May 17, 2013
You might think visiting the Great Wall is a straightforward task – just hop on a bus to the section closest to Beijing – which, by the way, is called Badaling, an overly-restored section where you will meet tens of thousands of tourists on package tours. Don’t make this mistake – take a look at the below map and you will find there are more than a dozen sections of the wall open to tourists near Beijing.
The most scenic stretch is from Simatai to Jiankou, and you can easily spend a few days hiking along this often unrestored section of the wall. Those who has only a day to spare should focus on the easily-accessible Mutianyu (慕田峪). This 2.5km portion of the wall has two major advantages; it is well-restored yet still retains a wild, crumbled side on its northwestern section, and it doesn’t receive an overflow of tourists as most package tour groups still prefer Badaling.
The admission fee is ¥45. After passing the ticketing office you have two options to reach the wall – either climb 30 minutes of steep stairs or ride a cable car directly to Tower no. 14. Round trip ticket on the cable car is ¥100. The price is the same if you intend to descend on a toboggan slide but you have to decide when you purchase the ticket.
If you visit on a clear day (a rarity in Beijing), you are supposed to see the walls stretching from west to east for as far as your eyes can see. Great Wall’s impressiveness lies upon its scale, and regrettably Beijing’s omnipresent heavy smog takes away its greatest aesthetic asset.
There are 23 watchtowers in Mutianyu, and you will be aiming for the largest-numbered one. The foundation of the wall was first laid in the mid-6th century during the Northern Qi dynasty and was rebuilt completely one millennium later, but you will be hard pressed to tell the wall’s age at Tower no. 14, which has been heavily restored in recent years. The wall is constructed mostly with granite and measures 7 – 8m tall and 4 – 5m wide.
A leisurely stroll of around 45 minutes will lead you to Tower no. 18, where the wall suddenly turns desolate. Vegetation has reclaimed large swath of the wall, and each step forward requires your full attention as the walkway is full of chuckholes. Here the once mighty walls have crumbled after decades of neglect.
Mutianyu is the perfect introduction to the Great Wall, which spans across more than 8,000km from Gansu to Liaoning in northern China. If you like the unrestored portion of the wall, you can bring a pair of sturdy boots and challenge Jiankou or Simatai on a future trip. You prefer a fully restored version? Then you have already seen the best in Mutianyu.