Tag Archive for: Great Wall of China

While many of the historical treasures of China are of little importance to the outside world, others are well known across the country’s borders. The most representative remains the Great Wall of China, a landmark that Chinese citizens are very proud of, but also a destination that many travelers would like to cross off their bucket list.

The history of an engineering wonder

The Great Wall tells an important part of the history that shaped China as the country we know today and played an essential role in the military strategies of many Chinese emperors. What fewer people know is that the fortifications which get crowded with tourists nowadays are only part of the fourth generation of walls and the last ones that have been built. They date back to the Ming dynasty, who constructed structures out of stone and brick.

The term “wall” refers to an entire defense system. According to the research of modern archaeology, from the first wall ever built to more recent times, the Great Wall measures over 21.000 km, which is much more than traditionally believed, and sums up 16 walls that have been built along 2000 years. It started as a project initiated by emperor Qin Shi Huang, who tried to protect the northern border from invaders. The same reason determined other emperors to continue the project and build longer, stronger and more sophisticated walls.



In modern times the Great Wall is as impressive as it always used to be. Unfortunately, due to safety reasons, many parts of it are closed to the public, although adventurous people still dare to venture behind the safe areas. And it is easy to understand why. The wall stretches along mountain peaks and around beautiful valleys, offering rewarding views only to the most adventurous explorers.

We wanted to experience a bit of everything and since our time was short we had to choose wisely. Some of the most famous and easiest to access sections of the wall are Badaling (probably the most popular among Chinese tourists), Juyongguan and Mutianyu. Badaling and Juyongguan are the most touristic and most crowded. After seeing pictures of how crowded it can get, we knew they were not options for us. We even planned our days on the wall to be weekdays in the hope that fewer local tourists would join us. And the result of our planning happened to be positive.

On the way to the Great Wall of China

On our third day in Beijing we walked to the Dongzhimen bus station, from where we took the bus 916 Express to Huairou North Avenue. The station is big and well organized, so finding the right bus was an easy task. We paid for the ride 12 CNY and it took more than one hour to arrive at the Mutianyu Roundabout, where things got a bit trickier. At this point, our options were to wait for the bus H23 (H24, H35 and H36 go in the same direction), that had an uncertain arrival time, and the taxi, that is most recommended as it takes you in less than half an hour to the ticket office at the entrance of the wall. And while deciding which option is better, unofficial taxi drivers surrounded us offering help with the luggage and price offers for a ride. Surprisingly we got a more than an attractive offer, so we decided to give up on other options and threw our backpacks in the back of one unofficial taxi driver’s car.

In the afternoon we could already cross the threshold of the Yue Tong Farmer House, where we planned to sleep for the following three nights. There were no more grey buildings, no noise, no traffic, just a peaceful and beautiful nature and kind people around us. Our hosts were a family of four that also cooked for us and made every moment of our stay more than enjoyable. There are many such farms stays in the area, but we considered ourselves lucky to have found the one where we stayed.

The Mutianyu section – between history and beautiful nature

Our first morning in Huairou has been a very early one as we wanted as much time on the wall as possible. So after paying the 45 yuan at the entrance, we took the touristic bus (which is included in the price of the ticket) that dropped us at the ticket counter of the cable car. There are two cable cars at the Mutianyu section, offering connections with two of the watchtowers, numbers 6 and 14. These two towers offer also some of the best views over the surroundings. For going back down, visitors can use also an available toboggan.

Of course, there is also the option to walk. Since we decided that we want to spend the day hiking, we skipped the cable car and walked up the stairs. And climbing up and downstairs is what we did for the rest of the day.

Mutianyu, known to be the most magnificent of the fully restored sections, is only 2.3 km long, with easy parts to walk on but also very steep ones. We climbed till the 22nd tower of the wall, where the restored part ended. Here the crowds disappeared and nature seemed to have taken over the almost untouched parts of the wall. After passing the last tower we continued on the Jiankou section. From here on, walking on the wall felt less safe and much more challenging, but the landscapes were truly breathtaking.



We were lucky enough to encounter only a few people on the wall that day and most in the areas where tourists arrived by cable car. We walked as long as we could and as far as it felt safe for us. Other travelers that we met on the way seemed more courageous and ventured much further than we did. But as the sun was going down, so did also our energy reserves.

Walking on the Mutianyu felt like quite a touristic activity. We’ve been constantly surrounded by people taking their selfies and by merchandisers offering snacks and refreshments to the visitors. So we were lucky to have the option to leave them behind and continue on the unrestored part of the wall.

Our walk took around 10 hours, with a coffee break in between, and ended before sunset, when we slowly followed the path back to the accommodation.


On the third day, we decided to move less and use the time to explore the area. If you want to visit the wall section at the Mutianyu but plan to spend less time on the wall, you should know that the surroundings and the villages are beautiful and even a walk around will turn into a pleasant experience.

The following morning we ate our last breakfast with the family at the farmhouse and went to catch an early bus back to Beijing. While waiting at the bus station, luckily the same “unofficial” taxi driver that brought us to Huairou passed by and offered us a ride for an even lower fare than on the day when we came to the farmhouse. And the day hasn’t been much longer after. Our plan to catch the 6 o’clock train on the following day called for an early breakfast and an early sleep, so we could save some energy for our arrival in Xi’an.

Check out our gallery for more pictures from the Great Wall.

The second-largest Chinese city after Shanghai, Beijing is home to more than 20 million people and it has been the capital of the Chinese Empire for much of its history. After the Chinese revolution at the end of the Second World War, it became the country’s educational and cultural center.

Luckily for us, the city is well connected with all the other big cities of China, allowing us to travel to Beijing in just 4 hours from Shanghai, by speed train. China is indeed a big country, but its citizens found ways to reduce the time needed to move between large distances by developing fast-moving transportation methods.

So we were once again in the middle of concrete buildings and chaotic traffic. And while Shanghai surprised us with the kindness of its people (which we realized it’s not common in big cities), Beijing happened to be colder from the way people reacted to our presence.

Still, while traveling in China, Beijing cannot be excluded from one’s itinerary. And if the people there are not the best reason to consider the city as a destination, its history remains a strong argument. We spent here only three days, two to explore the city and one to prepare for the destinations that were planned for the last part of our trip. We decided to do so because we wanted to have more time for the Great Wall, which would turn into the highlight of our trip to Beijing.

The Forbidden City

Trying to follow a tight schedule and a strict plan, we headed early in the morning to the Tiananmen Square, with the intention to visit the Palace Museum, best known in the past as the Forbidden City. We need to mention that our two days in Beijing were weekend days and we can only recommend to those who are planning to do the same to just change their plans and try visiting Beijing during weekdays. We didn’t really have a choice due to the limited time of our visa, so we joined the crowd that was lining at the ticket counter.



Despite the high number of tourists, the security check and the selling of the tickets happened to be surprisingly fast and less than one hour later we found ourselves inside this gigantic palace. While few people had the chance to go inside the Forbidden City during the ancient era, modern times allow visitors to invade almost every corner of it.

At the ticket counter we just had our passport details inserted into the computer instead of receiving a ticket and later at the entrance we had our passports checked in order to enter (make sure that they write the right data when you pay for the entrance to avoid problems when trying to go inside… as it happened to us).


The best view of the Palace Museum we got not from inside, but from an outside hill facing the northern exit, the Jingshan Park. The hill is actually an extension of the Forbidden City. From the top of it, visitors can get a better picture of the way the museum is structured. Designed to be the center of the ancient city of Beijing, the palace is enclosed in a larger area, surrounded by walls, called the Imperial City, which, in turn, is enclosed by the Inner City.


The Temple of Heaven

Going around the walls of the Forbidden City, we walked back to the main entrance, crossed the Tiananmen Square and continued to the southeastern part of central Beijing, where we found a complex of religious buildings known as the Temple of Heaven. The place was used by the emperor for annual ceremonies. We spent another hour here walking around the buildings, finding our way through the crowds that seemed to have invaded every touristic place in the city. The two main attractions of the Temple of Heaven are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and the Circular Mound Altar, two circular structures with a base of marble stones. The area is used by the locals as a space for outdoor social meetings, where they can get together and play card games. We have seen many of them doing so, which gave us the impression that it is a common practice.


While Beijing has much to offer, it requires time, which we had only little from. Short before sunset, we stopped at a local restaurant for dinner and went back to the accommodation. Our one day in Beijing offered us only a bit of enthusiasm compared to the experience of the following days when we would discover some of the ancient secrets of the Great Wall of China.

Click here for more pictures from Beijing.