“I haven’t got the time or money to apply for a full tourist visa during this trip so I’ll just visit The Great Wall”
The 72 hour transit visa is a perfect solution if you want to swing by China for a short visit, and it’s absolutely free! Here’s some information to help you do the same if you’re thinking of flying into Beijing:
- Before entering Beijing you will be asked to present your flight details regarding your flight in and out of Beijing, if you cannot provide this then you will not be able to enter China
- The 72 hours starts from the moment your flight lands in Beijing. So if your flight lands at 14:30 on Monday 4th March then you will have to be taking a flight out of the country by 14:30 on Thursday 7th March. Simple!
- Other states start the 72 hours from 00:00 following your landing so check online for accuracy
- You will be asked to fill out a form confirming where you will be staying in Beijing and how long for
- You are not allowed to leave the state of Beijing during your stay
I had an absolute nightmare. Just picture me, landing in Beijing by myself and breezing straight through passport control. Collecting my bags and walking straight towards the exit feeling like I’ve just passed through the highest level of security clearance. I was on the subway and soon to be at Beijing train station. This happiness lasted for around 30 minutes.
***Scroll down for pictures of what I got up to, or start here and read through my honest experience of travelling in Beijing…***
I had researched prior to my visit, the perfect route was all set out on my phone. I had my battery pack fully charged, 50 pounds worth of Chinese currency and my hostel was booked right next to the wall. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, I arrived at the train station to discover it was closed, and had been closed for a few months already. It was now 3 o’clock and getting dark on this freezing cold winter’s day. Within seconds of discovering that the station was closed, a very persistent man followed me, pestering me to take his taxi all the way to my hostel which I hadn’t enough money for. No matter how many times I yelled ‘NO’ this man would not leave me alone. I tried to walk away from him but he pulled at my arm.
I walked back to the subway where I came from but he followed from a different entrance. I could feel the tears in the my eyes welling up. There wasn’t many people around so you can only imagine how nervous I was getting. Suddenly, I saw a young man walking towards me looking at his phone. I ran to him asking for help. I think he could see my eyes watering. He was the first person I found that spoke good English.
Thank you to my first guardian angel.
He let me take pictures of some Chinese phrases from his phone to show people where I needed to be. In this moment I was so thankful to him.
I arrived at a bus station. Even though I had the Chinese translations on my phone, no one could seem to point me towards the right bus. There were four to pick from, every driver pointed me towards the next bus. I was starting to tire. I asked a woman for help and she pulled me onto a bus with her. She got off only a few stops later.
It was now fully dark outside and I was sat on an overcrowded bus with my huge backpack and winter coat, surrounded by Chinese living their normal day. Checking my maps.me app regularly to see where exactly we were going probably kept me from panicking for the whole journey. I had no idea where this bus would take me but it seemed to be heading in the right direction. An hour passed. I remember the thoughts that ran through my head: “I’m going to have to sleep on the streets”, “It’s fine, you can do this, just put on extra socks”, “No, you’ll get there”, “Everything is written in Chinese and I have no way of translating it”, “Why am I doing this to myself?”, “I’m a rubbish traveller”, “You’ve travelled to many countries alone, easy”, “I can’t do this”, “Don’t be stupid, man up!”. I remember looking at myself in the window next to me, “Stop working yourself up, you baby, just ask someone”.
I cleared my eyes and looked around the now half empty bus for someone, anyone. I made eye contact with a young girl, I smiled and she then sat down next to me. This wonderful girl. We spoke through her translator app on her phone. “Don’t worry, I will help you”. She typed and I would respond. After a few minutes she rang my hostel and told them to meet me at the bus stop where I would get off at. Bless her heart. Another woman who was getting off at the same time also gave me a warm smile and a thumbs up, “you get off with me!” she demanded. Just before the young girl hopped off the bus she wrote to me, “You are very cool”, and suddenly all of the self doubt was swept away with that single comment.
Thank you to my second guardian angel.
Everyone who was still sat on the bus when I was leaving offered to help me with my backpack, they all gave me their thumbs up as I left with the older woman, she was meeting her husband. They both waited with me in the darkness through biting cold winds until a man appeared and passed his phone to me. I put it to my ear, “Hello?” I asked. A woman responded and told me that this is the man who will walk me to Beijing Badaling Leo Great Wall Hostel. The kind woman and her husband waved goodbye and after a 20 minute walk against the icy wind I was finally walking into my room. Much to my surprise they had put me into a big double room all to myself. This is exactly what I needed. I took a really long, hot shower and before I knew it I was tucked up in a comfy bed eating Pringles. I felt safe.
I woke up slowly, I showered and took the time to dry my hair. I made myself feel good. Throwing on my winter coat I stepped outside and into the reception next door. The men guided me the way towards the wall, one even drove me all the way up to the entrance which would have taken me at least 25 minutes walking. I felt like this was going to be a good day. A much better day. I started climbing the stairs of the first tower.
As I breached the top, I peered my head over the last step to see the first stretch of wall that I would walk upon. Peaceful. I don’t think I have ever felt such peace in my whole life. No one to be seen or heard. Everywhere I looked I saw no one, not even someone in the far distance. I was alone.
After the fourth tower I reached a point where the stairs became increasingly steep. I looked up to what looked like the top, only for a few seconds, then I began to climb. I was standing on top of The Great Wall of China. Just me. Winds picked up my hair and blew it over my face. I sat down next to a piece of wall to shield myself from the cold. I remember sitting there thinking about my travels, thinking of how far I had come from standing in front of a classroom full of students just months ago. I used to daydream about being in the places that I’ve now stood. I’m living my own dream.
Obviously I took a few pictures to honour this moment. You may look at them and feel nothing, they’re just pictures of me standing on The Great Wall of China to you. I see these and I remember how I felt, and will for the rest of my life.
That afternoon I packed my bag and checked out of my room. I knew I had a flight booked for the early hours of the next day so with plenty of time to get there, nothing could go wrong, could it?
The first European people I saw were a group of tourists, they were sat eating in the reception of my hostel. They were heading back to Beijing City as part of their tour and luckily, their driver offered to take me with them so I didn’t have to catch the public bus again. I was so relieved. After chatting and getting to know some of the people on the bus, I went back to their hostel. I left my backpack in storage and we wandered the streets nearby. A girl offered to take me to the Forbidden City and to try my first serving of Beijing Peking duck. This trip took a good few hours.
It was now 9pm and I was about to head off to the airport, I had researched what trains to catch and was feeling confident. I even checked with the receptionist just to make sure that the trains were still running.
I hopped onto my first train, everything was going well. I needed to get off to then switch to a train that would drop me off at the International Terminal where I would swiftly check in and grab a hot chocolate as I waited for my flight. This thought was burst by the fact that I had just missed the last train to the airport. Great. I left the station to find myself surrounded by not one but five men shouting at me, asking where I was going. “Airport?”, “Airport?”, “Where you go?”, “I take you to Airport”, I was telling them no. I thought I’d just find a bus but it was past 10pm and there were no buses in sight. I tried walking away from them but it seemed that everywhere I walked, they followed. Personal space was not considered in this moment.
Meet guardian angel number three…
I started to feel myself turn red, my skin started to sweat even though it was freezing cold outside, I had men with raised voices in my face, here we go again. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t have enough money for a taxi and couldn’t find an ATM nearby.
All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye I saw a girl. A vision of white. She was dressed head to toe in pure white. She wore white knee high boots, white cotton leggings, a white woolly dress, a white belt around her waist, white leather gloves with a white fluffy cuff and to top it off she wore a bright white hat. She didn’t look real. In that moment I truly felt like she was an angel who had been sent to me.
I ran towards her and asked her for help. She was Chinese and she had me call her Ranchy. Fresh off the plane from London where she is currently studying, she was disgusted with the men. She immediately took me under her wing and demanded that I come with her. We walked around 200m away from the men as she yelled back at them, dragging her white suitcase behind. Using an Uber-like service she ordered a taxi. I remember thinking “Do I trust this stranger?”.
I reminded her that I needed to go to the airport. She reassured me, looked into my eyes and told me “It’s ok, I will help you. I’ll take you to my friend and you will get a taxi from there”. She told me about the first time she arrived in London, how she was completely lost and that she couldn’t find her way to her new apartment. She couldn’t speak good English at the time and must’ve felt just like I did in China. Helpless. She told me that a young man saw her confusion and took her all the way to her apartment, and even carried her luggage. As he left she thanked him profusely. He simply answered her with, “You’re welcome, but the next time you see someone who needs help, help them.” I felt like I could trust her with my life.
We arrived at Ranchy’s friend’s apartment to only realise that I’d left my purse, holding all the money that I had, inside the taxi. A rush of tears welled up in my eyes. Panic. Instant panic. “How on earth did I leave my purse in the taxi? It must’ve fell out somehow!”. Ranchy immediately rang the taxi driver and he returned five minutes later. Those five minutes felt like a lifetime. I thanked the driver and then Ranchy. She really was an angel. I met her friend and she guided me towards an ATM where I drew some money out and they put me into a taxi. I squeezed her goodbye.
The journey from here to the airport was a calm and relaxed one, I felt myself sink into the seat gripping onto my belongings. I arrived at the airport to find that my check-in counter didn’t open for a few hours, but that was fine because I was sat down watching Gilmore Girls on my iPad. Half way through my episode, a boy sits on the bench next to me. I thought he was going to the same place as me so I asked him. Hours later we had been talking, getting to know each other. I learnt about his life in China and how much he wanted to leave. He was travelling to Kuala Lumpur to take a test to enable him to study there. At just 17 years old he was prepared to leave his family behind and live abroad, I remember thinking of how brave he must be.
This trip taught me so many lessons for my future travels. I think you need to go through some bumpy trips to prepare yourself for the even tougher. If I hadn’t of learnt from this experience then I wouldn’t have been as prepared for future non English speaking countries. I walked upon The Great Wall of China. I made it.
Love Thy Traveller