The following is the third of 4 guest posts on China by Lei Zhao, who continues to contribute to the Monsoon Diaries adventures time and time again.
Lei Zhao and I have been close friends since 7th grade of middle school. Saying that we’ve been through a lot together is an understatement. And he’s probably one of the most gifted artists and smartest human beings I have ever known.
Here is his story.
The Great Wall. So many choices in access points to the actual wall, how do you go about picking one? The most well known site is Badaling, which is relatively closer to Beijing City Center at about an hour and change northwest of the city. However, Badaling has the disadvantage of being the most popular site, meaning swarms of domestic Chinese tourists pour over it each day, especially weekends. It was with this consideration in mind that we chose to go to Mutianyu to see the wall.
Most of the time when you go to the great wall, you either go with a tour group by chartered bus, or you charter your own driver and van. Both these options will easily run you about 200-400 RMB ($35-$120 a person). We didn’t feel like forking over the cash for a private charter, nor did we want to tag along with a tour group that generally forces you to visit souvenir shops along the way.
So, we opted to go with the DIY option – taking the public bus.
There are two options to reach Mutianyu by public transit from Beijing: Bus 867 and Bus 916.
Both buses operate out of Dongzhimen Station. Dongzhimen Station itself is easily accessible by Beijing Metro (2 RMB – $0.35 a trip). Bus 867 is the only one that actually drops you off at the entrance to Mutianyu’s Great Wall. However, 867 only runs twice daily to and from the wall: once at 7:00AM, once at 9:30AM to the wall, and once at 1:00PM and 3:00PM back to Dongzhimen. Each option only costs 16 RMB ($4.50) per person per trip.
Bus 916 departs from within the Dongzhimen Bus Terminal. This bus has an express that gets you to Huairou, the county seat in 1.5 hours, and runs every 5-8 minutes. However, you will then need charter a driver for about 60-80 RMB ($10-$12) to get you to the entrance to the wall. If you plan to take the 867, don’t make the same mistake we did in getting there a bit too close to departure.
The bus gets packed quickly, especially in peak tourism season, and we ended up having to rotate the one seat we were able to get.
When you’re approaching the Great Wall, the bus driver may announce that it will take you between 1.5 to 2 hours to hike from the parking lot and entrance to the actual wall. Don’t fall for this gimmick.These drivers are in collusion with the cable lift operators to funnel customers to them.
Unless you have some kind of mobility restriction, you can easily make the climb in about 30 minutes, though it is a steep hike up stairs.
Once you get on top of the wall, there’s a good deal of walking and exploring you can do, just don’t forget to get yourself a nice cold beer from one of the vendors on the wall as a reward for making the climb.
When you come down off the wall, you may want to check out the chute as a way down. This option is about 50 RMB ($6-$7), and is a swift and fun way to get out of the hills, except if a slow person is jamming on the brakes in front of you!
Hope this helps you on your next trek to Beijing if you want to check out the Wall.