Episode 15: The Wall

Here is an interesting short story about the magnificent Great Wall of China


You can read the transcript below.

I have been living in China now for over 7 years, and when people hear this I am usually asked by those suffering from wanderlust. ‘What is there to do in China?’ What are the best things to see in China? Where to go in China.

China is one of the largest nations in the world, with a history of over 5,000 years. Mountains, rivers, lakes, grasslands, beaches, deserts are found within her borders. So the answer to these questions are as vast as the country itself.

Upon hearing this I tend to get an eye roll from the person who asked, ‘okay, what about Beijing?’ What are the best things to see in Beijing?’

Well Beijing is the capital, with deep rich cultural roots as long as her history itself. I say. But just as posture sags and eyes glaze over I usually say. ‘Do you want to know how to get to the Great Wall?

Ears perk up, and eyes sparkle once again. Yes, ‘how do I get to the wall.

The Great Wall of China is bit of a misnomer, as its actually a series walls built across the historical northern border of China to protect various territories and empires throughout China’s history. Some of the early wall was built in the 7th century BCE, while the most recent construction took place as late as the ming dynasty which lasted from the mid 1300s to the mid 1600s.

But you didn’t tune in for a history lesson, you want to know how to get there.
As the wall is over 21,000 kilometers in length or13,000 miles there is a lot of it to see. Most people opt to see it from Beijing. And having lived there forever 7 years I’ve been several times. While most people view it as a once in a lifetime experience that is treated as somewhat of a holy pilgrimage for the world traveler, to me the Great Wall is a fun day trip to do when you don’t have anything else going on. It’s a place where I’ve had picnics, camped out overnight, saw my friend Dj a wicked concert, ran a marathon, walked some dogs, and where I got an awful sun burn.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been somewhere after my 14th trip. But no matter how many times I’ve been, or how many times I will go again, I will always experience that moment I felt first time I went. Standing on the peak of a turret that is anchored at the precipice of a mountain, looking down over rolling hills, with nothing but the wind in my ear. And my spine tingles, my skin ripples, my hair stands on end, as that breeze whispers into my soul. ‘Adventure, is out there.’

As the surrounding area of Beijing is coated in mountains getting to the wall can be a bit of a hike. This section of the wall is constructed on to the very top of mountains after all. Many guidebooks an websites will direct you to an area called BaDaLing. This is the most commonly visited portion of the Great Wall. Also because of its popularity I suggest this area to people who have accessibility needs, or those who may not be experienced hikers. But you will want to avoid weekends and public holidays at all costs or you will experience what the Chinese refer to as ‘people mountain people sea.’ Other wise known as crowds unlike you have ever seen. But as this area is better developed,they have sky lifts to take you directly to the wall itself to avoid the hike all together.

An area that has little to no people goes by the name of Jian Kou, but it is quite hard to find. Usually you will have to rent a private car or go through a company, travel about an hour and half outside of Beijing and arrive to a village called XiZhaiZi where you can chose to stay over night if you wish. There are a few resturaunts in this village to grab a bite to eat. But be wary as this is one of the most dangerous parts of the wall. Unfurnished it is referred to as ‘the wild wall’ and it is not for the faint of heart. Jagged stones, collapsed turrets, trees growing through the ground, and at times the stairs are a complete vertical climb. If you chose this adventure, be sure to bring plenty of water, and snacks with you as there will be nothing at the wall once you arrive. But if you are luckily like I was, you can bring a sleeping bag, some good friends, and a bottle of wine to spend the night. My particular evening ended with an unexpected meteor shower and left me with memories I will never forget.

A less time-consuming day trip option would be another less crowded place I love, known as MuTianYu. The best time to go would be a weekday around 1-2 in the afternoon. You can leave from a bus stop in DONGZHIMEN and arrive with about two hours to spare before the wall closes at around 5 or 6. An added benifit would be after you have finished exploring the wall you can buy a ticket to ride a tabogen down the mountain to where the bus will pick you back up to return to Beijing.

But perhaps hiking isn’t for you. Outside of MuTianYu is the only private airport in Beijing. Where a good friend mine works. She is one of just a few hundred female pilots in China and for the price of a couple hundred USD she can fly you and two friends over the wall in a helicopter.

I have been to the wall in many different ways, and been to many different parts. But I am less interested in my journey to get there, I want to know. How will you?

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  1. Monica
    May 15, 2019

    Though I am a Chinese,I‘ve never been to BeiJing,i ‘ve never been to the Great wall.After lisenting to this story , I really want to vistit the Wall,the feeling is so strong.When I was a child,I was told that China is a country with a history over 5000 years from my history book and my teacher .but I seldom experience my country’s rich culture by myself ,the mian reason about this may be I didn’t travele a lot and rarely go to historic sites.It is time to see the bigger world and wish i will have impressive experiences.

    • Zach Ireland
      June 9, 2019

      I meet a lot of Chinese nationals who have been less places than most expats I talk to. I think the case is that when a foreigner comes to China, they know they have a limited time and want to see as much as possible, whereas nationals just figure “I’ll get to it sooner or later.” The good thing about travel in China is thanks to the plethora of airlines and the intricate network of trains it can be extremely affordable to go see a new city every so often.

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