One should always travel to the cities that are not particularly popular; I have always believed that you might find hidden treasures that way. I was excited for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was taking the slow train (the oriental express as I would call it for the rest of the trip) and secondly, we were going to climb the Great Wall!
The train ride was a little awkward. I suspect that not so many foreign travellers take the slow train. I mean, you have the option of taking the bullet trains. An hour and a half of stares, fishy smells and heat, we arrived in Tianjin to get in to a taxi with a mad driver! She was on her phone, laughing and talking to herself and rarely looked at the mirrors. She dropped us off at the address I had shown her. Except, there was no sign of a hostel there. Oh dear! After approximately 45 minutes of charging phones, looking at maps, asking people if they know of the hostel, we took a leap of faith and got in to the elevator with other residents. We got off the 6th floor as the address stated…still no sign of a hostel. We knocked on apartment 601 and with a great sigh of relief, there is was: Marco Polo Hostel. The sign was behind the door! From there on, we came to a realization that Tianjin does not like signage.
We didn’t want to waste the limited time we had in Tianjin so we went out for a little walkabout. With an over-enthusiastic taxi driver who mentioned Nelson Mandela as soon as I told him that I am South African, we made it to the Italian Quarter looking for pizza, pasta and wine. Nope. Everything was shut except for a place that sold salty box pizza. Disappointed and freezing, we headed back to the hostel for an early night before a day at the wall.
Early start. We took the bus to Jixian, just outside of the Tianjin city centre. Well, an hour and a half out. Then, from the final stop you can take a taxi to the Great Wall (Huangya Pass). We didn’t get a taxi but we negotiated a return price with a local using his private car. Thanks to Matt, the driver agreed to drive us to the Wall, wait for three hours and drive us back to the bus station before sun set for only CNY 200!
It was a fantastic experience! My legs didn’t think so, though. After climbing about 10 00o steps, it was time to call it a day! Plus, our driver was waiting for us. Chairman Mao once said, “He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true man.” I’m a man!
Where to stay: I use Agoda to book hostels around China. We stayed at the Marco Polo Hostel which cost CNY 52 per night.
Transportation: The subway is cheap and reliable. Taxis are also in abundance, just make sure the driver uses the meter. Beijing to Tianjin slow train: CNY 30 . Bus trip from Tianjin to Jixian: CNY 35.
Entrance to the Great Wall: Huangya Pass Entrance will cost you CNY 65.
Tip: Try not to visit the city during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). Everything will be closed.