On my recent trip to Thailand, I purposely scheduled a return flight with a 13-hour layover in Beijing. As you get to know me, you will find that I do this a lot. I absolutely love to schedule my flights and take advantage of long layovers. This is a great way to visit a city without having to pay for extra fare to get there.
Our flight from Bangkok arrived in Beijing at 2 AM, after the 5-hour flight, of course we were exhausted, but very excited about taking a tour to see The Great Wall of China. I had made arrangements with Beijing Tours Guide company to meet us at the airport and take us on a private tour to Mutianyu, to tour the Great Wall. They picked us up promptly at 6 AM and we started our one-and-a-half-hour drive to the Great Wall. It was a chilly morning in Beijing, the traffic of rush hour was in full force. The pollution was so dense, we could barely see the sun rays come out, it was the first time I had ever visited a city where I could smell pollution. It made me think about loving our environment and taking care of the beautiful resources we are blessed to enjoy.
It was a beautiful drive through the countryside of Beijing. On our way, we witnessed hundreds of bicycles and motorcycles inundating the roads, rush hour in the outskirts of Beijing. I could witness small noodles shops, with tiny tables and chairs outside, although it was a cold morning, there were people eating big bowls of fresh noodle soups outside the shops. So many beautiful cherry blossom trees, and open spaces, the air was clear, just miles outside of the busy city, made such a big difference in the quality of air.
We finally reached Mutianyu, and started our trek to buy the admission ticket. From the admission booth, you can get to the wall by either hiking up the mountain for 40 minutes, or opting to take a cable car. We opted to take the cable car. The cost was 120 Chinese Yuan, round trip, about $20 US dollars. The ride in the cable car was amazing, coming from someone afraid of height! At first, I could feel my heart beating very fast, but as the cable car went up the mountain, a serene feeling surrounded me. It is hard to explain, but it has been one of the most peaceful moments I have experienced. The surroundings were perfect, the fresh air hitting my face, the sounds of the birds chirping, and the expression of my daughter’s face, mesmerized by the experience.
We were finally at the top of the mountain and then beauty stroke, it was such an amazing sight. The mountains were breathtaking, the sun was coming out, and the rays of the sun were hitting the granite of the wall. It was a wonderful sight. It was about 8 AM when we stood in the wall. It was perfect time, no crowds, we practically had the entire wall for ourselves. We spent about 2 hours walking the wall, taking pictures and taking in all the magnitude of the architecture of the wall, plus the beautiful surroundings. Coming down the wall, I opted to take the cable car back down, my husband and daughter preferred to take the fun route, and came down by toboggan.
At 10 AM we were on our way back to the airport, and at 1:30 PM we boarded our 14-hour flight back to Washington, DC.
I absolutely loved this experience and recommend anyone traveling to South East Asia to purposely book a ticket with a long layover and experience a little of Beijing, or any other city for that matter.
For a Beijing Layover Tour, we used www.beijinglayovertour.com
Cost: $75 per person for private tour + $20 roundtrip fee for cable car to the mountain +tip to your tour guide and driver. Note: US Citizens require a visa to exit the airport in Beijing. If your layover is 48 hours or less, US Citizens can obtain a 24 or 48-hour Chinese visa free transit permit stamp. This would allow you to exit the airport and tour Beijing, without having to obtain a Chinese visa. You would need to show proof of your connecting flight to be approved for a Chinese visa free transit permit stamp. Allow ample time to process your visa and to return to your gate to catch your connecting flight after your tour, the Beijing PEK airport can be overwhelming. I recommend allowing at least 2-3 hours to get to your connecting flight because immigration and security lines can be extremely long.