The Road to the Wall
Day six of our eight days in Beijing. We awake at 6 am to get ready for what we know will be the highlight of our trip – hiking the Great Wall of China!
Tip #1: Take the necessities, but travel light and dress appropriately. We wore lightweight quick-dry clothing and comfortable hiking shoes. We each carried a backpack with our camera equipment, toiletries, snacks, and lots of water.
Armed with some sketchy instructions found online prior to our arrival in China, we set out for the Dongzhimen long-distance bus station.
We walk to the Dengshikou subway station, the closest to our hotel, and purchase two tickets to Dongzhimen. Arriving at the Dongzhimen subway station, we attempt to locate the long-distance bus station rumored to be there. We walk around outside for quite some time before stopping a lady on the street, and between her very limited English, some hand gestures, and the Chinese words for Dongzhimen long-distance bus station that I had had the foresight to save to my phone, she pointed us in the right direction.
Arriving at the bus station, we locate the line that we believe is the one headed to Miyun, bus 980. The conductor, who thankfully speaks English, confirms that we are where we need to be and in the typical sweet, gracious, Chinese way, writes down instructions for us in both English and Chinese for the next steps we will encounter.
We wait in line patiently until our bus arrives, board the bus, pay the 30 yuan per person for the hour-long (or so we were told) bus ride to Miyun town.
Tip #2: Drop your cash into the cash box when you board the bus. If you have questions, don't be afraid to ask.
Off we go! We sit in Beijing traffic for some time, so our journey takes an hour and a half, but we arrive in Miyun without any problems, and then the fun begins!
Tip #3: Give yourself plenty of time. Go early and prepare yourself for long lines and traffic.
We had read that the taxi driver, who would drive us to Simatai, wait while we hike the Wall, and then drive us back, should cost approximately 180 yuan round trip. The first driver wants 280 yuan each way. We walk away. The second driver to approach us wants 180 yuan each way. “Seventy kilometers there. Seventy kilometers back,” he says several times, in an effort to impress on us the immensity of the task at hand. We walk away. The third driver to approach us starts his negotiations at 280 yuan round trip, and we ultimately agree to 220 yuan round trip.
We begin the journey through Miyun and out of the city through winding mountain roads. We pass large buses and trucks, often creating three lanes out of the two lanes provided. Several times I think to myself, “Well, this is it. This is how I die.” But even with our close calls, we eventually make it to Simatai without being killed by oncoming motorists and without killing any stray pedestrians.
Simatai itself is an adorable town, oozing old world charm from every crack and cranny. We pay for our tickets to the Great Wall, and wait for the shuttle that will take us to the Wall itself.
Tip #4: Simatai has almost everything you will need, albeit at a slightly-higher-than-normal price. If you forget water or need something to eat, there are a couple convenience stores. We even saw a little tavern down a narrow side street. They have public restrooms that are easily accessible. We did not see any restrooms along the Wall, so use it while you have the chance.
We have opted to take the cable car part of the way up and back down. Having walked roughly 10-13 miles a day each day leading up to this, with many of those steps being stairs, and with multiple blisters to show for it, and having fought both allergies and an oncoming cold bug since our arrival in Beijing, we are thankful that we paid for the cable car. The view from the cable car is stunning, with 360-degree views of the mountains above and the towns below.
Tip #5: If you choose to hike the whole way, when you get off the shuttle bus, look to the left and plan an extra 45 minutes or more of stairs.
We hike the rest of the way up the wall and spend the next hour and a half hiking along the wall, taking pictures, and just staring at the majesty of the mountains and the craftsmanship of the Wall itself. This section of the Wall is in various stages of decay. Its towers are close together. And because it is not one of the main touristy sections of the Great Wall, we enjoy a large degree of solitude from the sizable crowds we had encountered at other tourist destinations within Beijing.
Then we head back down, back to the cable car, back to the shuttle, to the town of Simatai, to our driver, who is grinning from ear to ear. We ride back to Miyun and back to Beijing mostly in silence, still thinking of the grandeur we just witnessed. We are in awe, and every time we look through our pictures, every time we think of China, we awe at the beauty we experienced at the Simatai Great Wall.
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