So buying flights in a somewhat spontaneous order landed me with 4 days in Beijing. China had never really been a destination that was urgent in my mind-more of like, "when I go, I'll go". But the $200 flight from Beijing to London was what really sold me on this short stopover there. That, and the Great Wall of China.
I am so glad I got to experience it, and walk on it. I booked a tour to the Mutianyu section through my hostel, as they said it was the least crowded spot to walk it(surely you've seen pictures online of the Great Wall covered in people!). I believe I paid around 60-80 dollars for this tour, which included a guide(who didn't climb with us, but gave us a lot of history during the drive), driver, and a lunch after the wall. When we got there, after a 2.5 hour ride, we had to ride in a lift to get to the actual wall. Our guide gave us another option, to hike up, but after seeing the hill, no one argued to hike.
Our guide says the busiest section of the wall is when you get off the lift. There's a bunch of stalls and such with snacks and drink. The further you go away down the wall, the less and less people there are. I joined two guys from my group, one from Amsterdam and another Californian, and we made it our mission to go as far as we could in our allotted 2.5 hours on the wall(sounds like a lot, but with all the walking-it goes by quick!).
These were the steepest steps we climbed. I definitely tripped on the way down. I was wearing sandals(I had ditched my only closed toed pair of beaten up boots at my previous hostel in Seoul, as my backpack was too full), so I felt a little daunted and unprepared. I was fine but I would highly HIGHLY recommend sneakers. Don't be like me.
Many brave people set up stalls on the Great Wall daily to sell food and drink and snack. Prices are raised because they carry their merchandise up daily! So much dedication though.
Our guide also explained that there is a point where the great wall is "closed". He said. "The Chinese government doesn't want you to go on the old wall. It needs repairs and may be dangerous. But I do this tour every day and I recommend the old wall. You should do it" We didn't need anymore convincing and definitely kept going after seeing this sign.
As you can see from the state of the surface, the old wall isn't maintained. The ground is uneven, but still walkable. We kept going a little further. It was great to be there with no one else around and just us. This was where I got most of my pictures. The only thing that made me sad was a lot of trash on the Great Wall, especially the older part. Filled me with sadness like seeing the trash floating in Ha Long Bay.
All in all, it was a beautiful, once in a lifetime moment, and I could not recommend it more. Not only was it the best hiking workout I've ever had(hello, leg day) but I got to share travel experiences with others in my group. I heard a lot about Chinese culture from other expats who now lived in China for various reasons(teaching or on business) so that was really cool to hear their perspective, or funny stories they'd accumulated since traveling.