What is the standard of Chinese trains?
Overall, pretty good! The overnight train will be booked in first-class sleeper A/C, sleepers are four berth and bedding is provided. It's quite a common and comfortable way to travel in China and long gone are the days of the "Iron Rooster"! You can buy drinks, beer and pots of instant noodles on board but you may wish to purchase your own food prior to the journey as well.
Brendan Phelan - Customer Operations
What is the best way to take money to China?
The unit of currency in China is the Yuan, also known as Renminbi (RMB).
Exchange facilities are readily available in all the big cities, and many of the hotels that we stay in also have foreign exchange facilities that do not charge a commission as the banks do. Exchange facilities may be limited in smaller towns. Please note that if you wish to change RMB back into hard currency when you leave China, you may have to produce your exchange certificates to do this. Both Sterling cash and dollars are fine to take. You may want to get some local currency before travelling but it is not 100% necessary, as the leader will help you change some on arrival.
There are ATMs almost everywhere in China, either actually in or close by the hotels we use, in the major towns and cities. Most but not all ATMs will take British/ European style cards, but your leader will be able to advise you.
Charlotte Taylor - China Operations
Tips from staff who have done Walking the Great Wall
Whilst you're trekking, your bags tend to be in the van that accompanies you throughout (with the driver). All you need to carry is a day bag (rucksack) with water, sun cream, snacks etc.
You'll be in twin rooms throughout - not dormitory style accommodation. The only possible exception will be the homestay nights, when it's possible that there may be an extra woman or two (from the group) in the same room. In fact, your group of 12 has 7 women in it, so there's every chance that that may be the case.
Beyond the clothes referred to under the "essential equipment" section of your trip notes, I'd say you only really need a light fleece and something warm to wear under your trousers for the cold nights, especially if you're outside.
I don't recall any mosquitoes when I was there - but then there wasn't much rain either, so you wouldn't expect there to have been. As long as you take a repellent spray (just in case), you'll be fine. You'll be advised by the tour leader when you're going to be trekking off the wall, through bushes or over rough ground, so wear trousers on those days to save your legs from getting scratched or bitten by any insects that tend to hang around in the undergrowth. The rest of the time, you're trekking up on the wall itself.
In terms of making the trip more comfortable, I'd suggest making sure you have a good head torch and wet wipes/toilet paper on you - as they can prove invaluable if you need to go to the toilet at night or get caught short in an area where the only toilet option is a brick wall built around a hole in the ground!
When I did the tour, we visited a local school out in the countryside. That was a definite highlight for myself and a lot of the group. We ended up giving a brief English lesson and playing some of the pupils in an 'Exodus Vs the school' game of basketball!. We went shopping before going, so that we could take along pens, pencils, basketballs etc for the kids - but the teachers at the school said they really needed English books and magazines. Although we don't guarantee you'll visit a school whilst you're there, if you do have any old books or English magazines (ideally about football or basketball, as the teachers said that they find it particularly hard to make the boys to read English unless it's about something they have an interest in), take those along. Even if you don't visit a school, you can always give these to the tour leader to pass on the next time they do take a group to one of the local schools.
When I walked around the Forbidden City, I pretty much explored it by myself. There were audio guides you could rent for a small charge (with Roger Moore explaining what you're looking at) too. I don't recall any local guides being offered to us, so that might be something new. I got enough out of the city by listening to what our tour guide told us and by exploring myself.
Your time in Beijing at the end of the tour is pretty rushed, as you see a lot in one day. The shopping there is excellent, and if you tell the tour leader about anything that you'd like to look for in particular, they all tend to know someone who can give you a discount and ensure that you get time at a mall to get it. The guide on my tour had business cards from pretty much every type of shop possible, which meant we were able to get discounts on all manner of stuff! I also went back to China independently the following year, and my wife and I went to see some of the Olympic sights. If you do manage to get a few hours to yourself, then I really recommend going to see the Birds Nest stadium in particular, as it's a very impressive building (and right next to the swimming pool they used for the Olympics, which is also housed inside an unusual building). You will need to take a taxi there though, and I doubt you'll have the time.
I absolutely loved this trip and I'm sure you will too. Like I said, I ended up going back the following year and that made me appreciate just how easy having the Exodus guides had made our trip, as China's a hard place to get around independently (even though my wife speaks Cantonese and Mandarin, we really struggled and managed to miss out on a lot of the sights due to not having someone around to explain the weird opening times, rules and regulations!).
Kai Aylward - Web sales