Great wall of China tour (Badaling) with Leo hostel, Beijing

You can’t complete your Beijing visit without a trip to great wall of China. Said to be visible from the moon (disputed) and having history that dates back to centuries, this great wall that is thousands of miles long, carrying history of sacrifices, gigantic efforts and chilling stories is certainly worth a visit.
The great wall stretches for thousands of miles, so can be visited in different parts of the country. Beijing is the most popular city to begin your day tour to great wall from, because Beijing has good air connectivity and other attractions to draw tourists from around the world. Once in Beijing, you can visit great wall on your own (public transport buses are available) or buy a seat with a tour operator, who organize a day trip from Beijing to great wall and back, including entry fee, lunch and service of a guide who will give some briefing about the great wall.

When I inquired at my hostel (Leo Hostel) I was quoted a fee of CNY 300 for the Great wall of China day trip. This was bit higher than the rate I had heard, still went ahead with them thinking it will be more convenient and probably worth going with a known/recommended operator than booking with a lesser known agency/operator where I am more prone to cheating.

We started from hostel at about 7.45 AM. We had to walk a bit till the main road where the our bus was, seated in a mini bus and reached the great wall area by about 9.45 AM. Apparently we were taken to a less popular, thinner, smaller section of great wall, some 10 kms away from the main section in Badaling. This has both pros and cons, but I would have liked some disclosures before booking, so that I could take an informed decision.
Positive things about the less popular section of great wall we visited
Negative aspects
Less (almost zero) crowd, could click pictures of wall without people in it
It was not the strongest, tallest portion of the wall, so we missed seeing the great wall in its best state or grandeur. A quick stop at the regular wall on the way back would have been great.
A different spot/experience compared to where everyone else goes
No option to try cable car

Less shops n restaurants (if it matters to you)
Bit expensive
The portion of the wall we were taken to was a lot thinner, less taller and less magnificent than what tourists get to see in other portions. At many portions it was not original stones, renovated ones. For example, see the below section- it is hardly a meter tall from ground level. Even normal people can easily climb over it- it can never protect a country from enemies. Thus though we got a crowd free section of the wall, I am left a bit disappointed that I couldn't see the great wall in all its might and grandeur.
Some exit paths are made in the wall- they open on the Mangolian side which doesn't make sense if the purpose was to prevent invasion, so my guess is these were added recently for tourist's emergency exit purpose and not part of original design
Unfortunately no greenery in November- all trees have dried up
Multiple watch towers exist on the wall
We were given 3 hours time to walk 6 kms (3kms one way till the 7th watch tower and back). For a group of reasonably fit young adults, this is just enough time. If you have seniors or kids in the group, the timing won’t be enough. Since it is organized by hostels and hostels usually get only young adults, I guess no one complains. I feel it would have been better if they give 4 hours-one can climb with more rest- anyway there’s nothing else planned for the evening other than returning to city, so another hour wouldn’t have harmed anyone. (Except probably treat us to peak hour traffic in Beijing on our way back)
Our guide, who kept himself an English name “Peter” for easy recognition, told us a brief story of his great grandfathers who worked for the wall. During those days, Mangolians would constantly attack China, thus the idea of great wall was conceived. But the thousand mile long wall took lives of millions of Chinese people during its construction. Summer temperatures would reach upwards of 40 degree centigrade and workers had to carry stones uphill with little rest or water. People those days had two choices- die fighting the Mangolians, or die building the wall- tough but such was the life. Today the wall is broken in many places but is largely intact, with many popular portions rebuilt for tourism purposes. It is too thin to be seen from space, not sure if the length makes any difference. Many dispute the fact that it is visible from space- use your discretion.
On our return, we were taken to a restaurant run by Leo hostel. As I identified myself as vegan they got me a plate of veg food- curries and vegetables, which I could eat as is or along with rice that was part of the buffet lunch.
Had good time with a friendly dog which wanted us to throw a bottle so that it could go and pick it up and bring it back to us.

Post lunch we were ferried direct to city and reached hostel just before 4PM, long before evening peak hour kicks in. I would have liked it better if they had stopped at few more places on the way- there was a museum of great wall remains, a national park and so on. But that would have probably meant getting stuck for longer in evening peak hour.

Leo hostel charged me 300 CNY for the trip, which I believe is on the higher side, as Karthik Murali said he did a trip in about 200 CNY. Of this 300 CNY, some 54 bucks is for entry fee at great wall, I would say another 50 is probably for lunch and the rest- about 200 CNY is for transportation and their profit. About 150 kms total (Beijing to Badaling and return) in a 20-25 seater minibus, 7AM to 4PM. If you use public transportation you will be able to save a big portion of this 200 CNY but it will take more time, research and effort.

Another hostel I stayed in Beijing- Beijing Peas Hostel was conducting great wall tour for 280 CNY.

Did the great wall leave me in a WOW! not really-mostly because we saw a thinner, smaller portion of it, but we have to appreciate the whole conceptualization, construction and usage of this wall to protect greater China. More about the Great Wall of China on Wikipedia here, if your're interested

Is it possible to reach Great wall of China by public transportation without using tours?
Yes. I saw many buses plying to the great wall area- bus number 877, 879 etc in Badaling area. You have to figure out where to board them in Beijing and may have to walk a few kms if they don't take you to exact starting point. While tour operators give you only 2-3 hours on the great wall, if you go by public transportation you can spend a lot more time, up-to some 5 PM closing time.

Can we stay near Great Wall?
I didn't explore this angle. Didn't see any hotels very close, but you might be able to find in nearby towns. Not really worth in my opinion as entry is allowed during day time only.

What else to do along with Great wall of China day tour?
  • Badaling has a national park, you can possibly stop there if interested
  • On the way back you can get off at any attractions such as Olympic National park
  • If you're reaching before 4 PM, you can plan to go to Tienanmen Square for flag lowering ceremony
  • Attend Chinese Ballet dance show in the evening (check with your hotel for details)
Things to consider before booking great wall tour
  • Which part of great wall you'll be taken to (take the name, check photos/reviews n decide)
  • Cable car: Available or not (useful in case of kids n elderly who can't walk a lot)
  • Type of vehicle- big bus means a bit more time
  • What's included- Lunch, drinking water etc
  • Of course cost per person
  • You should also factor weather- too hot, very tough to walk long distance

8 comments:

  1. Beautiful captures, good to go through your experience.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's a great tip -- to do so some homework on what part of the wall you would like to go to.

    The great wall looks great! Some good pictures, there. I love those pictures where you can see a big stretches of it. The views also seem great, even though it's not green-season. :)

    Thank you for the sights and the details, Shrinidhi. I thoroughly enjoyed the post.

    ReplyDelete

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