After deciding that today was a perfect day, I got all analytical and decided that a perfect day in the life of a traveller is not a day which goes perfectly. Today was stressful, frustrating and challenging but the fact it evoked those emotions is exactly what made it a perfect day. It was an adventure of the best kind and I don’t know about other travellers but it’s the rollercoaster adventure days which give me a real buzz.
The crux of this day was that I was visiting the Great Wall of China. If you’d have told me a year ago I’d be visiting my second Wonder of the World within the space of three and a half months, I’d have laughed in your face, but here I was, heading to the 5,500 mile long Wall (not visible from space apparently, despite the myth). I decided to visit the less touristy section of Mutianyu, rather than the more popular choice of Badaling as I’d heard it was more scenic and less crowded. Whilst this involved a much more convoluted method of reaching the Wall (see ‘How to reach Mutianyu’ below), it was worth it as the Wall was absolutely stunning.
At ￥25 entry with a student card (plus ￥13 for the shuttle bus from the ticket office to the entrance), it was a bargain to view this incredible feat. After passing the many hawkers and shops (only the modern day human race could build a Subway and a Burger King at the foot of the Great Wall), I reached the entrance. You can opt to go up to the Wall by cable car but I decided to hike up, climbing what felt like millions of steps before I even reached the Wall.
When I finally emerged at Watchtower 11, I was completely alone on the Wall which was an amazing feeling. Throughout the walk, I only encountered pockets of people (many of whom I ambushed into taking my picture) and I was so glad I had chosen to make the effort to come further out. Again, I got my money’s worth out of my camera, snapping pictures until the battery drained and getting shots of the Wall from every angle. The weather was glorious again so everything seemed to be in my favour.
I kept expecting to turn round and the Wall to look a bit naff but it never did, especially as it zig-zagged every which way, with some steep uphill segments followed by sudden dips. The hills in which it sat were slowly turning a golden orange so I really do think it was the perfect time to visit.
The best thing about visiting this Wonder is that I’ve only seen a snapshot of it. There are many, many more sections I can check out in the future. I’m almost certain this isn’t the last I’ve seen of the Great Wall of China.
Deciding to round off my day by experiencing another stereotypically Chinese thing, I visited the Private Kitchen restaurant for their renowned Peking Duck, the iconic Beijing dish. The duck comes thinly sliced with pancakes, sauce and some other accompaniments which you put together into a wrap. The duck was exquisite and it took a lot of self-restraint not to shout, ‘OHHHHHHHH!’ in the restaurant. Top it off with a cold beer and it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time. Peking Duck is expensive so if you’re looking for a budget option (￥88 for a half duck + trimmings – enough for one person) which still tastes sublime, Private Kitchen is a good bet. It’s located at Building 6A at the Vantone Center in SOHO, Chaoyang, just at the beginning of Jinghua North Street (next to 7-11). I’d really recommend it.
Nice weather, good food and a Great Wall – what more could you ask for in a day?!
How to reach Mutianyu
The stress and frustration from today of course came from the transport. Mutianyu is quite far out from the city and is a bit of a logistical mission to reach though, as I say, it’s worth the effort. One option I’ve seen (which I didn’t take) is the number 867 bus from Dongzhimen station (Line 2). It only runs at 7am and 8.30am but apparently goes straight to the Wall, though there’s some conflicting reports about that. This (http://www.wildgreatwall.com/mutianyu-bus-867-to-visit-great-wall/) is a good site to check for updates.
I decided to go with the other bus option. Again, from Dongzhimen ststion, I got the 916 express bus. The catch with this bus is that it doesn’t go all the way to Mutianyu. You can only go to Huairou and then get a taxi the rest of the way.
To catch the bus, from Dongzhimen subway station, follow the signs for the bus transfer (and Line 13). It’s about a 5/10 minute walk through the subway station. Go up the escalator and turn left. You should see a McDonalds and there’ll be signs for the 916. Make sure you take the 916 express which looks like this: 916 快. The normal 916 goes to the same place but takes about 3 hours, whilst the 916 快 takes around 1 hour 20. They are very regular – about every 10 minutes.
The bus costs ￥12 for a single (unless you have one of the cards in which case it’s only ￥2). There’s an electronic sign but it’s in Chinese only. You want to get off at Huairou Bei Dajie (怀柔北大街) which is just after the big roundabout about 1 hour 20 mins into the journey. When you get off, you’ll be ambushed by taxi drivers (though not as many as I thought they would be). They were quoting me ridiculous prices for the 20 minute taxi ride to the Wall. Apparently you should aim to get anything below ￥50 for the journey.
After they refused to budge, I agreed to wait for a little bit until more people came and I could share at a cheaper price. This didn’t take too long and so I shared with a nice Chinese couple. I paid ￥40 (which I still think was too much for a shared ride – I think he might have convinced the others to join by saying I’d pay a higher fare). Another peril of being a solo traveller.
It was a similar affair on the way back. The drivers hover near the entrance to the ticket office and will shout ‘Huairou’ to passers-by. I again managed to get a shared cab back to the bus stop for ￥40. The taxi drivers were very full-on. I usually only go with drivers that I ‘like’ but these all had the aura of people who were trying to scam me. They were touching and pulling me to try and get them into their cabs and only stopped with a forceful telling off. I had to ditch my principles because I actually did need to get a taxi.
It’s not too stressful a journey. I just found there was so much conflicting and unclear information online that I didn’t know what to expect. I made it to the Wall and back in one piece and without losing a fortune and all the stresses of the journey were put into perceptive when I saw the truly incredible destination.