Monday, February 24, 2014

China: The Great Wall

You can't go to China and not see the Great Wall. It's pretty much a requirement. It's about 90 minutes north of Beijing, and Dave and I puzzled about how to get there. We'd read plenty of horror stories about tourist bus tours, which often drag unsuspecting visitors not only to the wall's tourist hub at Badaling but to jade shops, tchotchke factories and other places no one really wants to go. So we arranged to hire our own private car through our hotel, which cost a bit more but took us by ourselves to a more remote section of the wall, at Mutianyu.

What they don't tell you, but I suppose should be apparent to anyone who gives it some thought, is that a trip to the Great Wall is arduous. You don't just get out of your car and step onto the wall. First you have to get to it -- and it's built atop mountain ridges.

That's Dave climbing up, up and up toward the wall, and gasping for breath.

But of course once you get there it's amazing, and in winter it was especially nice because there were so few visitors. We had entire sections of the wall all to ourselves. We could climb alone atop the guard towers and look out over the surrounding landscape -- at least, as much as the smog and the biting cold wind would allow.

We spent a couple of hours walking part of the wall -- we didn't do the whole 3 kilometers at Mutianyu -- and then we took a chair lift back to the bottom of the hill, where we had lunch in a little bedraggled cafe. Excellent noodles!

(Oh yeah, there is a chair lift, and obviously it goes up, too. So we could have avoided the arduous climb, but somehow that seemed like cheating.)

The tourist towns around the wall are full of little motels and inns, which seem to bill themselves as "farmer's houses." Maybe this is because they're built around courtyards or in a style similar to farmhouses of old? Anyway, I had the driver stop so I could take a picture of this awesome sign -- in the shape of the map of China -- for a nearby nightclub.

Back in Beijing, we had dinner at the highly recommended Mr. Shi's dumpling shop, near our hotel. Terrific dumplings of all varieties!


  1. Love that first photo. Visiting the Great Wall of China is on my bucket list.

  2. It does look arduous -- and not a little romantic, either --

  3. Thanks for posting such a beautiful post regarding Great Wall of China. You can make this post more and more beautiful by using more colorful pictures of great wall china. The climate is so cool that everyone will like to visit the place. The area is covered with little snow that is really eye-catching and attractive.

  4. Thank you, really put things into perspective.

  5. Great pics -- love the one with Dave peeking over the wall! I can't believe it was so deserted -- how wonderful. When Rick went it was jammed with people, but he went to a different spot because he didn't have to climb up stairs like that to access the wall. He said there was a parking lot right there.

    How wonderful to be able to see it.

  6. Climbing that wall must have been fantastic...can you imagine humans building that thing? Amazing...

  7. Lily and I were just talking about the Great Pyramids and the pyramids in the Yucatan and wondering why two such disparate cultures in such separate times decided to build...giant pyramids. The effort!
    Why DO humans decide to do such seemingly impossible things like build pyramids or the Great Wall of China? I mean, sure, "Let's build a wall so our enemies won't be able to get to us!" but Lord! The work!
    I shake my head in wonder and bafflement.
    Thanks for the terrific pictures. I'm so glad y'all made the trip and climbed all those steps. Now I don't have to.

  8. What an amazing accomplishment. I would love to see it. I'd have climbed the stairs too and probably down as well. After all, down is the easy part.

  9. The minute I saw those steps I thought gosh, I just can't see me doing that so I'm so glad to hear there is a chair lift. The food you have pictured and described looks and sounds great. I am really enjoying your descriptions and photos from the trip. It's fun hearing your perspective on the places you visited.

  10. What an amazing experience!

    Is there a fee to roam the wall? Were there guides available? Were you steeped in history before going so you'd know exactly what you were looking at at each turn?

    I am fascinated.

  11. Fabulous! Everything about it is magical, including the noodles.

    What did it feel like at the wall? Did you sense the history of it?

  12. Ms Moon: The scale of it IS staggering. And from what I understand, it wasn't even very effective as a defensive barrier. I think it was more a guard post, to send warnings of invasion to the capital via smoke signals. (Which no one could see nowadays!)

    Gary: There is an admission charge, but it's not much. The chair lift is extra. We had our guidebook which told us all the essentials about the wall's history. I'm sure there are plenty of human guides available too, but we didn't hire one.

    Reya: It IS amazing to think that the wall is thousands of years old, but it's been rebuilt and restored and resurfaced repeatedly over the years so it's never easy to determine the history of the exact piece you're standing on. Apparently Chairman Mao encouraged people to take blocks from the wall to use as building materials -- a practice that continues, unofficially, in some areas. Parts of the wall are quite dilapidated and others, like this stretch, have been faithfully restored.

  13. Fantastic photos of The Great Wall! And now I want Chinese food!

  14. I'm jealous - a bit, although I can't see me taking those stairs! And yes - I want dumplings now!