Hiking the back of the dragon – Great Wall of China
I’ve always been fascinated by the Great Wall of China. At ~9,000 km, it has been touted as the only ‘man made creation seen from space’. Of course the story behind it is amazing as well; the wall was built as a defense mechanism. But even more fascinating is how it has been passed on through the different dynasties, with each Emperor fixing and adding or detracting from it.
On a rare sunny and beautiful day, I find myself on a day trip to the Great Wall. From Beijing, there are actually a few different parts you can go to, I recommend doing the Jinshanling – Simatai loop. The Badaling and Mutianyu sections are much closer to Beijing, but I have heard how badly touristy it has become as well as being super packed.
From Beijing, I hopped onto a tour bus package offered by my hostel and headed off to the Jinshanling section. The trip should take you about two to three hours. Once you’ve arrived, take the cable car up to the top section of the Wall. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you could of course hike it to the top as well. Roughly another 5-10km I believe.
The Jinshanling – Simatai sections are about 10km and will take you about four hours to complete. Most areas have not been restored giving it a more rough and authentic feel. This also makes it more difficult to walk, so be prepared with good walking shoes.
There are still some touts even up here in the middle of nowhere. These old ladies will follow you around (up to the entire 10km length) trying to sell you postcards and drinks and books and whatnot. Do not give them any attention. You may feel a bit bad ignoring them, you may think that ‘oh but I am so lucky and privileged and I want to give back’, but be warned that they will try to scam as much from you as they can. I watched as an old tourist lady was being friendly to two of the ladies who had been following her. She asked questions about their family, children and if they were friends. At the end, she ‘bought’ one of the postcard books for about 20 dollars. If you haven’t realized by now, that’s very expensive. She thought they were going to split the money, but one took it and ran off and the other one kept following the tourists demanding her share of the money. She looked so helpless I walked up to her and told her to just walk away. It ended up of course with the tout following me for a good long time and cursing me out. I ignored her and kept walking (alone at this point). After yelling at me for a good 10 minutes or so, she walked away. So please keep your wits with you.
Another thing to note is that you are alone up here. There were points when I was walking and realized I was virtually alone on the Great Wall of China!! I almost cried! So make sure to carry sufficient water, towels, and energy bars with you because there is no way for you to get help up here. I think if something did happen, they may have to send a helicopter up to get you. That’s how remote it was.
There are lots of ups on this trip, so be prepared for a good hike and in some areas the wall is completely falling apart around you, once you pass to the Simatai area though you will see how well they have restored it and how different the trip would feel. It would be as though you’re walking on a good paved bridge. Towards the end of Simatai, you will head down on a side section and cross a small bridge.
At the other end, you have a choice of walking down to the boat, or you could take a flying fox / zipline down. Make sure you have some cash with you because I truly recommend taking that flying fox down. Nothing beats the amazement of zooming down the zipline across a small lake and turning around to see the Great Wall of China get smaller and smaller.
It’s a perfect way to say goodbye to the Dragon. Land on the jetty, and grab the small boat across (takes less than 5 minutes to get across). Your bus will be waiting for you on the other side to bring you back to historical Beijing.
Have fun, and good luck!