One of the biggest things we knew we had to do while in Beijing was visit the Great Wall. There are a few sections of wall that you can visit, with some being more popular than others. Badaling is the most popular for Chinese tourists, as public transportation there is very easy and that’s where almost all the large bus tours go. Mutianyu is the best-preserved section of wall and most popular with foreign tourists. We opted to go with neither and instead take a tour to Jinshanling and Gubeikou, where there would be far less people. Jinshanling is another preserved section that doesn’t see as many visitors as the area around it is just starting to be built up to accommodate more people. It was nice to go to a section where we weren’t swarmed and have hundreds of other people in all our pictures. The next section, Gubeikou, is a ‘wild’ section of the wall. Completely unrestored, nature has taken over here, and it was really cool to see a more rundown section.
Snaking its way through mountains and valleys, the Great Wall runs for over 10,000 miles in northern China. The first sections of wall were built as far back as the 7th century BC. The wall has been rebuilt, maintained, and improved by many different dynasties, and the majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The main purpose of the wall was to protect China from Mongolian invaders. Overall, it was effective in stopping semi-nomadic invaders but could not stop larger scale invasions.
Seeing the Great Wall in person was incredible and even more amazing than we had expected. After the 2-hour drive from Beijing, our group (us, a lovely couple from Arizona, and another from Portugal) hiked a circle route through the Jinshanling section of wall. At roughly 50 (sometimes 100) yard intervals there were watchtowers we could climb up to get an even better view of the landscape surrounding the wall.
For lunch we stopped in a small town in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of northern China. The population here is more of a mix of Russian and Mongolian, while the landscape starts to become more defined by green steppe and arid desert the further north you go. We ended up at a tiny restaurant, and our guide ordered over a half-dozen dishes for us all to try. Everything we tried was delicious, and this was hands down our favorite meal in all of China. Our small stop here made me want to visit Mongolia, but we’ll save that for another time! After lunch we headed back to the wall but along they way we made a quick pitstop to shake down some pear trees! At least our guide told us they were pears, though we thought they were more like peaches. Either way, they were good.
We then continued on to the second portion of wall that we were stopping at; Gubeikou. We hiked up to the wall and found a nice stop to watch sunset at. This section was much different than the nicely restored section we visited, and it was cool to see two diverse segments of the wall. Visiting the Great Wall was definitely one of our highlights of China, and the beauty of it will stick with us.