In travel, as in much of life, you often get what you pay for.
In years past, I’ve visited the Great Wall at Bedaling, the closest access point to Bejing. It’s always packed: a Chinese wall of people. This time, I wanted a different view.
Several companies now offer regular tours to Mutianyu, about an hour and half from the capital. I checked out a few. In the interests of journalism (and budget), I decided to take the cheapest offered, which I arranged at a youth hostel.
For 180 yuan -- less than $24 -- I would get a tour to the Ming Tombs, the Great Wall at Mutianyu, and lunch. Other tours ranged from $34 to $54.Cheap it was.
The mini-van arrived on time. The guide spoke reasonably good English. Only one other person was on the tour, a German.
We got about 15 minutes out of town, then the guide began to explain the day’s itinerary. It would include four factory stops for “cultural education.’’
The German exploded. “I was told by the tour office that there would be no factory tours, no shops!’’ he said vehemently. Apparently he earlier had been dragged from store to store.
Our guide explained that while we were paying only 180 yuan per person, the tour with lunch and entry fees actually cost 500 per person. The way to make up the difference: Factory tours, where the company would be paid a fee.
The German refused. The guide called the tour company office, then told the German that he could take a taxi back to his hotel and get a refund. The German exploded and stormed off.
I agreed to go on. But there was much telephoning with the tour office; obviously making the costs with only a single guest was a problem. I also asked more questions. The main sticking points for me: I’d have only 90 minutes at the Wall, and we wouldn’t get back to Beijing until 7 p.m. This was both less time at the Wall and later than I’d been told.
In the end, the guide and driver took me back to the youth hostel where I bought the tour, so I could get a refund. On the way I telephoned another tour company that I knew left later in the morning and talked them into taking me.
Sure, it cost a bit more – 280, about $34 – and didn’t include lunch or the Ming Tombs, which I saw on a previous trip. But I got what I wanted: two full hours at the Wall, and only a single short stop at a silk factory.
End of story: The Wall at Mutianyu was totally worth it. Few other visitors, a cable car to the top and a fun toboggan ride back down the bottom. Not to be missed.
PHOTOS BY JANE WOOLDRIDGE / THE MIAMI HERALD
Top: The Great Wall near Mutianyu
Bottom: Tobogganing down the hill from The Great Wall
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Posted by DARCOS CRUZ at 7:24 AM