The first crucial decision to make is “Which part of the Great Wall do we want to see?”
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How do Decide which part of the Great Wall to Visit
That’s a cue to scour TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet and the GreatWallForum to figure out where we actually want to go. Lonely Planet calls out five different areas, OK, so it says that you should avoid Badaling like the plague, because that’s the closest to Beijing and thus the busiest. Beijing was where we were visiting the wall from.
Main Tourist Areas of the Great Wall
Then you visit all the travel forums and find that it’s pretty much those four.
A Day Trip to the Great Wall? Or Overnight?
The second part to decide was how long would we go for. Would we try and spend the night near the wall and perhaps see the sunset over it, or the sunrise? Or perhaps camp on, or somewhere near the wall?
How to Get to the Great Wall?
Thirdly, how would we get there. Options seemed endless. The most common way that folks visit the wall is by taking a mini bus or taxi trip from their hotel or hostel. Easy and efficient from a time perspective. Not so easy on the budget.
Don’t forget the weather when visiting the Great Wall
When it came down to it, there was a fourth factor and that was the weather. Thunder and rain storms loomed. This would be a blessing to break the horrid sweaty heat that we’d been experiencing, but, rain and the wall don’t mix – as you’ll see from the photo’s.
TripAdvisor and thegreatwallforum came through in fine style with other travelers sharing how they experienced the wall and we decided.
How to get to the Great Wall at Jinshanling – Public Transport
Subway to Wangfujing
We took the subway to Line 13 and Wangfujing, despite one woman’s best efforts when we changed lines at Donghuamen to get us to go up top and get a bus to “The Wall”, we made it. We stumbled across the local bus service – which once you know where the bus station is at Wangfujing is obvious. However, arriving at Wangfujing at 0745 when there are tens of buses lined up to take workers to office buildings, it’s not obvious!
Wangfujing to Luiping Bus – get off at Jinshanling Service Centre
From Wangfujing we hopped on a completely full bus to Luiping, to get off at the Jinshanling Service Centre, it’s first stop 120km’s north of Beijing, two hours after getting on.
Jinshanling Service Centre Free Minibus to Great Wall EAST Gate
And then we jumped into the free transfer minibus that takes you to either the East or the West Gate of the Jinshanling part of the Great Wall. We got out at the East Gate, having met Lee, Maria, David, Rosie and Roberto on the bus. Lee is a Beijinger, who was taking friend Roberto and couchsurfer Maria to the wall for the day. We happily tagged alone and took advantage of his local knowledge.
Costs of Visiting the Great Wall on Public Transport
Visiting the wall isn’t cheap, but if you want to see the Wild Wall, then this is the cheapest way to do it. The subway to Wangfujing will cost 2RMB each way. The bus from Wangfujing to the Jinshanling Service Station is 32 RMB – or if you have a Bejing Subway pass, it discounts it to 20 RMB. The shuttle bus to the East or West Gates of Jinshanling are free. If you can’t wait you can get a taxi, for about 11RMB each.
Entrance to the Jinshanling section of the wall is 65 RMB.
How Long Does it Take to Visit the Great Wall?
We’d arrived at the East Gate at 1030am, and the last shuttle bus back to catch the last bus of the day back at the Jinshanling Service Centre left from the West Gate at 3pm, coincided to catch the last bus back from Luiping to Wangfujing. It was hard to figure out if that was pressure or not, as all the maps provided are short on scale to the extent of not showing any!
Hiking up to the Great Wall from the East Gate at Jinshanling
40 heart pumping, leg aching, sweaty minutes later (it was hovering around 95 degrees), we had climbed up to the Wall and arrived at the first tower. Tailed by one of the local vendors, who the rest of the group had decided might feed on the weak first and left her to me. If I didn’t have enough breath for me, there was hardly enough to even say no, let alone yes to her offers of T Shirts, books, water and postcards. Besides lady, anything I buy I have to carry, so don’t take it personally, but NO.
Walk out to the EAST – towards Simatai
Instead of turning to the right and heading in the direction of the West Gate of Jinshanling, we headed east, towards the Simatai section. It used to be possible to walk between Simatai and Jinshanling but this connection has been closed since 2010, and while Simatai reopened recently, the connection did not. Our destination was two watch towers hence and then to turn around and retrace our steps.
It is nigh on impossible to describe that first step onto the wall. Awe, certainly, disbelief, yes, incredulity even more so. The fact that you’re actually there, and no one else is. Well the group of us and the vendor lady, but no one else. We’d already lost Rosie and David, so it was just the five of us.
This is the Wild Great Wall
The wall in this area is what they call the wild wall. It’s not been remodelled or manufactured to within an inch of it’s life, like they appear to be doing further west in Jinshanling. It’s rugged, its tumbledown in places. It wouldn’t pass a UK Health and Safety examination by any stretch of the imagination. There are no handrails, there are no danger signs, there’s no one to stop you going and doing what you want.
Neither is it flat. Oh boy, it’s not flat. Climbing up to the wall is just the half of it. Once you get there, it’s up and down on uneven, broken steps and stones. There are watch towers along the way, in varying states of disrepair, on various levels. In our jaunt to Simatai, we clambered around one watchtower, scrambled down through the brush and then climbed back over the wall, balancing precariously for 20 metres or so along a tumbledown section that was less than 12 inches wide.
Walking, climbing and scrambling we reached the eastern most tower that we’d visit, and took turns standing, on tiptoes, leaning out of the tower for the obligatory photo opportunity, before making the trip westward.
Despite a smoggy day, the vista’s are undeniably incredible. THIS IS THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA and I’M STOOD ON IT I feel I wanted to yell. Look at the size of these stones that were all carried up here. Look at the Chinese version of Kilroy was ‘ere inscribed during the building of the wall.
What does it feel like?
It’s hard to put into words what I was expecting. Certainly more people, I had visions of a lot of people, but we were blissfully lonesome for most of the way, except of course as we entered watchtowers, and up there, miles from anywhere, someone had lugged bottles of iced water, coke, even beer, there’s a freezer and if you want noodles, you can get a bowl of noodles too. Who, though, can eat in this heat? Inflation isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, the first tower we hit water was 5 RMB, by the fifth water was 10 RMB. We lived without the noodles and beer.
Heading West towards Jinshanling Again
Time flies by, marked only by steep staircases of crumbling stone that reduce me to crawling up, by more watch towers, by photo stop after photo stop and the landscape of the wall begins to change. The hills and greenery continue, but the wall becomes more uniform, the stones are flatter, there’s obvious signs of renovation here the closer we move towards the West Gate.
I feel glad that we saw the wild wall, that we started there, but saddened that as we say a last photographic farewell to the wall and start the trek down, that we seem to enter a disneyfied, concreted jungle. There is a cable car here – that doesn’t appear to be running – but the entrance way that they’re building and the line management measures that they seem to be putting place have me glad that we’ve been here now and experienced nature retaking what the Chinese built, before they rebuild it.
- Read our Common Sense Guide to VPNs – and why you need one especially in China
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China
If you like visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, then our guides to these Chinese World Heritage sites will be useful
- How to Visit Huanglong National Park [the Yellowstone of China]
- Discover Xian’s Terracotta Army
- How to Visit Kunming, Shilin and Dali
- How to Visit The Great Wall of China – [Independent Public Transit Route]
- The Forbidden City of Beijing
- The Historic Center of Macau
- Jiuzhaigou National Park
- Huangshan National Park and Sacred Mountain
- Wulingyuan and the Zhangjiajie National Park
- The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries
- Tiger Leaping Gorge
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