For me, this trip to China is my “trip of a lifetime.” To walk on the Great Wall, to see the Terracotta Warriors, to stand in Tiananmen Square – these were things that I never dared to dream that I would get to do!
Beijing has an awesome network of public transportation. Be prepared to fight for your space, and queuing is non-existent.
You should make plans for getting separated and set up meeting points in case you are separated. For example, if we get separated on the subway (only happened once), the person who made the subway will get off and wait at the next stop and then hop on the very next train, which should contain the tardy person (me).
Remember, most people do not speak English. Each of us always carries a business card of the hotel we are staying at that we can hand to a taxi driver.
From the Airport – We took the Beijing Airport Express Train (25 CNY / 4 USD each) to Dongzhimen, Terminal 2. We then caught the subway to Tianamen West.
Forbidden City (60 CNY / 10 USD each) – We pack light with just a small day pack per person. This allows us to explore without dropping bags if we arrive prior to check-in time.
Checked in to the Tiananmen Best Year Courtyard Hotel (363 CNY / 60 USD per night) – walking distance from Forbidden City.
Le Quin Peking Duck (363 CNY / 60 USD) – Peking Duck for lunch! Absolutely scrumptious.
Temple of Heaven Park (35 CNY / 6 USD each) – This turned out to be our favorite experience in China. We bought a kite at the park and attempted to fly it. Almost every single person that walked by us stopped and tried to help us get the kite airborne – or out of a tree.
We finally gave up and went to watch the old-timers who had their own section. After watching them fly their kites for about ½ an hour, we got up to leave and they called us over. They worked on our kite by adding a tail and making some minor adjustments. After trying different tails, they got it to fly, and it was awesome! During this entire experience, no one spoke English. Such friendly people!
7:30 PM Kung Fu Show at Red Theatre (260 CNY / 46 USD each) – Nice show with lots of action.
Mutianyu Great Wall (Entrance 45 CNY / 7 USD each + 100 CNY / 16 USD each Cable Car Up and Tobaggan Ride Down) – We wanted to visit a section of the wall that was less crowded than the Badaling section but easily reachable in a day trip. I contacted a driver prior to our trip that I found via internet search and, through email and phone, arranged to be picked up at our hotel, driven to the wall, and returned once we were done (600 CNY / 100 USD). We had an absolute blast, and he was great company. I would highly recommend this section for both the infrastructure to reach the wall and the ability to get to more remote sections if you are willing to hike a little further than most people.
One note on the toboggan ride down: if you have grey hair and are feeling a little tired, do not let it show! We saw people kicked out of line because the operators thought they were too old. “You! Too old! Cable car!” No joke…
5:50 AM Tiananmen Square Flag Ceremony (Free!) – We got up at 4:30AM and got front row! It was a short 15 minute walk from our hotel. It gets very crowded, very fast. Be prepared to defend your location – there is lots of pushing!
Military Museum (Free!) – China’s first comprehensive military museum.
National Museum of China (Free!) – Lots of information on the Communist Revolution.
7:15 PM Acrobatic Show at Chaoyang Theatre (255 CNY / 42 USD each) – It was a great performance! The show was like some of the shows we have seen in Vegas with some unique stunts that we had never seen before.
Houhai Lake – Rented bikes (10 CNY / 1.5 USD each) and explored the narrow hutongs (lanes).
Beihai Park (10 CNY / 2 USD each) – We took a relaxing walk through the park.
10:05 AM Bullet Train G655 from Beijing West Station to Xi’an North Station (660 CNY / 109 USD each) – Once you arrive, take Line 2 of the subway to the closest location to your hotel. The closest for our hotel, the ibis Xi’an, was Yongningmen Station.
We checked into the ibis Xi’an Hotel (205 CNY / 34 USD per night).
We spent the evening exploring the city on foot and by subway.
Public Bus to the Museum of Qin Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses and the Xi’an Eight Wonders Museum – (7 CNY / 1 USD each for bus + 150 CNY / 25 USD each for museum) – We walked to the Xi’an train station, found bus 306 (Chinese bus green 5) and hopped on. If you stand facing the railway station, the bus will be in the parking lot on your right or (east side). Skip the overpriced tourist buses. Take the same bus back (7 CNY / 1 USD each) once you are finished (remember where you got off when you arrived so you can find where the bus departs back to Xi’an!).
Dinner at Golden Hans Brewery – So much fun! It was within easy walking distance of our hotel. Since we were the only Westerners in the joint, we got to participate in most of the fun events!
Xi’an City Wall Bike Ride (90 CNY / 15 USD) – We rented a tandem bicycle and really enjoyed riding along the wall.
We were lucky enough to find a kite festival going on the day we were there.
Visited the Bell Tower and Drum Tower (48 CNY / 8 USD) – It is an easy walk within the city walls.
10:05 AM Bullet Train G656 from Xi’an North Station to Beijing West Station (660 CNY / 109 USD each).
Check in to the Days Inn Forbidden City (400 CNY / 66 USD per night).
Train to Great Wall at Badaling (6 CNY / 1 USD train + 45 CNY / 7 USD Entrance Fee) – We took the 7:58 AM train S203 from the Beijing North Station. There are no advance ticket booking services for this train route. You have to buy tickets on the spot. As the time to board gets close, people start to get anxious and push to get to the front of the line. Once the doors open, you have to run to get a good seat.
Once you get to Badaling station, just follow everyone else! We did not take the cable car; we just walked to the top. We enjoyed this crowded section of the wall. It is the section you see in many photos.
We took the 11:50 AM return train to Beijing S214 (6 CNY / 1 USD each).
Olympic Forest Park (Free!) – Explored by foot and rented four-wheeled bike (5 USD).
Checked out and took the Beijing Airport Express Train (25 CNY / 4 USD each) to the airport for our departure.
This trip will always stand out in my mind as my favorite trip! I found the Chinese people to be warm and friendly. The kite flying experience in the Temple of Heaven Park was amazing, and the interaction with the people there will always be one of my fondest memories. I sincerely hope that I get to return one day.
- Time of Year: April 2014
- Length of Stay: 11 Days, 10 Nights
- Total Trip Cost – 2 People: 2376 USD*
- Cost Per Day / Per Person: 108 USD*
- Visa Information: China Embassy
*Excluded from the cost analysis:
- International Airfare – International airfare is not included because fares vary depending on your starting location.
GPS Coordinates (for Google Earth viewing): Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10
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Beijing Airport @ 40.053058,116.609649
Forbidden City @ 39.907695,116.391149
Tiananmen Best Year Courtyard Hotel @ 39.910255,116.396903
Le Quin Peking Duck @ 39.898297,116.406508
Temple of Heaven Park @ 39.886747,116.406358
Red Theatre Kung Fu @ 39.885268,116.431767
Mutianyu Great Wall @ 40.42612,116.554891
Tiananmen Square @ 39.905227,116.391332
Military Musuem @ 39.907449,116.323875
National Musuem @ 39.903571,116.394799
Acrobatic Show at Chaoyang Theatre @ 39.92239,116.462446
Houhai Lake @ 39.936703,116.388785
Xian ibis @ 34.254322,108.963578
Xian Train Station – for Bus 306 @ 34.278635,108.958002
Terracotta Warriors @ 34.38499,109.275805
Golden Hans @ 34.257759,108.963579
Xian City Wall South Gate @ 34.253426,108.942421
Xian Bell Tower @ 34.259423,108.947027
Xian Drum Tower @ 34.260173,108.943602
Days Inn Forbidden City @ 39.91011,116.40648
Jingyuan Chuancai Sichuan Restaurant @ 39.902709,116.409416
Badaling Great Wall Entrance @ 40.349929,116.019289
Badaling Train Station @ 40.359995,115.993907
Olympic Forest Park @ 40.010444,116.386193
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*Note: Carry a paper map and double check where you are heading! Navigating by GPS is a challenge in China – China uses an obfuscation algorithm to randomly offset both the latitude and longitude by 50–500 meters. With some experimentation, you can use the Chinese language site Tencent QQ Map for street view verification (Google Earth does not have street view in China). I have included the Chinese script in parentheses that I used to search locations in Tencent QQ Map. Just copy and paste it into the search field. Go to street view by double clicking on the spot marker and then double clicking on the image.
*Disclaimer- ALWAYS verify locations, transportation routes, GPS coordinates, etc. Errors are made, routes changed, sometimes we are just plain wrong. No one knows what you like more than you. If the trip is worth doing, it is worth doing right! Do your homework.