The Great Wall of China is probably where I have my best travel memories. Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of good travel memories. But when I think about all my travels, and about all my favorite places, the Great Wall of China comes back every time. Every. Single. Time.
If you want to enjoy your journey to see this marvel, I think I can provide a few tips.
1. Don’t go to Badaling
I went to Badaling. But not on the first time. Our first trek on the Great Wall of China was from Simatai to Jinshanling. Why shouldn’t you go to Badaling? Because it’s the most crowded place on the Great Wall. Since it’s the closest to Beijing (but still over an hour), most people go there. Including buses and buses of chinese tourists. Avoid Badaling if you only have one day to spend on the great wall. If you have two days, it’s all right, but otherwise, it’s way too crowded:
2. Don’t be scared to venture far
Like I said, our first time on the Great Wall of China was spent trekking between Simatai and Jinshanling. Getting there seems scary because it’s far (if I recall correctly, it took us more than 4 hours to get there from Beijing).
But once there, it was absolutely spectacular because we were practically the only ones on the Great Wall. So go ahead and venture to places other than Badaling. Isn’t it less crowded?
This brings me to my third tip:
3. Plan your journey
Let me be honest here. We didn’t plan our journey. We met with someone at our youth hostel in Beijing who was meeting a friend (I think they met not too long before that) in the morning to go to Simatai. The said friend heard from his friends approximately how to get from Beijing to Simatai.
Sketchy right? But we followed them and it was awesome.
But if I were you, plan ahead and know where you’re going and how to get there. I will have a post on that subject in the future.
4. Bring a hat
Or buy one there. We bargained three hats for almost nothing. Since it wasn’t the prettiest hat, I probably couldn’t have made it through the day without it. The sun was so hot that I was glad I had something to cover my head.
5. Bring water
It sounds obvious, but if you’re lucky enough to stumble on a sunny day, coupled with all the walking and the climbing that you will have to do, you will need to drink plenty of water. So pack a few big bottles. It will feel heavy in your bag at the beginning but you’ll thank me.
Worst case scenario: buy one from one of the people waiting for you in the shaded guard towers all along your trek. They will be more expensive (we’re still in China here, so don’t worry too much!), but water is essential.
Oh, they might even follow you to try to sell you some water or some other stuff… Like that lady. She kept following us in that heat even though we told her repeatedly that we didn’t need anything…
6. Wear comfortable shoes
I’ve seen people wear flip-flops. FLIP FLOPS. To hike the Great Wall of China which at some places is refurbished, and some places, not refurbished.
Refurbished means the bricks are all nice and clean, sturdy, stable, and you don’t risk falling down the wall.
Unrefurbished means you fight for your life. Well, it’s not as bad, but you sometimes definitely need to be careful so you don’t trip and fall down, or twist your ankle.
So bring comfortable footwear that offer a good protection for your ankle. Hiking boots work best. Or if you followed my advice on How to Pack for a Long Trip, have a good pair of all around shoes.
7. Take the time to appreciate
The goal here is not to go as fast as you can. A 10 km trek took us four hours. Well, took me 4 hours. It took our friends 3 hours. But I didn’t care. I let them go before me and went to my pace while taking all the pictures I wanted. They just waited for me at the end of the trek.
It is so beautiful that you need to make time to enjoy the scenery. Stop and look around. Look behind. Always look behind. The best picture might be behind you!
Oh and you might also have to stop because you’re out of breath and about to faint. In that case, refer to tip #5 about bringing water!
8. Bring music
Since you will be walking on top of a wall enjoying the scenery and trying to catch your breath, you probably won’t be talking much. Some enjoy music while doing such a trek. If it’s your style, be sure you have your earphones and enough battery power!
9. Bring snacks
I guess I could’ve said that with the water tip. Don’t expect restaurants while trekking on the Great Wall of China. Bring your own food. You will get hungry from all that sun and physical activity! If you’re in Badaling though, you won’t have any trouble finding something to eat before or after the trek.
10. Plan a whole day
Getting there (and all the trying to get there before actually getting there), trekking, eating, taking pictures, getting back, it will take a while. So book your whole day. This activity is really a day trip. Unless you’re going to Badaling, in which case you can probably squeeze another activity in your day.
The Great Wall of China is pretty spectacular. If you’re in Beijing, make sure you take a day to experience it. Heck, if you’re in China, make sure you plan a few days to get to Beijing and go see the Great Wall. I promise you won’t regret it!
Have you been to the Great Wall of China? What are your tips you would like to share? Let me know in the comments below!