How to Make the Most of a Long Layover

12 Hours in Beijing = tour the Great Wall

There are those key moments in life when you are reminded of why the person you are with is your perfect travel buddy. The latest moment occurred a few months ago, when Lakisha looked at me and said, ͞So, we have to stop in Beijing on the way home from Thailand. We can have a short stop and get home sooner, or we can stay in China for a twelve-hour layover.

Perplexed, I wondered how much cheaper the twelve-hour layover would be. ͞Actually it’s a little more expensive, she added, but we can take a day-tour of the Great Wall of China. I️ immediately looked at Lakisha and knew that our travel thoughts were aligned. Ever since I was five years old, I wanted to visit The Great Wall of China. It always seemed epic, but actually getting there always seemed far and complicated. Choosing the longer layover to take this tour felt like it would be once in a lifetime. Keep in mind that China has a very strict entry policy which requires a Visa, so there are a few things that you should absolutely know to make this as memorable as possible.

1) Make sure to book a tour in advance.

Unlike many countries, which seem to celebrate the ability for a traveler to quickly tour their historical sites, China does not make it easy to move throughout the airport in any capacity. In order to obtain a temporary visa, you must have evidence of your tour. We used a tour company called Beijing Airport Transportation and enjoyed a private tour of the Great Wall. The private tour was key since they would wait on us, modified our itinerary based on our flight delay, and picked us up and dropped us off at the airport for only $100 per person.

2) Rush off the plane to find the counter that says 24-72 hour Visa. We aren’t kidding. If you walk slowly, or take even a few extra minutes to exit the aircraft, you could be adding an hour or much more to your wait time. You would think that a country that has epic sites like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square would make visiting those sites much easier, but one couple we spoke to had been waiting in line for 4 hours (with a baby in tow). The temporary visa counter was initially staffed with only one person, and when they added a second person, it still seemed move at a snail’s pace. There were about 30 people ahead of us, and our total wait time was two hours.

3) Ask your tour operator to e-mail an itinerary in Chinese.

After doing a bit more research, we requested that our tour company send the itinerary in Chinese. Having the ability to show the e-mail in Chinese, helped us save precious time when we were finally called to the visa counter.

4) Make sure to get a modest amount of Chinese Currency

While every tour we’ve found can be paid for in U.S. dollars and includes the entry fees, you will be expected to pay a handful of miscellaneous costs in RMB. At the time, the conversion rate was about 6.5 RMB to USD. Our Great Wall lift ticket was about 120 RMB per person, and the snacks/lunch were about 30 RMB per person. Converting about $40-$50 should be enough. Thankfully, the temporary visa was free. 5) Wear sensible shoes and dress for the weather

The Great Wall is aptly named. There will be a lot of walking up hilly inclines, uneven steps and climbing up watchtowers. It’s a workout, but well worth it. Also, make sure to check the weather before you pack, as it can be very cold.

Beijing was wonderful. The people were nice, it was safe and because the state blocks social media platforms, instead of checking Facebook or Instagram, we spent that time learning how to pronounce hello and thank you in Mandarin. We had a great time, but would not necessarily elect to spend multiple days in Beijing, when compared to our long list of places in Asia that we would prefer to visit. That’s why, if you’re travelling through Beijing, we recommend you check to see if you have the option of connecting through Beijing with a layover of at least 7+ hours (the Great Wall is open from 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. local time.) Choosing to make this layover a part of our trip was one of our all-time favorite travel choices.

Until our next adventure! – Tim

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