The Great Wall, pretty much all to ourselves.

Huang Hua Great Wall Travel Blog

 › entry 38 of 251 › view all entries
The line for Bus 916 (local).
Today's plan was to meet Phil (TB: Deats) and Julia (TB: Mybu84) for a trip to the Great Wall. Finally I get to see it live and in person!

There are several sections of the Great Wall open for visits near Beijing. Badaling is the closest and therefore overrun with tourists -- steer clear! Mutianaya is just a little bit farther but reportedly much quieter. Simatai is farther yet and reportedly has some great hiking. Our planned destination, Huanghua, is fairly close, but isn't even listed in my guidebook. I wasn't sure if that is good or bad! (It was GOOD :^)

Lisa, Steve and I departed the apartment in a cab at 8:20 for our planned 9:00 rendezvous at the bus station.
On our way! Me, Steve, Julia, Phil.
We were nearly foiled by bumper-to-bumper traffic, then we were nearly done in by communications issues. We didn't have the Chinese characters written out for the bus station, but felt we could pronounce it passably well. For good measure, I had also drawn a nifty picture of a bus (the driver laughed at my picture!). All of this got us to what we felt was the general vicinity of the bus station. The driver pulled over by a hotel but we didn't want to get out without knowing exactly where we were. There was then much discussion between us, but no communication, as he was speaking Chinese and we in English. Vexing! Finally our driver flagged down an English-speaking pedestrian and we got it fairly well straightened out.
Boarding the minivan to Huanghua! Steve,Phil, Lisa, Julia.
He drove us a couple of blocks to what was, I guess, a bus terminal.

We had planned to meet at the "main schedule board" but we found no such thing. There was only a very large, empty garage, food vendors, many buses, and lots of chaos. The hawkers set upon us like vultures -- "great wall" "cheap tour!" etc.  We brushed them off (or at least we tried) and walked around trying to find Phil and Julia. It was by then after 9:00 and being late really stresses me out. Have they left?! Are we even in the right place?! Finally we walked around a section of food vendors and -- aha! There they are! We ran across the street for a reunion, relief on both sides. And then we tried to figure out where to catch this 916 bus. It seemed nearly ALL the buses were labeled as such.

We stood in the wrong place for a little while, then we found the correct line after just a minimal amount of gawking about.
Julia and Phil fearlessly crossing the reservoir.
Phil had the bus connection info written out in Chinese characters for confirmation with the Lady In Charge. All is a go! We were the only non-Chinese on the bus -- definitely off the main tourist route! Wonderful. Now if they could just make these bus seats a little bigger we'd really be set...

The bus was somewhat uncomfortably small, but it was also pretty clean and completely smoke free. Good thing, since we were destined to spend quite a long time on it! Unfortunately, we seemed to have gotten on a local. It stopped frequently. Very frequently. We had expected a one-hour ride. 90 minutes into our trip, there was some concern that we had missed our stop, but some highway signs assured us that our destination was ahead of us. Quite far ahead, as it was.
Me on the scary reservoir path.
It took two hours to get to our stop (the Lady In Charge kindly told us when to get off).

We planned to transfer to another bus or minivan to our final destination, but when we de-bussed there was no clear transfer area, no line of mini-vans waiting to whisk us to Huanghua. No worries: there's always someone to drive you where you want to go here in China, and sure enough we were approached by a driver about 3 seconds after getting off the bus. Phil's book said 60 RMB (just under $10) was a fair price for this drive, so that is what we offered. The driver was more optimistic though -- surely we would pay double that! When we walked away to find the buses, he exclaimed (kind of desperately), "OK! OK! Come!" and so we boarded his little mini van.

Now. This is the kind of driver I know and love here in China! Foot firmly on the accelerator and letting up for nothing, he careened around corners and passed anything and everything in our way, regardless of oncoming traffic.
Lisa, not so fearlessly crossing the reservoir.
Well, it's nice to have a driver concerned with getting us to our destination in a timely manner! I do believe we may have set land speed records (at least for late-1980's model minivans) on this trip.

I had expected some form of development, some small signs of tourist-ness at Huanghua, but other than a few folks selling postcards, there was nothing. No tour buses. No groups in matching hats. No overcrowded ticket line. Perfect! What a find!

Of course, there was still the matter of getting to the actual wall. We could see it across a water reservoir, but there was no clear access path. And surely we must buy tickets somewhere -- Phil said the entrance fees at the Wall sights could be quite high. The postcard ladies indicated we should walk across the thin (very thin!) strip of concrete than spanned the reservoir.
Steve and Lisa on the path alongside the wall.
So we did. On my left there was water lapping at my Teva-clad feet, and on my right was a precipitous drop I didn't spend too much time examining. I gripped the rusting handrail, head firmly fixed left, and made it across with no incident. (Of course, Lisa tripped on some rebar. She tends to do that. No broken bones or injuries though -- THIS time.)

We then got to the "entrance gate" which was one of the postcard women standing on the dirt path in front of a decidedly homemade-looking sign. Phil and Julia sprang for the entrance fee for all of us -- about 35 cents per person!

At this point we were walking alongside the wall, and still there was no clear point of access to the wall itself. The ticket lady waved us along in the right direction, so we followed the path through a rocky, weedy area, hoping to find something more interesting ahead.
Steve is the first one up The Scary Ladder.
After about five minutes, we came upon a couple men having lunch under a pole barn, surrounded by several sheds. A number of chickens ran around in the back, and two large dogs barked at us (guard dogs, Lisa assured me. Meaning: NOT dinner dogs). The guys said hello and waved us along. From there we could see a ladder leaning up against the wall. Mind you, this is a mighty impressive and very HIGH wall. The ladder appeared to be constructed of twigs and branches. It reached to the top of the wall -- 5 stories? OK, maybe not quite that high. It doesn't really matter, as anything over 3 feet is enough to terrify me.

When we got up to the ladder (stepping over a rusty, broken-in-half metal staircase on the way) we could fully appreciate its hand-hewn construction.
Lisa ascends with encouragement from Steve. I am there to capture any carnage that may occur...
One end of the ladder was wedged against the wall, and the other side was braced against a sweet, delicate sapling. The deciduous version of Charlie's Brown's Christmas tree was to be responsible for my safe assent to the Great Wall! Oy vey.

Steve was the first one up. No snapped rungs there -- this bodes well since he weighs more than the rest of us. The climb was not so bad. I looked straight ahead at the stone and never looked down. Maneuvering from the ladder to the wall was tricky business -- and terrifying, too. Lisa had a panicky moment, as she was sure the ladder was falling away from the wall behind her (it wasn't).

It took me some time to get my sea legs, and until I was used to the height I endeavored to have maximum body surface in contact with stone. Lisa and I both laid there while everyone stood and admired the magnificent views.
Phil helps Julia up and over the edge.
Soon enough, I moved into a crouch position. Then after not too long, a cautious standing position. I was ready to hit the deck at the slightest gust of wind -- and it was indeed pretty windy. One thing about the non-touristy sights: no handrails. That's good... until you want one, I guess :^)

It was wonderful. The wall was au naturel in some places, and obviously restored in others. It wound for miles and curled around the surrounding hills in a ridiculously picturesque manner. Perfect.

We headed up towards a small sentry building -- one of several we would come across in a short distance. We stopped frequently for photos -- bless Phil, he is just as bad as I am. Everywhere I looked, pictures were begging to be taken. It was so lovely.
Me. A little distressed by the height at this point. It didn't take too long to get over though.


We walked for 30-45 minutes, the whole time meeting maybe 8 other people. Phil told us about the crowds and the trinket stands that cover the wall at Badaling. I felt fortunate indeed. What a feeling, to be strolling along the Great Wall of China in good company, surrounded by amazing vistas! There was nowhere else I would have rather been at that moment. I hoped I wouldn't spoil the special moment by being blown off the side -- the wind was really gusting.

Of course we didn't have enough time. Lisa, Steve, and I had to be back in Beijing for an evening train to Xian. We needed to leave Huanghua at about 2:30. So we climbed to that one last parapet in the distance, admired the new view revealed there, and then set back to face The Ladder again. At this point, I felt quite cured of my fear of heights, as long as I didn't walk close to the edge or pay much mind to how high we were.
Lisa and I on top of the world! I mean, the Great Wall.
There was a scary moment on the ladder as I struggled to find the first rung with my foot (Steve directed me from below or I might still be there). We all made it down safe, sound, and that much happier for our experience.

Our driver was waiting to take us back and we likely broke our old speed record on the way back to the station. I liked that guy!

At this point it was well past lunchtime. The counterfeit Cheerios I had for breakfast just weren't cutting it. There weren't exactly a plethora of options waiting for us in town though. There was a KFC, which my brain didn't even register as a potential food source. Phil brought it up as an option and Julia mentioned they have some egg tartlet thingies that sounded pretty good, so soon enough I found myself in a KFC for the first time in probably 20 years.
Steve takes a photo of me taking a picture of Lisa taking a picture of Steve.
My how it's changed! The choices were different from home. There was no coleslaw -- it was corn salad (Lisa and I shared one order -- not bad). Lisa and I also had a bowl of completely flavorless egg-vegetable soup (so hot that Lisa scalded her mouth and spit it on the table!). We also had French fries, and of course the heavenly little egg tartlets. Not bad! It's best to keep an open mind, especially when you are starving.

From there we jumped back onto the 916 bus (Steve sat in center back for maximum leg room) and to our delight we found ourselves speeding back to Beijing with minimal stops -- an express! It cut an hour off our time. And we had one of those delightful maniacal drivers, which helped our cause greatly.

I was so sad to say goodbye to Phil and Julia, with whom we spent such a wonderful, perfect, delightful day.
The Great Wall at Huanghua.
THANKS Phil, for introducing us to Chinese buses and a tourist-free Wall. I hope we run into each other again -- I think chances are good!
___
Later:
We went home, packed our things, and now I am writing this (in my notebook) on a sleeper car to Xi'an, where the terracotta warriors live.  Our cabin has four beds -- 2 up, 2 down. Steve (who is very unhappy with the arrangement) and I are on the top two beds, and Lisa is in the next cabin. Down below are two Chinese men, talking loudly. Just a while ago, one of them was enjoying his sandwich in a lip-smacking frenzy! I tried to get it on video, but it's doesn't convey the whole effect -- I was afraid to get busted filming him. After all, he's my roommate until tomorrow. It's an 11-hour ride.

Later:
Now that same man is on top of his bed in his skivvies! Guess he didn't want to muss his suit.
Come on in, the Wall is fine!


I hope I can sleep. Either way, I am still smiling. I had a great day.
pearcetoyou says:
This is supposedly the only man-made structure that can be seen from space! Amazing!
Posted on: Jul 28, 2008
sandra-kids says:
I am laughing to the point of tears..first so glad that Lisa used her "trip" on the rebar and not the ladder :)too bad if she would have fallen you would have been more concerned to get a picture of it and wouldn't have tried to soften the blow for her :0) LOL and secondly, when you said your body surface was in contact with the wall--I totally would be right there with you--yikes--Kudos to you for the climb and glad to hear it was worth it...also, sounds like your pictionary skills are paying off (pictures of busses and such).
Posted on: Apr 26, 2008
portia says:
you won't be disappointed if you go to Simatai. I did, it was REALLY steep and very few tourists when I went. I think because it was so far from Beijing.
Posted on: Apr 25, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
The line for Bus 916 (local).
The line for Bus 916 (local).
On our way! Me, Steve, Julia, Phil.
On our way! Me, Steve, Julia, Phil.
Boarding the minivan to Huanghua! …
Boarding the minivan to Huanghua!…
Julia and Phil fearlessly crossing…
Julia and Phil fearlessly crossin…
Me on the scary reservoir path.
Me on the scary reservoir path.
Lisa, not so fearlessly crossing t…
Lisa, not so fearlessly crossing …
Steve and Lisa on the path alongsi…
Steve and Lisa on the path alongs…
Steve is the first one up The Scar…
Steve is the first one up The Sca…
Lisa ascends with encouragement fr…
Lisa ascends with encouragement f…
Phil helps Julia up and over the e…
Phil helps Julia up and over the …
Me. A little distressed by the hei…
Me. A little distressed by the he…
Lisa and I on top of the world! I …
Lisa and I on top of the world! I…
Steve takes a photo of me taking a…
Steve takes a photo of me taking …
The Great Wall at Huanghua.
The Great Wall at Huanghua.
Come on in, the Wall is fine!
Come on in, the Wall is fine!
Julia, Phil, and absolutely no one…
Julia, Phil, and absolutely no on…
Me.
Me.
Me and Steve and a long windy wall.
Me and Steve and a long windy wall.
Phil jumps for joy.
Phil jumps for joy.
Welcome to the Great Wall!
Welcome to the Great Wall!
Just hanging out on the Great Wall…
Just hanging out on the Great Wal…
Of course, Stebe just had to climb…
Of course, Stebe just had to clim…
Made it to the top without harm.
Made it to the top without harm.
Lisa, mightly close to the edge!
Lisa, mightly close to the edge!
The long and winding wall.
The long and winding wall.
TravBuddies Phil and Charlene.
TravBuddies Phil and Charlene.
Phil, Steve, and Lisa make their w…
Phil, Steve, and Lisa make their …
The Great Wall, picturesque mounta…
The Great Wall, picturesque mount…
And heres another photo of the Gr…
And here's another photo of the G…
Looks like it never ends...
Looks like it never ends...
Phil on the Wall.
Phil on the Wall.
Julia and Phil on top of it all.
Julia and Phil on top of it all.
Me and Steve. Thats more Wall beh…
Me and Steve. That's more Wall be…
Lisa and more wall.
Lisa and more wall.
Back down the wall. Steve, Phil, J…
Back down the wall. Steve, Phil, …
Lisa descends the steep part.
Lisa descends the steep part.
Thats me in pink, tentatively cli…
That's me in pink, tentatively cl…
Look, one hand!
Look, one hand!
Julia descends Scary Ladder.
Julia descends Scary Ladder.
Back down The Ladder again. Phil, …
Back down The Ladder again. Phil,…
We bought his postcards.
We bought his postcards.
I forgot to bargain for the postca…
I forgot to bargain for the postc…
I had to go! There were no other o…
I had to go! There were no other …
Lisa at KFC.
Lisa at KFC.
Delicious tartlet-thingies at KFC.…
Delicious tartlet-thingies at KFC…
Steve enjoys a KFC feast.
Steve enjoys a KFC feast.
Curious tot on the bus ride home.
Curious tot on the bus ride home.
Huang Hua Great Wall
photo by: cmgervais