Friday, March 18, 2011

China: Great Wall at Mutianyu

You could not really find a more iconic image of China better than the place we were going to next. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the planet, a living testament to the might and power of the Chinese empire in a time when most of the world were all but primitive societies. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Cambodia has Angkor Wat, Sydney has the Opera House, and China, China has the Great Wall.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

The Great Wall is an extensive fortification made of stone stretching from Hebei province in northeast China, where the wall literally touches the sea, to the marshlands of Lop Nur in northwest China. It roughly runs the southern border of the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, which was essentially why the wall was constructed in the first place, to protect the Chinese lands from the invading nomadic tribes of the Mongolian steppes.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Since the wall stretches for almost 9000 kilometers, there are many sections of it that can be visited by tourists. For the most part, these sections are those that have been reconstructed or, at the very least, made safe for tourists. Yes, there are some parts that have fallen in disrepair and some that are quite difficult, if not impossible, to get to.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Travel guides say that the most accessible section of the Great Wall from Beijing is the one at Badaling. It is one hour by bus with a stop right by the Badaling Great Wall itself. Naturally, it is the section of the wall with the most number of tourists on any given day. Thus, the section I chose that we visit was the second most popular and the one not easily accessible by public transportation, the Great Wall at Mutianyu.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Getting to Mutianyu, without a private vehicle, is a bit tricky. Only one bus line in Beijing—Bus no. 936—goes to it directly. However, this bus line has specific schedules. From the Dongzhimen Bus Terminal in Bejing, one bus leaves at 7 in the morning, the other at 8. We missed those very early schedules, of course. So, we had to board Bus no. 916 from the same terminal, taking us to Huairou, an urban area an hour north of Beijing, 30 minutes south of Mutianyu. From there, we had to hire a van, at 70 RMB per person round-trip, to drive us to Mutianyu.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Entrance to the site is 45 RMB. From there, you hike for about an hour to the wall itself. We didn't want to tire ourselves amidst that biting cold so, we took the easier route, the cable car, at 65 RMB round trip. We initially thought the cable car was this closed coach as it was depicted in the brochures. No, it was this open-air seat with no safety belts, just a steel bar separating you from a painful death by falling to the mountains below. All worth it though. The view of the Chinese mountains from the cable car is nothing short of breathtaking.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

View from the Great Wall at Mutianyu

This daytrip to the Great Wall is really the highlight of our adventure in China. I was glad that I chose to see this section of the wall. There were very few visitors when we got there, most of them foreigners like us. Needless to say, the Great Wall did not disappoint. It was indeed spectacular. You wouldn't really use soft descriptions for it, because upon seeing it, it will suddenly hit you with its grandeur, magnificence and power. I say this about many things but trust me, this is one sight you will want to behold.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Judging from the pictures I have seen thus far of the Great Wall, no matter the time of the year, the site remains beautiful, each season endowing the site its own charm to draw in the visitors. We came to China right when winter has already reached its high season, so trees were still bare and snow was still on the ground. That was an additional treat for people like us. We have never in our lives touched a piece of crushed snow. Cool.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Great Wall, Mutianyu

This was our last day in Beijing and on the whole, northern China. Our sleeper train taking us back to Shanghai leaves that night. In out-of-the-country backpacking trips like this, there is a point where you easily and gladly conclude that your efforts at making such an adventure happen are all worth it. This trip to the Great Wall was what made it for me. I knew I was going home a happy and rewarded traveler.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Great Wall, Mutianyu


* For more photos in this set, see my Flickr page: China: Great Wall at Mutianyu.

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