Katie woke up at 6:45am, and woke JT up shortly after. All signs in the Beijing Drum Tower Youth Hostel and online pointed to breakfast starting at 7am, but when we went down 7:15am, the restaurant was dark and the front desk claimed it opened at 8am. Hence we finished packing and then ate breakfast at 8am. Katie opted for the Swiss breakfast while JT opted for the Mexican option.
After eating, we began our journey via public transport to Mutianyu Huandao (慕田峪 环岛). We took the 2 subway to Dongzhimen Long-Distance Bus Station (东直门长途汽车站 ). Just follow the signs from the subway to the bus station. Once in the station, look for the 916 express (916快) lane and line up. There is no bathroom on the bus, and the seats are small (they fit 5 plus an aisle in the back and the seats in the front are no bigger), but otherwise it is a comfortable ride. Buses were leaving pretty much as quickly as people could load into them when we were leaving around 9:30am on an August Monday.
We took the 916快 (¥12/person) 60-70 minutes to Huairou North Street (怀柔北街道), crossed the street, and then took took a bus (¥3/person) to Mutianyu Huandao (慕田峪 环岛). Apparently the H23, H24 or 936 (Huairou to Dongtai) buses run this route – be sure to ask the ticket lady to tell you when you reach Mutianyu Huandao (慕田峪 环岛). If you find this catching the bus confusing, just catch a taxi or mini-bus from Huairou North Street (it should not be more than ¥15/person one-way).
We happened to run into two Americans, one who was Chinese and spoke Chinese, on the 916 express bus. She helped us navigate the local public bus from Huairou 怀柔区 to Mutianyu Huandao慕田峪 环岛. It might have been difficult without her, but certainly doable. One word of caution – ignore anyone who tries to convince you to leave the bus and take a taxi. The touts were pretty aggressive on our 916 express ride, waving at us frantically and even banging on the window. One guy even got on the bus and tried to convince another white couple that they needed to exit.
Once at Mutianyu Huandao, continue walking in the direction the bus was travelling and turn right on the first road (it is about a 1 minute walk to the turn). Walk along this road until you see a ticket office for the bus shuttle (¥15/person) on your left. Take the bus shuttle, and then buy your entrance tickets (¥45 each). Then, finally, decide whether you want to (1) walk , (2) ride the cable way or (3) ride the chair lift. We choose the chair lift and toboggan combo (¥100 each), but if we were to do it again, we would have done the cable car up and toboggan down. Note that taking the cable-way drops you at tower 14, while taking the chair lift drops you at tower 8 (which is also where the toboggan leaves from). Doing the cable car & toboggan option minimizes the amount you have to backtrack.
We enjoyed the chair lift up, and were very glad we did not walk. Save your energy for your time on the wall! JT’s fear of heights came back a little on the chair lift though!
Once on the wall, we chose to walk towards the west (and the higher numbered towers). Walking in this direction was almost completely uphill! But the forested mountain views with restored wall and wild wall were amazing, and the air blowing through the stone windows of the frequent watch towers was cool despite the humid day.
We hiked from the tower 8 chair lift all the way to the last technically open tower, tower 23. Despite the sign indicating that tourists may not continue past tower 23, many do (and must, if they plan to hike to or from Jiankou). The wall did look rougher immediately after the sign, and there were trees and bushes growing on the wild wall further down. But we did see atleast five people in two separate groups who had made the hike from Jiankou. One group looked like they had gone through some rough, muddy areas.
After buying some postcards and a metal (total 35) from a lady selling items at the last watchtower, we ate our crackers and dried bananas lunch and headed back towards tower 8. All in all, we were on the wall for four hours and we spent the majority of that time hiking 5 miles (a rough, sometimes slippery, 5 miles).
We were really excited about taking the toboggan ride down from the wall. The track was long, and the people going down on it as we took the chair lift up seemed to be having a blast. Hence you can imagine our extreme disappointment when they claimed it was closed due to rain when we were ready to leave. And it was not temporarily closed until the very light sprinkle stopped, it was closed for the day. This was incredibly disappointing, and we got no ¥20/person refund for the difference in price between the round-trip chair lift and round-trip chair lift with toboggan as all of the ticket windows were closed.
All of the souvenir sellers were gone once we reached the bottom of the chair lift, but there were two guys in costumes who grabbed at JT when we refused to pay to take pictures with them.
We easily caught a shuttle bus back to Mutianyu Huandao (慕田峪 环岛) and then ignored all of the aggressive minibus/taxi drivers and headed back to the bus stop. We saw the sign on the side of the road that we exited on earlier in the day, but no bus stop sign on our side. We waited there anyway, and a minibus stopped. We bargained him down to ¥15/person (and might have done better) to Huairou North Street (怀柔北街道) and hopped in. This ride was crazy quick, as he drove very aggressively and made risky passes. None of the seats had seat belts except the front passenger, and the driver seat had a fake, unconnected buckle in it so the car would start!
He dropped us exactly where we wanted to be, although a 916 express was just leaving. Not to worry, even around 6pm the 916 express buses run frequently. Another 916 express came within 10 minutes. As a note, non-express 916 buses do exist, as we saw one. Avoid these, as they take significantly longer.
Our 916 express ended up being completely full, with a couple people having to stand for the entire journey. The bus dropped us on the street as its final stop, but close to the bus terminal we departed from so getting back to the metro was easy.
We took the metro to Beijing Drum Tower Youth Hostel and then went to get dumplings from the restaurant next door. Apparently you must order dumplings in sets of 2, so we got 20 dumplings (4 orders) in two flavors (pork and corn & specialty dumpling (pork/leek/prawn/egg). Once again, they were great! Even with a side of rice (¥2) and two Yanjing beers (¥9 each), the bill was only ¥57.