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Visiting the best Great Wall of China location: Simatai

Of all attractions in Beijing, the great wall of China is the most fascinating one. It combines history with amazing views, and climbing it is an adventurous activity. From Beijing, there is a variety of tour operators offering daytrips. The alternative is to go there via public transport, but especially the remote locations may require some planning.

Rough part of the Chinese Wall

Via our hotel we plan a daytrip to the great wall of China. Not to touristy Badaling, but to remote Simatai, where the wall is supposed to be in its original state. We are picked up at 7 AM and the bus drive to the wall is a cold one. The old coaster is not heated and isolation consists of some tape around the windows and door. It takes the bus 4 hours for the 120 kilometers to Simatai, but we're glad we didn't have to push.

More Adventure travel tales in China:
Modern Beijing
Terracotta Warriors
Dali Yunnan
Yangtze River trip
Other Asian Tales:
Angkor Wat temples
Lake Baikal, Siberia
Sapa Valley, Vietnam
Kuching, Malaysia
Luang Prabang, Laos
Bukit Lawang, Indonesia

View over the Great Wall of China at Simatai

After a sanitary break and warming up with an expensive cup of tea (tourist prices here as well...) we head to climb the great wall of China. The entrance fee is raised to 30 yuan but we won't let that stop us.

Great Wall of China locations to visit

The great wall of China appeals to everybody, and is a must visit when you’re in Beijing. But the question is: where should you go? The most developed stretch of wall is at Badaling. Here you will find hotels, restaurants, a cable car, and other attractions. It is ideal for the common tourist. But it is also crowded and touristy.

For the adventurous ones, it is better to visit Simatai. It is less developed, but well preserved over the years. So it delivers both intact pieces of wall, and ruins. For this reason, it is regarded by many people as the best part of the wall.

There is a eastern and a western stretch of wall at Simatai. The western part is easier to climb, the eastern part more adventurous.

The good reputation of Simatai will attract more and more tourists over the years. In the low season, you’re fine. But in high season, you might want to consider even more remote stretches of the wall. From what we hear, Jiayuguan might be a good choice. It is reconstructed in the 1980’s but draws little tourists because of its remote location. Other considerations: Mutianyu (second most developed after Badaling) and Beidaihe (on the Chinese Riviera and therefore popular among the Chinese).

Walking to the wall we are offered a horse ride and the usual books and postcards, but we decline. One woman even tries to walk with us to give explanations everywhere. We kindly turn it down, which needs some persistence from our side.

Steep climb

Then the climbing starts. We are at the eastern stretch of the wall where the stairs are very steep. At this point, the wall is pretty much intact, but the steps are uneven which makes climbing more difficult. Sabines sore calf doesn’t help and we have to take a rest regularly. There is also a strong icy wind and when we reach the second tower we wonder how much further we will climb. Indeed, it's a great wall of China...

But we are determined to go on. Good for us because after towers 4 and 5 the views become even better and steep climbs are now changing places with slanted ones. The wall and towers are more and more damaged, making it more difficult and a bit scary at some places. But without freight of heights and with a good condition we can move on. At some points, we can even hide from the wind walking along the wall and in the sun, which makes it unexpectedly warm. This is good for our spirits so we move forward, with our regular rests.

The Great Wall of China at Simatai

For a while now, we have picked a point on the wall as our goal. It seems the highest point of this part of the great wall of China, but as we come closer, another higher tower appears, and another, and another. When the wall is almost completely damaged at some point, and we have to climb over the rocks, we think we’re almost there. But no, after the next tower it still keeps on climbing up. Moreover, from here we can see a new long stretch of wall over the next mountain range to climb. We won’t be going there, but set our new goal to the next tower, from which the wall seems to descend a bit.

And indeed, at the next tower there is a sign. The next stretch of wall is in a very bad condition, and walking on it is prohibited. It seems quite okay, though, and stubborn as we are, we move a little further. But soon we need to climb on the rocks and through the vegetation. And as we reach the highest point, we can see that moving on will be useless. So we enjoy the views and return to the 13 towers we passed on our way up.

Dangerous descend

Sabine on the Great Wall of China at SimataiDescending goes a lot faster than climbing, but isn’t easy. Soon, our legs are trembling and we need full focus on the uneven steps. On our way, we pass several people from our bus, but most of the time we have the wall to ourselves. Reaching our starting point, we move a little further to the point where the wall reaches the river in the valley. On the other side of the river the wall goes up again, but the bridge is elsewhere, and there is another entrance fee required to go there.

Back at the bus it’s 3.30 PM. The bus leaves at 4, so we warm up with chicken and noodles in a small cafeteria. The ride back to Beijing starts with taping the door again. It is as long and cold as before. Tired, cold, but satisfied we are back in our hotel at 8 PM.

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