Needless to say, it’s easy as cabin crew to pass through the boarders of the world so seamlessly, so easy in fact I forget what it’s like to wait in airport lines and when I’m actually a real passenger I get so impatient and frustrated because I’m used to knowing whats going on all the time. The ease of this process was highlighted today as I passed through boarder security in Beijing for the first time.
Normally as a passenger from New Zealand you’d need a visa to make it through the boarders of Beijing. All it took today for my-self and the rest of the cabin crew was a thumb print and a photo and we walked straight through. I’m always reminded of how privileged I am to have this job at this point in my life. Having never been to Beijing but always wanting to go the ease and process of getting here made it so surreal.
We landed late at night and didn’t get to the crew hotel until 11:30pm. After collecting our allowance the hotel staff ran our notes through a machine that checks its authenticity (something to keep in mind is that fraudulent Yuan commonly circulate, you should ensure your notes are real before taking it). The four of us crew who were visiting the wall together promised to be up and downstairs the next morning at 6:45am and went our separate ways.
Hotels in Asia never disappoint! I walked in and it was beautiful, a miniature suite, so homely and comfy, a place I’d like to spend time in while I’m away. The highlight of our rooms in Beijing is definitely the TV above the bath tub, even though there was only one English Channel, it was a novelty (I had about six baths during my 48 hours there!). After settling in making sure my VPN (see below, this is a must when visiting China) was working and christening the bath tub I jumped into bed. We had been flying all afternoon and night and I was exhausted.
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
For all cabin crew and visitors travelling to China, as social apps and sites are restricted in China in order to gain access to them, you’ll need to download a VPN before your arrival.
VPN Proxy Master
I know both of these work in Shanghai and Beijing. I’ve been switching between the two VPN’s when one appears to slow down.
The next morning, I woke up a lot earlier then I needed to, I think it was the excitement, or most probably the fact that I was on New Zealand time. We were visiting the Great Wall of China that day! I knew one day I’d be seeing it, but I would never have thought I’d be seeing it so soon and on a work trip too! About a week before the trip I had emailed John Liu; he had been recommended by three other crew I had talked to about Beijing. He is a tour driver and picks you up from the hotel and takes you to the Great Wall and pretty much anywhere else you want if you ask.
I emailed John a week in advance asking if he’d be free to take four Qantas crew to the Great Wall. John’s English is amazing and he’s so easy to communicate with. The best way to make a reservation is through email. He responded to me within 5 minutes and the reservation was complete! He has been a tour guide for tourists and cabin crew for a very long time taking people up to the wall 800 times (he claims). He’s very kind and has a wealth of knowledge.
750 Yuan – John will take you to the wall (he has a nice car and we split that price between four of us).
180 Yuan – Gondola/Luge/Wall access.
200 Yuan – we paid extra for John to drive us to the Summer Palace.
30 Yuan – Summer Palace entry.
You also make breakfast and lunch stops throughout the day if you want. John will drive you to the wall, help you buy your tickets, take you to the shuttle bus and even gets on the shuttle bus with you and takes you to the gondola, he then leaves you to explore!
On our flight over from Sydney to Beijing the crew had so much information and advice to give us about our Great Wall experience and the reality was none of it was true. Often times weather conditions can be unpredictable and you never know what you’re going to get on the day unfortunately, your weather app could tell you sunshine and high temperatures but when you get there it will feel a lot colder if the winds are coming from Mongolia (experienced crew informed me of this). We were told that the drive itself from our crew hotel would take two hours. It took us just under an hour. We were also told that it would be freezing, windy and very low visibility. It was warm/hot, no wind at all and we could see the Great Wall stretch right over the surrounding mountains! I guess we were lucky.
What to wear and what to bring
If you are simply visiting the wall and intend on wandering around like we did you really don’t need much. We visited during spring, on the 4th of April and I wore a one piece romper and a light jacket and chucks. The walk isn’t hard hence my choice of outfit. I wore this outfit to climb very steep sections of the wall and had no issues, my chucks didn’t even give me blisters!
Bring a lot of water. It is a very dry environment and it is very easy to get dehydrated fast, especially while exerting yourself. Also bring toilet paper! They don’t stock their toilets with toilet paper. Most of the toilets are squat toilets but at many tourist sites they’ll have one or two regular toilets.
After meeting John in the lobby, he drove us to the wall. Once we got out of the city area, we stay in it really started to feel like a different country. Our work trips aren’t long, its often such a whirlwind that you forget to stop and realise where you are and what you’re doing. I try very hard to stop and remind myself that this isn’t a normal life and we’re lucky to have this opportunity. John took us early so that we would beat the crowds and the tour groups and get up to the wall and have it to ourselves. Once we bought our tickets, we had to get on a shuttle bus to the gondola for environmental reasons and overcrowding.
We got to the gondola and rode it upwards toward the wall and I’d like to say the view was incredible but the sun was actually shining in my eyes. Below us the blossoms were blooming so that made up for the blinding sun. At the top of the gondola when you arrive at the wall you can either turn left or right…
My Wall Recommendations
Left: Is an easy slopping walk down, but remember you do have to walk back up.
Right is difficult, the wall gets very steep, and the steps can be like climbing a ladder at some points. Further toward the top there is an amazing photo opportunity with the blossom trees and a view of the wall up through the mountains.
I recommend doing both of course because you’ve come such a long way! We chose the right side first because the views are even better, the higher you climb the better the view. It was challenging but nothing you can’t handle. If you have injuries in your legs or difficulties walking and climbing stairs the right side of the wall may be too difficult for you.
The left side is definitely for all visitors with beautiful views too.
We explored the wall stopping frequently for photo opportunities and rests after steep sections. I spent most of my time trying to comprehend the size and length of the wall and how on earth they managed to create something so grand! We had three hours on the wall, but I could have spent at least five hours. We took the luge down which was absolutely wild, the track has so many twists and turns and the cart size was so small, but it was a great way to end our wall visit.
We met John back in the car park who then took us to get lunch near the Summer Palace. At the restaurant we ordered about thirty-two pork dumpling between the four of us, UNINTENTIONALLY of course. Because of the language barrier we had no clue how many we ordered! We also ordered sweet dumplings and a pork and eggplant dish and duck.
Food is quite cheap as you leave the main city of Beijing so even though we actually ordered a huge number of dumplings (32) and it didn’t cost us an arm and a leg. We also ordered several other dishes that came out to equal 320 Yuan.
John then took us to the Summer Palace like we requested and even showed us around talking to us about the history. If you don’t research or already know about the Summer Palace, I think it’s important to do so before you go. I didn’t know anything about it so while it was beautiful, I wasn’t all that interested in it. It was very busy during the afternoon, so we walked around quite quickly and left without many photo opportunities purely because of the amount of people that were there.
It took us about an hour and a half to get through the traffic back to the crew hotel. The traffic and the way people drive are so different to what I’m used to and seeing people weave through lanes or driving in between lanes or squeezing into gaps that they probably shouldn’t is exhilerating to watch. I say this because it shouldn’t work to drive like this, no body indicates, no body crashes and nobody gets road rage either. It’s amazing to see!
Our time during our slip ports are often fleeting. Sometimes you have the energy and excitement to explore and other times you’ll want to stay in bed. Beijing is a very rare trip for Auckland crew, but I suspect we’ll be visiting more often now. I wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip by and absolutely loved my time visiting the Great Wall. It was such an easy experience to plan and do. So hopefully this has given you the information you need as crew to do so, or maybe you’re just curious about what we get up to as cabin crew.
This was my little work trip to Beijing, a little insight to what some of us get up to and useful tips for your next trip to Beijing!