Most tours to/from Badaling will include an "unscheduled stop" (as far as you're concerned) to a centre of Chinese Medicine.
Part of the experience will be a free check up. DO NOT feel obliged to volunteer or accept their diagnosis. If a condition/illness is diagnosed you'll be written a prescription and almost immediately presented with a bill which can be quite costly. You will be made to feel as if you don't have any other option.
Unique Suggestions: Quite simply, have a look around the centre but don't feel obliged to accept the invitation of a "free" check up.
In the guide books it tells you to go to Deshengmen bus station to get the 919 bus to Badaling Great Wall. As a matter of fact, its not the bus station you go to, but 'Gulou' which is a big watch tower. The buses are directly behind it. The bus station DOES have 919 buses but they are city buses and wont take you anywhere near the wall. The ones you want are comfortable looking green and white buses.
Apart from that, there are private taxi owners hanging around that area just waiting to pounce on tourists not really knowing where they are going! Two weeks ago I was faced with the dilemma of either getting the bus for 24yuan return or a private taxi for 300yuan return! Not much of a dilemma you say...but...when the taxi driver tells you that its very easy to get the bus there but very difficult to get it back and you could be left there stranded, you do begin to wonder if the cheap deal is in fact the best deal! But I went over to the bus lady and she told me getting seats on the bus back was very easy! So we decided on the bus!
One thing that does annoy me greatly is that there are no signs whatsoever in English at this bus stop. Maybe the majority of people go to the Wall with a tour group set up by their hotel, but for those who are travelling on their own, there really should be a sign saying Badaling in english. It's' ok for those who can read Chinese, like myself, but what about the rest of you who can't?
Unique Suggestions: The way the taxi drivers hang around and try to confuse you and tell you things which sound feasible, but which are in fact not true at all is ANNOYING! Today I returned to the same place to put some more of my friends on the bus. We got there at 1030am to find there were no buses but a very long queue of people waiting! Again a taxi driver came over and told us that the buses had finished at 10am! Well why shouldnt I believe him..there certainly werent any buses to be seen. And again he told me about going in his car for just 300yuan return! I told him I would go over to this long queue of people and see what was happening but he kept saying, 'theres no point, there arent any buses now!" After managing to shake him off we went to the front of the queue and asked a lady there and she said, "yes, this bus goes to the Great Wall, we're just waiting for it to come that's all!" And it was as simple as that! The traffic must have been bad hence no buses being there when we arrived, and the long queue of people waiting! Again another guy came over telling us that the queue would take hours to wait in and it would be very difficult to get the bus back. I told him "been there, done that...so thank you very much!" And then we were finally left on our own!
SO JUST REMEMBER THESE IMPORTANT THINGS:
1. Do NOT whatsoever be duped into believing that there are no buses running.
2. Don't get the private cars because they take you to a very small piece of the wall where you're charged lots of money to get in.
3. The taxi people tell you its 100yuan per person, but it is in fact 300yuan for the car,so you could have one or four people and it will still be that price!
4. The buses leave every five to ten minutes. They are air conditioned and cost 12 yuan there and 12 yuan back.
5. Stick to your guns and don't let them confuse you!
About the Badaling section of the Wall;
I've wanted to see the Great Wall for many years. Having just visited I'm very dissapointed - not by the staggering significance of the Wall but by the neglect and lack of care given it. The sentry point towers all stink of ***, and the general neglect leads to a general contempt from the masses - I frequently saw locals spitting and climbing over parts next to sign-posts (in mandarin) to respect the site.
It is a global heritage site and wonder of the world. I wonder how ashamed the Chinese will be when the rest of the world gets exposed to how they're abusing it when they all descend upon it in 2008.
Unique Suggestions: I had a day in Beijing and wanted to see both the Great Wall and the Forbidden city. No tours really fit the bill. It turns out the reason is that they pad the tours with side trips where they try to get you buy crap.
I took the option set-up by the hotel concierge - 500 yuan for the day with a taxi, pay only on return and the hotel takes the details of the cab, giving you some sense of security.
Oddly enough the driver ran his meter, which at the end of the day came to 510 yuan!
From a western perspective this is a bargin - no hassle, no surprise sidetrips.
We made this tour to the Great Wall and due to lack of time we had to take this sleigh instead of walking. Man... we are not children anymore! I felt so stupid sitting in this small sleigh...
Unique Suggestions: Insist in walking up the Great Wall. It might take a while, but you see much more and you don't have to feel stupid....
The part of the wall in Bejing which is world famous is very heavily travelled but is not representative.
Unique Suggestions: Take as little cash with you as possible so you will not be tempted to buy too much!
Fun Alternatives: Try taking a trip out of the city to a seperate wall adjunct - this will be much quieter, you will be able tot ake more pictures unobstructed and the scenery is beautifully breathtaking. An idea is to check with your hotel for reputable taxi drivers. Not many will speak good english.
You may find that you will be so dehydrated while climbing the Great Wall during summer and will rush to buy the bottled water from the local traders around the wall.
Be aware that they tend to sell you "fake" mineral water which is actually tapped water in empty bottle collected from the bin. Most of them will freeze the bottle into ice and sell it to you as if it is a mineral water from the water plant.
Take a close look at the bottle cap and make sure that it has the standard leak-preventive ring below the cap. Otherwise, that is a re-use bottle.
Unique Suggestions: Carry one bottle water with you before you leave the city.
Fun Alternatives: Otherwise, don't buy mineral water but get other types of drink which are less likely to be fake, for example Green Tea, Ice Tea, Coke, etc etc.
I once visited the Great Wall at Badaling with my sister. As I had forgotten to take any food with me I wanted to buy some cookies and a bottle of water at a state owned shop. They had the prices shown in the display, but it took them 3 times of counting until they got it right.
At one of the souvenir shops I saw a hat, which I liked. I bought it for a good price. But I did not check the change. A few minutes later I discovered that I had got some Taiwanese papermoney as change. I returned to the shop. When I waved the money at the shopkeeper, she changed it to the correct money without any discussion. I think she was very afraid, that anybody would see, what she tried.
Unique Suggestions: Be carefull at any tourist spot in China! Never trust a shopkeeper when it comes to money. Sometimes I thought it is maybe a kind of sport for the Chinese to see, how much money they can get out of a stupid western tourist. But they respect it, when you show them that they cannot cheat you. So I made it my sport not to be cheated. I did not always succeed but most of the times.
Fun Alternatives: Take your own food and water with you, which you bought at a shop downtown.
Avoid Badaling which is the most popular and well-restored part of the Great Wall and hence it means it is heavily touristed. Scores of tourists are disgorged by the bus-loads.
The 'amusement park' is filled with stalls selling tacky T-shirts, 'I Climbed The Great Wall' certificates and kitsch souvenirs for you to splurge more money on.
Fun Alternatives: Instead, go to Huanghua Chang Cheng (Yellow Flower Fortress) which is a wild, crumbling, barely-restored but still rather well-preserved part of the wall with beacon towers and broken steps overgrown with foliage. There are at most a handful of tourists around.
Way too many people at the BaDaLing section of the wall. Don't go there.
Unique Suggestions: Well, if you are stuck going there, at least go on the darn wall. You did make the trip. But try to avoid the street vendors. Most of the stuff you can get cheaper in markets in the city.
Fun Alternatives: Go to some less conjested sections of the wall, check a tour book like Lonely Planet's China book.
If you go to see the Wall in Badaling, the best way to go up is NOT BY FUNICULAR, but by foot . Is cheaper and you see more, the funicular goes too fast and you don't really enjoy ir.
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