On the Great Wall of China, not the best place for misunderstandings

I book tour guides very rarely, I do it only when I feel going by myself could make me waste time or not properly appreciate what I’m meant to visit. These are the main reasons why I booked a guided tour to go to the Great Wall in Beijing, China, in August.

It’s fair to say that at the time I had been in China for about two weeks and I hadn’t started my Chinese classes so I didn’t speak a word of Mandarin language, which made all communication impossible since locals spoke no English. After the Ming Tombs, all due “shopping stops” and the lunch, in the afternoon we finally made it to the longed spot, what we all had been waiting for.

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A view of the Great Wall from the entrance in Beijing.

The UNESCO-listed Great Wall of China is arguably one of China’s most visited landmarks. An ancient fortification built to protect China from foreign invasions, it’s more than 20,000 km long, as announced by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage after a survey.

Started in the 8th century BC and was built throughout the following centuries, today it’s a favorite trip from Beijing for families with kids.

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In August the Great Wall is packed with tourists.

Although everybody knew that the fact that the Great Wall is visible from the moon is a myth, we were nevertheless looking forward to walking on one of the most awe-inspiring world wonders and one of the things China is famous for.

Our guide warned us from the bus: “Today is one of the worst days to visit the Great Wall, it’s not just during summer holidays, it’s also the weekend!” We got what she meant as soon as we arrived: a huge human flow was spread-out all along the Wall, from the entrance to the top. Most of them were Chinese, and this is where I had the full idea of being in the most populous country on earth. I felt like the whole population was there on the same day as me.

great wall of China
One more view of Beijing Great Wall.

In her shaky English, our guide, who didn’t come with us all the way up to the Wall, instructed us to go back through the same path we used to go up. That made sense when we started our march, but once at the top didn’t really seem to be so straightforward.

We got swept by the continuous flow of people, both on our way up and when we were starting our descent towards the modern world. We tried to go down the same route we used to come up, religiously following our guide’s instructions, but it was physically impossible as the enormous crowd of civil pilgrims wouldn’t allow us to go against the flow.

As we didn’t see anybody defying (nor trying to, for that matter) such a powerful human flood, we follow the trend and went down the very parallel route. “What’s the harm?” I thought. “We are still here!”

great wall of China

The famous last words. In less than no time, and in a way that still remains a mystery to me, we ended up in an unknown land. Nothing was like we remembered, the way down proved to be harder than its corresponding uphill climb, instead of a paved way, we found a path bristled with pitfalls and little rolling stones, the big door at the exit was different from when we entered (it was supposed to be the same), the little souvenir shops were not there anymore, and more importantly, our bus was not there.

We tried to ask the other tourists, who amazingly happened to be all Chinese, and whenever they caught the word “exit” they all pointed us the same direction.

Like every other thing, also the parking looked different, much less crowded, different shops, not familiar at all.

I was with my parents and we soon realized we were lost. We didn’t speak a word of Chinese, nobody spoke a word of English, we had never felt so unable to communicate and to ask for help like that day. And if this wasn’t enough, the blazing heat didn’t help us see straight.

We called our guide and when we described what we were seeing, she unveiled the truth: “Oh my, you are in Mongolia!” “What?!” We echoed.

Wasn’t Mongolia another country? When did we cross the border? How did we end up out of China?

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To our (little) relief, we had not crossed any border, we ended up in Inner Mongolia, still a part of China, precisely the former country whose nomadic tribes used to invade China and to stop which the Han Chinese built the Great Wall.

However, this didn’t make things easy for us. We gave our phone to a taxi driver so he could talk to our guide and understand where to take us, but we soon found out that not all cabs could drive to the other side of the wall, so we had to find one with the right license.

When we finally found the way, we were worn-out, and although we suspected that this was going to be our favorite joke to tell family and friends back home, at the time we had no energy left even for a little chuckle.

If it wasn’t evident before, after our adventure, it became crystal clear how important was for me to learn Chinese if I had the intention to stay in China.

After six months, I’m by no means fluent, but I can communicate, I can manage to find the words to ensure a smooth survival, and last but not no least, I can find my way home if I get lost.

How to Visit the Great Wall of China

The Best Times to Visit the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world, and a visit to Beijing is not complete without seeing it. The wall stretches for over 13,000 miles, making it the longest man-made structure in the world. The best times to visit the Great Wall are spring and autumn to avoid the summer heat and crowds, and winter freezing conditions. In spring (April–May), the weather is cool/warm and the green plants and flowers make the Great Wall beautiful.

Fall (September–November) is the best hiking season due to the clear weather, allowing you to see the Great Wall snaking off into the distance. The mountains are blanketed by colors of red, golden, yellow, and brown, which sets off the gray and paler Great Wall colors. No matter what time of year you visit, the Great Wall is sure to take your breath away.

While most people visit during the spring season, when the weather is nice and sunny, the Great Wall is also open during summer and winter. Although it can be very hot in summer and very cold in winter, with temperatures sometimes dipping below freezing, winter is a good time to visit the Great Wall if you want to avoid the crowds. The scenery is also stunning, with the Wall often blanketed in snow. If you do decide to visit during winter, make sure to dress warmly and bring plenty of water and snacks.

Select the Best Suitable Section to Visit

Badaling restored section of the Great Wall of China

If you’re looking to get the best experience of the Great Wall of China, Badaling is the place to go. Located approximately 80 kilometers northwest of Beijing’s city center, in Yanqing District, Badaling is the site of the most visited section of the Great Wall of China. The wall here is well-preserved and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside. There are also a number of tourist facilities at Badaling, making it a convenient place to visit. Whether you’re looking to hike along the wall or simply enjoy the view from one of the many lookout points, Badaling is sure to give you an unforgettable experience.

Mutianyu restored section of the Great Wall of China

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China is widely considered to be one of the best-preserved sections of the historic structure. Located in Huairou District within the city limits of Beijing, the Mutianyu section is connected with Jiankou in the west and Lianhuachi in the east. The section of the wall that runs through Mutianyu was first built during the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577), and underwent extensive repairs and reinforcements during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Today, the Mutianyu section is a popular tourist destination, known for its scenic views and well-maintained hiking trails. Visitors can reach the wall by taking a cable car or chairlift to the top, or by hiking up one of the many winding paths. Regardless of how you choose to get there, a visit to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is sure to be a memorable experience.

Simatai Wild section of the Great Wall of China

Simatai is one of the best wild sections of the Great Wall of China to visit. It is located in the north of Miyun County, 120 km northeast of Beijing, and holds the access to Gubeikou, a strategic pass in the eastern part of the Great Wall. The section was closed in June 2010 but has been reopened to tourists since 2014. The section includes roofs made of glazed tiles and brick walls with crenelations. There are also 22 watchtowers which offer breathtaking views of the surrounding area. If you’re looking for an authentic experience and prefer to see a part of the Wall that is less crowded than the Badaling or Mutianya, Simatai is the perfect place to visit. Keep in mind that this section of the Wall is still relatively wild and more difficult to get on top. It’s a great section of the Great Wall of China to visit for ordinary hikers but senior citizens and those with little kids or disability, should avoid this section.

Jiankou Wild section of the Great Wall of China

Jiankou is one of the wilder, less visited sections of the Great Wall of China. In English, ‘Jiankou,’ is translated to ‘Arrow Nock’ as the shape of the mountain resembles an arrow with the collapsed ridge opening up, reminiscent of an arrow nock. The wall here is also exceptionally steep and dangerous in parts. It’s definitely not for everyone but those with a sense of adventure will be rewarded with some incredible views. If you do decide to visit Jiankou, be sure to take extra caution and maybe even bring a rope to help navigate the more treacherous areas. With a little care and preparation, you can enjoy one of the most unique sections of the Great Wall.

Recommended Sections for Wheelchair Users

Wheelchair users may find the task of visiting the Great Wall to be a bit daunting, as some sections are very steep and difficult to navigate. However, while it may not be possible to see the entire Great Wall of China, wheelchair users can still enjoy a portion of this historic monument. The Badaling section is the most popular tourist spot and features ramps that lead to the first north watchtower.

Visitors can also take advantage of the elevator service with advance bookings. For those looking for a less crowded experience, Mutianyu is a great option. There is a cable car that takes wheelchair users to the top of the wall, as well as ramps leading to a platform below the 14th watchtower.

From here, you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding scenery. Finally, Juyongguan is home to the Great Wall Fortress, which is located in the valley. While you may not be able to see the entire structure from here, it’s still an impressive site that shouldn’t be missed and can be navigated by wheelchair.

There are a few sections of the wall that are relatively flat and easier to access, making them ideal for wheelchair users. Shanhaiguan on the east coast and Jiayuguan on the western desert are both great options for those looking to visit the Great Wall without having to deal with steep inclines. So if you’re planning a trip to the Great Wall and are concerned about accessibility, be sure to check out these recommended sections.

The Most Challenging Section of the Great Wall

The Jiankou section of the Great Wall is often considered to be the most challenging, as it is the Wild part of the Great Wall without any new steps or modern amenities like cable cars. The wall itself is also in a state of disrepair, with many of the stairs broken or crumbling, making it dangerous to hike.

However, this popular route is still worth taking for those who are looking for an adventure. The 4-5 hour hike follows the wall down to Mutianyu, where the Great Wall has been magnificently restored. The journey is sure to be a memorable one, and hikers will be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

Best Parts of the Great Wall of Camping

Camping on the Great Wall of China is an experience unlike any other. However, it’s important to be prepared before embarking on such a journey. Camping is only allowed at the wild sections of the Great Wall, such as Jiankou and Gubeikou.

Shops and guesthouses near these sections are very rural and don’t sell camping equipment or supplies. Campers must carry tents and everything else needed on the uneven and sometimes steep Great Wall paths, which are very strenuous.

Beware of trips and sprains, and dehydration. Carry lots of water. With proper preparation, camping on the Great Wall of China can be a truly unforgettable experience.

How to Get to the Great Wall (From Beijing)

For some well-restored Great Wall sections, like Badaling and Mutianyu, you have the choice of taking a public or tourist bus, taxi, or even a bullet train (Badaling only). But considering the language barrier, fixed departure time, and inconveniences of catching these public transportation, etc., taking a private transfer service with a spacious car, an English-speaking guide, and the one-stop pickup service would make your trip more enjoyable.

If you come all the way to China to see the Great Wall, why settle for a second-rate experience.
While for the wild Great Wall, it’s difficult to get there without your own transportation.

We took a round trip private tour from Beijing and I strongly recommend it so that you don’t need to worry about the return trip after spending all day on the wall.

Spending a Night at the Great Wall

If you’re planning a trip to the Great Wall of China, you may want to consider spending a night at the wall. By doing so, you can avoid traffic jams and long lines at the ticket gate.

Plus, you’ll be able to appreciate the Great Wall in the early morning when there are no crowds. And if you time your stay right, you can also enjoy sunset and night views of the Great Wall.

So if you don’t mind changing hotels for a night, an overnight stay near the Great Wall is highly recommended. Some of the best places that you can stay at are the;

Gubei Water Town Resort At Simatai section of the Wall – Brickyard Retreat at Mutianyu section of the Great Wall – and Commune by the Great Wall At Badaling.

What to Pack and Wear For Visiting the Great Wall

Great Wall of China

Sunscreen and hats – the sun is very strong in China and you’ll want to protect yourself from the heat

When packing for a trip to the Great Wall of China, be sure to include sunscreen and a hat. The sun is very strong in China and you’ll want to protect yourself from the heat, especially from April to October.

Hats can also help keep your head cool and prevent sunburn. When choosing a sunscreen, look for one that has an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunscreen liberally and reapply every two hours, or more often if you are sweating.

A wide-brimmed hat will offer the most protection, but any hat will help shade your face, neck and ears from the sun’s harmful rays.

Bottled water – there are few places to buy drinks along the Great Wall, so bring your own water bottles and snacks

When packing for a visit to the Great Wall of China, be sure to bring along plenty of water and snacks, especially if you are going with kids. There are few places to purchase drinks along the wall, so it’s important to come prepared.

A good rule of thumb is to pack one water bottle per person for every two hours of hiking. In addition, granola bars, trail mix, and fruit are all great snacks to keep your energy up while exploring the wall.

There are several different sections of the wall to explore, each with its own unique features. Restored sections of the wall are well-maintained and offer a variety of amenities for tourists, including restaurants and hotels.

In contrast, wild sections of the wall are much less developed, and visitors need to be prepared to bring their own food and water. Regardless of which section you visit, it’s important to bring some water and snacks with you.

By following these simple tips, you can make sure your visit to the Great Wall of China is a fun and enjoyable experience.

Insect repellent – there are a lot of mosquitoes and other bugs in China, so bring some bug spray to keep them at bay

There are a lot of things to think about when packing for a trip to the Great Wall of China. In addition to hat, water, and snacks, visitors should also pack insect repellent. The Official Website of the Great Wall of China recommends that visitors use mosquito repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to avoid being bitten.

However, bug spray is also an effective way to keep mosquitoes and other insects at bay. Be sure to pack enough for the entire trip, as it can be difficult to find insect repellent in Shops close to the Wall. With a little planning, you can enjoy your visit to the Great Wall without having to worry about being bothered by bugs, especially in warmer seasons.

Comfortable shoes – you’ll be doing a lot of walking on the Great Wall, so make sure you’re wearing shoes that are comfortable

When packing for a trip to the Great Wall of China, comfortable breathable sneakers should be at the top of your list. The wall is incredibly long – over 5,000 miles – and you will do a lot of walking even if you want to see just a part of it.

There are many different types of terrain along the wall, so make sure your shoes can handle wet, dry, rocky and sandy conditions depending on the season you are visiting the Great Wall of China.

And since you’ll be doing a lot of walking, they should also be comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time. With so much to see and do, you definitely won’t want to waste any time nursing blisters or sore feet. So pack wisely and choose shoes that will help you make the most of your trip.

Camera – don’t forget your camera to capture all the amazing sights on the Great Wall

As one of the most popular tourist destinations in China, the Great Wall of China attracts millions of visitors each year. For many, a trip to the Great Wall is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s important to make sure you have everything you need to make the most of it.

One essential item to bring is a camera or a phone that takes good pictures. The Great Wall is an awe-inspiring sight, and there are plenty of opportunities to take memorable photos.

Whether you’re posed in front of one of the many watchtowers or enjoying the view from one of the hiking trails, be sure to capture the moments you’ll want to remember forever. With so much to see and explore, a camera is a necessary accessory for any trip to the Great Wall of China.

Money/credit card – There are no ATMs or currency exchange facilities at the wall, so make sure you have enough cash on hand

When packing for a trip to the Great Wall of China, be sure to bring enough cash to cover all expenses. There are no ATMs or currency exchange facilities at the wall, so you’ll need to have enough Renminbi on hand to pay for souvenirs, meals, and any other incidentals.

If you’re planning on doing a lot of shopping, it’s also a good idea to bring a credit card with a high limit. That way, you can avoid having to carrying large amounts of cash around with you.

Wear comfortable clothing like shorts, T-shirts, loos fit jeans and other breathable comfy clothes

When planning on visiting the Great Wall of China, one of the things you should keep in mind is what to wear. First, comfort is key. The last thing you want is to be distracted by uncomfortable clothing while you’re trying to take in one of the most impressive sights in the world.

Shorts, T-shirts, and loose-fit jeans are all great options that will help keep you cool and comfortable. second, consider breathability. The Great Wall is located in a very humid climate, so you’ll want to make sure your clothing is made from lightweight and breathable fabrics, especially if you are visiting the Great Wall from April to October.

Finally, remember that the Great Wall is a very popular tourist destination, so you may want to avoid wearing anything too flashy or attention-grabbing. Sticking to neutral colors that don’t attract too much sun will help you stay fresh, blend in with the crowd and enjoy your time at the Great Wall without drawing too much attention to yourself.

A power bank to keep your devices charged for photography and communication

When packing for a trip to the Great Wall of China, one essential item to bring is a power bank. With so much to see and do, chances are good that you’ll be spending a lot of time taking pictures and staying in touch with family and friends.

A power bank will ensure that your devices are always charged and ready to go. It’s also a good idea to pack a spare battery or two for your camera, just in case. If you go with a tour, make sure to get the tour leader’s WeChat or WhatsApp contact in case you lose the group.

about me: Angela Corrias
About the author

I'm Angela Corrias, an Italian journalist, photographer, and travel writer located in the heart of Italy's capital. Welcome to my website, your comprehensive source for your travels and expert guidance for crafting your dream travel experience.

22 thoughts on “On the Great Wall of China, not the best place for misunderstandings”

    • What an experience that was… melting under August sun and in such a hard pathway. We made it eventually, but we were exhausted!

  1. What a great story about your experience. Enjoyed it very much. I can imagine being in that situation! The Great Wall is very high on my list — I will attempt to learn Chinese first.

    • I highly recommend you learn some basic Chinese expressions, such as how to ask for directions, although I have to say that since August, now I’m meeting much more people able to understand and make themselves understood in English. Now that I’m fluent in Mandarin! (Wishful thinking… :P)

  2. Very nice photos, Angela! It’s unusual to see such clear blue skies in China! I’m glad that everything worked out for you in the end.

    • You’re right, it’s rare to see such a blue sky, all the other photos I have are pretty gray! Finally today was quite clear in Shanghai, hopefully it will last :)

  3. I’m very disappointed. Two trips to the great wall and I never got lost in Inner Mongolia. I also didn’t encounter the horrible hordes of people–definitely got lucky on that one.

    • LOL! What a shame you didn’t get lost! A tip: if you plan to get lost, try at least to go spring time, not too cold and not too hot, otherwise the experience will be inevitably spoiled :P

  4. Oh Angela, you are such a trooper. I don’t care for adventures like the one you described.

    I got on the wrong bus departing Bavaria, Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle. It wasn’t until we headed on the freeway that I realized we were not stopping at the bottom of the hill – where I was to meet my husband. The bus driver understood my panicked “STOP,” immediately and brought me back to the castle.

    • No, the actual country of Mongolia is way too far to make such a mistake! I believe I would have realized long before getting there ;)

  5. sounds like a true adventure! My trip to the wall wasn’t nearly as exciting. Keep going with the Chinese, the first six months were certainly the hardest for me.

    • I feel somehow my Chinese is improving but I don’t even understand how this is happening. I still have hard time to understand people speaking though, and if this wasn’t enough, Shanghai is meltin pot of dialects and accents!

  6. Angela, nice, you wrote an easy and pleasant to read story.
    You’d better use tiny ribbons next time, to mark your way back. Ribbons, smaller than the Chinese dancing ribbons: Tie these in the twigs along your way. Probably you’ll start a new cultural habit… :-)

    Your impressive photo’s are telling their own stories – you revealed an overwhelming impregnable wideness. Beautiful.


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