We’re not talking about the el cheapo 4WD and utes but the real mccoy, the one you can see from space! Its as vast as there are sections of it to see and options on how to get there.

Getting There
The first and quite common option is to arrange a tour. Like any tour, it’s a matter of fronting up the cash then waiting for your transport and instructions, easy enough. However the problem with this is a lot of the tour companies/bus operators/tour guides are in cahoots with local factories/markets so they make a few stops along the way so you spend money there as well. This might sound like a good idea but pick the wrong one and you’ll spend hours at a stop with nothing to do but get hassled by hawkers. Also not very good if you have a schedule to keep. There are of course legit operators and “private” guides that will take you directly to the wall, so do your research first!

Second option is to charter a taxi for the day, ie. You pay them to drive you there, wait and then drive you home. This option, while a bit expensive, would work well for a direct and quicker (no stops) travel but can be cheaper if you have a few people together to split the fare, the trade off however is trying to get a guarantee that the driver will hang around and wait for you and not run off as soon as some one else waves cash at them. On the plus side, there are plenty of drivers at the wall willing to take you back to the city so you wont be stranded.

Third, if you like living on the edge, is to hire a car. Cost is similar to most countries of $50-100AU a day for an “economy” size from a reputable dealer, however, assuming you have been in town for more than a minute and have witnessed the chaotic homicidal (or should that be suicidal??) drivers, this would be a last resort for most.

The final option and by far the cheapest, is to take public transport. I’m not sure about other sections of the wall but Mutianyu had only 2 bus services, slow and not as slow. Both will get you there eventually but one will make a lot more stops and a slight detour. The bus you’re after is the 936. To find this bus station, head east along the main road from Dongzhimen station for a few hundred meters. You’ll see the buildings die off, construction sites appear and it looks like you’ve gone too far (though, in the time since we travelled here its best to assume that there’s a new shopping mall/skyscraper there!), you’ll come across an open air bus terminal (see image). There’s a small ticket office (re: demountable building) but tickets are purchased on the actual bus. The journey is over 2 hours and there is a strong chance you may not get a seat and will have to sit on the floor. Also note, some seats have a different coloured headrest, after a lot of dirty looks and what we originally thought were comments about foreigners from elderly people we worked out that the seats were reserved for them. Strange since they were in the middle of the bus and not at the front, didn’t help that these weren’t signed/labelled!

Remember these are the options I looked at for the Mutianyu site, other sections like the popular and closer Badaling section will vary.

Bus stop

UPDATE: It seems they may have ditched the “express” 936 service and replaced it with the 867, however the stop seems to be the same. There is also mention of a 916, see Lonely Planet for more details.

Up the wall
Once at the wall, there are a bunch of different options to choose from depending on your available time, patience and stamina. The bus stop (cabs and carparks) are at the bottom of the mountain away from the wall. The ticket office and entry in itself is a bit of a steep walk to get to, made no easier with having to run the gauntlet of hecklers selling just about anything with the obligatory Wall reference.

Travel tip: Remember to bargain hard and never feel like you’re low balling them. Supply always far outweighs the demand.

From the entrance you have a choice of a hike up the mountain to the wall or a cable car. We figured since we were already going to be doing a bunch of walking we’d choose the relaxing trip on the cable car. If you are trekking to the untouched re: “wild” sections of this wall section then this is the way to go, it drops you at tower 14 and with 34 towers for this section itll save you some energy as well! We chose to head in the other direction back to tower 5.

Cable cars

The wall was constructed purely as a strategic military point of defence and offence (remnants of cannons still remain) and it becomes very clear once you’re on it how difficult it would be for any invading army to even begin to think of how to get across the mountains and foothills let alone the wall as well. So with that in mind, there’s no “easy parts”, its constantly up and down with uneven paving and stairs. This is where good quality hiking shoes are a must. Thongs (flip flops), sandals, “girlie” shoes or cheap/poor support/cushioning sneakers will leave you with more than just blisters or a rolled ankle before you pass your first tower. Water is a must as well but there are vendors along the way selling drinks, ice creams and even beer, just remember to use the bins provided or take your rubbish with you even if it is overly tempting to follow suit with the locals and hoik it over the wall.

The wall quite literally goes on forever, its hard to fathom the sheer man power and materials required to be such an epic structure which you feel with every step. Step long enough and you’ll make it to tower 6 and salvation! Well maybe not but its your ticket out of there, not just in style but with speed (for the most part anyway) as this is the top of the toboggan ride!

This is similar to a lot of toboggan rides around the world, small single person sled with a manual stop/go lever down a metal chute. This was great fun but would have been even better if we could get more than a couple corners at a quicker pace. Sadly like a lot of these rides, there’s the token “Henny Penny” that will scream and clutch at the ground with their fingernails if they could, even if they’re travelling at a snails pace. The signs warning NOT to brake as it will cause accidents were useless and at least half the ride was more like returning traffic on the last day of a long weekend. For those thinking that you could some how get hurt if you go down at full speed, there are signs telling you when to brake and judging from the way the track is laid out, you would be hard pressed to hurt yourself, even if you were being stupid. Either way it made the return journey quick and reasonably effortless.

Toboggan ride

By now you’ve probably worked up an appetite and if you’ve timed it right, you’ll have just enough time to grab a bite before the return bus arrives. Food choice is limited to a small selected on local cuisine or Subway. Like a lot of western fast food places, Subway staff spoke a little English but mainly in the form of menu items, any deviation from this required the usual gesturing and improv’ charades.

The line for the bus grows quickly so its best to line up as soon as you can to get a seat, if not you will have to stand or sit on the floor, which is rather uncomfortable for the quite lengthy ride.

Next up we continue the China must see’s and track ourselves down some Pandas!

Beijing 2011 part #1 – Arrival + Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City
Beijing 2011 part #3 – Beijing Zoo
Beijing 2011 part #4 – Shopping

Beijing photo gallery here
Beijing Zoo photo gallery here


Comments are closed.