Travel Report: Hiking The Great Wall of China, Jinshanling to Simatai.
May 2010. For visitors to China, hiking a section of The Great Wall often finds itself planted at the very top of the bucket list. But choosing which part to tackle can be an overwhelming task, with nearly nine thousand kilometres of wall snaking its way across the country. Some of the most impressive stretches can be accessed in the rural regions outside Beijing, but even this concentrated huddle can be a minefield for the inexperienced traveller. First off, let’s get one thing straight: DON’T GO TO BADALING. Yes, it’s close to Beijing and yes it’s very well preserved, but it’s so horribly touristy and dreadfully crowded that some days the number of bodies can completely block out the wall itself.
My first Great Wall experience took in a ten-kilometer hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. Located 157 kilometers from the Chinese capital, it’s well worth going the extra distance. Just fifteen minutes or so into the trail and this is the kind of view you’re rewarded with!
May 2010. Jinshanling is a brilliantly wild section of the Great Wall, with only partly restored brickwork, crumbling staircases and, here and there, nothing but mounds of loose rubble. The hike is punctuated by a series of watchtowers, one of which (Beijing Tower) allows you to glimpse the city itself on a clear day.
May 2010. Be warned that the Jinshanling to Simatai hike requires a certain level of fitness. Towering staircases like this one are common, so I certainly had to earn those sweeping views as I clambered up several untamed inclines.
May 2010. I’ll never forget these attractive Colombian twins who were travelling around Asia with their father. Not that he was actually there, instead they’d brought a paper cutout of the man that they posed with for photos. “He always wanted to travel he world!” one of them told me, “and now he’s doing it!”
May 2010. It is possible to reach Jinshanling independently with a local bus from Beijing’s Wanjing West Subway Station, but it’s a real hassle. From what I could gather it goes once a day (08:00), takes two to three hours depending on traffic and costs 32RMB (£3.60/€4/$4.60). Don’t expect any level of comfort and be ready for the scam artists (often working in cahoots with the bus driver) who try to trick you into believing the bus service is suspended before leading you into their overpriced taxi. The bus terminates at a place called Jinshanling Highway Service where a free but unreliable shuttle bus takes you onto the start of the Jinshanling trail. Check the schedules for the latest times.
As for getting back to Beijing, the inconvenient bus times means it’s usually better to try and stay somewhere locally to get the most out of your visit. For my trip I took a private minivan (maximum 12 people) through Leo Hostel for about 200RMB (£22/€25/$29). The better operators have comfy seats, air con and an English-speaking guide who gives you a bit of background info on the way. Entrance to the wall itself is 65RMB (£7.30/€8.20/$9.40) and it’s open daily from 05:00-18:00.
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