A Great Day at the Great Wall of China – Mutianyu

by on January 12, 2012 · 23 comments

in China, Trip Reports

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Getting proof I was here!

This is an installment in my series on my January 2012 trip to China. Posts include: Help Me Plan My Trip To ChinaFlight Review: American Airlines 777 International Business Class to BeijingHotel Review: St. Regis BeijingBeijing Overview: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Peking DeckA Great Day at the Great Wall of China,  Flight Review: Air China 777 Domestic Business ClassHotel Review: Andaz ShanghaiTrip Report: Terra Cotta Warriors and a Wild Goose Pagoda in XianHotel Review: Sheraton Xian, and My China Trip Wrap Up: China Eastern, Hainan Airlines and the Westin Beijing.

Of course, I couldn’t come to China without seeing one of the world’s most famous landmarks: The Great Wall of China. And, in fact, there are sections of it that are very close to Beijing, which made it easy to spend a day exploring it while I was there.

After my two days seeing the sights of the capital, I was under some time constraints since I was flying off to Shanghai on the afternoon of my third day. So I had my tour guide, Jenny, pick me up at my hotel at 8:00 am on the third day to take me to a section of the wall near the city called Mutianyu.

Looking out from one of the guardhouses.

Mutianyu is one of the most touristed sections of the Wall (after Badaling) since it’s just about 40 miles from the Beijing. Since it was off-season, though, and only about 20 degrees out, Jenny assured me it wouldn’t be too crowded, and she was right.

This part of the Wall is definitely the section that looks like what everyone pictures the Great Wall of China to be. It was originally built about 1,500 years ago, but now it’s been restored to what it would have looked like in the 1500’s. It is the longest restored section of the Wall at over 22 km (14 mi.) in length, and been completely reconstructed in stone with 22 fortress-guardhouses rebuilt in the traditional style. It winds along the hilltops and is really picturesque. Admission cost 40 Yuan, or about $6.50, and the cable car to a viewing platform costs 80 Yuan ($13) roundtrip.

Putting the structure in perspective, it truly is huge.

Jenny knew I was a blogger and that I have an adventurous streak, so before we actually went to the Mutianyu entrance, she suggested dropping me off at a wild part of the Wall and letting me hike to the entrance, which would take me a couple hours along a marked path. I was a little bit nervous about hiking through the Chinese countryside by myself, but it sounded like fun—and it was for a little while, as you’ll see in the video below, but before long I felt pretty lost. Jenny apparently got nervous about me too, because I got a frantic phone call from her about 20 minutes in telling me she was coming to pick me up since locals had told her the path gets pretty rough and difficult.

After that, I pretty much took it easy. I went to the little tourist center and took a ski-chair lift up to the wall itself and walked along its length for an hour or so, taking the really steep part up to where I could catch the cable car back down. The scenery was absolutely stunning, and I had large portions of the wall just to myself, so it was a truly awe-inspiring experience.

Another shot of the Wall as it winds its way along the hilltops.

As I mentioned, it was freezing, so when I got back to the viewing platform where the cable car was, I had a beer to warm up and relax as I took one last look at the fortifications and the wall running along the surrounding hilltops. That’s in my video as well.

Once I got back down to the tourist center at the base I was practically assaulted by merchants selling souvenirs, practically screaming at me to buy their wares which I took in stride and actually felt bad for them since they must have been freezing being outside all day!

Jenny met me at a small café there at the base and we had some fantastic dumplings for lunch, and I also had the chance to try baiju, a fortified Chinese wine that has more alcohol than vodka (about 56%!) and tastes…well, let’s just say I practically couldn’t feel my tongue for a few minutes after taking a swig of the potent booze.

A less touristy part of the Wall I walked along before Jenny told me to come back.

It was a quick expedition to the Wall, but I was just happy to have been able to see it during my trip since it’s one of the wonders of the world, and I had a beautiful but freezing day mostly free of tourists to experience it for myself.

Check out more of my photos in the gallery below, and watch the video for a running commentary on my misadventures during my day out at the Great Wall of China.

The Gallery

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • bspn

    amazing shots

  • Dhammer53


    From the photo, I see you climbed up through that small opening to reach the top of the structure. Now imagine doing that when it snowed the night before. We took great pictures.

  • Michael

    Good thing Jenny didn’t take you to Tiananmen Square or you probably would have gotten arrested! I love LOVE stories of tour guides who drop off their clients in areas where they can get lost, abducted, tortured etc. Of course that didn’t happen to you, but it is a reminder that when you travel in hot spots (not to say Bejiing is one), you should stick to your guide and the minute you feel unsafe, take precautions.

    I once got myself invited to a Dachau outside of Moscow by a friend — took a taxi to get there — and noticed that we seem to be going the wrong way. We were in deep country and I started getting that rapid heart-beat that I was in danger. Luckily, we entered a small town and I said I had to use the restroom — I got out, went into a restaurant and miracle of miracles (since nobody I met in 1995 spoke English), working that day was the daughter of the owner who happened to have just come back from Minnesota on an exchange program. She spoke enough English to let me know I was 100 km from where I was supposed to be. I offered her $100 US to help me get there — that was four months salary for her — and she borrowed her dad’s car and drove me happily, but not before getting in a huge shouting match with the cabbie who probably would have become violent if her father (the owner of the restaurant) didn’t come out with a shotgun.

    The outcome: I kept in touch with the daughter for years and she joined us that day for a magnificent country feast.

  • Elena

    When it’s warmer, you should try riding down the wall in the tobaggan ride. That was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. Great pics…looks like you had a great time.

  • Yi

    ….Tiananmen Square is safe. China is different from Russia and 2012 is different from 1995. No one would arrest a foreigner there. Chinese people are very friendly especially to foreigners.

    I also don’t think it is good idea to drop off the client alone…..

  • Jamesrkunz

    I was about to bust you on China not actually being a wonder of the world because the pyramids are the only wonder still standing, but I see that the Great Wall is one of the “New7Wonders” so I retract my complaint

  • MJLouise

    Sounds like a great adventure, thanks for sharing the pics!

  • Joel

    Beijing is safe, like any other city, if you have common sense. I’m in my mid-twenties, and without knowing much of the language, lived there for a month on business. The only time it didn’t feel like a democracy was when some Christians were arrested for holding public services on Easter Sunday. Granted, you do need to watch out in the touristy areas (e.g., Tiananmen Square) for the cute “college girls” who want to take you to a tea house; that’s a scam. Try the fried scorpion in Donghuamen Night Market. It tastes just like chicken.

    I can’t attest for what really happened in Russia, but your exciting story seems as if it’s mostly speculation. For example, you felt like you were in danger, though you don’t speak of anything dangerous; and the cabbie who probably would have become violent didn’t become violent, so how do you know? Maybe it’s not speculation and you didn’t feel like writing a novel. Regardless, it’s respectful to citizens of a country you visit to have some knowledge of their language. Because not everyone in 1995, or in 2012, is going to speak English. All that said, I’m glad that you were able to speak with someone who became a longtime friend and helped you find your way.

  • Michael

    Joel, I speak French and Spanish and a little Hebrew but c’mon! Do you really think someone can pick up Russian in an hour? It’s extremely difficult and they use an entirely different alphabet.

    As for my being in danger — the cabbie took me 100Km in the wrong direction! — (I handed him my directions in Russian to the Dachau so he knew where I should have gone) — I think something was amiss and felt very lucky to emerge from the situation unscathed!

  • Alice

    have you ever visited China or Beijing before? it seems all your knowledge/impression about china were learned from western media

  • David

    I mean… I don’t know about BEIJING being “dangerous”, and it’s kind of rough to generalize that the cab driver was trying to kidnap you, hold you at ransom, hurt you, rob you, etc… Maybe he was just a bad cab driver and didn’t know where he was going, or your directions were whack? Regardless – I would have been very sketched out if I was in your shoes too if I knew we were going the wrong way, for far too long. Good call on getting out.

    The best way to stay safe when traveling – ANYWHERE, not just other countries, is to just use common sense and to be aware of your surroundings. If you want to wander around seedy areas at night with an expensive camera and a bunch of cash in your wallet – that’s just ignorant! Plain & simple. I’ve been to 25+ countries, including lots of 3rd world countries, and many of them by myself. Never been robbed.

  • Peter S

    That countryside looks like the beginning scene in Resident Evil 4 (the game). Check it out, no kidding.

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  • Anonymous

    On my last business trip to China I had the time to visit the Great Wall of China and surely Mutianyu is a place to be at. I would definitely recommend you to visit this brilliant spot when you visit China in the future.

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