When I came to China six years ago I didn’t go to the Great Wall. Talk about a travel regret. I think part of why I came back to China was to see the Great Wall. According to Chinese custom, you aren’t “a man” until you’ve been on the wall. Not that I’m striving to be a man, but still. I needed to see that wall!

 So, one would think that, with a mere two days in Beijing, I would plan my travels ahead of time. Nope. I was finalizing my hostel arrangements via cell phone on my way to the airport and praying that there would be a spot open on a Great Wall tour when I arrived.

Procrastination paid off. When I arrived in Beijing I gladly forked over 280 RMB (a little under $50) and secured my spot on a group tour to hike a 7K (4 ½ mile) stretch of the Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai. I knew this would be the hike for me when the hostel guy told me to bring my own food and water – there would be no shopping available. He wasn’t entirely correct. Several entrepreneurial Chinese folks met us at the wall selling water, cold beer and T-shirts, but there were no theatres/museums/KFC’s like there apparently are at other sections of the Great Wall (Badaling, the site closest to Beijing is especially infamous for this).

 

Besides food and water, I also should have brought sunscreen. In Beijing there’s very little burning power left after the sun struggles through layers upon layers of Chinese smog, but as the bus took us up into the mountains and away from the city things got a little clearer. A nice thing about group tours is that there’s always someone around to help you out, and I borrowed (well, took) some sunscreen from a brother-sister traveling duo from Pennsylvania. Besides us, the rest of the mini bus was European, including a French Robert Pattinson look-alike who would stop and smoke on every watchtower.

 

It was the best kind of hike: Hot, challenging, gorgeous views, and serene. There were a few other tour groups on the wall, but there were also stretches of emptiness. Some sections of the wall required climbing – all hands and feet required – and some sections provided gentle downhill walks. The hike took us through 22 watchtowers with increasingly better views. It took me about three hours to complete the hike, and I was sore for the next two days, which was unfortunate because I ran a ½ marathon two days later. It was worth it though.

 

If you want to visit this section of the wall, I’d suggest signing up as I did through the Beijing Downtown Packers Hostel. You do not have to stay at the hostel to go on the tour. I’ve also heard of people hiring taxi’s to Jinshanling and pick arranging a pickup at Simatai. This requires a certain amount of trust in your taxi driver, as you are stuck in the middle of nowhere if he or she doesn’t show up at Simatai.