The Great Wall of China is one of the very few bucket list attractions I’ve visited that has managed to live up to the hype. It is, for lack of a more imaginative word, spectacular. However, if you’re planning on a visit to the Great Wall any time soon, it takes a bit more work than simply taking a bus to the Great Wall and going for a leisurely stroll.
As was explained to us on our tour, the Great Wall is some 20,000 km long. In other words, you don’t just “visit the wall.” You need to pick a part of the wall that most appeals to you and determine the best way to trek out to it. According to our Lonely Planet guide, there are various sections of the wall that you can actually take the transit to. However, this means frequent stops to pick up passengers… thus a longer journey, and less time at the wall. My advice is this: don’t limit yourself to a section of the wall that you can visit by transit, because there are better methods of transport (and deals) out there. Yes, public transport may be the cheapest option, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best bang for your buck.
Many hostels (such as ours) offer discount tickets with various tour agencies that provide packages for various portions of the Great Wall. For Jamie and I, it was a matter of choosing which portion of the Great Wall suited our interest and booking the respective tour with our hostel. A number of sections are overrun with tourists and have been restored to the point where they are no longer authentic, such as Badaling. At this location, we were told that it’s difficult to get a picture without a million people in the background and it also tends to be a pickpockets paradise. The section that Jamie and I opted to go for was Mutianyu. Admittedly, this section can also be quite touristy, but because it’s inclines are generally steeper than other portions of the Great Wall, it’s views are more impressive and fewer tourists are willing to brave the intense hikes that you’re in for at this location. In addition, a good chunk of Mutianyu has been restored, but there are also large sections of the Wall that has been left in its original state, overrun with shrubs and crumbling at the edges. The contrast between the restoration and the ancient wall makes Mutianyu a near perfect spot to visit.
For 280 Chinese Yuan (about $47 Canadian) we got breakfast, a bus ride up to the Great Wall on a tour bus directly from our hostel, an English tour guide, entrance to the Great Wall, lunch in a fishing village at the foot of the mountain, and a bus ride back to our hostel on the same tour bus. When traveling in China, you begin to think that anything which costs more than $10 Canadian, or 60 Chinese Yuan, is quite expensive. But to put things in perspective, what would I do if someone back in Canada asked me whether I’d like to visit one of the 7 wonders of the world with breakfast, lunch, an english speaking tour guide, and transportation to the site all for under $50? I would straight up shit my pants with glee. It was an amazing deal, and I would recommend the hostel that Jamie and I stayed at (Sunrise Hostel) purely for the tour package that they offer.
Now, when visiting the wall, there are a few things that you should bring along:
1) A good pair of hiking shoes. The wall is not an easy climb, many portions of Mutianyu provided uneven footing and were extremely steep. Some of the steps are so steep that using your hands to crawl up the Great Wall is required.
2) Bring water. There are a few vendors that sell water and beer along the hike, but at 10 Chinese Yuan per bottle (about $1.69 Canadian). After our experience in Beijing, I’d say that about 3 Chinese Yuan ($0.50 Canadian) is a fair price to pay for a bottle of water. Stock up in Beijing and come prepared. Hiking the wall is not an easy task, and on a hot day, you will want all the water that you can get.
3) YOUR CAMERA GODDAMMIT!
Standing on top of the Great Wall, climbing up the enormous inclines, gazing off to either side of you and realizing that this wall is without a doubt built along the peak of the mountaintops.
The one thing that was not included in the tour that Jamie and I booked was a ticket to ride the gondola up to the wall, as well as a ticket for the toboggan back down. We debated just hiking up to the wall, but apparently that takes about 45 minutes to an hour. We only had 3 hours to wander on our own once we got to the wall, so we figured we’d wimp out and hitch a ride up to the top. As for the toboggan ride back down… we also seriously debated not doing this. Our tour guide highly recommended it, but we thought it sounded cheesy as hell. Let me be clear… IT WAS NOT. You can’t see the toboggan ride while hiking the Great Wall, which is a good thing. If you could, my opinion of it would be a whole lot different. If you’re wondering how you would ride a toboggan down the side of a mountain and not kill yourself, let me explain how this works in bit more detail. The toboggan ride is a winding metal track that guides your little black louge chair to the bottom of the mountain, while you either pull back on a lever that applies the break or push forward and let it pick up as much speed as possible. Jamie and I both opted for the latter… or at least we would have if the girl in front of us wasn’t a total louge-prude. Either way, it was a ton of fun and despite how ridiculously touristy it might sound, I highly recommend it.Her Take