The Great Wall is an incredible, a series of fortifications, walls and towers that total an insane 6,200 km length across China, North Korea and Mongolia. The wall was designed for several purposes, the primary being defending China during the Qin dynasty (260-210BC), controlling the Chinese border and protecting trade routes notably the Silk Road. As the wall is not continuous Mongol invaders conquered China between 1211 and 1223 AD, oops. On a grim note during the construction some 400,000 – 1 million people were killed, some are buried in the wall itself.
The section we visited was Mutianyu, the less touristic, restored section around 1 hour away from Beijing. A tour from our hostel was quoted at 280rmb ($42), no way would we pay that! This is China after all, the place where a haircut can cost 5rmb (75¢) and a bag of dumplings 10rmb ($1.50).
It seems not all segments of the wall are created equal, there are the super tourist sections and then the really rundown parts and cringe… ‘renovated sections’ – again the one we advise is Mutianyu.
Undeterred we decided to venture out on our own terms, armed with a few lines of Chinese and a smart phone app, we headed out by the seat of our pants. A common theme for China we hoped for the best but expected the worst.
1. Get yo ass on a bus 916
It all starts for the mysterious 916 express bus (快916) from bus station Dongzhimen (东直门站) which intersects subway line 2 and 13. It’s easy to find as the signs are English, we got there around 10.30am and it was already busy. We didn’t wait long for a bus as there were so many 916’s waiting for mostly Chinese people and a few lost tourists.
2. Express outta here look for 快
Top tip: look for the express (快) bus not the local bus as this will take 3 hours or so, don’t worry its easy to find.
Top tip 2: the bus is 12 rmb each ($1.80), try make sure you have exact change.
3. Practice your Chinese with a taxi driver
After about 1 hour (depending on Beijing traffic) you will reach the suburb of Huairou, have a bite to eat and then grab a taxi from the street. Heading to the Mutianyu ticket office, it will take around 30 minutes and cost around 45 rmb ($6.75).
4. Risk life and limb on the great wall
Entrance to the wall and shuttle bus costs 60 rmb ($9). Hop on the shuttle bus which takes you a short way up to the wall. After this it’s 30 minutes climb up some steep stairs and onto the wall. Take your obligatory snaps, have a wonder and admire the beauty of the Great Wall – awesome!
On the descent there is a slide which costs 80 rmb ($12) ($12 for a slide..), if you’re unsure wait until you see it until you see it before you buy, as we think it’s quite tame!
Grab taxi from the ticket office back into Huairou ask for the 916 bus (or show the number on your phone) and they will take you straight to the stop.
5. How does the cost add up?
Total cost for two: the 916 bus return (48 rmb), taxi return (90 rmb), ticket entry (120 rmb) 129 rmb / $19 each. A saving of $20 or so compared to the organised tour, worth it for the added adventure and think of all those haircuts and dumplings you could buy!