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Great fun at the Great Wall

March 5, 2014


Our day trip to the Great Wall of China easily qualifies as a major highlight of our month-plus that we spent in the country. I might even go as far as saying that if I had to pick just one thing to see/do in China, this would be it (although I would be very sad, because the rest of the country is pretty interesting as well).  You will find directions on how to get to the great wall in Mutianyu by public bus at the bottom of the post.

Once you get up there, and hopefully it is on a clear day so you can see the wall stretching up and over in all directions, you just can’t help thinking about the thousands who toiled to build it, how short people (historically speaking!) could walk (run?!) on such giant steps, and about how all of that was for naught with the Mongol invaders riding roughshod into the heart of the forbidden city. This is where a prior visit to Mongolia proves to be particularly helpful.


Some astounding facts:

  • The Great Wall was built in stretches over 2,000 year period; earliest sections were built in 3rd century BC, final construction took place in 17th century.
  • Counting all of its branches the Great Wall stretches for over 20,000 kilometers, making it the longest structure ever built.
  •  The Great Wall spans 11 of China’s provinces.
  • Various sources claim that between 4 and 13 million visitors make a pilgrimage to the Great Wall every year.


We chose to visit the Mutianyu section, there are a couple of big advantages to visiting the wall here. It is easily accessible as a day trip from Beijing (by public transport no less!)  But is farther out than the Badaling section. The result is fewer tourists and fewer vendors than at the Badaling, which was a draw for us. Not that we were expecting a deserted major historical landmark where we could frolic all by ourselves. But at least not this:

Source: Reuters from Sydney Morning Herald 

*Just kidding, this photo was actually taken during the annual Golden Week holiday in China, where the government mandates that everyone take a holiday for a week, resulting in billions traveling around the country. Advice: avoid that week at all costs.

great_wall_friends_080114_housetolaos_005Eduardo is doing a wall jump

Sure enough there were a couple of tour buses, some independent tourists, but nothing too bad. Plenty of opportunities to take great pictures of just the wall. Or just the wall and us. And the wall and our new friends.

great_wall_friends_080114_housetolaos_007Our new traveling friends. Top left: Martyn, Sergey, Eduardo Bottom left: Courtney, Jenia, Charlotte

The Mutianyu section is mostly restored, though you can easily walk over to the end of the reconstructed area and venture past it – there the wall is quite overgrown, which gives much perspective on how much work went into restoring the bits now open to the public. Plus it’s kind of cool to venture into the forbidden territory – living dangerously, but just a little bit, any where past tower #1. Don’t mind the signs, it’s ok.

Great Wall was great fun, and the toboggan ride to the bottom really topped it off in the best way possible. Jenia was a bit (a lot?) petrified to get in – fearing China’s construction safety record. But, as it turns out, it was quite thrilling without feeling unsafe (now come to think of it, if there is one area where safety standards are probably held in higher esteem, it would be at major tourist sites). The passenger has quite a bit of control over the car, the lever allows to accelerate or slow down considerably.

Here’s a video of our 4 o’clock at the Wall, which was filmed not at 4 o’clock at all, but on days like this, you gotta make an exception.

how to get to the great wall in Mutianyu by public bus

We took bus #867 to get to the Mutianyu Great Wall. This page has a thorough explanation – unfortunately without a map it’s quite difficult to figure out exactly where the bus stop is. Our friends were kind enough to take it upon themselves to figure out where exactly we needed to go the day before. We are returning the favor with a map for everyone else out there.

Take line 2 to Dongzhimen metro stop, exit B. Walk straight down until you reach a major intersection, cross the street staying on the same side, and walk diagonally into the parking lot.  The whole walk from the metro to the bus parking lot should take about 10 minutes. The bus is parked toward the back, and if you show up at 7:45 there will already be a line of people waiting. Buses, on average, always leave a minute or two early then scheduled, so be ware.

walkToTheBus walkToTheBus_closeUp

The ride is long – 2.5 hours. There is no need to worry about which stop to get off, it will be the last one, and its very easy to tell that you have arrived at the final destination – parking lot, tour buses, and tourists. Do not get off early! It will be very hard to find a bus back 🙂 or very expensive to take a taxi.

You can take the same bus back, there is one at 2 pm and 4 pm. It will pull up in the same spot where it drops off.

Bring snacks, possibly some sandwiches – the wall is a great spot for a picnic.

* We even saw a group drinking champagne, if you go that route you’ll probably want to take the chairlift to the wall, as hiking up there is a pretty sweaty exercise without the weight of champagne bottles in your pack. Vendors on the wall sell water and beers, but the prices will ascend as you do.

And please, pretty please, don’t do bieber:

Source: Twitter (thanks to Patri for sending the link 🙂

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