When Jake and I arrived in Beijing in late June and met up with his family, the sun was shining–and as I quickly learned, that’s somewhat of a rarity. We knew we wanted to go to the Great Wall, obviously, but didn’t know when we’d do it–so we scanned the forecast and decided our first full day had the best chances for good weather (and air). And anyway, go big or go home, right?
Thankfully, it was a good guess, and we spent what was easily the nicest day of our trip at Mutianyu, a section of the Wall about 70 kilometers northeast of Beijing. While there are plenty of tours to take you out there, with 8 people in the group, we opted to hire a driver to take us out in a van, which gave us the flexibility to explore at our own pace.
I’d heard about two different sections of the Wall that were recommended as Beijing daytrips–Mutianyu and Badaling–and Mutianyu won out for two reasons. First, it was less touristy. Don’t get me wrong–it was still plenty touristy, and apparently nothing like the section Jake’s brother had previously seen on an all-Chinese-speaking tour. But everyone from the hotel to the driver to multiple friends advised me that it was the better option as compared with Badaling.
Secondly, there was a toboggan. More on that later.
One thing about Chinese tourist attractions: They require multiple tickets. After about a 90-minute van trip, we paid admission to enter the general area, and shortly after we found out we needed to pay again to ascend the wall (the group opted not to hike it). We saw cable cars running up and down, and got tickets for what we thought were them, only to find that what we had gotten ourselves into was a chairlift. A really, really high-up chairlift.
If you’re afraid of heights, I’d make sure you find the cable car. I’m not, per se, but I was terrified of dropping my phone hundreds of feet below, so I didn’t manage to snag any photos of what was an incredibly beautiful trip through green-covered mountains.
Luckily, there’s another way down–and that’s the aforementioned toboggan. Don’t let the name scare you. It’s basically a plastic apparatus that moves at the speed of your choosing down a very winding (and not at all steep) track down the mountain. I wasn’t really in it for the thrill, so I went much slower than your leisurely bicycle-riding speed. To me, easily the best part was passing all the sleeping guards posted along the way and waving and yelling “ni hao!” to wake them up.
The wall itself was as you’d expect–gorgeous, serpentine and everything you’d imagine a Wonder of the World to be. If this gives you any indication…
And surprisingly, if you can ignore the onslaught of relentless people hawking cheap souvenirs, the food was pretty good, too. We ate at a Chinese restaurant at the base of the mountain, and it was the only place I got to try tudou si–spicy potato strips…see below.