Most people think of a 23 hour long layover as a waste of time. I was one of those people; I absolutely hated long lay layovers. When I realized that long layovers didn’t mean a waste of time at the airport, my view changed.
(this post contains affiliate links. please see disclosure policy for more information)
While sky scanning for flights to Bangkok, Thailand, I was happy to find that both tickets to and from Thailand had an option for a really long layover in Beijing. I immediately opened a new tab (like the million I already had open weren’t enough) and got busy googling all the questions I had. I must say, Google is such an amazing search bar.
There were three main things I wanted to know:
1. Do Americans need a visa to travel to Beijing?
- I was glad to find out that if we were staying in Beijing for under 72 hours, a visa was not necessary. Yay!
2. Things do in or around Beijing.
- The first thing that I saw was, drum roll … The “Great Wall of China.” Knowing that the Great Wall of China is considered one of the 7 wonders of the world, it was at the ultimate top of my list. Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City were also on Google’s to do list.
3. Things to do with families in Beijing.
- Honestly, not much came up. I got similar search results as search # 2 above. I didn’t worry much knowing that we weren’t staying here a while so I didn’t have to look for too many family/toddler friendly things to do.
With the information above, I went ahead and booked our tickets to Thailand with a layover in Beijing each way, woo hoo!
And yes we packed backpacks ONLY. For 2.5 weeks. OSPREY is amazing!!
We flew to Beijing on Air China. I was disappointed to find out that there was NO internet. Whattttt… No internet on a 13-hour flight? How could I possibly survive? Thankfully enough all our tablets were loaded with lots of shows and movies to keep us entertained. The food wasn’t impressive, so it’s a good thing I packed lots of food and snacks for Aiden because he didn’t eat any of the food that was served. Oh wait, he did eat one of the dinner rolls, and a few shredded carrots but that was it.
lunch or dinner – well it depends on what time zone you are referring to
We used two new travel gear that I highly recommend
I have added both to my blog post on “Travelling With A Child – The Essentials“
I was curious to find out what type of snacks they carried on the plane, so I asked one of the flight attendants if they had any snacks for sale. She spoke no English at all, and called a few others to help her understand what I was saying. No luck there as they didn’t speak English also (From what we noticed, it seemed like none of the flight attendants we came in contact with on the flight spoke any English). I had to show her hand gestures, and point at some things and then she responded with “No.” I wanted to say “What, what do you mean by No?” But that was going to be such a pointless question. I turned to my husband and asked him, “How on earth is it possible that an airplane does not have any snacks for sale?” Surprising right! A few minutes after I went back to my seat, she showed up with a small pack of cookies, containing 2 chocolate chipped cookies in the pack. Aiden was excited about it and thanked her. I guess there were snacks on the plane, but not for sale. Those snacks weren’t served to anyone on the plane, so I’m guessing it was for the crew. However, it was a nice gesture.
It was a smooth flight and Aiden slept 85% of it, Yay. We landed in Beijing at 8.45pm. It was dark and COLD. We weren’t as tired as we thought we would, or maybe it was just excitement, lol. Aiden was full of energy as always. We grabbed our backpacks, deplaned on the runway and followed the crowd.
We almost stood in the general passport line which was much longer, when I spotted a separate line to the left (following the crowd was clearly a bad idea, lol). It was a much shorter line and the line for people exiting the airport under the 72 hour no visa rule. I stood in line with Aiden while my husband filled out our arrival cards. My advice – Fill it your arrival/departure cards on the plane when they are passed out or at least before you deplane. It’ll save you so much time.
We got up to the front of the line, presented our passports, tickets for our connecting flight, filled out arrival and departure cards and got our passports stamped. The immigration officer didn’t say a word, not even a smile. He just looked at each passport, ticket and departure card, looked at the person who the passport belonged to, stamped and then went on to the next one. He asked absolutely no questions. My advice – Make sure you have everything ready before you get to the front of the line, the people in front of us didn’t, and the immigration officer seemed to be a little frustrated with them. We then hopped on the tram to baggage claim/arrivals. The good thing about not checking in a bag is you zoom right through and out you go.
You know those signs people always hold when you exit, I’ve always wondered when someone would have one with my name on it (Silly I know. But be honest with yourself, you know how you get off a flight and secretly read names hoping your name is on one of the signs. No one? Okay, just me I guess, lol). This time it happened; there he was, our driver/guide waiting for us with our names “Karen Sylvester” on a sign. Yeeeee, and of course I had to take a pic (unfortunately all my photos were erased from my phone). Prior to heading to his car, my husband stopped at the ATM at the airport and got some Yuan (Chines currency). [I got the contact information for our driver/guide from a friend who had a layover in Beijing. I contacted him prior to our arrival and made arrangements for pick up. If you’re ever in Beijing and need a driver, reach out to him Ma Mark – firstname.lastname@example.org]
The driver took us on a drive around Beijing, downtown as well as Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City. It was dark and difficult to see anything. We told him that we were hungry and wanted to eat authentic Chinese food so he drove us to a restaurant that he said had good authentic food. If you know me well, then you know that I absolutely dislike Chinese food. I figured, Chinese food in China will definitely not be the same as Chinese food in the U.S. so I have to try it. And plus, I was definitely not eating American food that’s for sure.
(The two images below are courtesy of Google)
We invited our guide to eat with us but he politely declined, he did accompany us in though. When we got to the restaurant, we were immediately seated. It was nice to have a guide who spoke some English so he could translate for us. I studied the menu like I was studying for finals. The items on the menu where nothing close to Chinese food served in the U.S. Duck, Frog — Uhhhmm No thank you! I asked the waitress, “No, orange chicken?” – and she looked at me like I was from another planet. Google translator to the rescue. I showed her, she looked perplexed, and said “No, No, Sorry.” I ordered plain noodles for Aiden, a chicken dish and a meat dish and some white rice for myself and my husband. Aiden said the noodles were yucky, but did settle for plain white rice. The food was okay, nothing special. The flavors were definitely very different from what I had tasted years ago in the U.S. (Yes, it’s been several years since I has Chinese food – over 5 years actually). [again, no photos of food. all gone from my phone]
After dinner, our guide dropped us at our hotel and we paid him. We checked in, got our keys, went up to our room and right to bed. I made sure to set my alarm because I knew we would had to wake up early the next day. Aiden was already sleeping before we got to the hotel. We stayed at Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing. It was a decent hotel, and I booked it using Booking.com
Our guide was scheduled to pick us up at 6am the next morning. We overslept, and by the time we got up, showered and got ready it was already 6.20am. We called the front desk and told them to let our driver know we would be running late. We rushed to breakfast and informed then we were in a hurry and couldn’t sit and wanted to take some food to go. The hostess provided us with few plastic bowls. I filled it up with whatever I could find. They had some typical American items on the buffet as well as Chinese food. I grabbed a hot chocolate for Aiden and some water and we were good to go.
The drive to the great wall of China from our hotel was about an hour and a half. We sat in the back of the van and munched on our food while enjoying the scenery. When we got to the main entrance, our driver parked the car and said he needed to buy tickets. While waiting, I took the opportunity to hop out of the car and let Aiden run around a little, as well as take photos of course.
what seemed to be an abandoned store
While playing around, Aiden made a friend. She told us her Chinese name which was a little hard to pronounce, and then quickly said, but my American name is Cassie. She asked to take a pic with Aiden, and Aiden hardly ever says no to pictures. As you can tell, he was excited.
Aiden found and old vintage looking chair and we decided to incorporate it into our photo shoot. Can you tell he was having a blast?
When the driver got back, we got into the car and up he drove. Our guide parked and then walked us uphill to the main entrance. By the way, be prepared to walk. Make sure that you have comfy shoes and clothes because you will need it. At the main entrance, we had to pay another fee to ride the cable car up to the top of The Great Wall. We gave our driver some money, and he paid for our tickets. He told us we had about 2 hours up there and then it would be time to head to the airport.
We took the cable car up to the top. Midway in the cable car, I looked down and boy oh boy was it a Bad Bad idea! I freaked out and immediately keep looking forward (Yes, I am scared of heights).
We got up to the top, got out of the cable car, and there we were. Standing on The Great Wall of China. What an amazing experience! The view was splendid and it was cold. We packed for Thailand, 80 degree weather. We did not pack for Beijing’s 30 degree weather. We were freezing, but did not let that get in the way of our fun.
We walked around, admired the beauty of the Great Wall, took photos and just had a good time.
Aiden was so cold I had to wrap my scarf around him. “Cold and Happy”
There were a few other people there, but not many. Our advantage was the fact that we got there early in the morning. It was nice to take photos and not worry about someone always in your background. If you know me, then you know that I absolutely hate when I take a photo of a beautiful scenery and there are people in the background. In my opinion, it kills the focus. It’s just distracting.
come on people. walk faster, get out of my pic.
the love between these two
After walking around and talking to Aiden about the history of The Great Wall of China, it was time to go back down. An hour and a half had gone by so fast. Time goes by fast when you’re having a good time. On the way down, we decided to ride the toboggan. We weren’t sure if we could with Aiden, but one of the workers there informed us that we could as long as he rode with one of us. Let me tell you, that was a Fun ride. You absolutely must ride the toboggan down. Michelle Obama did it! Lol.
Aiden chose to ride with his dad of course
When we got to the bottom and got off, Aiden’s exact words were “That was just too much fun. Let’s do it again.”
There was a guy waiting as soon as we got off the toboggan with a sword (real one) and a hat and asked to take a picture with Aiden.
pic, but first let me get a tip
On our way down we noticed lots of people. Groups on tour buses were getting bused up the hill and dropped off. My first thought was YES! We totally avoided them.
perfect for when you’re too lazy to walk up the hill
We met up with our driver/guide, and off to the airport we went for our flight to Bangkok.
passport in hand, 5 cities in SE Asia to visit – I’m ready!
And off to Bangkok we went !!
Click HERE to read the return portion of our Beijing Layover