiring. So, if you go in summer, make sure you have lots of water! We made it half way up the North Wall (about to where the train departs from) and we decided to turn back, it was too chilly for us and the winds on the North Wall seemed much stronger than the South, to the point where we felt like we might just blow right off the wall! Our hike took almost 4 hours, and we would have loved to hike the entire thing if we had the good weather. I would plan in future for about 5 or 6 hours (for unseasoned hikers) on the Great Wall if you want to hike the whole thing. You will have to stop for breaks, catch your breath, drink some water in order to keep going.
Check out the trek along the way below!
Our trek back to our hotel was a little simpler as we knew which buses to take back!