Plan a Great Wall of China Tour

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Plan a Great Wall of China Tour
A Great Wall tour is the cream of crops for your Beijing travel as well as China travel. Great Wall experience is so incredible that you must not forget.

Be a real man at the Great Wall

Chinese refer a Great Wall of China tour to be a life-time experience. “If you haven’t been to the Great Wall, you are not a real man” 不到长城非好汉. You would see a stele with such inscription along different sections of the Great Wall. Therefore we do worth spend some time in planning a Great Wall of China tour.

A Great Wall of China tour in Beijing will certainly satisfy different people’s travel objectives. Experienced hikers might want to challenge themselves at Simatai. Photographic fans are guaranteed of great and unique pictures everywhere. A Great Wall of China tour will also allow you to witness the greatest ancient Chinese architectural achievements which is actually a miracle.

In Beijing, there are four most famous sections of the Great Wall. Each of them has their unique attractions. Badaling is the most heavily restored. Juyongguan bears the most strategic location. Simatai is the steepest and most hazardous. Mutianyu has a good balance of all.

If you have sufficient time and if you are fit enough, I would say you should visit all of them. In order to help you make an informed decision, I have listed their features here. Let’s look at them one by one before you decide which Great Wall of China tour suits you best.

Prepare for a Great Wall of China Tour
Weather - It is our greatest enemy for any outdoor activities. Great Wall of China tour is extremely weather sensitive. If you go on a misty day, I really can’t help. What else do we need to prepare for weather?

Well, rain gears and hats are musts. One thing unique in Beijing is sandstorm. To avoid your mouth becoming sandy, keep a mask in your bag. You might feel extremely hot in summer and sweat heavily. Therefore you must need a handkerchief or even a towel (tissue paper won’t work) and a small folding fan.

Beijing is extremely cold and dry in winter. However your body will generate enough heat while vigorously climbing up and down the Great Wall. Make sure you have rich moisturizer to keep your skin.

Transportation – To avoid wasting time on heavy traffic, try to go first in the morning. Taxi could save you time in sorting out public transport. You can also arrange with your hotel for a car and driver.

Camera – Your Great Wall of China tour is full of photogenic spots everywhere. Therefore bring lots of film or lots of memory cards for your digital.

General rule - Wear loose clothing, comfortable walking shoes and bring lots of water. Bring some toilet paper as well.

Ready? Let’s browse through the four different sections of the Great Wall of China in Beijing.

Great Wall of China Tour, Option One

Badaling Great Wall 八达岭

Features of Badaling Great Wall
1. Most heavily restored
2. Most number of visitors
3. Relatively easy to walk
4. First section of the Great Wall opened to visitors

Badaling Great Wall

Badaling Great Wall has undergone heavy restoration. Some people even refer it as ‘new antique’.

In 1957, it was the first section of the Great Wall to open to tourists. Now it has millions of visitors annually. All foreign rulers visiting Beijing must be shown here.

Badaling is 85 km northwest of Beijing and overlooks Juyongguan which is just 35 km away in a valley. Badaling is part of the typical Ming Dynasty Great Wall. You can find all sorts of military defensive mechanisms here such as ramparts, embrasures, peep-holes and apertures for archers and so on.

At Badaling, you can see domestic travelers with business dress and ladies in skirts and high heels. I really had no idea how they manage the walk. But this is a sign that Badaling is for everybody. After the walk, you might consider taking a cable car to return.

Though there is never a flat walk, Badaling is never too steep. I guess the greatest gradient would be 45 degrees. When I had to use all fours, I start to imagine how ancient Chinese built the Great Wall. You must admit that Chinese was the first generation of Mission Impossible.

Badaling Great Wall is about six meters wide, snaking along a scenic area of rugged mountains. When you just start, you would expect a big crowd, but they’ll thin out after a few hundred meters.

Take your time and enjoy this scenic Great Wall tour. It is very demanding in summer heat, but you can always take a break at the guard towers and enjoy the cool mountain breezes.

Badaling Great Wall has the most population of souvenir sellers. They are after you everywhere. You might consider buying a certificate in memory of your Great Wall of China tour.

Great Wall of China Tour, Option Two

Juyongguan Great Wall 居庸关

Features of Juyongguan Great Wall
1. Extremely strategic location
2. Most critical defensive point
3. Lots of military architectures
4. Very photogenic
5. Very beautiful scenery

Juyongguan Great Wall

The Great Wall at Juyongguan is famous for its strategic military significance. Juyongguan (Guan = Pass) lies 50 km northwest of Beijing. It is one among the three most famous military passes in China. The other two are Shanhaiguan and Jiayuguan.

Chinese crowned Juyongguan “World’s Number One Pass” 天下第一雄关. You would see the huge horizontal inscription hanging right at top of the gate of the Pass. Obviously ancient Chinese had an equal mark between China and World. Chinese described Juyongguan as “one man guard here, ten thousand men couldn’t break in”. You can imagine how critical its location is. Your Great Wall of China tour objective here is to find out if this is true.

Juyongguan has been a heavy defensive point since the Spring and Autumn Period some 2,000 years ago. Emperors of various states started building the first generation of the Great Wall in this area.

Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang saw the importance of re-strengthening the defensive facilities here to protect the capital city Beijing. Hence, Juyongguan had more military architectures than other parts of the Great Wall in Beijing.

Besides its strategic significance, Juyongguang is also famous for its beautiful scenery. It was built on a 15-km valley embraced by layers of mountains and forests. In fact, it was ranked number one among the Eight Best Scenic Spots in Beijing since 800 years ago in Jin Dynasty.

Your Great Wall tour to Juyongguan could be vigorous however not a big deal comparing with the steepest Simatai. Even so, there are some 1,600 steep steps. Just do it within your capability. Do not over exercise as it could be dangerous.

Great Wall of China Tour, Option Three

Mutianyu Great Wall 慕田峪

Features of Mutianyu Great Wall
1. Well restored
2. Not too crowded
3. Not too demanding in walking
4. Very photogenic in all seasons
5. Equipped with cable car and tourist slide

Mutianyu Great Wall

A Great Wall of China tour to Mutianyu could be the top pick among all sections of the Great Wall in Beijing. It is well restored, close to Beijing, not too crowded and not too demanding in walking or climbing. If you are photographic fans, Mutianyu is your must, as it is beautiful year around.

Mutianyu Great Wall is 70 km northeast of Beijing. This section measures 2,250 meters in length with 22 watchtowers, but only 1,700 meters and 14 watchtowers are open to visitors. Mutianyu Great Wall has two unique features: the "double-sided battlements" and the "branch walls".

Double-sided battlements are very rare as other parts of the Great Wall have battlements only on the side facing Mongolia. The double-sided battlements allowed soldiers to shoot enemies on both sides of the Great Wall. This demonstrated that Mutianyu held a key position in defending the capital city Beijing.

Branch walls are the protrusions of the Great Wall for several meters long on which watchtowers were built. They are on the mountain ridges but connected with the main Wall. The branch walls with watchtowers are the high vantage points to protect the main Wall.

Mutianyu area has dense woods and rich pastures embraced by beautiful mountain ranges. Standing on the Great Wall facing east, you’ll have Mongolia to your left and China to your right. You are guaranteed of great views and charming sceneries at all seasons.

There are some 800 steps up and down mountain edges. If you are lazy or have children with you, you can choose to ride on a cable car. However the true Great Wall experience is to climb it on your own hands and feet. You’ll find it an incredible experience though your legs might be soaring the next day.

At Mutianyu, there is a tourist slide to help you skip the staircases on your way back. It is really great fun, exciting and fast sliding down the Great Wall. Make sure to keep a safe distance to avoid collision.

As I said, Mutianyu has a good balance of everything. Your Great Wall tour here must be extremely pleasant.

View my Mutianyu Great Wall Tour 2007

Great Wall of China Tour, Option Four

Simatai Great Wall 司马台

Features of Simatai Great Wall
1. Steepest - 80 degrees gradient at some parts
2. Most authentic and most beautiful
3. Most calm and quiet
4. Most hazardous however most spectacular

Simatai Great Wall

A Great Wall of China tour to Simatai is the most challenging. If you are an experienced and skillful hiker, come challenge yourself here. Simatai is 120 km northeast of Beijing. This section of the Great Wall is famous for most original, most calm and quiet, most hazardous and spectacular. UNESCO visited Simatai and decided to list the Great Wall of China as a World Cultural Heritage.

Since Simatai is in its original condition without restoration, you have to be very careful as there are lots of loose bricks and rubbles. However if you want to see the untouched original Great Wall from 500 years ago (Ming Dynasty), this is the place.

There are 16 watchtowers along the Simatai section of the Great Wall. Few people manage to check 12 of them. But the real challenge lies between the 13th and 16th. With its 80 degrees gradient, it is the most hazardous part of the Great Wall. It could be scary if you try to look back.

The section between the 14th and 15th is called ‘Sky Ladder’. Between the 15th and 16th is called ‘Sky Bridge’. The 15th watchtower is called ‘Fairy Tower’. The 16th which is also the last is called the ‘Capital Viewing Tower’. This is the hardest and steepest portion of the Great Wall. There is a sign telling you not to go further.

In deed, at an altitude of 986 meters with a 360-degree totally unobstructed panoramic view of the Great Wall, you would feel like an ancient Chinese emperor: ‘land is under my feet, the world is mine’. Here you would see the endless Great Wall climbs up and down following the contours of the mountains and valleys. I would say only the most hardcore adventurous hikers could manage to climb up here.

Don’t be surprised if you see someone selling ice creams with a freezer in summer. You might wonder how they get there. But comparing with the building of the Great Wall, this is just a small task.

A Great Wall tour to Simatai is for those who are fit enough. However it should be the most rewarding tour among all.

China travel tip: Great Wall of China tour at Simatai
Hiking at the Great Wall of China at Simatai is extremely strenuous. Bear in mind the 80 degrees gradient, it is absolutely not a place for children, elderly and people with heart problems. However if you really want to see the most original and scenic part of the Great Wall, do it within your ability. Avoid over exercise as it could be dangerous.

A Great Wall of China tour to Simatai needs extra preparation. Some parts of the Great Wall at Simatai are extremely steep, and you will have to go on all fours. Make sure to have a pair of gloves. After all, have a day bag of all kinds of everything, such as hat, sun glasses, mini first aid kit, rain jacket, food and camera and so on.

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