If you’re a budget traveller – or just a bit stubborn like I am – then you’ll probably not want to take the Beijing-Great Wall ‘tour guide’ option. When I got to Beijing, I was inundated with tempting tour offers – and it’s a struggle to fight through these and find the cheap option! Badaling is by far the most famous section of the Great Wall – but if you want something slightly less touristy yet still in great condition, then Mutianyu is worth considering. There’s a few guides out there detailing how to get there by public transport, but they weren’t all as detailed as my anxious nature would like them to be, and so this is how I got from Beijing to Mutianyu on public transport – as detailed as I can be.
1. Travel to Dongzhimen. It’s easiest to do this via subway for 2 RMB. Once you’re there, the bus station is on the other side of the road from the subway (or more directions here). It doesn’t look particularly ‘bussy’ from the outside – but there will probably be quite a few crowds outside, even (especially?) in the morning. The bus we caught goes from the inside. Alternatively, you can apparently go straight to ‘Dongzhimen Public Transport Hub’ from Dongzhimen subway station, which is an underground path.
2. Find the bus! This is probably the hardest bit. You will probably be approached by quite a few people offering various services. The most persuasive woman offered a ‘direct shuttle straight to Mutianyu’, for £10 (100 RMB). Above all this noise, search for the 916 (fast express) or the 936 (There are also tourist buses ‘6’ but they are more expensive and I haven’t used them! – onseason only). The 916 is a kind of indirect service that runs out of season, and the 936 runs from April-November. You may find there are ‘fake’ 916/936s, but look for the buses that are the same colour (green) as all the other public ones, and at the 916 or 936 signs. The bus driver will most likely be quite nonchalent and may even be confused if you ask if he is the ‘real 936’, which is when you know you’re on the right bus! The fare for the 916 was about 12 RMB (£1.20) and you pay as you get on.
3. (916) On the 916, you need to get off at Huairou (怀柔 – write down these symbols!). The journey takes about an hour and 10 minutes. SOME 916s will take 2 hours, but these are indirect services, so it’s best to ask at the beginning of the journey if it’s fast or slow. A top tip is to sit as close as you can to the front of the bus! We sat at the back and the only reason we knew to get off at Huairou is because a minibus driver asked us if we were going to Mutianyu as he was getting off. Most bus drivers are friendly enough to tell you when you reach Huairou if you ask them about Huairou at the beginning of the journey, so don’t be afraid to ask other passengers/the bus driver to inform you when you reach Huairou! The bus we travelled on had announcements in Chinese, so these can help if you listen very very carefully.
3a. (936) Check with the 936 bus driver if it goes straight to Mutianyu. If it doesn’t, you’ll probably have to follow the 916 instructions and get off at Huairou.
4. From Huairou, you’ll have to get a minibus/taxi to Mutianyu itself. You shouldn’t really paying more than 25 RMB for the journey out – I paid 21 RMB (and 21 back, and the driver waited for us). You should aim to share with at least 1-2 other travellers, so ask around your hostel for people to share with. From what I’ve read, 25 RMB is quite standard, and you’ll be fortunate to get cheaper than this.
5. That’s about it! You pay an entrance fee (less if you’re a student) when you get there, and if you fancy it, you can pay for an extra ticket to ride a GIANT CHUTE all the way back down after you’re done with the wall. It’s quite cool but I imagine it would be a huge wait if you’re travelling during a Chinese holiday or in the summer, so consider whether you have the time to do it.
***Bring small notes!
***Timetables for the buses are hard to find, but the 936 currently seems to run between 07:00-15:00 on the hour. The 916 times are about the same, although maybe a little later(and as far as I’m aware runs every 20 minutes). You should definitely aim to leave Dongzhimen as early as possible (I aimed for just after 07:00) so you have as long as possible at the wall and don’t have to worry about getting back quickly.
***Frankly, if you’ve found a tour for under £25 (250 RMB, includes giant chute ride), you know you’d get worried on public transport in a foreign language, or you don’t have anyone who would share a minibus with you, it’s probably worth paying for a tour at the local hostel. Just don’t pay for a tour outside of China before you get there, as it’s rarely even slightly worth it!