Day 13: Beijing
We were up at 5:30 AM, on the train by 6:15, and by 7:00 we were eating Egg McMuffins on the bus to the Great Wall. Finding the bus stop the day before had been a smart thing to do; the station was very busy but we knew exactly where to go. Hiring a car for the day would have cost around $100; a round-trip bus ticket was $3.50. After an hour and a half we arrived in the city of Huairou, where we took a 15-minute taxi ride the rest of the way to the Great Wall.
There are several sections of the Great Wall open to visitors; I chose Mutianyu after reading numerous positive trip reports about its scenery and lack of tourists. Our ticket included admission, a ropeway ticket up to the wall, and a toboggan ride back down (this was another reason I chose this spot). The ropeway was just like a ski-lift; after five minutes, we were on the wall and greeted by a souvenir vendor who immediately took our picture.
The weather was gorgeous: 60 degrees, sunny, and clear. FINALLY. We decided to walk north, then turn around and come back to the toboggan slide. Since we arrived so early, there were only a few others up there with us as we started the hike.
As expected, the views were incredible. The wall sloped up and down through the mountains, sometimes very steeply, though there were usually steps to help out. It seemed impossible to take a bad picture; everywhere we looked was amazing. Like at the rice terraces, it’s hard to describe the views in words; pictures are better…
Stationed along the wall were watchtowers, some of which we could climb for a better view. Vendors set up small stands with water and postcards, and we eventually passed a second access point that featured enclosed gondola cars instead of our ski-lift method. We took a break and shared a Snickers bar looking out from one of the towers.
The last set of steps before we reached the end of the hike looked steep from a distance and even more so when we got to the base of them. After about 500 steps we were at the highest point and could walk no further along this section of the wall. (Which was fine – we were tired.)
It took us almost two hours to hike this stretch of the wall; we walked back a little faster so we’d be able to meet our taxi driver at the agreed time. By now there were many more people around; we were glad to have arrived early to avoid most of them. We thought one Chinese family was asking us to take their picture; actually, they wanted to take one with me!
When we got back to our starting point, we took a toboggan ride down to the village below. It was so much fun; we wish the ride had been longer! At the bottom, we made our way through a throng of aggressive souvenir vendors where we bought the customary “I Climbed the Great Wall” t-shirts (Initial quoted price: $50! Post-bargaining price: $8).
When we finished shopping, our taxi driver took us back to the bus station. Ninety minutes later, we were back where we started and proud of ourselves for successfully navigating Beijing’s bus system. We stopped at McDonalds for a snack, where Matt discovered the wonders of their Sweet Taro Pie (two for a dollar or one for 80 cents, just like the crazy pricing structure at home).
We went back to the hotel for a swim in the pool before dinner. We had reservations at South Beauty, a Sichuan restaurant I read about online, and when we arrived we were shown to our own little alcove with a sunken table and sheepskin carpet. The food was fantastic; we had kung pao chicken, pork and pepper stirfry, roasted green beans with minced pork, and Beijing-style dumplings.
After dinner, we did a little shopping before walking back to the hotel, tired but happy about our great day at the Great Wall.