Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Great Wall – Jinshanling to Simatai

Today we went to the Great Wall of China. It was amazing. Definitely a highlight of the trip. We took Lonely Planet's suggestion of a section about 3-4 hours outside Beijing where you can do a 4-hour hike without many other tourists, but opted not to take the tour of the area offered by our hostel.

Instead of the tour, we took the subway to the long distance bus station, then bus 980 to Miyun (15 Yuan each). At the first stop (not the bus station) in Miyun, a guy at the front of the bus told us that we had reached Miyun and should get off. I confirmed with the bus driver that this was Miyun and we got off hastily and without really thinking about how we were clearly not at a bus station. The guy who'd told us to get off was, of course, a taxi driver who wanted to take us to the Great Wall, no doubt at a highly inflated price. We went into a business to ask directions and were told that we wanted the bus station in city center. We went back to the bus stop and quickly hopped another 980, which eventually took us to the bus station. When we got there we were not surprised to be greeted by a bunch of enthusiastic taxi drivers. We were surprised to be greeted also by the exact same taxi driver who had conned us off the bus on the outskirts of town! Not that we had any doubts, but his driving across town to meet our bus pretty much confirms that he was up to no good.

Lonely Planet said that there were minibuses to Jinshanling from the bus station, but we didn't find them... maybe they were referring to the shared taxis? We ended up on one of the shared taxis at about double the price we'd expected to pay for a minibus (50 Yuan total), but much cheaper than it would have been from the outskirts of town (on the Wall, we ran into a pair who fell for this con and paid 280 Yuan round trip).

We arrived at the same time as a big bus full of Western tourists, presumably on the tour we'd decided to skip. They said they'd departed Beijing at 6:30 am, where as we left at 7:15 am. We were only a little surprised by this as it has been our experience that an ungodly amount of time on those tours gets spent on the bus going around to all the different hotels, then maybe switching buses a few times, and that's if you are lucky enough not to have any commission food/shopping stops. While it seems like such tours should be an efficient way of seeing stuff both financially and time-wise, our experience is that they are a rip-off (tour cost 240 Yuan round trip, we paid 42.8 Yuan one way, and got there faster even with our setbacks along the way). Of course, there's the risk of screwing up, but that's all part of the adventure... as today illustrates.

The wall itself was amazing and mostly free of tourists, with only the very occasional and normally polite vendor selling water, coke, beer, t-shirts, and postcards. For probably the first time ever, I found myself somewhere that looked quite a lot like the pictures, but with fewer people than I normally see in the pictures. We stopped for our picnic lunch in a watchtower where there was a table and chairs, and said “hi” (or “no thank you”) to the passers-by when there were passers-by, and enjoyed the bird song when there were not.

Some sections of the wall were nicely restored, while others were well worn. Toward the end of our journey, we got to an area where the restoration had not been done so well and the wall just started to feel fake. We walked the greater portion of the distance with another two people, both here teaching.

Eventually, we got to the end – a chain bridge across a small river, which was 20 minutes from the end point. We could have climbed up another few towers and had an amazing overlook, but we decided that our legs had had enough. We had the option of taking a zip line and boat, but walked down the mountain taking a few last glances at the scenery and the wall.

We got off the wall and to the parking lot at 4:05, and started looking for the bus home. We asked a few people, who said the last bus was gone (though it's always hard to tell if it's really the case, according to taxi drivers the last bus is always already gone). Eventually we found Information, who said the last bus from Simatai left at 4:00pm (though some taxi drivers were offering us 60 Yuan for two people, which is still a good price compared with the tour). After that, we stepped aside and tried to determine what course of action to take and/or how much to bargain for to get a taxi back to Miyun (last bus either 6:00 or 6:30) when two tourists offered us a ride back to Beijing (Josh had asked them earlier if they had way to get home, hoping to share a taxi). We reckoned it to be faster and cheaper and more fun, so we took them up on the offer. Plus, it involved riding in a Lexus. After a brief scare regarding a source of petrol, we were underway. One of the two men had been living in Beijing for two years; the other was a friend visiting from Holland, their native country. We talked about our trip, politics, and Chinese culture. The driver moved out to Beijing two years ago as part of a 'big life change' and his Chinese wife owns a factory here. We asked about corruption, and he related a story about how one government official in charge of inspecting plants decided they needed to buy more filters. From a certain company. Which was, of course, hugely overpriced. Sometimes corruption affects you, even if you're not looking for a 'favor'. He did seem proud that they had avoided paying any actual bribes to get the new factory up and running.

They dropped us at the metro, and we made our way home from there.

From Great Wall

From Great Wall

There are more Great Wall photos in the gallery. I'm not going to attempt to choose favorites for the blog, since I like them all so much.


  1. they are gorgeous! we are planning to do the hike this weekend.

  2. Hey just curious, how strenuous was this hike?

  3. There was a lot of up and down, but it wasn't too bad. We spent about 5 hours doing it and I'd call it easy to moderate at that pace. I talked to people who did it in 3 hours and said it was quite strenuous at that pace.

  4. Well done ! These are great pictures of the Great Wall! Which reminds me... I should go through my India pictures and post some. Having read this I thought it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it! In return, I also found a great blog of Jinshanling travel tips, I'd love to share it here with you and for future travelers. http://www.wildgreatwall.com/how-difficult-is-it-to-do-great-wall-one-day-hike-from-jinshanling-to-simatai-west/