After arriving at my hostel (365 Inn) near Qianmen, I checked in and went down to the bar/cafe to hangout. It didn’t take long at all for me to make my first friend in Beijing. Miranda saw me walk in and picked me for a fellow Australian from a mile away and came to say hello.
As it turned out she was from Melbourne area as well so it was good to talk about home for a change. My first night in 365 Inn wasn’t so special, I went to bed early and woke up at 4am to the three girls in my room packing their bags to leave. When departing early, other guests in dorms often pack their bags the night before to avoid disturbing others in the dorms. These girls were having none of that. From 4am – 5.30am, they were pulling what seemed to be about a million plastic bags from their packs and shuffling them around, talking loudly and even using a hairdryer. Thankfully though, they were leaving.
A few hours later I went downstairs for breakfast and met up with Miranda, and also we were joined by two others, Tony and Kyle from the US.
The four of us went to the Summer Palace that afternoon, and made plans to go to the Great Wall at Jinshanling the following day.
The Summer Palace was nice, but unfortunately filled to capacity with the phenomenon of Chinese tour groups, as well as the phenomenon of Beijing smog.
The next day we left for Jinshanling at 6am. There are thousands of Great Wall tours to join that cost upwards of 330 RMB for various locations of the wall. We decided to do it ourselves by catching the subway to a bus station in the north of the city, then a bus 1.5hrs to Jinshanling.
We chose Jinshanling because it is a further, less touristed part of the wall. Badaling is notoriously busy, Mutianyu less so, and then Jinshanling and Simatai less again. We managed to arrive at the wall without to much difficulty. For anyone visiting this is some basic instructions:
- Catch the subway to Wangjing West (arrive in time for the 8am bus departure)
- Take exit C
- Walk towards the road, cross the road and turn right
- Walk about 50m, and there will be a sign saying Jinshanling tourist bus
- one way ticket costs 32 RMB, and takes 1.5hrs.
- Get off at Jinshanling east entry
- Walk towards Zouhandokou exit
- Take Zouhandoukou exit, and walk about 2km towards the tourist information centre
- The return bus leaves at 3pm (we missed it) from the tourist information centre (I think) and costs 32 RMB. It returns to wangjing west.
- If you miss the 3pm bus, there is another that leaves from the highway bus station at 4.30pm (but actually didn’t leave until 5:15pm. This bus costs about 32RMB also and also returns to Wangjing West. From the tourist information centre take a taxi to the highway bus station (70 RMB) or walk (1hr at least).
The Great Wall itself was amazing. It was a bit foggy and a little cold, but within minutes of starting the hike, we were all working up a sweat. I also ran into Laura again at the start of the hike, and it would happen again a few days later.
The wall at Jinshanling starts with a restored section, and finishes with a partly ruined section. As we hiked the ruined section, we took what we thought was the path to the bus pickup location. It was actually a path leading down to a small farm where a big group of Chinese were having lunch. They were friendly enough and trying to direct us to the bus, but there was a big language barrier, so in the end we backtracked and took Zouhandoukou exit, and of course missed the 3pm bus and had to wait for the 4.30pm bus.
The next few days were pretty low key as far as sightseeing goes. Though we managed to keep a good group together for drinking in the hostel in the evenings, with a couple of Irelanders as well!
A few days later Laura and I met up and went to check out Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It’s an amazing place. It was full of group tours of Chinese domestic tourists, all being ushered right through the middle of the complex. Laura and I decided to skirt around the outskirts to avoid the crowds and we had a much more peaceful experience.
We were trying to look appealing enough to have the Chinese tea ceremony scammers approach us in Tiananmen square, but they kept their distance and I didn’t get to turn them down which was a bit disappointing!