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Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

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  • Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

    I had planned to take a trip out to the Mutanyu Great Wall, and did my homework on different options for getting to it. Sounded easy enough: take the Airport express bus to Dongzhimen for 16 CNY, then take Express bus 916 out to the town of Huairou for 12 CNY, then either take a mini-van (40 CNY) or ride another bus (the 936, for 8 CNY) to the wall itself and repeat the process on the way back.

    I arrived at Dongzhimen easy enough and began looking for Express bus 916. Inside the terminal an official-looking lady with a clipboard asked me where I was headed, so I showed her the instructions I had printed out in English and in Chinese. She said it was not possible to do this at this time of the year because the second bus atHuairou (the 936) doesn't run in the wintertime, and the mini-vans also shut down because there aren't many tourists. But she said if I take another bus to a different town (Mi-yun) it would be closer to the wall, and I could take a taxi from there. Sounded reasonable, so I bought a ticket for that town and she alerted the bus driver to let me off at the stop there. The fare was 14 CNY and it took an hour to get there. It was an interesting trip through farmland, and the air got considerable cleaner the farther we got from smoggy Beijing.

    When the bus arrived at Mi-yun some guy came onboard yelling GReat Wall so I got off. He took out a map and showed me where we were and where the Wall was. He asked 250 CNY one-way, or 375 roundtrip. This was considerably more than I was planning on paying, plus I just didn't have a good feeling about the situation. He was driving a plain black Hyundai sedan, there were no other tourists or taxis in sight, and he reeked of cigarette smoke. I told him no thanks, I'll just do some exploring in town. So he asked me to write down what price I was willing to pay. I wrote 75 CNY, which he laughed at and said he could only take me for that little if there were 4 other passengers. So I took off walking around Mi-yun.

    That was about the most uninteresting town I'd ever been in; nothing but tall, plain apartment buildings shoulder to shoulder and a few small shops. The Wall guy drove up a couple of times during my stroll, offering to come down a little on his price. By that time I'd decided that with my flight to Manila only 12 hours away, I shouldn't take any chances of getting stranded out in the Chinese boonies with that wingnut, or him deciding to renegotiate the deal for my trip back to town. I caught the next bus heading back to Beijing and was back at Dongzhimen station in an hour, where I had a fantastic lunch in the station's food court.

    I'm wondering if the kind lady with the clipboard was there for the purpose of diverting Westerners to Mi-yun, where her accomplice would have no competition and could charge an outrageous price to take them to the Wall?

  • #2
    Re: Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

    In my opinion everything went correct here.
    The lady at Dongzhimen station does not have any advantage by misleading anyone. The information she gave should be correct.
    The fact that the taxi driver did not accept a lower price is a good indication that the called price was fair. I am not surprised by the amount.


    -chinoook
    chinoook's 1st law: Structurally weak walls tend to have double structures.
    chinoook's 2nd law: Newer walls are built next older walls, not over them.
    chinoook's 3rd law: Similar problems lead to similar solutions.

    The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of people, who have not viewed the world. (Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), German naturalist and explorer)

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    • #3
      Re: Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

      Thanks for the opinion, Chinook.

      So you're saying the lady was honest when she told me the 936 bus from Huairou doesn't run at all in the winter time, and that there are no mini-vans in Huairou to take tourists to the Wall, either?

      Hard to believe! It seems to me the 936 bus is there primarily for the locals to use. If it's shut down in the winter, what do they use for transportation?

      There must be a way to verify whether the 936 bus runs or doesn't run in the winter time. If it does run yearround, then she's a scam artist in cahoots with the unmarked "taxi" guy in Mi-yun.

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      • #4
        Re: Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

        Accoding to here the bus seems to run.
        I have no idea why she did tell you something obviously wrong. Are you sure you got her message? And she understood you? I never had any problems with official bus people. And I did travel a lot in China.


        -chinoook
        chinoook's 1st law: Structurally weak walls tend to have double structures.
        chinoook's 2nd law: Newer walls are built next older walls, not over them.
        chinoook's 3rd law: Similar problems lead to similar solutions.

        The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of people, who have not viewed the world. (Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), German naturalist and explorer)

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

          I think you were probably mislead (but not maliciously), or misunderstood, at Dongzhimen, then potentially stiffed on the asking price at Miyun. But I don't think - not at all - that it's an orchestrated scam. Here's my thoughts:

          The 916 to Huairou definitely runs all the time. I took it 2 weeks ago. There is another bus from there to Mutianyu (maybe it is 936) which definitely does not run outside the spring/summer season, at least it didn't last year. So she was correct in that, if that's the bus. (The timetable chinook posted suggests there is a local bus on the same route, but I am referring to the tourist version of the local bus, that is, the local bus that's non-stop HR to MTY). There is a big sign at Mutianyu (I was last there in September) which points out that the bus only runs from something like April through October (roughly). She might have just assumed as a foreigner that that is the bus you were after. Also I think the "local" doesn't run right up to Mutianyu Great Wall. It probably stops at Mutianyu village a few KM down the road (and for many Chinese, a few KM might as well be the distance from here to the moon - I've seen people take a cab one city block because it's too far to walk).

          At any rate, there are minivans and drivers available at Huairou terminus year round. They are, however, thinner on the ground this time of year. Again, I used one 2-3 weeks ago to get to Lianhuachi. That guy stiffed me a bit, it must be said, but there weren't really any others around at that moment and the stiffing wasn't too OTT so I just went with it. 50 to Mutianyu from Huairou should be the upper limit, 35-45 is more usual, in season at least. I guess that's what we ended up paying on a per-head basis to get round to LHC, which is slightly further, but still, it was more than I've paid in the past. Somebody else on here did it the previous weekend for only 50, though maybe that was per head. The price, naturally, is higher when there is less competition. And there was snow on the road, blah blah blah, whatever dude, you know how it goes. Let's just pay and go.

          As for your ciggie-reeking driver: Miyun is a fair bit further up the line than Huairou, so I can imagine that a driver from there all the way back down to Mutianyu would be more expensive. Still, 375 does seem like a lot. 75 is almost certainly not enough, I can understand why he'd have said no. Somewhere around 150-200 feels like it's more likely, but that said hardly anyone probably goes from Miyun back to Mutianyu, and I never have, so it's just a guess. Could even be more. I would never pay 375 for that though.

          A couple of points for next time - all of those guys drive semi-ratty cars. They are "black cabbies", not official taxis - in other words they're just dudes with their own cars, guns for hire. Second, although I agree it's revolting, 52% of Chinese males smoke (WHO stats!) so literally half the men here reek of cigarettes. Usually they can be persuaded not to smoke while actually driving, but still, it's a constant occupational hazard for the Wall Fan.

          Anyway, maybe the lady at the bus thought you could visit Gubeikou or Jinshanling when she sent you to Miyun - both are famous and much closer to Miyun. My guess is that she was trying to do you a favour, but kind of messed you up instead. Heaven only knows what goes through people's minds when they meet a foreigner at the bus depot but generally I've found they are either indifferent or genuinely try to help (even in their own misguided way - like if you ask for a place to eat, often they'll assume you're after western food because you're western, never dreaming you've come all this way to China and want to try the local cuisine). Like Chinook I have never been actively, deliberately f*****d by an official at a bus or train station.

          That said, last time I was at Dongzhimen station 2-3 weeks ago, a bus official asked me where I was headed and handed me the card of her friend who is a driver at Huairou. I didn't use him. But it's clear that the people there are "in cahoots" in the most generic sense - although I think it is essentially harmless. It's not like they force you to use their friends, it's just advertising. I guess we have to remember that those bus ladies make maybe 15 or 20 kuai an hour and it's probably her cousin or uncle or something. Perhaps she gets a kickback, but really I think it's just harmless kind of "oh you're going to Huairou, my brother runs a restaurant there...".

          In summary - if it makes you feel any better - I think this was just a "Bad China Day", not a scam. It's true that Miyun is a pretty boring place, but if you can notch it up as a bit of an adventure, and don't let it turn you off China (assuming this was your first time), then come on back and ask one of us and we'll help you get a great day on the wall.
          Last edited by bianfuxia; 02-13-2013, 02:42 AM. Reason: added detail
          If you're tired of the Great Wall, you're tired of life.
          Journeys, &c

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

            Excellent info, thanks.

            I'm thinking she wasn't an actual bus station employee. Rather, she was an accomplice of the one and only unmarked taxi driver who was waiting at the Mi-yun bus stop for me to arrive.

            She approached me at Dongzhimen with her clipboard, asked me where I was going and yes, she fully understood that I wanted to take either the 936 bus or a minivan to Mutianyu Great Wall. The instructions I had downloaded were in English and Chinese, plus she spoke fairly good English. Only I was under the impression I needed to take the 916 Express to Huairou station and then transfer to the 936. I didn't know it was possible to take the 936 Tourist Bus all the way from Dongzhimen until I read the reference you linked me to.

            She was adamant that the 936 bus doesn't run from Huairou to the Mutianyu Wall in the winter and since there aren't many tourists, there are no minivans at Huairou to take me out to the Wall. My only option, she advised, was a taxi from Mi-yun.

            My advice to anyone who is approached by this helpful lady at Dongzhimen Station who's trying to divert them to Mi-yun is to tell her thanks but NO thanks.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

              If she spoke English there is no way she was a bus depot official.

              If that's the case, then yes, I think you were probably stiffed.

              There are often such people around at the big touristy spots - for example at Xi'an train station, where there is a regular city bus that goes out to the Terracotta Warriors, there are all kinds of people trying to steer you onto the fake bus.

              But no way does a Beijing Bus employee - at least not the ladies who herd the crowds who make next-to-nothing-an-hour- no way do they speak English. That's your biggest red flag right there.
              If you're tired of the Great Wall, you're tired of life.
              Journeys, &c

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

                Thanks Chinoook and Bianfuxia. Hopefully this forum will prevent other tourists from being scammed by the imposter at the Dongzhimen bus station.

                Just remember, if anyone in Dongzhimen tries to send you to Miyun instead of Huairou, walk away. You want either the 916 Express bus to Huairou, or the 936/867 bus which will take you all the way to Mutianyu Great Wall (in the summer, anyway).

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Was I Scammed at Dongzhimen?

                  I read this the day before we went to the Great Wall, and I'm very glad I did.

                  When we got off the subway and started walking towards the Dongzhimen Bus station, a lady with long wavy hair and a sort of long sleeved light denim looking button up shirt (with a patch) fell in beside us. She told us she worked for the bus station. Her English was very good. She attempted to convince us that we should not go to Mutanyu, but the other place was much better.

                  Strangely enough, she took off her "bus station" overshirt once we got to the bus station. We needed to use the restroom, and get breakfast at McDonalds. She was still waiting around for us, like she was going to herd us onto the correct bus. (Maybe thanks to meeting a friend at the Guilin train station, we were a little wise to her ways.)

                  We tapped our watch, and expressed that she must be late for work. That we'd find our bus just fine. (My Father in Law speaks Mandarin.) There were only 3 of us.

                  A man who got off the bus with us offered to drive us to Mutinyu, and we felt the price was fair.

                  We didn't want to switch wall locations- and I'm glad we didn't. It was uncrowded, and we loved the toboggon ride.

                  It was Monday June 10th.

                  On another topic- I felt very safe in China, but unfortunately got my camera stolen out of my pocket the as we were going to the airport to fly home. (Should've kept it in my bag while we had our hand so full with all that luggage, instead of letting the wrist strap hang out- as we exited the subway, I was getting shoved from behind, and when I stepped onto the platform, I immediately checked my pocket, and found it was gone.

                  I cried. But luckily lost only 1 day of photos- as I'd been uploading the photos via my tablet. A sad way to end what was a very nice trip.

                  Thanks for posting about this scam- so we were more aware of the potential risk at the bus station!

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