It was our third day in China and the one I had been looking forward to the most. We had arranged a day tour with The China Travel Company to visit the Great Wall and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Park.
Just like the previous day, it was an 8.30 a.m. start, with our guide and driver picking us up from the hotel. We were first going to the Great Wall at Mutianyu, about 70 km north of Beijing.
On the way we stopped at a Jade centre, where we got to see the process of carving raw Jade rocks into exquisite ornaments and jewellery. As at the end of every shoppertunity, we were led to a very large Jade shop, which had everything from intricate pendants to life-sized Jade statues. However, we found everything to be quite expensive, especially compared to shops we saw later in Xian and Shanghai.
The Great Wall
We arrived at the Great Wall about 11.00 a.m. First, a little bit of history. The first great wall was built by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, after his unification of China around 200 BC. The wall was built using material available locally, so different sections of the wall was built from stone, brick, wood, sand etc. Subsequent dynasties added and extended the wall, but almost all of this first wall is now eroded. The next period of significant wall construction came with the Ming dynasty in the 14th century. The wall that is seen today dates from this period.
It is possible to view the wall at many different places, depending of how much time you have available and what sort of experience you are after. Badaling is the closest to Beijing and the most popular for local visitors, as it has writings by Chairman Mao. Badaling is by far the busiest section of the wall. The Jinshanling section is best for hiking. Mutianyu has the best preserved wall from the Ming era, and most visited for section foreign visitors. I found this website very useful when trying to decide which part to visit. We picked Mutianyu wall as it was known to be the best preserved, beautiful scenery and relatively close to Beijing.
Once you get to Mutianyu, you can either walk up to the wall, which is a 40/50 minutes uphill walk, or get the cable car which costs 120 Yuan per person. My tip – take the cable car, and save your energy (and time) to walk on the wall once you get to the top. Plus, you get great views of the wall as you ride up in the cable car.
Once we were at the top, it was a jaw dropping scene. It wasn’t the clearest of days, but we could still see the wall stretching over as far as the eye can see, like a snake lying across the mountains. Views of the other side of the wall are so fantastic that it has been used as a backdrop for many films.
Once at the top, you can either turn left or right along the wall. We explored the wall on both directions. If you want to avoid a steep climb, go left. On the left hand side you can see the wall for many miles, gently rising and falling on the mountain ridge. This section of the wall also has some of the best preserved watchtowers. Most watchtowers were in ruins, but one was still intact and we climbed to the top of this.
On the right hand side, again you can see the wall for many miles, but it goes up and down a lot more, so there is more climbing. You can also see a small village in the distance.
After 1.5 hours at the top, we headed back down. There are many tourist shops down here, but you have to haggle very hard. Just as an example, we were offered a book about the wall for 240 Yuan, reduced to 50 Yuan in the space of 10 steps.
There is also a small museum about this section of the wall, which mainly covers the restoration of the wall in the 20th century.
You can also get a certificate for climbing the wall 🙂
Tips for Visiting the Great Wall at Mutianyu
- Take the cable car up (as opposed to walking up). Save your energy (and time) to walk the wall itself.
- Plan to spend 1-2 hours at the top to explore the wall.
- Take good footwear.
- It is cold at the top, so take a coat or jumper. Also take a sun hat and sunscreen.
- There isn’t any food or drink available at the top (that we saw), so take water and snacks.
Similar to the previous day, lunch was arranged for as part of the tour at a nearby restaurant. After lunch, we headed to the Olympic Park.
2008 Olympic Park
We got to the Olympic park around 4 p.m. as dusk was falling. Entry is free to the Olympic Park and you can see the Water Cube, Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Pagoda media tower (from the outside).
If you would like a closer look, it is possible to buy tickets to visit the inside Bird’s Nest stadium and the Water Cube.
You can also see the Olympic torch, the sign and a list of medal winners engraved on the wall.
After the Olympic Park, we then headed to the Beijing Central Station. On our way, we stopped at a traditional tea shop, where we had a demonstration of a tea ceremony. There were 5 different types of tea on offer: jingseng, black tea, green jasmine tea, fruit tea and rose tea. The hostess demonstrated the traditional method of preparing each tea, and we got to sample them all.
Overnight Train to Xian
We next headed to the Beijing Central railway station to catch our overnight sleep train to Xian (We had checked out of the hotel that morning, so our bags were in the car already). The train was a very interesting experience in itself. I will be writing a separate post about this.
Reflections on Day 3: This was my favourite day of the trip, as we saw the great wall which was truly spectacular. This alone made the trip worth it. The Olympic park was interesting, but if you are pressed for time, this is something you can give a miss. I was pleasantly surprised by the Overnight train trip. This was the bit I was most nervous about the whole trip, but turned out to be great.