There’s an image that’s been floating around on the internet – an image that evokes both fear and dread into any traveller…
It’s this one.
Thousands upon thousands of Chinese locals and tourists, descending on the Great Wall of China. Overcrowded tourist sights are the nightmare of any traveller. We all have our tips and tricks for trying to avoid crowds, but understand that that its not always possible. However, crowds like those shown above? It’s enough to make anyone cringe.
That’s why we spent a great deal of time researching the options available to us to to visit the Great Wall. There are many sections of the Great Wall of China that are able to be visited, usually from Beijing. Each have their pros and cons – close to Beijing yet overcrowded (Badaling, as shown above), further away yet unrestored and more authentic – we wanted to make sure we got it right. We came across this fantastic, comprehensive guide by Thrifty Nomads who have put together extensive information on all you need to know about the sections of the Great Wall nearest to Beijing. This article, coupled with other things we had read re-affirmed our decision to visit the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall.
Jinshanling is a completely restored section of the Great Wall, but as it is so far from Beijing – a three hour drive – it rarely sees a huge number of visitors, therefore it was the ideal choice for hiking the Great Wall of China, minus the crowds. Whilst accessible by public transport (details can be found in the China Planet and we’ve had a thumbs up from other visitors that these directions are accurate!) as well as taxi, we opted to take a tour.
Whilst tours aren’t normally our cup of tea, we happened to be staying at a fantastic hostel that offered the top rated Great Wall tour in Beijing – it was a tour also rated by Thrifty Nomads in the article above. It was a ‘no frills’ tour – simply offering transport to and from the wall, without the usual stops at various shopping locales and the support of a guide on the bus, but who wouldn’t follow onto the wall – therefore giving you the freedom to explore at your own leisure. At 230 RMB per person, for a 7 hour round bus trip with a guaranteed pick up and drop off (always reassuring in China!) we thought the tour great value!
Setting off at 8.30AM, we took a comfortable, air-conditioned large bus through the busy streets of Beijing headed for Jinshanling. After picking up some other travellers, and a stop for a toilet break, we started pulling up towards the scenic area of Jinshanling at around midday. There’s no words to describe looking out the bus window at the mountainous landscape that surrounded us, and seeing the Great Wall of China appear before our eyes, watchtowers decorating the hilltops as far as we could see!
Our hike on the Great Wall would take us from Jinshanling to Simatai – a completely wild section of the wall. The section was 6 kilometres in length, with a total of 22 watchtowers to traverse. It was expected to take about three hours to complete.
After a brisk walk uphill, we found ourselves ON the Great Wall of China. It was an incredible feeling, and an even more incredible view, in every direction we looked. The wall snaked along the mountain, and we counted the watchtowers we could see – it disappeared so far into the distance we couldn’t even count 22 watchtowers. It was going to be a long walk!
We were blessed with a beautiful blue sky and plenty of sunshine, which made for some incredible photos and such a pleasant experience. Rather than being too hot, a beautiful breeze atop the wall kept us nice and cool – that’s not to say it wasn’t hard work though! In fact, hiking the Great Wall of China was incredibly taxing – and this was a restored section of the wall with a more even footing – we couldn’t imagine what it would be like to hike a wild section!
The wall featured short plateaued sections in between watchtowers, before plunging downhill quite steeply – easier than going uphill, yes, but we had to trek with a little trepidation as there were no barriers either side of us in some sections – instead, a plunge down into the vegetation below if we weren’t too careful! As well as downhill sections, there were uphill sections – many, many uphill sections! Some of these were stepped, which were somewhat easier than those that were not – we found ourselves on all fours in some sections, scrambling our way to the next watchtower!
The watchtowers offered not just a respite from hiking up and down the Great Wall, but also perfect lookouts in every direction through the windows. As we explored them – some were even two storeys and had access up to their rooftops – both Mike and I spoke about those who built the wall, who spent months on end on watch from these very towers, looking out for the enemy, trying to keep warm in the winter months – what a time in history! The Great Wall was built originally built to keep out invaders but ultimately failed in its duties – those keeping watch could be bribed, and as time passed the Wall became obsolete in its mission, with other invaders entering by sea and eventually, by plane.
As our tour promised, there were very few others on the wall. Our own tour group went ahead on arrival, and we saw only several other couples on our hike. It meant that for the most part of our three hours on the wall, we had it all to ourselves and were able to take some incredible photos of one of the world’s most magnificent sights!
Hiking the Great Wall of China is one of those once in a lifetime experiences on many a bucket list. Seeing photos of it is one thing – being there, seeing it in person, standing upon it and walking upon it is an experience like no other. You may visit Beijing and not have a lot of time to spend visiting all of it’s incredible wonders, and be tempted to visit the nearby section of Badaling – but if possible, try and set a day aside to make a trip to Jinshanling. Hiking the Great Wall of China is one thing, but to do so minus the crowds? A priceless experience that you will never forget!
- Where to stay in Beijing?
We stayed at Beijing Downtown Backpackers, located in Nanluogoxiang – a five minute walk from the nearby subway station, and in a historic hutong area. The area was full of historic sights, buildings, pubs and eateries – a fantastic atmosphere.
The hostel had clean, well equipped rooms inclusive of breakfast, with incredibly helpful, English speaking staff – it was easily one of the best hostels we stayed at in all of China! You can book here through Hostelworld.
- What tour should I take?
We highly recommend the tour we took through Beijing Downtown Backpackers. Tours to Jinshanling run each day, however they alternate between a shorter, sunset tour (1PM – 9PM approximately) on one day, and the day trip and hike (8.30AM – 6PM) every other day – be sure to ask what days these are on arrival, especially if you have limited time in Beijing. The day trip and hike is priced at 230 RMB per person (as at May 2016).
Have you hiked the Great Wall of China? How was your experience? Please share your experience with our readers below!
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