Walking the wild Great Wall of China by Jinshanling

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
8
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
7
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
10
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
10
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
9
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
87 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
China
Length of time
1 day or less
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 30
Time of year visited
November
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
5th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 5% SUMMARY RATING: Unmissable

Summary

The Great Wall is iconic, and a must do for when near Beijing.  But the main sites of Badaling and Mutianyu can be super hectic with the sheer number of tourists and tacky infrastructure around them.  Instead, head to one of the remoter wild wall sections, such as Jinshanling (and walk from there to either Simatai or Gubeikou), where there are way way fewer people, very similar views and, critically, that feeling of wow and adventure as you’re heading off into the distance on one of the Wonders of the World . . . something it is very hard to experience in the busier sites

 

You might be thinking why don’t more people check out the wild walls rather than the more popular sites?  Main reason is that tourist sites in China tend to be catered for the huge domestic Chinese market, with those visiting from abroad simply following suit.  And, as anyone who has lived in China can tell you, Chinese people do not care in the slightest about having thousands of people around them . . . I mean, when you’ve grown up with a billion people around you, why would you?  What this means is that the mass crowds, crowds that a more international tourist group would see as a negative, just isn’t a factor in the decision as to where to go.   So . . . if you don’t mind being herded around like cattle in the simpler mass tourism machine and around 1 hour closer to Beijing, go for Badaling and Mutianyu.  If you don’t mind an extra hour or so, head for to the wild wall

highlights

#1 Having vast stretches of one of the Wonders of the World largely to yourself

#2 The adventure as you head off along the wall into the distance . . . rekindling that feeling you had when you first saw the wall in a photo when you were kid

#3 The hike itself - challenging at times, but good fun

#4 Exploring the Watchtowers, many of which are still in surprisingly good condition

Travel Tips

  • Sites – I used to live in Beijing, so experienced Badaling and Mutianyu a few times, especially when friends visited.  It was actually only in my final month there that a friend wanted to visit a section a bit further away, so arranged through her hostel to visit Jinshanling.  Super glad she did, and its just a shame I discovered it so late in my time there
  • Time of year – we visited in November, which may have accounted for the fewer number  of people there.  But there are so many sections that are outside of the range of most people who are only visiting for an hour or so, so I think you’ll find large parts of the wall very quiet no matter what time of the year you visit
  • Wild Wall – the wall, even here, is usually well restored, but there are sections that are still wild ie no restoration work on them.  Nothing too hairy, but do be careful, especially on the steep sections
  • You’ve got a few options for walking:
    • Simply staying near Jinshanling and wandering around for an hour or so along the wall
    • 4 hour hike from Jinshanling to Simatai – many of the youth hostels in Beijing will offer a a day trip for this one where they will drop you off in Jinshanling and pick you up in Simatai for the drive back
    • 6 hour hike from Jinshangling to Gubeikou – the main sections at each have clear directions.  The middle of the hike has a 90min detour through the countryside, which is kind of fun and adds to the adventure
  • Getting to Jinshangling – there are various bus options from Beijing, taking around 90mins to 2 hours.  An easier way is to hire a taxi for the day for around RMB1000 / US$150 – get your hotel to arrange for you.  And bring google translate – the conversation with the taxi driver on the drive may well prove to be a highlight

 

  • Some words on travelling in China:
    • China is vast.  Both in terms of its sheer land area, population, economy, but also its history and culture.  You could spend a lifetime travelling China and still only scrape the surface.  Very much like a continent on its own and, in recommending a book to read or movie to watch, it’s a bit like recommending a book to read on “Europe”.  However, I did find that the book Wild Swans by Jung Chang, gave me good context on modern Chinese history.  The book tells the true story of 3 generations of women living in China from 1909 to modern day and I’d highly recommend
    • The Chinese people.  It’s often difficult to interact with locals in China.  There are certainly strong cultural differences that go deeper than you would experience in most other parts of the world, but the main problem is of course the language.   Get out google translate for simultaneous translation.  You’ll be surprised how keen the locals will be to speak to you, and just how interesting you may find their stories
    • Frustrations.  Travelling in China can often be difficult . . . scream-out-loud, pull-all-your-hair-out, call everyone a c**t, never-ever-going-back style difficult.   The language barrier, the often radically different way of doing things, the combo of an often world leading digital country mixed in with archaically manual processes can all make it feel at times like a challenge rather than a joy.  I lived in China for 2 years and experienced a lot of these frustrations.  My advice is simply to go with it, it’s all part of the adventure, and above all don’t lose your temper.  Shouting at someone or generally showing frustration will just be viewed by the Chinese as embarrassing and, at worst, a loss of face for them, which means you’ve got very little chance of them helping you.  Patience, politeness and a smile will often see them wanting to help you.  They’re not trying to be difficult . . . most of the time 🙂

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone