If you ever go to Beijing, I would say the only thing you MUST see is the Great Wall. I mean c’mon it’s the Great Wall of China!?! It’s pretty easy to accomplish, and most hotels will be able to set you up with a tour, or even a private car if that’s how you roll. We booked a group tour the day before we went. The most popular/touristy section of the Great Wall is the Badaling section, which is also referred to as the “Fake Wall” because it has been over restored. We had heard from some friends that the Mutianyu section was the most picturesque/beautiful section that is open to visitors. The Mutianyu section is restored somewhat, but still remains very authentic, so that’s what we chose.
When you book a tour, you never really know what you’re getting yourself into. Luckily our tour group was small (8 total). The tour guide spoke decent English, her name was May “like the fifth month of the year”, and the rest of our group was a family from Hong Kong and two guys from Singapore. We were the only native English speakers of the group, which was interesting. At one point the Hong Kong parents were literally pushing one of their daughters toward us to practice her English. She basically said “Hello” and seemed shy/embarrassed that her parents wanted her to talk to us. So that was the end of that.
On our way out to the Great Wall, we stopped at a jade factory. We got to see giant slabs of raw jade, as well as students carving jade items. Of course, the majority of our time was allotted to the gift shop, where the employees were high pressure salespeople and everything seemed terribly overpriced. We heard that the tour guide receives a portion of sales, but no one in our group bought anything.
Now we were on our way to the Great Wall!
To get to the entrance, we had to walk past stalls of hawkers, everything from the iconic “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirt to handcarved masks. “You want t-shirt?” No thanks lady. We just want to actually climb the Great Wall.
The trip to the top took roughly 5 minutes. Our Singaporean guys were in the chair behind us, which made for a great photo op.
The Wall itself is made by stone brick of various sizes and shapes, with differing heights of steps along the way. Some of the steps are “baby steps” and some are 12″ high and very steep. There are towers interspaced along the wall at different points as well.
Some of the towers have ladders or steps to climb to the top for a better view. I can’t really say that one viewpoint was better than another, other than the fact that the thick, foggy, humid air folllowed us here, which severely reduced visibility. We hiked up and down steps, to 5 towers from our starting point, which took us about 30 minutes.Dripping with sweat, we bought 2 YanJing beers from a man sitting on the wall to celebrate our first Great Wall visit (20 Yuan a piece vs. 3.5 Yuan in the store, but hey, we were thirsty!). The climb back to our starting point went much quicker than we expected (maybe it was the beer?), but we decided to go down the mountain early.
To get down the mountain, the original 2 options exist, but with a 3rd thrown in….”toboggan”!!! Of course we chose the toboggan. It wasn’t what I imagined a toboggan to be….a 4 person sled like in “Cool Runnings” with a scooped up front, speeding down a hill of snow. No, this “toboggan” was more of a wheeled
cart with a hand brake in a half pipe luge sort of run. Nevertheless, we each hopped on a cart, and down we went! It was SO much fun, but not too much fun because every so often there was an employee making sure we didn’t go too fast or have too much fun.
Seeing just this section of the Great Wall, well I’m fulfilled in that I saw part of it, but realize that I could not imagine seeing (or hiking) much more. It truly is awe inspiring to imagine people moving huge stones up to the ridge of a mountain and creating something so breathtaking. I would highly recommend the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, but don’t get suckered into buying the jade!
Where did we stay in Beijing?
King Parkview Hotel – Just north of the Forbidden City, the King Parkview Hotel has such a great location. The hotel has a nice breakfast & terrace for city views.