You’d probably have felt my absence in the past 2 weeks due to the lack of posts – I do have a damn good reason for it though. I spent the past few weeks making a few of my travel dreams come true. This year, I had an unspoken new year’s resolution to climb the Great Wall and I can’t believe I actually made it happen. Its funny especially because people say that if you want to succeed, you shouldn’t tell anyone… I guess now that saying really does make sense to me. I have been to Beijing about 10 years ago but I was too young to make my own decisions then, so this time, I made sure I conquered one of the world’s greatest wonders.
Oh, I also visited North Korea which was the highlight of the trip of course. You know, just sayin’. The journey to North Korea was rather tedious but definitely worth every effort… and if you have interest in international affairs like I do, I definitely encourage you to take a leap of faith and just book your ticket to see what the country is like for yourself. No media source will ever be able to tell you what’s going on for real in that country.
Back to the Great Wall – I booked this hike trip through an adventure agency that was advertised at a little hostel I was staying at – Peking International Youth Hostel. Its a beautiful and cosy little place that I recommend spending a few nights at – its incredibly affordable too! There’s a lovely fresh and dried floral theme going on in the entire hostel building, complete with a quaint rooftop cafe. The fact that its situated in the middle of a ‘hutong‘ adds an element of unique Chinese authenticity. The only downside is that its slightly more an hour’s drive away from the airport. (100RMB taxi fare or you could take the subway to the airport if you don’t have much luggage)
I paid 250RMB through the hostel counter for the trip. This fee covers a total of 4 hours bus journey (to and fro), a decent Chinese lunch at a restaurant, a tour guide who will not be on the Great Wall with you (he will wait at the restaurant for about 3 hours while you climb) and an orange Adventure Tour Great Wall of China armband thingy that I will admit, is pretty cool.
What this fee does not include is the cable car (RMB 100) which you will HAVE to take from the start of the wall to the 19th station because you only have a total of 3 to 4 hours to complete your hike. From the 19th station to 24th station of the Great Wall at Mutianyu is really where you would wanna hike anyway because the path is most steep there and also the authentic walls are there. Before these stations, almost all of the walls are restored.
Hiking from the 19th to 24th station was NO JOKE. The way up took about 2 hours and the way down was much easier so that took slightly about an hour. If you’re asthmatic like me, I definitely recommend bringing your puff along. I forgot to pack my asthma medication in my bag so I found myself severely out of breath on the way up. Thankfully, I managed to make it all the way up thanks to my hiking partner, Albane, who made it so the climbing of super steep steps so much more bearable by singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ throughout the hike. She truly is one of the sweetest people I’ve met.
In case you’re wondering if it’s crowded, yes it surely was and will be – at least the first half of your hike will be difficult because of the number of people packed in that narrow space. The good news is that there are barely any people at all from the 22th to 24th station because the steps are really really steep there so many families with children/ elderly/ pets will not venture into that area. As such, your best photo opportunities will definitely be from the 22th station on wards.
Before the hike, all fresh faced at station 19.
Only about 30 minutes into the hike, there really are many people around. Despite the cool air, the sun was pretty fierce so I was perspiring like crazy.
If a little poodle can climb the Great Wall, so can you!
Close up of the restored walls.
Beyond the 24th station, you will see this sign basically telling you that if you go any further, it is completely at your own risk. I couldn’t go beyond this point even though I really really wanted to because I had the wrong shoes on..you really need some good hiking shoes to make it beyond this point because the rocks are really unstable.
I love this picture because its of me at the original structure of the Great Wall.. it’s at the peak of the Mutianyu Great Wall so the remnants of the original structure basically ends there.
The view from the 24th station frankly isn’t as wonderful as the view from the 23rd station only because at the 24th station, there are many bushes and trees so you can barely see anything. I did cave in to purchase the most expensive can of Coke ever at the peak where an old lady was selling chilled drinks. I bought it partly because I really pitied the old lady – I simply can’t imagine having to climb the wall everyday to set a stall up. And I was honestly also dying to quench my thirst too so yeah – that can of expensive coke was definitely worth it!
Amazing view on the way down at the 23rd station. The mountains in the backdrop really appear endless. I was pinching myself throughout the hike and at one point, I thought aloud ‘I feel like I’m at the top of the world!’ A stranger heard me and responded ‘It sure feels like it, doesnt it? It really makes you feel so small and humble.’
So would I recommend going through an adventure agency? Yes and no – depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re an avid hiker, then you should go free and easy. Get a couple of friends, rent a private car and take your time to climb the wall from start to finish. With an adventure agency, they give you only 3 hours to complete everything… which forces you to take the cable car to the 19th station. Going free and easy allows you to complete the entire hike from the bottom to the top without having to take the cable car. In addition, if you have a few more friends to share a private car, I do believe you can save a bit of money. Its abouot 900 RMB per private car, so if there are 4 of you and you don’t take the cable car you could easily save about 100RMB.. which is only a small sum of money but hey, why not.
I would recommend an adventure agency, however, if you’re only looking to take nice photos at the end. Even if you’re a slow hiker, you don’t really have the worry because the guide will not leave the restaurant until everyone has made it back down.
All in all, guyssss, I just CANNOT get over the fact that I made it to the Great Wall this year. I’m incredibly proud that I didn’t spend the money on some Chanel bag instead because the experiences you get through travel is just priceless.