Take a hike out of the blocks of Beijing to conquer one of the new seven wonders of the world – the Great Wall of China. The architectural grandeur of the wall, if you include all of its branches, measures over 21,000 kilometres long and packs a punch with more than 2,000 years of history. You can access the wall from many places in China, but Beijing is arguably one of the most accessible spots to do so.
The Great Wall of China represents the enduring effort of dynasties across centuries to protect their land and defend their borders. It’s often cited that visitors to the wall stand on the bones of up to 1 million people who lost their lives while constructing the wall. The accuracy of this round number is unknown, but affirms the magnitude of human labour needed to build a structure of this scale at a time with no machinery. Since the Great Wall of China was built over different dynasties, you’ll be able to notice the different building styles across various sections of the wall. It served its purpose, but in the end a wall is only as strong as the people defending it. Genghis Khan managed to cross over a part of the wall that wasn’t heavily defended, resulting in the Battle of Yehuling, a major decisive battle fought in 1211 that saw the Mongol empire victorious.
Mao was never a big fan of the wall. During the Cultural Revolution, he invited the people of China to claim it back by taking the bricks as building material for their own houses and sheds. This is why many parts of the wall are in such bad shape.
SECTIONS OF THE WALL
The Great Wall of China is broken up into different sections as opposed to being a continuous landmark. Each section holds its own merit to varying degrees of restoration and surrounding scenery. While many of the ‘untouched’ sections may seem more appealing and authentic, they’re actually very dangerous. If you want to traverse these remote sections of the wall, it’s best to sign up to a specialist hiking tour. You can even do multi-day hikes where you sleep in the watch towers and go horseback riding.
Climb up the watchtowers of Mutianyu to observe the panoramic mountain scenery before tobogganing down back to reality. Keep your eyes peeled for Genghis Khan (as in, some of the present watchtower guards who are dressed in costume).
If you’re more of an unruly traveller, opt for the grittier, unrestored section that is Jiankou. The wall is described to be ‘crumbling’ and its position along a steep mountain ridge scattered with jagged, drop-off cliffs makes it more dangerous to climb so remember to exercise caution (and don’t look down).
Also known as the ‘Paradise of Photographers‘ with its magnificent scenery, this section connects to Simatai (another part of the wall) and offers the best hiking route along a half-restored, half-wild path. The perfect balance for those seeking more of an active, adrenaline-filled experience without the risk of toppling over.
Badaling is by far the most restored section, and the most popular among local and foreign tourists alike given its close proximity to Beijing. If time is not on your side but you’re willing to brave the crowds, go on a weekday. Avoid the weekend at all costs.
Choose your section with time and gusto in mind, then work out your plan on how to get there. Public buses and trains can get you to most sections of the wall, while hostels and hotels are generally well-versed on helping you get there. If you’re a creature of comfort and travelling in a small group, book yourself a private driver for the day. Costs start from around CNY1,000 with the option to add on an English-speaking driver and tour guide.
Writer: Louise Yoo
Photographer: Louise Yoo