(Small note: Some of my recent blog posts had to be edited somewhat because I reached the limit on the number of images I could upload to my media library. I thought the library was an archive so I deleted a lot of photos from it only to realize they were missing from my blog posts. Ugh. They were still on my camera so I was able to re-upload most of them but I made some posts less picture heavy).
The Great Wall is one of the world’s most famous landmarks, and a place I wanted to make sure I saw before leaving Asia (at least for now). Therefore, I planned a trip to China for winter vacation, in Beijing and Xi’an in the mainland, and also the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
The Great Wall was built over many years in different dynasties, as this Wikipedia article describes. However, the Great Wall as we know it today was built mostly by the Ming dynasty to protect China from Mongolian tribes.
There are several different access points to the Great Wall from Beijing alone. The Badaling section is the most restored and most touristic part of the wall. Although I went in low season, there was a crowd there, though I’d imagine it gets much more crowded in summer. Despite it being winter the temperature was pretty mild that day (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 Celsius). But it was also foggy out which meant I couldn’t adequately capture the vast length of this wall. The Ming part of the Great Wall alone stretches for over 5,000 miles (kilometer measurement in the link) and it’s amazing to see the vast wall snake over the mountains.
Many choose to take a guided tour to various sections of the Wall, but since the train ticket to Badaling is so cheap I decided to go the train route. The ticket cost 6 yuan (less than 1 US dollar) each way, or 5 yuan each way if using a Beijing transport card.
It’s actually very easy to do the trip independent with this train. The train is very clean and comfortable and has the stops announced in English. Just get to the Beijing North Railway station to get a ticket. It wasn’t necessary to purchase in advance, but if going in high season definitely get there early. In order to get on the train, there is a line that forms outside the station where everyone scans their Smart card, or shows their ticket. There are no assigned seats on the train, so just sit wherever is available. The ride is a little over an hour.
When the train arrived at Badaling station, I got off and planned to walk the 15 minutes to the wall, but noticed everyone else piling in a few shuttles. I decided to get on the shuttle since it was kind of cold in the early morning. I regretted this though since I got pretty squished, but the ride was short.
The Badaling section of the Wall has a ton of restaurants and shops and even a guy selling camel rides. From what I’ve read though, the food there isn’t good quality, but I didn’t try any for myself. I followed a sign up to a cable car station where a short ride leads to the Wall.
Although the Badaling section is the most restored, the wall is very steep at parts with many, many stairs. For out of shape people like me, it can get very tiring in a short time, so I spent about two hours at the wall. Part of me felt I should have spent longer since I was at a world wonder, but this world wonder requires lots of steep hiking. In the end I was very glad I hiked the Great Wall in winter vacation as opposed to summer, although I think the temperature was unusually warm for early January. However, even in winter, water is definitely needed at the Wall because of all the exercise. It’s also a good idea to bring a snack, especially if wanting to spend more time there than I did.
After I was finished at the wall, I took the cable car back down and grabbed a snack and drink. I waited at the shuttle bus station, but a man approached me and said that the next shuttle wasn’t coming for 40 minutes, and that he would take me and the others waiting for the bus in his car to the station. I declined and wanted to keep waiting for the bus, but he was persistent so I decided to just walk. I was pretty wary of scams in China so I didn’t want to take any risk, plus as a lone female I just don’t feel comfortable getting in a car with people I don’t know. The walk really isn’t that long, at only 15 minutes, so I made it to the station in time for the next train back to Beijing North. For some reason, my transport Smart Card was rejected at the scanner, but the guard let me in anyway, much to my relief.
Despite the persistent driver I thought this was an easy and very cheap way of getting to the Great Wall, even for someone like me who knows basically no Chinese. If you don’t mind going to the touristy part of the wall, then I would highly recommend this method. If you prefer to go to a more remote section a tour would probably be best (at least for someone who doesn’t speak Mandarin). If you have extra time in Beijing, it may also be a good idea to go different parts of the Wall, to really experience how long it is and see parts that are still old ruins.
I used this website for directions and information on how to use the train. The site has the schedule and other tips and useful up-to-date information.