How to Outsmart the Great Wall of China

Our last stop in People’s Republic of China was Beijing, the capital city. If you are in Beijing you don’t want to miss main Chinese symbol which is the Great Wall of China and so we also have to find a cheap way how to visit it.

After our previous experience from other parts of China we suspected that the Great Wall will be also big scam on tourists. Almost everyone goes for one day trip to the Wall while being in Beijing because it’s not too far from the city. We were thinking how to avoid all tourist crowds and not spend hundreds Yuans for expensive tours offered by local hostels. They offered one-day trips to the Great Wall for 600 Yuans which is about 85 EUR! Price is not the only bad thing about these trips. The worse thing is that you simply don’t have enough time to spend on the wall. Therefore we decided to go there alone by public transport to less touristic part of the Great Wall.

There are several sections of the Wall that are relatively easily accessible from Beijing. The most visited and photographed section is Badaling which lies 70 km from the capital. We refused to go there right away because we knew it was going to be crowded Disneyland and we really didn’t want to buy t-shirts saying “I climbed the Great Wall“. We were more looking for less visited sections of the Wall at Simatai, Jingshanling or Jiankou. These places are further from Beijing and they are not limited to only 3 km renovated part of the Wall.

“How do we get to the Great Wall at Jinshanling? Can we use public transport to go there?” We asked at the reception of our hostel. “You can’t make it! You would have to change the buses three times and the section is probably closed anyway.” A Chinese lady at the reception answered. She only knew how to sell expensive tours and she was very surprised that some people want to go there by their own.

From discussion with the lady we had a feeling that she had never been at the Great Wall. After all she finally advised us a bus that goes somewhere close to Mutianyu. The part of Mutianyu is also very tourist but it’s famous for its beautiful views and a lot of towers from Ming dynasty. We hesitated for a while before we decided to go there next day.

We got up at 6 A.M. and we took a metro to get to bus station.  We had a small paper with a number of the bus and name of our destination written in Chinese by the receptionist from our hostel. When we got to the bus station there were some Chinese ladies trying to get people to the right buses. We showed our Chinese written paper to one of them and she said that bus normally takes around 3 hours! She advised us there was a different better connection to Huairou that was supposed to be direct and faster. From Huairou it’s necessary to take a taxi anyways because nothing is going directly to the Great Wall. We agreed and entered different bus. We tried to ask again some more people in the bus just to make sure it was going there but nobody spoke any English. After an hour of ride we started to be quite nervous and so we turned on GPS in our phone to see if we were going the right way. “We should be in Huairou soon! Ohh no he didn’t stop!“ We loved that feeling when you are sitting in a bus in China and you don’t know where you are going and where it’s going to stop. Unfortunately it happened to us quite often because the language barrier in China is huge.

After 15 minutes a bus finally stopped in some town. “How do we get back now?” We look at each other a little bit worried. We tried to ask one student at the bus stop because she spoke some English. She told us a few numbers of buses that were supposed to go to Huairou but she wasn’t quite sure about the times. We tried to ask in some buses that were arriving to the bus stop but all the drivers were shaking their heads when they heard Huairou. “Nothing is going there now. That’s interesting!” Finally we had to take one of the taxi that promised us to go to the Great Wall that was still one hour far away. We agreed the price of 120 Yuans for 2 people. “OMG! That wasn’t the best connection to the Great Wall!“ We didn’t have more time to find the way between Beijing and random cities and so we paid. When we got to the Great Wall of China the Chinese typical way of charging started again. Firstly we had to pay 45 Yuans for entrance then more 15 Yuans for shuttle bus that went only from one parking lot to another little bit higher. We refused all other payments for lifts and started to walk up to the Wall by ourselves.

„What a smog! The visibility was pretty bad and we hoped it was going to get better later that day. There is about 3 km open section for public in Mutianyu that was after a while full of mostly Chinese tourists. We took very steep stairs to the end of reconstructed part of the wall where we found a sign saying no entry! We hesitated whether to continue further to the wild part of the wall. Suddenly we saw two Chinese coming back from there so we decided to go too. We walked on the ruined parts of the wall that were really beautiful and tourist free. Autumn colors of the trees were just incredible and we made a nice trip up above the village where the wall ended. On the opposite slope we could see how the wall continued up to incredibly steep hills and peaks. We read in our guidebook that the overall length of the wall is almost 9,000 km. We were amazed how Chinese could build it in such a difficult terrain.

A way back to Beijing was again a great fun. We took a fake taxi from the Wall to Huairou. From Huairou we took a bus that wasn’t direct and so it stopped in every village. It took about 3 hours even though it was only 100 km far. The driver asked us to pay a price of direct bus. We didn’t care anymore and we paid. We were exhausted and immediately fell asleep in the bus. Overall impression from our trip was good after all. It wasn’t the easiest way to get to the Great Wall of China by public transport but it brought us a lot of adventure and we also saved hundreds of Yuans for commercial tour. You can make this trip with all fees for about 200 Yuans which is three times less than offered tours in the hostel. Moreover we could spend the whole day climbing the Wall and we didn’t have to be stressed by catching tourist bus back in a couple of hours.

On our penultimate day in Beijing we decided to go to the Great Wall again! We were determined we didn’t want to pay any entrance and that we wanted to go to wild part of Chinese Wall from some village. We tried to get little bit further this time to Simatai. We took the same bus as the last time and started to ask how to get to Simatai. There was one nice Chinese guy that introduced us his hiking group and said they were going to some wild part of the wall. He introduced himself as Peter Pan and explained us that that Chinese introduce themselves to foreigners by English names that obtain in English class at school. Their real names are too complicated and hard to pronounce for the rest of the world.

The bus was arriving and we had to decide if to join them or not. We decided to jump in! “It’s happening again! We don’t know where we are going.” Other Chinese hikers were laughing on us and they seemed to be excited that we joined their trip. The bus ride took us more one and half hour before we arrived to our trail head. Finally we got off the bus and we could be introduced to other 10 Chinese hikers. We got to know that we were going to the section of the Great Wall called Sleeping Tiger. Peter Pan assured us that we shouldn’t have to pay anything. We imagined such a trip! We crossed the train tracks and we saw beautiful mountains in the shape of a tiger! With our new friends we climbed to the top of the mountains where we made 10 km trip on stunning wild part of the Great Wall. When we had a lunch break Chinese started to pull incredible amount of food from their backpacks. Some of them even brought big thermos with hot water for their favorite noodles. They offered us their tasty food which was really nice from them.

Chinese people were really fun and they were glad for every common photo with us. Some of them spoke a bit of English and so we could finally get to know a few facts about China. However even for them it is a big mystery how the Great Wall of China was built. They told us they established that hiking group and every weekend they make a trip from Beijing to some part of the Wall. The wall is really long so they have a lot of possibilities where to go. We spent a great day with them and in the evening we arrived together to Beijing. We gave them our business cards and we had to say goodbye to them. What a pity that our travel site is prohibited in China as well as Facebook and other sites and social networks. At least they gave us email so we can keep in touch and exchange some photos. We were happy because it was one of our best moments in China and we met really nice people.


Copyright © 2014 | | Karel Stepanek |