As part of my epic Bluffworks travel pants test (Part I and Part II), which was really just a weekend mileage run to Hong Kong and Beijing, I visited the Great Wall of China. I had previously visited in 2014 and was blown away by how much I enjoyed it. Once you get out of the pollution and crowds of Beijing there’s something very simple and pure about visiting the Great Wall, at least until the tourists show up. I decided to visit the same section as I did last time, Mutianyu, to see if I could get some better pictures than last time.
Getting to the Great Wall of China
There are four tourist sections of the Wall that are accessible from Beijing. The two most popular areas are Badaling and Mutianyu. Mutianyu is the furthest from Beijing so I feel like there won’t be as many tourists (there are still a TON, however).
There are countless companies that will take you out to the Wall but I recommend booking a private tour by my buddy Simon Xiao. I used his services in 2014 and had a wonderful experience and contacted him to see if he was available for my visit. He was already booked but referred me to a friend of his who was equally attentive and nice (and spoke great English). Mack picked me up from the St. Regis Beijing early in the morning because I wanted to beat the tourist traffic out there.
Mutianyu is quite far from Beijing, about 70km as the crow flies but it can take almost two hours to get there, depending on traffic. Once you get out of Beijing the roads get rural very quickly. It’s actually a pretty nice contrast to see what rural China looks like (preview: it’s much different than Beijing).
Once you arrive at Mutianyu you have a few different options for getting to the Wall itself from the town below it. Most recently I chose the cable car (I’ve also done the enclosed gondola).
You can see a lot of what I’m talking about in the video below that I made to test out Bluffworks travel pants (you can start at 3:30):
When you’re atop the Wall it’s time to pick a direction to go. Go left and you’ll face a surprisingly tough hike up some brutal staircases. Go right and you’ll face a less brutal series of staircases. Either way be prepared to walk a bit.
Once you’re at the Wall, you’ll have all sorts of watchtowers and beautiful vistas. It wasn’t quite Spring when I went so many of the trees were just beginning their bloom. It must be an amazing site in when the trees are in leaf, the area has about 90% forest coverage! You could see the first couple of blooms starting to emerge from the trees but not much of significance yet.
There are all sorts of photo opportunities, it’s a matter of finding the ones that are right for you. What makes Mutianyu unique are the arrow slots on the wall. For those of you unfamiliar, these are little narrow slots that would allow a soldier to shoot an arrow down at the enemy without exposing themselves and risk getting arrowed. What’s different about Mutianyu is that these little slots are on both sides of the Wall. It really makes you wonder about the various uses of the Wall over the years, sometimes to keep Mongol invaders out, and maybe sometimes to keep others in.
When you go, be sure to be careful, most of the stairs are of unequal height and length. You have to really pay attention or else you risk turning an ankle.
What I loved doing was looking out of the various watchtower windows and imagining what it must have been like to serve on watch at the Great Wall.
The views out the doors of the watchtowers were pretty cool too.
The watchtowers themselves were pretty incredible.
Another random thing to look out for: the Chinese Air Force practices nearby so you’ll see all sorts of jet contrails in the sky. Sometimes they’ll even line up with the roofs on the watchtowers!
Finally you make it to the top of the massive staircase and you’re rewarded with an unbeatable view of the valleys below.
After the last watchtower you can actually keep going into the unrenovated section of the Great Wall. Ever since the Wall was built it’s been in a constant state of repair. At certain peaceful times in Chinese history people even took bricks from the Wall to construct their homes!
The unrenovated portion of the Wall can be hiked and you can actually hike from one section of the Wall to another if you like, although you may have to pay a separate entrance fee in the next section. I’d actually love to do that someday.
So the final picture I’ll leave you with is a Watchtower that has seen better days.
It’s amazing that the Wall has been around for so many years and it very much belongs on your list of places to visit. It really is one of the touristy places that you absolutely have to visit!
What’s your favorite picture? Have you been to the Great Wall? What did you think?