I expect I’m seriously misrepresenting Mao Zedong’s quote, “If you’ve never been to the Great Wall, you’re not a real man”, Nevertheless, it was a thrilling experience for us to finally stand on the Wall and spend a few hours hiking it. So I guess both my wife and I became ‘Real Men’ today!

Today was our second full day in China, and we set out straight after breakfast, loaded down with bottles of water and other survival essentials. Rather than take an organised tour, we decided to brave the public transport option. How wrong we were!

The first leg on the underground to Dongzhimen station was no problem, and we quickly found the stop for the 916 bus service to Huairou, the nearest city to the Mutianyu section of the wall. However, a lady in full bus company uniform pointed us to the 980 Express service instead, as it was a quicker route than the 916. I do think she was acting in good faith, even though subsequent events may cast some doubt on that. The journey takes about an hour, mainly on motorways, and our bus driver motioned us to get off the bus when we reached a populated area. Turns out it was still a few stops away from the main bus station, and we drew the immediate attention of a couple of likely lads with cars at the bus stop, offering to take us to the wall at ridiculous prices. While we were discussing with a prospective driver, three other tourists approached us, seemingly dropped into the same situation. Fortunately the 980 Express runs every 10 minutes, so by the time we had all discussed our predicament and fended off the attentions of the local cowboys, another bus pulled up and we jumped back onboard. The five of us faced a similar ordeal at the bus station, which turned out to be in Miyun centre not Huairou, a further 7 miles away from the wall. But eventually, we negotiated two cars between five people, for approx 15 miles to Mutianyu, for a total of 200 CNY (about £20). Lesson learnt – some bus drivers obviously have their own business agenda. Had we stuck with the planned 916 bus route, maybe we would have avoided some of this!

Deborah at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China
Deborah at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China

At the visitor centre, we bought tickets for the cable car (return), admission to the Wall, and shuttle buses to/from the cable car, all as a package. Another company was offering a chairlift up and a toboggan down in their package. Once onto the Wall, although there were a good number of tourists visiting that day, it didn’t feel particularly crowded and it was easily possible to find a relatively empty stretch of wall to explore. But some sections had very steep steps to climb, and in the hot sun we soon went through our bottled water supplies. Such a relief then, after a few hours trekking, to return to the shade of a cafe near the entrance and an ice-cold bottle of Tsing Tao beer!

For our return journey, we asked at the information counter in the visitor centre and got a printed set of instructions for the three buses we needed to take to get back to Beijing, written in both English and Chinese to show the bus drivers. An uneventful and really cheap journey!

A few snapshots from the cable car, and sections of the wall close to Mutianyu…