“He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man” said Mao Zedong, who, according to Deng Xiaoping, was right 70 percent of the time, after all. Of course, Beijing and the Great Wall are far away if you are an exchange student in Nanjing, but worry not! This easy step-by-step guide covers everything from leaving your dorm’s doorstep to the foot of the wall while (hopefully) not getting scammed along the way.
First you should book your accommodation, preferably through well-known sources like booking.com or hostelworld. Luckily there are plenty of cheap hotel rooms and hostels to be found in Beijing and you should be able to find something in the ¥20-100/night range even in central and trendy city parts like Dongcheng and Sanlitun. Do not forget to compare prices and to check whether the place of your choice actually can host foreign guests (this should be indicated somewhere on the web page). It is also a good idea to make sure how to get to your accomodation beforehand, as you do not want to get lost in Beijing’s humungous South Railway Station. And do not be afraid to use public transport – the Beijing metro system is cheap and surprisingly easy to navigate in spite of the frighteningly huge line plan (that will probably be outdated as you get there).
Next you need to get to Beijing. I recommend going by train, as it is reasonably cheap (about ¥150 if you do not mind the 14-plus hours of pain on the hard seat or about ¥400 for the hard sleeper or second-class high speed.) If you are an exchange student at Nanjing University, the easiest way to buy tickets is the booth in Shanghai Lu across from the Xiyuan dormitory, slightly hidden between the Goethe Institute and the police station. Other ticket selling booths can be found throughout the city. To buy the tickets, you should bring two things besides the money: Your passport (and the passports of all people you are buying tickets for,) and enough Chinese to communicate when you want to go, and where.
Once you have your tickets and made your way to Nanjing South Station (don’t forget your student ID, entry to the Great Wall will be roughly half the price), found your train and are your way to Beijing, you can finally consider which part of the Wall you want to visit. There are many, and they vary greatly in accessibility, grade of restoration and entry fees. I decided on Mutianyu, which while still being easily accessible, is not quite as touristy as Badaling, probably the most famous part of the Wall.
To go to Mutianyu, just search for a small group of likeminded people (this way, you can split the price for the minibus you will have to take later) and take the metro to Dongzhimen. There you should take the bus 916 (which comes in a fast and a slow version, so be careful there,) which will take you from where you can take a mini bus to the Wall. And here is also where you should be careful. If you are smart enough to read the Lonely Planet entry on the trip, you will know that this is a popular spot for a scam where a guy dressed as a member of the bus company will tell you to get off the bus a couple of stations early to get you on an overpriced minibus trip.
However, if you, like we, are not smart enough to read the Lonely Planet beforehand, here is how we dealt with the situation after the scam guy got us to get off of the 916 at the wrong station: make clear you are aware of the scam, and insist on a reasonable price (the Lonely Planet puts this about ¥20.) For us it worked to threaten just to take the original bus back. Agree on a price for both the drive to the Great Wall and back beforehand and constantly remind the scam guy just to take you to there and back without detours. To be safer, you should probably only do this in a group. Of course the best thing would be to avoid the situation all together, and I would give no guarantee, but this course of action worked for us and we paid not more than we would have following the official way.
With these few tips, your trip to the Wall should be fun and safe! And don’t believe anyone who tells you to take the cable car for the assent to the wall, because hiking up would take too long. It is only about 20 minutes, even if you are not an avid hiker, so no excuses!
Wind: 12.87 km/h
22 Mar 2016 13°C 8°C
23 Mar 2016 21°C 8°C