Most people don’t realize how easy it is to make a stopover at the Great Wall of China when you are en-route through Asia. If you’re anything like me, The Great Wall was always on my bucket list, but I thought I had to take a destination trip to China in order to accomplish it. I was wrong!
Even though China is a communist country with heightened security and required visa / invitation to enter the country anywhere outside of Hong Kong, the capital city of Beijing has an international airport that allows for a free 72 hr in-transit visa for exploring Beijing on your way to visit another country! My wife and I were on a trip to Thailand last Fall and happened to find cheap flights on Air China, but we had a 23 hr layover in Beijing and much to our delight, research told us we could enter Beijing in transit, and (get this)…The Great Wall of China is only a 1.5 hr drive from Beijing! Now that we did it, I highly recommend a Beijing / Great Wall stopover to anyone who wants to experience The Great Wall!
Some important things to consider if you make a Great Wall visit:
1. The language barrier can be quite the hassle. Because of this, I recommend that prior to your flight to China—go online and have Google translate the following words into Chinese: “Take me to this hotel: (and insert your hotel name & address);" then print it out on paper. The reason you should do this before you fly to China is because there is no Google in China! I repeat, there is NO GOOGLE in China—it is banned by the government. In addition, wifi does not really work in the airport. But if you print out a translation in advance, you’ll be good to go. (Also, in case you are wondering, we stayed at the “Days Hotel Beijing New Exhibition Center” for our hotel—it was really nice).
2. No one in China accepts US Dollars, so make sure to exchange some money at the airport!
3. At the hotel, ask your English-speaking front desk employee to arrange a driver to take you to The Great Wall. This is key because most drivers don’t speak English, but the hotel employees can help you translate. What’s very important is that you land on the price before you leave, so that the driver doesn’t try to negotiate more. You can arrange for one driver to pick you up from hotel, take you to the wall, wait for you, and the same driver will drive you back to either your hotel or the airport. This cost us about $100.
4. There are different sections of The Great Wall to visit, and some are further away / more crowded than others. We visited the Badaling section of The Great Wall. I recommend visiting either The Badaling section (the most popular!) for those of you who like activity, or the Mutianyu section (the most discrete) for those of you who like to avoid the crowds. Make sure that your hotel concierge communicates to your driver the exact section of The Wall to take you to!
5. It costs money to enter The Wall. Like $20-30 per person. So be ready with proper currency!
6. Allow yourself enough time at The Wall. This is especially important if you are on a layover and have to factor in daylight, hours to drive to the wall and back, and catching your next flight in time! Once you are at The Wall everything is on foot and there are at least 2 miles of walking (and stairs) in order to see The Wall! So allow yourself enough time. One of the reasons my wife and I chose the Badaling section is that there’s a sky tram to get to the top, which saved us a lot of time!
7. Lastly, make sure to account for heightened security and longer lines at the airport. Again, being a communist country, the airport security is very strict. Don’t listen to the mythological horror stories out there—as long as you are well-behaved, you will be perfectly fine! The only thing to consider is that it takes longer to get through the security lines than it does in the average country.
After all of the pointers/advice above, you may be wondering, “Gosh, is it even worth the hassle to visit The Great Wall of China?” The answer is an emphatic YEEESSSSS!!!!! This was an incredible experience that Sarah and I will remember the rest of our lives. It was so amazing to visit one of the most famous wonders of the Ancient World, to see breath-taking sites, to sing songs from Mulan at the top of our lungs, and to experience the energy of so many nice Chinese people! You have to do this before you die. TRUST ME. Sure it takes a little preparation, but it’s a lot easier than you think as long as you make all the right arrangements above.
Lastly, something funny about our short visit is that all the locals on The Wall thought that we were famous. They especially thought Sarah was famous! Everyone wanted a selfie with Sarah. Like EVERYONE. We still don’t know why! Hahaha. But we weren’t complaining and felt pretty cool : ) Maybe you will be famous at The Great Wall, too?