The Great Wall: Capture the Flag

Four times in a year!! Yes, I’ve climbed The Wall four times already, and it’s the same exhilarating mind-blowing experience every single time! If you’ve got the spirit of a hiker, then you should try it some time, and you’ll know what I mean.

The “Great Wall of China” name was popularized by Westerners, even though China was explored long before by several famous explorers, among them Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo… Indeed, there has been a very old fascination with China’s use of vast, formidable walls to protect its cities, mainly the ancient capitals at the center of political life. Visit Beijing, Nanjing, Xi’an, or other previous capitals of ancient Chinese dynasties, and certainly, you will find remnants of ancient walls built by the domestic people to protect their lands.

Most famous is the Great Wall of China, an easily identifiable symbol of the “Middle Kingdom”, and I am here to briefly sum up my own Great Wall experience, with some useful tips to keep in mind while taking on the Wall in Beijing.

First, there is no one Great Wall, in fact, there are several sections of the Great Wall made accessible to the public, while many many more sections remain unofficial and less well-maintained. You can actually visit some of these unofficial sections, which remain unpolluted by other visitors and enjoy it all yourself (of course, this is the more complicated option). Among the touristy options, I recommend the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, as there are certainly less people around on any day of the week, and therefore more to see far from the crowds. In comparison, the Badalin section is cheaper and transportation methods are simpler; however, I believe it will be a relatively crowded and unpleasant hike. And I’ve done Badalin twice by the way.

I think it’s worth mentioning that my four trips were at different times of the year. I tried Badalin twice, one time on a Saturday in mid-August (peak season), and the second time on a Sunday in mid-September of another year. As for my two Mutianyu experiences, one was on a Sunday in August and the other was on a Tuesday in mid-November.

If you’re the traveler visiting China and decide to visit the Great Wall on a weekend, which is when most people in general make the time for such trips, then the chances are, you are going to meet the crowds on Badalin. If you decide that you want to do this hike on a weekend, then avoid Badalin like the plague!

So trust me on this, be willing to invest a few more Kuai into your Great Wall trip and make sure you look up the bus routes to Mutianyu, my recommendation for your Great Wall Hike. On both my trips, it wasn’t crowded up there, and notably, on my second trip to Mutianyu in mid-November, I expected the weather to be as cold as the daily forecasts predicted; but I was surprised to find that the weather up there was warmer, and I only wish I brought a t-shirt, because all the hiking combined with the relatively warmer weather made me wonder what I was thinking dressing up like I’m visiting the Antarcticas. Summary: You might not need to put on your thickest sweater! Be FLEXIBLE, and judge your wardrobe options on the same day of your trip.

I can’t emphasize more; it’s a beautiful hike! Take on the challenge and capture the flag. Mutianyu, I’m coming back one last time!

Important note:  I just want to mention that the routes to Mutianyu published online are Misleading!! The previous bus route was canceled, and there is a different one now. So just go to the bus station and ask the station personnel at the entrance which bus number you should take. It is not complicated at all, just be attentive enough and you’ll be just fine! Chinese people are so helpful!

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