Sometimes you don’t know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. Other times you realise it the second you step foot and the goose bumps take over. Walking the Great Wall of China is a moment, and you’ll know it straight away.
Travelling to Beijing in December 2016 I knew that the Great Wall of China was a must do. As I was visiting a friend who lived in Beijing I grilled her for the how to’s. And now after my experience, I’m sharing it all in Part II of my Beijing travel guide: How to hike the Great Wall of China in a day trip.
Hire your own car
As my friend was a local and has Chinese friends she was able to get the inside goss on how a more personal service to the Great Wall of China works.
She hired a taxi from Beijing to Mutianyu for about 700RMB. Between four that’s £18 each. Entrance fees are on top of that as well as the cable car up to the Great Wall, but if you wanted to go it alone, taxi’s in Beijing are incredibly cheap.
I cannot stress enough how limited the English is, if any, so you need someone to either speak in Chinese or show written Chinese outlining that the driver was to stay and take you back to Beijing.
If that all seems to much work, or like me you’re a solo traveller then do what I did and join a group.
Join a tour company
As a solo traveller I decided it was too much faff to sort out a taxi to the Great Wall of China on my own—and too expensive—so I decided to find a tour group. After a bit of research I found and chose Tour Beijing. What I liked about them was the price and that they let me join a preexisting tour group. A lot of other tour companies offer a tour leader for your group, but as a solo traveller it isn’t affordable to hire one guide for myself.
I would rate the tour with Tour Beijing a 5 out of 5, but unfortunately something happened at the end of the tour that took the score down and left a sour taste in my mouth—but I’ll get to that.
Tour Beijing picked me up from my accommodation bright and early in the morning—6:40am to be precise—before taking me to a larger couch to start my day trip to the Great Wall of China. The large couch was not for the faint hearted. It was old, rackety and clangy with a sound coming from the wheels. There was limited heat, but air con—just what you want in a Chinese winter. The coach alone was an experience.
Two hours later I arrived at the Great Wall of China with two options. Because this was a half day’s hiking (3 hours) we could only go to one of the two areas at Mutianyu.
- We could get the open cable car to Tower 6 and take a right to Tower 1. We would then come back to Tower 6 and take the toboggan down.
- Get the closed cable car to Tower 14 and walk to Tower 23—the best view on the wall. You then walk back to Tower 14 and get the same closed cable car back down.
I chose option 2, and not just because it meant a closed cable car so I wasn’t exposed to the Beijing winter.
Buying tickets for the cable cars
The cost of the cable car was not included in the tour price, I suppose because it depends on which cable car you choose. Each return cable car costs 100RMB unless you want to use both.
If you had a full day and wanted to go up one and down the other (such as up Tower 14 and then down the toboggan from Tower 6—which is a great summer choice) you’re looking at combined ticket price of 80RMB.
Tickets can be purchased at the south or north ticket check once you’re at the Great Wall of China.
Hiking the Great Wall of China
You’ve got your ticket, you’ve taken the cable car up to Tower 14 and you’re ready to hike. So, what now? Well put one foot in front of the other and do your thang.
Do I need to be fit to hike the Great Wall of China?
No, you don’t. You just have to want to do it. It’s not a hard hike. You really are just walking along a path. There are some stairs and some hilly bits—as it was built on hills it takes on their shape.
But there is one very tough bit, from Tower 22 to 23 is absolute murder. It is one very steep set of stairs that required me to take four moments to sit down and rest to get up to the top. Not only are they steep, but they’re deep stairs and my butt felt them the next day.
How long will it take?
My tour guide gave us all three hours to hike from Tower 14 to 23 and back again. That’s 90 minutes each way, and a number she’s found necessary.
I set a timer so that I would know when to turn back in case it took me longer than the allocated 90 minutes. In the end I smashed it and did Tower 14 to 23 in an hour—what I’m not competitive!
What will I see?
Not being funny, but you’ll see a wall. You’ll walk along it and notice the bricks and the windows made into the wall, but effectively it is a wall.
I went in winter which meant no green lush hillsides like in the summer or beautiful red and orange autumn leaves, or even snow for winter. But what I did get on my day hiking the Great Wall of China was a sun shining, cloudless blue sky that turned all the rolling hills into a sea of blue hues. It was pretty magical.
After the hike
With our hike over it was time for refuelling. Tour Beijing includes lunch with the ticket price, so we all joined a large round table and ate authentic Chinese food off the lazy Susan. The food was delicious and perfect after being awake since 2am and having hiked for the past 2-3 hours.
Back on the bus we headed back into Beijing while I napped—you remember this was the day that I woke up at 2am thanks to jet lag.
Being dropped back off at my accommodation I was so happy with the day and thinking what great value it was, and then it happened.
The sour note
We’re on a major six lane road and the coach has pulled over to drop me off—not in a parking space, just in the road—when the tour guide bails me up once I’ve stepped off the couch, so no one else can hear, asking for a tip.
I was pretty annoyed.
Tipping in China is not the norm, even for cabs or service charges in restaurants, and nowhere else during my time in Beijing was I asked to tip.
Her reason for asking me for a tip is because they don’t stop off at the factories—a lot of the tour companies take you to Jade outlets and factories afterwards where they’ve given incentives for doing so.
And this only fuelled my annoyance. If the product you are selling is not meeting your financial needs, increase the price. Don’t ask me to tip you because you chose to offer product A instead of product B. It’s like going to buy a car and having car dealership A offer a free spare tyre and care dealership B not. You choose car dealership A as it’s fit for your needs and then once the paperwork is signed they ask you for extra money because they, unlike car dealership B, offer a free spare tyre.
In the end I tipped. But I was just so angry about it. If you can’t tell.
Because I don’t want to leave my blog post on a sour note, I’ll finish off with a funny story, a la typical Bridget Jones behaviour.
Dinner for two for one
Arriving back at the ShiMao International Shopping Centre, my new favourite haunt for authentic food, I headed down to the food court for dumplings. With only one restaurant offering them, I made a beeline and started pointing at the photographs on the board.
I thought I had pointed out dumplings, soup and spring rolls, totalling 35RMB. But when the waitress asked for the money, the bill was 45RMB. Luckily numbers are the same in ever country, as Lindsey Lohan so classically put in Mean Girls, and so I did my maths on the back of the receipt to highlight that I wanted one dish for 20RMB, one for 10RMB and one for 5RMB. The waitress was having none of it.
She turned the receipt back over and pointed at the four things I had ordered totalling 45RMB. All four things were written in Chinese so I couldn’t tell what was what. Doing the maths in my head I realised what ever it was that I ordered came to about £5 so I was going to break the bank any time soon. I let it go and waited for my food to come out, what ever it was.
No more than 5 minutes later my soup, dumplings and spring rolls came out–hurrah! I did order what I wanted–and so did my second bowl of soup. I couldn’t help but laugh at my mountain of food on the table for one solo traveller. I must have looked so out of place.
But the laughter wasn’t over.
The dumplings were massive and I wanted them so bad. But they were also hot and slippery and I couldn’t figure out how to pick them up with my chopsticks. After some poking and prodding I figured putting the chopstick in it and eating it like a kebab/skewer would work. Only I didn’t count on the oil. Shoving my chopstick into the dumpling caused too much pressure and a breakage occurred on the opposite side where the oil flew out of the dumpling and across the restaurant.
Running away wasn’t an option. I still had three more dumplings, two bowls of soup and four spring rolls to get through. I ate my feelings and my embarrassment.
Read part I of my Beijing Travel Guide and discover Beihai Park and why cheap flights are not always a winning deal.
Stay tuned for part III of my Beijing Travel Guide where I visit all the sites of Beijing including Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Lama Temple, Temple of Heaven and more.
If you’re planning on hiking the Great Wall of China leave a comment below.