When we were booking our trip back from Chiang Mai to Washington DC, we found an itinerary that had a connection in Beijing. Putting on our maximizing hats once again, we realized we could create a 13 hour layover – enough time to go see some of the sights.
China has a 24 hour transit visa that lets you go into the country at certain airports without a pre-approved visa, as long as you can prove that you’re leaving the country within 24 hours. We just went through the normal foreigner immigration line, told the agent what we were doing and breezed through. No fees, no hassle.
Once through immigration, we grabbed breakfast and met up with our guide and driver. No way we were doing this on our own!
Here’s how our itinerary stacked up:
5:40-8:00am Clear immigration, eat, get cash, meet up with guide
8:00-9:00am Drive to Forbidden City (slow this day due to morning traffic)
9:00-10:30am Explore Forbidden City
10:30am Drive by Tiananmen Gate and Tiananmen Square (We didn’t walk in – just a drive-by)
10:45-1:00pm Drive to Mutianyu section of Great Wall, with stop at McDonald’s for lunch. Yes, it’s shameful to eat McD’s there, but it was quick and time was of the essence, plus we knew the kids would actually eat.
1:00-2:30pm Hike the Great Wall
2:30-3:00pm Souvenir shopping and pit stops
3:00-4:00pm Drive back to Beijing airport
6:30pm Fly from Beijing to Washington Dulles
This itinerary worked very well for us, especially considering the weather had temps in the 40s with a stiff breeze. On a nicer day, we’d have liked to have more time at both locations.
Kir was super excited about seeing the Forbidden City especially since seeing the movie “The Last Emperor”. We entered through the East Gate then walked around the moat to the South Gate. Unfortunately the stiff breeze made it super cold and Beckett didn’t have a hat so he was miserable the entire time. So instead of continuing quickly through the whole city and leaving through the North Gate, we opted to turn around almost halfway in and exit through the East Gate.
Next stop, the hat store to get hats for both the kids so they wouldn’t freeze on the Great Wall.
We really enjoyed driving around Beijing. Some things reminded us of Thailand but many others were just like you’d expect Beijing to look:
A quick stop at McDonald’s for lunch.
After about 1:15 of hiking, it was time to take the toboggans back to the bottom. Beckett had to share a toboggan with Kirsten but sat in front and got to steer the whole way down. Mara was next followed by Chuck. The kids LOVED this and begged to go up so they could ride down again.
Overall, this really was a perfect day trip. We had some nervousness about a number of aspects but everything worked out fine. The kids were very cold at the Forbidden City, which was our fault for not getting them geared up correctly. Both of them LOVED the Great Wall. Even though our time was limited at each attraction, we were delighted to get a peek into China.