Our round the world trip began under the best auspices when we landed on Tuesday, August 20th in the frenzy of Beijing. But after a few days in the Chinese capital we soon started to feel a little overwhelmed by all the hustle and bustle. As a result, a short getaway of a few days to the great wall and away from the pollution was welcome. Jinshanling: here we come!
We had a memorable stay! Here is a short summary of the highlights as well as some practical information if you decide to come and visit the great wall of China.
This article was originally written in 2013, during our world tour. We’ll let you read some of the comments, but it does seem that this “good plan” of the time is no longer exactly the same. Indeed, the Simatai section opened to the public in 2014. It is still possible to go to the surroundings, but it will probably not be as “deserted” as it was when we were there, and unfortunately it will no longer be possible for you to access outside official hours.
At the end of this article you will find our updated recommendations for visiting this place without too many people.
The great wall of China
How can we not start this article by telling you a little more about this giant of human construction? In fact, the Great Wall is definitely man’s greatest creation in terms of size, volume, and whatever you want! By the way, the first time we saw it, a rather incredible feeling invaded us, it’s just: Wouahhhhhhhhhhhh
This stone giant starts from the north of Beijing and extends to the Gobi Desert! After that, as far as its length is concerned, opinions differ quite a bit, because some sections are destroyed or buried underground.
But its most frequently cited estimated length is 6700km! At the same time I want to tell you that given the distance it represents, we will not be picky if it’s 3 kilometers mors or less?
On the other hand, we’re sorry to have to disappoint some of you, but we can’t see it from space. It’s a legend. But that doesn’t take anything away from it’s beauty!
The Great Wall was built in several stages between the 3rd century BC and the 17th century to defend China’s northern border. A wall itself doesn’t protect that much, does it? That is why huge watchtowers and bastions are spread all along the wall, in which the guards were located and from which they could communicate with each other.
In the end, this immense construction will never have really repelled the slightest invasion…. Nowadays the greatest threat is probably the invasion of tourists!)
Why visit the great wall off the beaten track?
To visit the Great Wall of China there are of course hundreds of possibilities. (At the same time on a total length of 6700 km one has the choice you will tell me!) But on the other hand it is not easy to find a place which is at the same time easily accessible while not being invaded by mass tourism.
The most famous section to visit the Great Wall is called Badaling. This is a section located about 80km north of Beijing. This makes it a popular destination for day trips from the capital. The thing to know is that in Beijing, tourists are not only the few Westerners we meet here and there at the bend of a tourist lane, they are also millions of Chinese tourists from all over the country who come to discover their capital.
If you decide to go to Badaling or Mutiyanu or Simatai, be prepared to face a huge amount of other visitors and spend your time declining (or not) the proposals of the street vendors. To give you an idea, Badaling welcomes more than 55,000 visitors every day! With a record number of visitors in the first week of October (national holidays). In 2012 there were more than 80,000 tourists per day!
2 days on the great wall: our program to get to Jinshanling
For our little getaway we opted for a small hostel located only a few meters from the Simatai portion of the wall not far from the village of Dongpo. The best thing, if you come from Beijing is to leave the city around noon, so you will arrive at the hostel in the middle of the afternoon. You will thus have time to settle in before leaving to admire the sunset. For details on how to get to the hostel, a small section has been prepared at the end of this article.
Sunset on the great wall of China
So it was around 3pm that we arrived, in what was to be our little oasis of happiness for the next few days, and after a well-deserved first cold beer we set off for the wall.
From the hostel it takes about 35 minutes through small woods to reach a high point of the wall that will offer you a breathtaking view! This part of the wall is closed to the public, so there is absolutely no risk of running into anyone.
The only people we met were 3 Chinese workers who were coming down from the wall after their work day. Indeed, this portion of the wall is being renovated in order to be open to the public soon….
Update 2019: It seems that this portion of the wall is now open to public… Thus it is no longer possible to go on it like we did. But the hostel still exists and the tenants will help you avoid the crowds by bringing you to the nicest spots by car!
But don’t worry, in the evening you will always be alone there! Once on the wall, do not let yourself be impressed by the very steep stairs. We recommend that you climb to the 2nd watch tower at all costs. You can sit on its roof and watch the sunset in peace and quiet! A pure moment of happiness!
After this magnificent show we went back down to the hostel to enjoy an excellent meal prepared by the hostel’s owner!
Sunrise on the great wall
I’m not really a very early riser, but that day Benoit didn’t have to struggle to make me get up at 5am! I was like a child on Christmas Day: I wanted to see my sunrise on the Great Wall! Thus, after a good breakfast, we set off at around 5:30 am with a couple of Canadians we met at the inn.
By the time the first rays of sunlight began to appear above the surrounding hills we had already climbed a few hundred metres.
Besides the four of us? Absolutely NO ONE on the wall as far as the eye can see! I think I will never forget that feeling of incredible freedom and immensity that invaded us at that time!
Simatai to Jinshanling hike
After sunrise, the walk continues quietly with the sun in the back to Jinshaling. For nearly 3 hours we did not meet a single person on the wall! Our first encounter was with a 75-year-old man. This gentleman climbed alone on the great wall with a small backpack filled with water, beer and coffee to supply the few persons who would venture out there later in the day!
The Jinshaling section is open to the public from 9am and is equipped with a cable car. It is therefore quite naturally that we started to meet our first tourists from that time on… But let us be reassured, they were a few isolated people: we were far from the massive crowds that we could meet in Badaling! Especially since for us it was already almost the end of the walk.
Once you arrive in Jinshaling, the owner of the hostel will pick you up and take you back to either the hostel, the bus or your hotel as agreed with you.
So it was around noon that we returned to our inn: tired but so happy!
The Dongpo Inn – Simatai Guesthouse
Our hostel was located at the foot of the wall, it took less than 5 minutes on foot to reach it in the morning! Moreover the view from the small terrace was not bad at all…. It could be worse, doesn’t it?
The hostel is run by an absolutely adorable Chinese couple. While he doesn’t speak very good English, his wife is doing very well! You will have no trouble making yourself understood. And we guarantee you that it is rather rare in China!
In addition, the owner is a former cook from an excellent restaurant in the region, so the dishes offered at the hostel are all absolutely divine. Even the menu is in English, thus you can know what you’re eating! Once again, it is far from trivial in China….
As far as the equipment of the hostel is concerned, it is very simple but very correct. The rooms are located in tin houses. Each room is equipped with a double bed (or two single beds) with a fan. The shower and toilets are shared by all rooms and the owners of the premises.
Let’s face it, we didn’t come to this inn for its rooms. Or for the toilets in a shed below. But it is very clean and the location and the view from the terrace immediately convinced us!
- How to get there?:
- by bus and taxi: From Beijing you can take the bus 980 to Dongzhimen (15 Yuan) to the terminus in Minyu. From there, a taxi driver will take you to the hostel (200 yuan/route if organized by the hostel)
- By taxi: The hostel also offers a taxi shuttle service that picks you up at your hotel in Beijing and brings you back for 1100 yuan
- Price of meals/beverages: From 20 to 70 yuan the dishes, water bottles at 5 yuan, beers 20 yuan
- Trekking rate: Free for the sunset. The next day we have to pay 65 yuan when we arrive on the section open to the public.
- Booking: Since 2018, this place can also be booked online. Click here to see availabilities
Visit the Great Wall in 2019: our recommendations
As I told you in the introduction, things have changed a little bit around here since 2013…. The guesthouse has become much more modern (bathrooms in the bedrooms) and access to the wall can no longer be done “off the beaten tracks”. However, we still think it is an excellent place to base and see the wall “quietly”. Because yes, even if the section is now open to the public, it remains further from Beijing and therefore much less popular than Badaling or Mutiyanu.
If the hostel is full on your dates, then take a look at the ones in the area. We don’t know them, but from the feedback we got, there are many now in this area. 🙂
For us, visiting the wall by taking the time to spend the night there and to go there independently remains the easiest and most importantly the cheapest way.
Afterwards, if you have less time or simply don’t want to take the public buses, there are of course many tours that go to the Great Wall. Here too, you are encouraged to drive a little further and avoid the sections of the wall that are “too close” to Beijing.
The hike we have done can be done in a day with a small group. This alternative is more “comfortable” with a guide and a meal included. Of course it will also be a little more expensive (about 90€-100€ per person for the day (transport, guide and meals included)
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