Our flight departed from Newark around 11am. At 14 hours it was the longest flight I had done. Adam has been to India and Russia so he’s been on long flights.
Surprisingly, it really wasn’t that bad. We flew Air China which is not high end, but they had onboard entertainment for every passenger, snacks, meals and passengers are permitted to get up and walk around and stretch. In the back and center of the plane they even set up self serve drinks so people can stand up, have a drink, chat and then go back to their seats. That was new to me.
Weird thing though. An announcement was made after the passenger briefing that as property of the communist party of China, Air China and its government had the right to monitor and record all happenings on the flight including private conversations. That was also new to me. And kind of eerie.
Like I mentioned in my previous post, I planned a layover tour in the Beijing area. It included the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City. I’ll include tips about the layover tour at the end of this post.
The layover tour included precise instructions on debarking the plane and how to go through Immigration – which wasn’t technically immigration because we were only going to be in the country for 24 hours. At the desk, there were families and couples who were having a really hard time where half the family was permitted entry, and half was not. So we were getting really worried. But luckily no issues were had.
We used a phone at the help desk in the airport to contact our hotel for shuttle pickup. (The lady at the desk did the talking as the hotel personnel only spoke Chinese).
The shuttle brought us to Hua Yi China Inn about 15 min from the airport. (We’d booked 6 weeks in advance). The concierge doesn’t speak English which made check-in really interesting…. we used a lot of google translate and passing phones back and forth to type and show translations. But guys. It was a really nice hotel for $28/night. We weren’t sure what to expect since we chose a basic hotel, but it was really nice.
Some of us were pretty hungry, so half the group wandered down the street and found a hole in the wall family restaurant. No one spoke english, so both parties communicated by speaking into their phones using google translate. The service was amazing. They were friendly and patient and we all had a good time. The food was legit phenomenal.
By the time we got into our rooms for the night it was 11oclock. We were exhausted and crashed. The shuttle was scheduled to pick us up at 5:30am.
Our tour guide was awesome. As a group of 7 we got a private tour. (Random tidbit- even the tour bus had multiple video cameras in it and signs about being recorded and monitored. Eerie)
The tour took us through the city of Beijing, to the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and we even squeezed in a meal at an actual Chinese restaurant which was to die for. 🤤 All that one one day before getting to the airport at 3:30pm. We hustled, but thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Great Wall was amazing. The views in and of themselves were amazing. There were snow speckled mountains in an arid landscape as far as the eye could see. The wall Itself, was actually exactly how I imagined it.
Next up was Tiananmen Square and then Forbidden City. We walked for about 2 hours to see both. What I didn’t realize was that the Forbidden City In all its ancient glory would be right in the heart of Beijing, surrounded by miles of modern infrastructure. The Forbidden City was massive. I never imagined it would be set up that way. Courtyard after courtyard, decorative gate after gate, moats, bridges, water cisterns and so much more. It was very impressive. And the history behind it all is so intense.
We purposely rushed through our tours in order to experience another good Chinese meal so with 45 minutes allotted to eat, we went to our tour guide’s recommended restaurant. He helped us order and OH MY GOSH. We thought the meal the night before had been awesome but dang. This was the best Chinese food ever. We’re all vegetarian and there were still plenty of options with tofu and potatoes like we’ve never had before. It was NOTHING like the American Chinese food we’re accustomed to. Oh. And be prepared to learn to use chopsticks. There were no forks to be found in either of the places we ate in China. And watching our parents try to eat noodles, rices and soups with chopsticks was hysterical.
Our tour ended and we were dropped off directly at our gate at the airport.
The intentional 24 hour layover was so worth it.
Here are some tips and details regarding China and the layover.
1. We booked our layover tour via https://www.beijinglayovertour.com. I highly recommend them. Not only that, be VERY wary of other layover tour companies. When I was initially researching, there was another company with almost the same identical name but something seemed fishy and after research I found they were imposters. So just be careful and do your research. Our layover tour company gave thorough instructions on everything down to exactly what line you should be in and what signs to look for when you get off your flight when landing in Beijing. They cater to tourists and know we’d be lost without exact instructions. They’ll want to know what time your flight departs, and they’ll try to cater to what you want to see in your allotted amount of time.
2. Do your research BEFORE you get to China. Also, save or print any reservations you may have in your email inbox. Why? Because as we found out, google and most other common browsers were accustomed to will not work in China. You will not be able to access your email, Facebook, Instagram, etc either. We thought we were having connectivity issues, but our tour guide asked us if we’d tried accessing any Of those yet and told us they wouldn’t work and why. Communism. The government completely controls what its citizens see. Any news they get, and their world views are completely skewed by the government. China has their own “allowed” news systems, internet browsers, email platforms and social media. Keep that in mind for planning purposes.
3. There are Chinese military and undercover police everywhere. So don’t say or do anything stupid. Just saying. Oh and also, they really don’t like you to take pictures of them. My mom figured that out after the fact. lol