the best way to visit the great wall of china

the best way to visit the great wall of china

If you visit China, you pretty much have to visit the Great Wall. It's not optional. The problem with that is obvious--the Great Wall can be very, very crowded at some times and in some places.

 This was actually the least crowded photo I could get at Badaling. It took me a long time to get a picture with so few people.

This was actually the least crowded photo I could get at Badaling. It took me a long time to get a picture with so few people.

On our recent trip to China, I was there for a week of work, but (as we frequently do) David joined me and we tacked on a couple of weeks of vacation.  My colleagues from work had organized a trip to the Great Wall, at the Badaling section.  Man, oh, man, was it ever crowded.  Don't get me wrong, it was impressive.  And that section is really well-restored.  But there were about eleventy-hundred other people there, and most of them had those insipid selfie sticks.

Then, when David met up with me, we decided to go back to the Great Wall.  This time, we hired a private driver to take us to the Mutianyu section.  That was a very good choice.  When we arrived that morning, it was drizzling a little bit.  But we went anyway.  It was really the only time that we felt we could squeeze it in--our itineraries tend to be chock-a-block full, when we travel.

The light rain actually made our trip better, if you can believe it.  It gave everything a sort of magical appearance and we definitely think it kept some of the crowds away. There were a handful of other people there, but Mutianyu is a pretty long section of the wall, so at times, we were the only people on any given section of the wall.  Imagine being able to explore a watchtower on the Great Wall without anyone else there!  Really, really cool. 

Mutianyu is arguably the best restored of all the sections of the Great Wall.  There are twenty three watch towers.  That's way more than at Badaling, and the architecture of them is much more interesting.  Each tower is about 100 meters from the next.  At one end of the wall, there is a very steep (and slightly terrifying) climb to a watchtower where you can have an amazing view of the wall, laid out before you.  It was worth the climb, though there are no railings and some of the steps are worn and--like I said--it is very, very (very) steep.

At the base of the wall, there are some restaurants and toilet facilities.  There's a cable car to get up and down (or you can take the stairs), but there's also a toboggan (!!!) to come down. 

So, to recap...

Badaling:

-Huge throngs of tourists with selfie sticks.

Mutianyu:

-Amazing architecture.

-Not crowded.

-Best restoration.

-Gorgeous views.

-Toboggan ride down from the wall.

I think your choice is obvious, right?  Of course, if you're really craving solitude and have more time, you could go to one of the other sections of the wall--some of them are quite wild.  In fact, it's possible to hike from one section to the next, in many places, but if you're doing that in a section that's not been fully restored, you'd best be the adventurous type.

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