The Great Wall

22nd September 2017

Badaling section of the great wallThe Great Wall is a “must see” in China and so we consider signing up for a tour for 300 yuan each, about £30, even though other sections of the wall out in Xinjiang. We are not keen, however, on the obligatory free Jade factory stop that is included in most of these tours – or, indeed of the general herding around that happen. We are still contemplating the options as we head to breakfast. There aren’t many tables in the courtyard and all are full so we squeeze next to two English chaps and get chatting to them. Chris and Paul are planning a trip to see the Great Wall at Badaling going by public transport – just our type of trip so we ask to tag along.

Miles and miles of wallThe train we need to catch leaves from Huangtudian station, a few metro changes away so off we set and are now well versed in buying tickets and reading the map to check the lines and directions we need. Four pairs of eyes are (mostly) better than two except when there are signs indicating two different sets of stairs. We made it with loads of time to spare and meandered from the metro the the mainline station whilst chatting away. We were nearly derailed by a group of locals telling us our train was cancelled and there was coach replacement. In the UK we may have fallen for that but we looked at each other and said “scam” so kept walking.

Please stop talkingThe train tickets are 6 yuan each, peanuts for an hour’s train journey. There was a huge queue of locals and when the gate was opened a mad rush for the train, luckily there were enough seats for everyone and we soon settled down to watch the scenery. Our peace was shattered by a Chinese lady babbling away into a microphone for about twenty minutes just by our seats trying to sell tickets for the Wall – why??? Many locals did buy them but we held out for the official ticket office on site.

Surprisingly steepWe caught our first glimpse of the Great Wall from the train and it looked impressive climbing up the steep hillside. The whole scenery was green and mountainous heading off into the wilds of China. This is the way we like to explore. Once we arrived at Badaling station we followed the crowds passed the shuttle buses and the road to the chairlifts and the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to the main entrance. There were groups of tourists wearing numbered badges or matching caps but we just walked by.

Just follow the crowdsNot being under any time pressure, unlike the tour groups, we could take our time as the trains ran regularly back to Beijing. The first stretch of the wall was heaving but, as we headed on up, the number of tourists thinned (in relative terms as it was still packed). Once we passed the path where the cable cars disgorged their occupants, the crowds thicken again, to the point that we had to queue patiently to pass through the watchtowers. Even the Chinese had to wait as we were squeezed in so tightly that there was no room to barge past.

What amazing viewsThe Wall runs across very hilly terrain

We stopped at the top and considered our options. We could return the way we came, or head down a further much quieter section of the wall looping back and return the last part by road. You guessed it – we took the latter option and kept walking. The tour groups did not come this far and so we had some parts of the wall almost to ourselves. The views were stunning and much more impressive than we expected. Whether it was the freedom of doing it independently or the sheer size of the restored sections of the wall I am not sure, but we both agreed this was a much better experience than the Terracotta Warriors.

A quieter stretchThe onward route took us to the far end of a restored section past the steps down for our route back to the station but we just had to struggle up the last slope to the final watch tower. It was then a short retracing of our steps before heading down off the wall and follow the signs to the Bear Garden. I was hoping was a typo in the Chinese translation and we could get a beer! Sadly, it was not a mistake and we headed past the cages of the sad looking bears in tiny enclosures. There was cage after cage and I was glad when we had passed them all, as the bears looked dejected and bored. The way the Chinese were taking photos I thought one of the bears may land up with an early lunch but the humans and bears luckily did not meet.

What dejected looking bearsAfter all the walking in the heat and no beer in sight we resorted to ice creams and made our way back down the long road to the entrance and then on to the station. Here we joined the queue for the train and found it overwhelming with the locals just staring at us, as if they had never seen foreigners before. It was a relief when we met up with Chris and Paul again and boarded the train home. Retracing our steps on the metro we happily headed for our hotel, and were even happier when Novotel “happy hour” was suggested.

It had to be done!Chris is a keen chef and had researched local restaurants, so we followed their lead into the big shopping centre, stopping only to see ourselves on the big screen about two storeys high. We were heading for a restaurant called Grandmas, which had good reviews and popular with the locals. As there was a wait we did not mind sharing a table with a local lad. Luckily he spoke English because although the menu was in English we needed to tick the items we wanted to order on a form which was all in Chinese! A bit of pot luck over what we ordered but it turned out excellent and lots of it, all for 148 Yuan between the four of us including beer and free tea. What a great day of independent travel, cheap and cheerful just how we like it.

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One Response to The Great Wall

  1. Clive Polley says:

    A great read as always. Lots of food featured!

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