The Great Wall of China is one of the most recognizable structures in the world. If you are ever in Beijing, it is definitely one of the must see attractions that is near the city. The Great Wall is very popular with tourists from around the world, and there are several sections of the wall that have been renovated and turned into pure tourist attractions. The closest sections of wall to Beijing are Badaling and Mutianyu, and it sees a lot of tourist traffic daily. If you head to one of these locations you can expect to see heavy crowds. There are also several other sections of wall that are further from the city that are less touristy, and in my opinion much more appealing, it just takes a little research and planning to get there.
For my great wall excursion, I picked the section known as Jinshanling. This section of wall is located about 70 miles northeast of Beijing, so it takes awhile to get out there. It was my first trip to Beijing, but after one day I learned that the public transportation system around the city was exceptional. All of the subways were easy to navigate as the signage was listed in both Chinese and English. Taking the subway to Jinshanling was not an option, but there was bus service that could get me pretty close, so I thought. I did most of my research for the day trip on Google Maps, which gives directions by public transport or any other way you want to get there for virtually any destination in the world. It is a great tool for traveling.
I woke up early at Radisson Blu Beijing where we were staying and headed for the subway/bus station where I would catch a bus to Taishitunzhen, a small suburb of Beijing, before getting on a connecting bus to the great wall. As I was doing my trip research the night before, my dad, who was also in Beijing for business was joking with me about riding the bus to the outskirts of the city. He had heard some stories about some of the busses having chickens and other livestock on them when they reach the rural areas. I really wouldn’t have minded if there were chickens on the bus. That would have been a good story.
I boarded my bus shortly after arriving at the station and was on my way to Jinshanling. The bus was clearly marked with the destination that I needed and I had no trouble buying a ticket and getting on my way, like I said, the public transportation in Beijing, and most of China, is exceptional. The bus out of Beijing was very nice, and definitely didn’t have any chickens on it. The ride to heading Taishitunzhen took a couple of hours. Once we arrived in Taishitunzhen I jumped off of the bus and started looking for the next one that would take me to the Great Wall. After searching for some information for about a half hour, and not seeing any other busses I was a little bit concerned that I was either in the wrong spot, or had gotten some incorrect information about my trip.
Either way, I started looking for another option. I had come pretty far, and was not going to turn back without reaching my destination. Around the stop where I was dropped off there were a few taxi drivers waiting outside of their cars. I approached one of them and pointed to my destination on a map that I was carrying, I didn’t have a mobile hotspot with me, and I was not carrying a smartphone, I was doing this trip sans mobile technology, something that I don’t do anymore, but paper maps continue to be useful tools for travelers, they are just a little less handy. Luckily, the taxi driver recognized where I was headed, I’m sure he takes tourists there all the time. I don’t speak a word of Chinese, and he didn’t speak English, this wasn’t a problem, we were able to communicate effectively with some pointing and nodding. Like most places in the world, you really don’t need to speak the local language if you are willing to be open minded and use some non-verbal communication, especially when you’re dealing with money.
After a few minutes, we were able to negotiate a price for a round-trip ride up to the wall. For 300 Yuan he would take me up to the wall and would wait for me until I was done and return me to the small town to catch a bus back to Beijing. At the time this amount translated to about $50, pretty reasonable for the thirty-minute ride each way.
We were on our way up into the hills; on the way I caught several glimpses of the Great Wall in ruins along the hillsides. Some of the sections were on extremely steep inclines, I’m not sure how the ancient Chinese moved all of the stones up those hills, but it was definitely a magnificent feat. When we arrived at the small Jinshanling parking lot, the area was basically empty aside from a few small souvenir tents.
The lot is situated down the hill from the wall, so it is a little bit of a hike to get up to the structure. I started up the path to the wall and arrived at the base of the wall about fifteen minutes later. There were a couple of stairways that allowed me to actually get onto the wall itself and start walking around.
Once I reached the top of the wall I was in awe of the incredible structure. The wall stretched as far as the eye could see, rolling up and down the hills gracefully throughout the varied terrain. There were only a handful of tourists on the wall itself, and I was able to walk freely along the stony walkway without having to line up or wait for anyone. The wall seemed to go on forever on the ridges of the hills; I could have spent an unlimited amount of time walking the path in either direction. The wall does stretch over 13,000 miles, although not totally continuous.
I started walking up the wall towards a watchtower that was located at the top of a very steep incline. The walk up the incline was a little treacherous, with uneven steps and crumbling rocks all the way up to the top. That was exactly what I was looking for, a little excitement while touring around. When I reached the watchtower at the top I was rewarded with an even more incredible view of the wall and the surrounding area. I was in awe of the scenery.
In the watchtower, a local peddler was selling snacks and drinks. He had dragged a large cooler full of items all the way up the wall, pretty impressive. I was having trouble keeping my feet underneath me all the way up, I couldn’t imagine climbing the wall with a full cooler. I’m sure he does pretty well in that spot, it’s the highest point of the wall in Jinshanling, and most tourists that go there probably (at least try to) make it up to that point, and they’re probably thirsty when they reach the top. I know I was.
I was surprised to see that he had beer for sale. I couldn’t pass that up. A beer on the Great Wall, very refreshing! I sat in the tower for about fifteen minutes, sipped my beer, and enjoyed the surrounding beauty. After I finished the beer, I bough a bottle of water from the man then started back down the steep steps. I could have easily stayed and drank a few more beers, but I still had some exploring to do, and walking around the Great Wall with a buzz probably isn’t a great idea.
The scenery surrounding the wall at Jinshanling is completely opposite from being in the giant city of Beijing. There were almost no structures to bee seen anywhere except for the wall itself for miles around. It is very rural and hilly. I also noticed the difference in the air quality, very clean and clear. Much different than the polluted Beijing air.
Going down from the watchtower proved to be a little more difficult than the climb up, I really had to watch my steps to avoid falling down the steep decline, but I made it without issue. I continued my walk in the other direction towards the next watchtower on the wall. Walking in the opposite direction of the first tower I saw was quite a bit easier. There were still steep sections, but they were not nearly and long and the pitch was not as intense. The watchtowers at this section of wall are spaced about ¼ mile apart, and each one has its own unique features.
I walked along the wall for about another two hours before heading back down to the parking lot to catch my ride back to town. My taxi driver was still there when I got back down and we were quickly on our way. He dropped me off back at the bus stop where we first met several hours earlier, and I was able to quickly find my bus back to Beijing without issue.
The great wall experience was everything that I thought it would be. I am very happy that I chose to go a little farther to see the Jinshanling section. There was a lot to see and not a lot of crowding. If you are planning to visit the great wall then I definitely recommend seeing one of the less touristy sections. There are several tour companies that offer guided tours of all different parts of the wall. Most of the tours are fairly inexpensive and include transport from Beijing. If I get another opportunity to visit the wall then I will probably take a tour instead of using public transportation.
What are your favorite parts of the wall? I know there are many sections to see and I would love to go back and enjoy some more of this manmade wonder. Let me know in the comment section below, and as always I would love to hear yoru feedback about the Blog!