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The 29th Birthday Tour That Almost Didn’t Happen


This story happened back in May on our Silk Roadistan tour.

Great Wall of China

Our guide and translator fumbled back and forth between English to us and Mandarin to her boss on the phone until the driver pulled off the highway. The three of us sat in the back of a cramped, small car trying desperately to understand why we couldn’t go to our preferred Great Wall destination, and why we were supposed to pay more money.

At least we were finally on our way, somewhat.

We weren’t happy feeling like we were getting taken advantage of, after making a booking on the phone for one place, and then being told when in the car that it was no longer possible. Yep, just another easy way to make more money off tourists, right?

When the guide also told us that we were to stop off at certain locations on the way there and back, some tourist traps, we said that we didn’t want to do that because we were pressed for time.

Maybe the complaints got to be too much, or maybe our guide didn’t translate the feelings to her boss correctly. She turned to us after clicking off the phone, stating, “Ok, the tour is cancelled.”

To which I replied in a rage, “You’re ruining my birthday!”

* * * * *

Since the Great Wall of China was probably one of the main things I wanted to see while in Beijing, we decided to do the tour on the day of my 29th birthday (oh. my. god.). We chose from one of the dozens of tour operators handing out flyers near the Forbidden City since they seemed to come at a decent value. After phoning around and knowing that our wall destination of choice was the more remote region of Simatai since there would be fewer tourists, we booked with one company — who were to pick us up at 7:30 am to start the journey.

Yuck. That was very early already.

Great Wall out in the Distance

But we made it outside to the hotel down the road to stand awkwardly in the parking lot… waiting.

And waiting…

Yep, finally we gave the booking agent a ring to find out that whoever was supposed to pick us up was not coming. They forgot about us in fact. It would be another hour and a half or more before the backup guide/translator could make it there.

So I got out of bed at 6 am for no good reason. NOT HAPPY. To kill time, we found a cafe and stocked up on bread rolls and iced coffee while our precious day time was wasting away. Oh yeah, it was our last full day in Beijing to boot.

Finally our ride came, we hopped in the car, and off we went. We were already flustered so when the events in the intro of this post started to occur, you can imagine that we were even more frustrated.

“No, we don’t want to stop off at the tea house or the pottery shop. We are running low on time now that we’re leaving 2 hours later than we thought.”

Not only that, but poor Paula who could barely walk because she got an infection on her foot was back at the apartment waiting for our return.

Windows at the Great Wall

Apparently, however, you cannot go on these tours without stopping off at these tourist traps. Or else you have to pay a higher fee. And when we both complained that we should pay a lower fee for being forgotten and for not getting to go to our original destination, the boss guy decided that there would be no tour. At all.

We were stopped on the side of the road a ways outside of Beijing, FURIOUS, when we heard that our tour — after a couple of hours of being frustrated just waiting for the pick-up, on our final day in Beijing, the one thing that we wanted to see the most, and also on my special GOLDEN birthday day — was CANCELLED.

Were we going to miss seeing one of the biggest attractions in all of China, really?

I mean we were already in the car, and we had no other opportunities to go. As much as it angered me, we kind of sort of had to stick our tail between our legs and try and make this tour happen.

I hate feeling trapped like that.

Finally, we agreed to stop off at all the tourist traps, and we had to agree to go to the Mutianyu part of the wall.

Ok, fine, we made it to the Great Wall of China. Hurray!

Brooke and Pat conquer the Great Wall of China.

Brooke and Pat conquer the Great Wall of China.

And it’s a pretty amazing thing, right. To think that this wall was able to be built through the rolling hills across China is pretty awe-inspiring. I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the construction crew, that’s for sure!

To save a bit of time and energy, there was a cable car option to make it up the hill and a toboggan option on the way down that we took advantage of. The humidity at this time, however, was stifling. Like, I could barely breathe it was so humid. We may have also made the wrong path decision because climbing some sections of stairs was almost like scaling a wall.

GReat Wall Decorations

I won’t lie: I may have said I was having a shitty birthday there for a minute or two. Especially when I could feel the sweat running down my back in big drops, and when my legs felt like they were about to give out from the stairs.

But the marvel of this historical site was worth all the drama and the stress. It’s a place I’ve always dreamed of seeing. Do you dream of visiting the Great Wall of China?


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5 Responses to The 29th Birthday Tour That Almost Didn’t Happen

  1. Rachel October 30, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    I really enjoyed the Great Wall! We took the train to the Badaling section, which was crowded but still fun and impressive! Glad you made it there eventually, but what an unfortunate series of events for your birthday.

    • Brooke November 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

      No joke – super stressful start to the day, thinking that we were forgotten and might miss the tour, and then to have it “cancelled” while on the way. Not cool to leave stuff like this to your last day in a city 😉

  2. D.J. - The World of Deej October 30, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    Crazy story, but glad you got to see the wall in the end. A few years back we did the Simatai section, and it was incredible. I believe they closed it shortly after we visited though to renovate it, so it’s probably changed quite a bit. We didn’t have to stop at any tourist traps either, which definitely sounds new if that is required…

    • Brooke November 5, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

      Tourist traps are required of the tour company we went with, but we didn’t know that was part of it until the day of. I just don’t like feeling like we’re getting taken advantage of when overseas – so frustrating. But we made it!

  3. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) November 7, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    I am so sorry to hear that this happened to you… and on your birthday no less! When we were in Beijing, we heard that many of the more “affordable” tour options wind up roping you into souvenir shops and other time/money wasters, so we were seriously thinking of just doing a slightly pricier option with our hostel. Thankfully, when we decided to go to Mutianyu as well, we found that we could easily get there on public transportation! It may not be quite as simple as doing a tour, but we appreciated just getting to do our own thing without worrying about scams.

    But really, the Great Wall is so fabulous that I agree it is worth the extra hassle to get there (even if the Wall itself is insanely challenging!).

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