The Great Wall

Although I’ve heard from a few of my Chinese friends that the Great Wall isn’t all that great, it’s a trip that every one has to make if they’re in Beijing. It’s like visiting New York and not seeing the Statue of Liberty. Since I had the time (and a local friend willing to be my guide) I decided to make the trek to Simatai, which is about 120 km (75 miles) northeast of the city center.

Despite the suffering — it took one public bus, two cramped minibuses and more than three hours — to get there, it was definitely worth it. Simatai is a more remote section of the Wall. Much of the Wall there is original, which explains why many of the guard towers were in disrepair.

Because of how difficult it is to get there (unless you hook up with a tour group in Beijing), there weren’t many tourists there, even for a Saturday. I’m told popular Badaling, which is just 45 minutes from the city, is a zoo every day. No thanks.

After soaking my shirt hiking from guard tower to guard tower (and telling a persistent, pesky hawker over and over that I didn’t want to buy anything), I decided to be lazy and pay 40RMB for the zip line down the mountain. It was a two-minute ride down.

I was dreading the journey back to Beijing until my friend haggled our way onto a tour bus filled with French, Australian, English and American tourists — Wai guo ren. It was a clutch move, since I really didn’t want to ride a claustrophobic minibus (or three) back to Beijing. Unfortunately, every one on the tour bus stunk, including me. Every one’s deodorant, if they had applied any, had dissolved after a day on the Wall and in the heat. The bus was a hotbox of body odor.

For a brief moment, I reminisced longingly about the minibuses. After a few minutes, thankfully, I dozed off, waking up two hours later in Beijing.