The Great Wall of China 长城 (or also known as the Chinese Wall and literally Long Wall – ChangCheng) is one of the 7 world wonders, and there is definitely a reason for that!
First, a little history lesson 😉
The Great Wall of China was built a loooong time ago (about 2000 years) as a protection against enemies in the North and the South. And as the name already says, we are not talking about a short wall, but about a wall of more than 20.000km! There are still many discussion going on about the exact length of the wall, because the wall was built over a long period of time (different dynasties) and many parts of the wall are in such a remote areas that make measurements quite hard.
What we do know, is that the Chinese Wall is the only man-made construction that can be seen out of space! (which means it is BIG… 😉 )
So unlike what we are used to today, there were no machines back in that time. You have to try to imagine how all those people were working, eating (or not?) and sleeping (or not?) among those mountains and sometimes very steep cliffs. As a consequence, many of those workers have unfortunately lost their lives (think about millions, not thousands) when building this wall. Most of the unfortunate workers were probably burried underneath, since that was the easiest way to “get rid” of the body…
As you can imagine, it wasn’t a real pleasure to build this wall. From time to time, all the male citizens of some parts of China (sometimes even children!) were forced to participate in the construction. As a result of this severe rule, women were afraid to have boys, since they knew they would probably never see them again…
Now how can you visit The Wall?
First of all, I would not advise you to try to get there by public transport. Normally, I am the first person to try out public transport to avoid crowds and tours, but this time I have to admit that it took me way longer to get there than by arranged transport… And it wasn’t even cheaper! 😉
Many hotels and hostels in Beijing organize tours to the Great Wall and it is actually best to just book your transport there. Once you arrive at the wall, you can still ask the tourguide if you can explore on your own.
Now there are many different places to visit the wall, so you will have to make a good choice in advance, in accordance to what you like.
Here I will try to give you an idea about the most popular Great Wall destinations:
Badaling –> If you like tourism, then this is where you have to be! It will be packed with tourist all year round 🙁 This part of the wall has also been reconstructed and renovated and has therefore unfortunately lost lots of his authenticity. If you do not have much time, this is however the closest to Beijing and it will already give you great views. You will however have to do a great effort to take nice photos without having hundreds of Chinese on it 😉 At all the other parts, you will of course also meet many tourists (we are in China, which means having Chinese tourists everywhere), but let’s say that here you will have double the amount.
Jiankou –> A “wilder” part of the Great Wall. This means that hardly nothing has been reconstructed and that you will thus have to “climb” the wall. So if you are adventurous, this is a great option! From here you can also hikeup to Mutianyu (or the other way around), which is also a popular hike.
Mutianyu –> This is also an easy accessible part of the wall, but already more quiet and greener than Badaling (read: not every tour bus will stop here). Furthermore there is a cable car that can take you up to the wall if you do not fancy hiking all the way up to the mountain first.
Gubeikou –> Here you can also still find the orignal Great Wall, which means that there can often be very steep steps and broken parts. I have never been to this part of the wall, since there is a section that is closed as it goes through a military area. This means that you will have to get off the wall, walk beside it for a while, and then get back on the wall. I have read that signs are very hard to find, so in my opinion, it was just easier to go to another part of the wall 😉
Jinshanling –> My favourite part of the wall! The lanscapes and views are amazing and you can enjoy a hike either up to Gubeikou or Simatai.
Simatai –> Hiking from Jinshanling to Simatai is my favourite hike. However, recently they have closed a part of Simatai and therefore the hike has shortened a lot 🙁 You can still hike up to tower 22 (couple of hours up to half a day hike, depending on your speed), but then you will unfortunately have to get off the wall again… Last time I was there (May 2014) they were already speaking about re-opening this part of the wall, but so far I didn’t hear anything about that yet. Make sure to check this beforehand!
As you can read, hiking on the Great Wall will mostly take about half a day or a full day. However, if you cannot get enough of the Great Wall, there are also possibilities to stay overnight.
The easiest one is to stay at the guesthouses and “hotels” they have near the wall (for example, if you go to Jinshanling you will easily find them). Another possibility is to camp on the wall. However, please note that it is illegal to camp here on your own. Lots of adventurous people still do it, but it might be better to join an organised trip with people who have the authority to camp (they have this authority since they make sure you do not leave any mess etc).
The feeling you get when standing on the Great Wall and looking at how the wall seems to be endless and dissapears into the sky, is unforgettable!
I thought that after the first time, I wouldn’ be able to get this feeling again, but nothing is less true. I got the same feeling of immensity over and over again (yes, even at Badaling).
I have already seen the Great Wall of China in 4 different seasons, and every time again I was witness of a different and amazingly beautiful scenery.
My only goal left? Doing a 2-day (or longer) trip! Anyone interested in joining? 🙂
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