Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 13 - Beijing Great Wall

On Saturday, we went to the Great Wall. It was started around the 5th century BC and was built to protect China's northern border against their enemies from the north, mainly nomadic groups. There are multiple places that you can visit the wall, the most popular for tourists is at Ba Da Ling, which is about an hour outside of Beijing. This section is the "North Pass" of Juyongguan pass. When used by the Chinese to protect their land, this section of the wall has had many guards to defend China's capital. Made of stone and bricks from the hills, this portion of the Great Wall is 7.8 meters (26 ft) high and 5 meters (16 ft) wide. Much of the wall is no longer there, but several areas, including Badaling, have been restored.

There are several ways to get to the wall: organized tour, by taxi, by public bus. The organized tours normally lets you spend a couple hours but then also go to various other tourist places, such as the Ming Tombs, and makes "shopping" stops at a few places. We didn't really want to do that. The taxi, well, we didn't have much luck with taxis in Beijing, so trying to explain "great wall" in chinese may have been a bit difficult, so we opted for the public bus. We searched the web and found a couple of sites that talk about taking the public bus. They all talk about taking the "919" bus from the Deshengmen Gate, which is a transportation hub. It also warns about taking a "real" bus instead of a "fake" bus, that some private bus companies put "919" in their front window to try to get people to take their bus, and that the public 919 bus has 3 route: through, express, and slow. The through and express are both quicker but drop you at different sides of the Wall. And they say the "real" buses are green. Well, so after we finally found the Deshengmen gate (it really wasn't that easy to find), we found a whole set of 919 buses as well as other buses, some with 919 in the front window and some without. And, they were ALL green ... oh that is alot of help. And how can I tell between a 919 express and a 919 slow? No clue, really! So we walk around and walk around and the lines are pretty long. There is an 877 bus which says "Great Wall" on it, so we figure ... what the heck, it should get is there, righT? How many "Great Walls" can there be? And it was the same 12 Yuan that all the sites say is the "real" bus. So we get on and we are almost the only non-Asians on the bus! So the bus pulls out, we're like 'okay, we're on our way' and then a lady starts talking over the PA system, and continues almost the entire 1 hour trip. So, hmm.... a tour guide on a public bus? Probably not, and then when we stop at the wall an hour later, a nice girl behind us tells us (in english) that the guide said to ensure that we are back at the bus at 3 to return to Beijing ... okay, so I guess we picked up a Chinese tour bus! But it was the same price, and got us there, so we were happy!

Along the way, we got to see some other parts of the wall that are not as popular with the tourists, but you can visit as well.

We left the group (no need to walk around with a bunch of Chinese people not understanding anything that is said) and walked up to try to find a ticket booth and either the pulley cars or the cable cars, that take you up to the Wall ... we decided walking up there would not be for us. As we are walking up towards the ticket office, we see a group of people around a pit, and we are wondering what the deal is ... and then we see ... a set of bears are there. They have apples cut up that you can throw to the bears, and one of them was quite good at catching them. They had this bamboo contraption that they were sleeping in and then there was this one really cute one laying on the concrete floor ... just snoozin' away!

Then we headed on toward the ticket office, and what do we see? A CAMEL! We're trying to figure out what bears and camels have to do with the great wall, but you know ... tourists! Anyway, so they have this camel just standing there, and for a price, you can climb on and get your picture taken. We didn't ... just what I wanted to do was smell like camel all day ... but someone else took the climb to the top of the camel.

There are 3 ways up to the actual wall and the watch towers: Pulley car, Cable Car, or on foot. We weren't doing the on foot one, so we were opting for one of the two cars. Which one you take is determined by which side of the wall you are on. The buses take you to one of two places and from there, you either catch the pulley cars or the cable car. We ended up on the Pulley Car side of the mountain. After two attempts to purchase tickets (Susan was unsuccessful, but Tom finally was able to secure the proper tickets), we headed up to the pulley cars. They look like single-person seats on a roller coaster, complete with the "security bar" that comes down over your head. Now, the 2 main differences for me where that the security bar never locked in place, it was just there looking good, and the cars actually don't STOP. So as they come by, you have to hop on while they are moving, and then at the top, you get to hop out of the moving car as well. Tom took this picture as we were going up.

I (like many people) have heard about the wall and seen pictures. But I must tell you, NOTHING compares to seeing it in person. Below are the pictures we took, from all angles and from various places on the wall. We started near Watch Tower 4 and walked the wall a little bit past Watch Tower 8 before coming back down. For me, the amazing part of this is how it was constructed literally weaving it's way across the pinnacles of the mountain tops. It is not one nice straight wall ... it jags left, swerves right, goes up, goes down, turns around .. .it is very hard to describe in words.

Along the wall, at "2 arrows length apart" are the watch towers. These are a few pictures of me inside of Watch Tower #4.

More pictures ... some of the area around it to try to show some view of the contours, hills, valleys, etc that the builders were faced with when trying to build such a massive wall.

This is an attempt to show the steepness in areas. Some of the stairs and short little steps and others are really quite tall steps, and there were LOTS of them. As we were walking on the downslopes, especially in certain areas, we were thinking how dangerous this would have been if it was just a little wet, as the stones would have been terribly slippery. Some areas there are no stairs and it is just a slope that you walk up or down.

Here the wall stops at a big boulder ... when it was built it would have continued on and met up with another section, but when they reconstructed it, they seemed to have not bothered.

yea, it was just us and our 85,000 closest friends at the Wall!! I'm not sure how we got THIS many people on the wall at the same time!

Now for getting back down. We could have retraced our steps back to the other side of the 4th watch tower, but we decided to head back down via Cable Car on the other side of the mountain. This is the cable car that we rode down in ... again, they don't STOP, you get to hop into the moving car.

And some final pictures ... I must admit .. while I dearly love our pictures, they truly do not do justice to the magnificance of this wall.

Once we got down, we went through all of the tourist shops and stopped for lunch (DUMPLINGS!!!) and then after wandering a little bit, found a bus that took us back to Beijing.

We took a picture of this .. .these are everywhere in Beijing. People selling steamed corn on the cob. Walking back to the metro station from the bus there must have been one of these every 5 feet. We didn't ask how much or buy one, but we did see these all over town and lots of people walking around munching on corn on the cob. I don't remember seeing these in Shanghai, so maybe it is a "northern thing".

Continue to the Forbidden City in Beijing