How We Almost Didn’t Get to the Great Wall of China

When you visit China, there are several things you want to see. You want to see the Terracotta Warriors, giant pandas, the Forbidden City and, of course, the Great Wall. When we were in China we planned to spend the majority of our last day at the Great Wall. The first part of our trip had several hiccups, but we’d meticulously planned our last day and felt like everything was going to be perfect.

And then we woke up.

Scott, Troy and I got up early and made sure we were ready well before our tour guide was supposed to arrive. It was an early day, 7am, but we wanted to get an early start so we could spend a long time up at the Wall.

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After waiting outside for about 40 minutes, Scott went back inside to call Peter. When he came back out about 10 minutes later he said Peter was running late, but would arrive in 30 minutes or so. Scott ran to an eatery a few streets over, but Troy and I decided to stay close to the hotel in case Peter showed up ‘early’.

Eventually he showed up, but not as we’d expected. We were concerned because we had rented a car and one tour guide, not a van and two tour guides. The woman with Peter told us he brought the van so we would be more comfortable and that Peter didn’t speak very good English, so she, Leelee, was along to make sure everything was communicated correctly.

Shortly after we left the hotel Leelee said she wanted to make sure we were all on the same page. She said that for 400 RMB she would be taking us to a tea house, the Olympic stadium, a jade exhibition enter, the Badaling section of the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs and a pearl market. I had wanted to go to the Summer Palace as well, but Leelee said there wouldn’t be time to do it all.

20130809_082012Scott asked her if there would be time to see the Summer Palace if we skipped the tea house, Olympic stadium, jade exhibition center and pearl market, but Leelee said it was company policy to visit those places and she couldn’t do anything about it. We didn’t have to buy anything at them, but if we could at least spend a few minutes at each one, that would be fine. Troy and I had come across a similar gig in Thailand where the drivers received kickbacks for bringing tourists to certain shops, so we figured we could just play the game, spend a few minutes at each place and then leave, hopefully cutting out enough time to hit the Summer Palace on the way back from the Wall.

The first place we stopped was Dr. Tea. It was a cute little tea house where we were taken to a private room to receive a tea demonstration.

Once the demonstration was over the demonstrator began showing us different products we could purchase. We weren’t really interested in anything, but she kept telling us she doesn’t get paid unless we purchase something and that we should show our appreciation for her demonstration by buying tea or a mug. At our continued refusal to purchase, she got quite upset. After we went outside she stormed over to Leelee and they started arguing in Chinese.

When Leelee got back in the car, she assured us it was fine that we didn’t purchase anything here, but insisted we HAD to purchase something from the exhibition center and the pearl market. We said we’d think about it.

As we drove to the Olympic stadium, Leelee began chatting with us. She asked about our phones, how expensive they were, if we had iphones, how much our cameras cost, what the price of things in the US were and what kind of jobs we had. She repeatedly mentioned how ‘rich’ we were.

Eventually, Peter pulled the van off the side of the freeway and Leelee directed us to look out the window. It was the Olympic stadium! That thing is huge. When we just sat in the car and waited for Peter to take us over there, Leelee informed us that this was as close as we would be getting and that we should get out to take a few pictures.

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We were a little bummed that we weren’t actually GOING to the Olympic stadium, but that just meant we were now on our way to the Great Wall and we were all really excited.

Until we got back in the van.

Upon buckling ourselves into our seats, Leelee turned around and said she wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.

Wait.

Didn’t we do this already?

Leelee went into a monologue about how we’re only paying 400 RMB for the tour and that we were getting a great deal because we’d gotten a bigger vehicle and two tour guides instead of one. She then informed us that the tour company keeps 200 RMB, leaving only 200 RMB left to cover vehicle rental, gas and hers and Peter’s services. After expenses they were going to walk away with nothing, so she wanted us to guarantee them a 200 RMB tip at the end of the day. We said we would guarantee the 400 RMB we had agreed to at the beginning of the day and if we were happy at the end of the day we would give them a tip. She insisted emphatically that we had to guarantee 200 RMB, effectively saying the trip was now 600 RMB instead of 400.

We finally agreed to pay 600 RMB if we didn’t have to stop at any more shopping destinations and could just go to the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs and the Summer Palace. Leelee got upset and said we HAD to go to those places and we HAD to purchase something from each one. She insisted we were rich and could afford the small tip they were asking for. One of the things she kept saying was that Americans like to come to China and take advantage of the Chinese and that we should be better than typical Americans. We were taken aback by her comments because 1) we’d been kind and polite to both of them the entire time even though they were almost 2 hours late and 2) we’re not rich. I’m an unemployed college student who saves every penny I make from people reading these posts in order to go on these trips. Most of my clothes and shoes are years old, my camera is an old hand-me-down with functions that don’t work because it’s so old, and I never eat out or go to movies. I kept saying we should just leave and call one of the other cards Scott had picked up, but Scott was still trying to negotiate. We already had a vehicle and a driver and had no certainty that we’d be able to get another one, so he wanted to try to compromise. Leelee would not agree to anything except a price increase for the same tour we’d agreed to in the morning, so were kinda stuck at an impasse.

After several minutes or failed negotiating we all decided to grab our things and leave. My friend’s husband had worked in the American Embassy in Beijing for a few years and we decided we’d contact her friend who said he’d help us if we ran into trouble. When we started putting our backpacks on and getting ready to leave, Peter said ‘no leave’ and locked the doors.

Seriously, when the doorlocks clicked, I started to panic a little bit. Were we being held hostage?! Were the doors child-locked so we couldn’t open them manually? What on earth was going on???

I was so happy when Scott reached over, manually unlocked the door, and got out. The look on Peter’s face when Scott opened the door was one I will never forget. He was so angry! He and Leelee started yelling at us as we all climbed out, one yelling in English and the other yelling in Chinese. No clue what they were saying, but they were angry. Part of me was worried they would start driving away with me still in the van since I was in the far back row, but Troy reached back and yanked me out of the van as soon as he was out. I think he was worried they might leave, too.

Once we were out of the van we bolted down the street. Leelee got out and was screaming after us in English while Peter was yelling after us in Chinese. We had no idea what either one of them was saying, but we knew we just needed to get out of there.

After we’d run far enough that they were out of sight, we walked down the freeway for a little, trying to figure out what we were going to do. Eventually we found a bridge that went over the freeway and into town, so we headed that way. We were worried they were going to call the police and we’d be arrest because one of the few words we understood was ‘police’ and we were frightened. Troy gave Kevin, my friend’s contact, a call while we were walking and Kevin promised to find someone who could take us to the Great Wall, but it might take him some time. Feeling better, we walked towards the only thing we recognized: the Olympic stadium, where we stayed, dodging calls from the tour company and waiting for Kevin to call us back.

Continue reading here to see the ending to our crazy morning!

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15 Replies to “How We Almost Didn’t Get to the Great Wall of China”

  1. Phung

    Hi, I stumbled upon your blog after googling “didn’t enjoy traveling in China.” My partner and I just got back from traveling throughout China and we had a similar incident but much less scarier experience going to the Great Wall. Glad you guys got out of it safely!

    Reply
  2. Shonda

    Crazy! crazy! Glad you guys are safe. Knock on wood, we have not had any of these experiences arranging trips for our clients because we usually use vendors a staff member has personally vetted. Cannot wait to hear the sequel to this saga. We spent a month in China the last time we were there.

    Reply
  3. labeltwentynine

    That’s really crazy! I really hate when people take advantage of tourists like that, being in a foreign country where you can’t just go out and do everything on your own is frustrating enough. I am glad that you stood up to them and went on with your vacation anyway.

    Reply
  4. rochkirstin

    Gosh I almost have the same story. That was when we were flying to Guangzhou in China. We almost missed our flight and felt worried to the max. The tea demonstration in China is great because there you get to appreciate the different kinds of tea that’s authentic Chinese.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Visiting the Great Wall of China

  6. Miranda (Myrabev)

    OMG I am sure you must have been scared when they locked the doors and started shouting at you when you decided to leave. To me they sound like scam changing price all the time and never actually taking you to the see the places you agreed on.

    Reply
  7. Melissa

    Oh my goodness! What a day. I can’t believe this story! It is unbelievable how people try to take advantage of tourists. We had a similar instance in New York City and in Venezuela. We are cautious traveling now for sure. I have always wanted to visit China and The Great Wall of China.

    Reply
  8. Tammilee

    Oh my gosh that is such a crazy story!! It really is sad how much people try to take advantage of tourists in any country. I know it happens here in the US, I really hope you go to see the great wall.

    Reply
  9. Amanda

    Ugh, how incredibly frustrating and terrifying all at once. I absolutely hate being taken advantage of, which you clearly were in this situation. So glad that you were able to get away from these con artists and enjoy your trip to an extent. My heart was thumping while reading…

    Reply
  10. Jessica @ Green Global Travel

    Wow, you all definitely had an eventful morning! I almost couldn’t believe it when Peter locked the doors of the van. I would have panicked, too! I can’t wait to read your next post– I need to know that your day turned out okay!

    Reply
  11. Cara (@StylishGeek)

    What a crazy morning adventure for you indeed! I can’t wait until your next post to find out what happened! I remember the first time my Hubby and I were in Beijing I was absolutely astounded by the place! The Great Wall was a must see and I was able to photograph the love locks on the wall.

    Reply
    • Erin Post author

      There are love locks on the Great Wall?!?!?! No way! That would have been awesome to see. What section did you go to?

      Reply
  12. Penny Struebig

    Oh my goodness — what a day! I can’t wait for Sunday to read the rest of the story. I would have been just like you – nervous about getting out of the van without being kidnapped.

    Reply
  13. Kita Bryant

    Love the Tea demonstration I would love to travel more you have opened up my eyes to a different part of the world. I have heard about that wall too….can’t wait to see more.

    Reply

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