We booked a tour through our accommodation (Xiao Yuan Alley Courtyard Hotel) to see the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China.
Why did we choose the Mutianyu section? Because we wanted to avoid the hordes of tourists at Badaling (the most visited section of the wall, approximately 80km northwest of Beijing); we only had one day and couldn’t travel too far (Mutianyu is about 65km from Beijing); and we wanted to see both the re-constructed wall and the original wall (now in ruins and covered in vegetation). The tour we chose also advertised as shopping free, skipping the fake village of shops at the foot of the hill where the Wall is located and where you buy your entrance ticket.
The day started at 7:00am. We bought vegetable steamed buns for breakfast from the corner shop on our street in Beijing and waited for the coach to collect us at 7:30am. Once onboard, we drove through suburbia before hitting the highway. Then, trees began to line the roads and well-clipped bushes with blooming flowers occupied the median strip. With the roads being congested most of the way, we had time to take in the details.
2.5 hours later, we arrived at the Mutianyu section of the 6,000km-long Great Wall of China – built to ward off invaders from the north. According to our fast-speaking Chinese guide, construction (and re-construction) started in 200BC and continued until the end of Ming dynasty in the 1700s, when the royal families of China and Manchuria (from the north) married (starting the Qing dynasty) and the Wall became redundant. From then on, the Wall fell into decay. However, in 1980, the Chinese Government decided to make the Wall a tourist attraction and rebuilt parts of it for tourists to walk along.
Our entrance ticket said on the back:
The Mutianyu Great Wall, located in Huairou district of Beijing, is only 20 kilometers away from the Jingcheng Expressway. According to the historic record, this part of the Great Wall was built up by the General Xuda who served the Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang in early Ming Dynasty on the ruins of the Great Wall in North-Qi Dynasty. The Mutianyu Scenic Spot is hugged by mountains with beautiful natural sceneries. It enjoys the fame of “Mutianyu is particularly elegant of the Great Wall” both in China and abroad.
The Mutianyu Tour Zone is looking forward to the coming of the universal guests with its grand great wall, beautiful sceneries and service of high quality.
After a 30-minute climb from the car park to the entrance, our guide recommended we maximise our time up-top by skipping the rest of the climb and taking the cable car. The only problem was that we hadn’t brought enough cash and credit cards weren’t accepted. Luckily for us, our guide lent us the extra yuan.
Our cable car ticket said on the back:
We have always put safety at the first place and taken quality service provision as our tenet. Many state leaders at home and abroad, such as Li Peng and Zhu Rongji, the former Primier (sic) of PRC, John Major, the former British Prime Minister, and Bill CLinton, the former U.S President, have also come to visit by cable car for sightseeing.
We spent four hours climbing up and down the path (mostly up) and through the watchtowers, as the Wall snaked over the green-forested hills. Our plan was to move as quickly as possible, because we wanted to reach the Jiankou section of the Wall. Some parts with steps were extremely steep and took our breaths away, yet we made it.
Despite the Jiankou section being in ruins, people still like to hike along it and you can even find vendors all the way up there, sitting under sun umbrellas. Just as we entered the section, we haggled with a lady for a Snickers bar and a bottle of water each (we had already drank everything we had brought). The prices were as steep as the path, but then again, she had brought the products all the way up there and we were thirsty, so…
We had a sneak peak of the Jiankou section, which stretched out towards the looming wild and mountainous terrain before us. There was no one else around and the path had an eerie feeling. When it became too overgrown and dangerous and seemed to crumble away, we headed back. The sun came out as we reached the cable car and lit up the granite stones, urging us to take more photos.
Lunch, as part of the tour, was set up on circular tables with revolving centres. We could pick and choose what we wanted from the dishes placed in the middle. The food was delicious, ample and mostly vegetarian-friendly – exactly what we needed after half a day spent climbing in the 26°C humidity.
We returned to Beijing centre, passing six ring roads on the way. The coach stopped near a bank so we could prepay our kind guide and then dropped us back at our hutong as the sun was setting.
Mutianyu Great Wall tour: the tour, including lunch, cost 270¥. We booked through our accommodation, Xiao Yuan Alley Courtyard Hotel only a couple of days beforehand.
Entrance tickets: entrance to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall costs 40¥ and the cable car costs 120¥ return. If stairs aren’t your thing, you can take the luge down (aka a giant slippery dip) for 100¥.
Travel time: seeing the Great Wall of China requires a full day. It took 2.5 hours to get to Mutianyu from Beijing because of the traffic. We had four hours to explore the Wall before lunch at a local restaurant near the entrance. Then it took a couple of hours to get back to Beijing.
Travel advice: remember to bring your hat, sunscreen and water. If you want to explore the wall, there is a lot of climbing involved, so wear comfortable shoes. Otherwise, you can stick to the café at the top and admire things from a distance.
Also, bring cash as not everywhere takes credit card and you’ll probably want to buy cold water at some point.
Photo: the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China