Great Wall, Mutianyu
Sunday, April 22- Today was the day we had set aside for a trip to the Great Wall, another must-see when in China. The closest section to the city (and most popular, touristy and overcrowded) Is the Great Wall at Badaling...but we didn't really want to see it there. Tours there are usually blended in with a trip to the Ming Tombs, and this section is typically crawling with tourists. Several reviews I had read about Ming Tombs (on TravBuddy and elsewhere) suggested that the Ming Tombs were no big deal, and we weren't missing much if we skipped them. Many folks said they wished they had spent more time on the Great Wall instead.
Not crowded like Badaling, not as steep or far away as Simatai!
So, we investigated our options a little further away! TravBuddy founder Eric had suggested the Great Wall at Simatai
, being farther away it was more scenic and less crowded...although some sections were very steep. After all the walking around we had done over the past few days, we were not really up for any strenuous, steep hikes. plus, Simatai was about 3 hours away by bus. In the end, we opted to take a bus tour from the hotel to the Mutianyu Great Wall. About an hour and a half to get there by bus, it would be less crowded then Badaling, and less strenuous (and less time on the bus) than Simatai, so we felt it was a good compromise.
great breakfast buffet at the hotel
The bus would get us at the hotel at 10 am, which left us plenty of time to fill up at another great buffet breakfast!
We packed everything we would need for the day in our backpacks, and headed off to the buffet...after seconds, then thirds, and we knew this would be another day where lunch was not necessary! (More waffles with chocolate sauce and peanut butter...thank you, Dave, for that discovery!) We hauled our overstuffed selves to the lobby, where the bus arrived promptly at 10. They stopped at two other hotels nearby to pick up other passengers, and there were about 20 of us all together once we were on our way. Our tour guide narrated for us stories about the Great Walls construction and history, and stories about China in general.
Our talkative bus tour guide
...notably the rules against overpopulation, since Chinese couples are only allowed to have one baby. Since boys are coveted to carry on the family name, many female babies are placed for adoption. He told us that thousands of Chinese babies are adopted every year by Westerners, but that 100% of them are girls! He also talked about Chinese history in general, the Cultural Revolution, Mao, and how the Chinese version of Communism is a lot closer to American Capitalism than other former Communist countries. He talked quite a bit, and although I was interested in all he had to say, others on the bus seemed happy when he finally shut up!
Before we got to the Great Wall, we made a scheduled stop at a pottery factory and store. Not many on the bus were very happy about it, as we were all anxious to see and get up on the Wall.
at the "pottery factory"
They gave us a brief tour of the rooms where the vases are made, showed people decorating them, putting them in kilns, etc. and of course, gave us a half hour to browse the shop and hopefully make a purchase. Very few did. I'm sure the tour group has some sort of arrangement with the factory, and they all need to make their money, but this is cutting into our Wall time! The vases are very nice, but I don't need one, and this isn't what we signed up for! (I refused to even buy a soda there, on general principle) I don't remember the name of the place, and only took one picture... the guys made fun of me for doing so, but I knew I would be mentioning the place in my blog later! After a wasted hour, we were finally back on the bus and on our way.
gauntlet of stalls we had to pass through to get to the cable cars
Finally, we arrived at the Great Wall. The bus pulled into a parking area, and we got off and walked up some steps to an uphill walkway, surrounded on both sides by shopping stalls. Everyone was trying to gain our attention and peddle their wares....but were not buying anything NOW...that would mean carrying it on the Wall! Check us when we get back, guys, I promise we'll buy something then! We ignored their pleas and moved on. Our guide handed out our tickets, which we gave to the attendant as we entered the building that housed the cable cars. Although there is a path to hike up to the wall, it takes hours and is very steep to get up. Most people take the cable car up and down, this way all your hiking is done on the Wall itself.
quickest way to the top
It was around 12:30 at that point. The guide then told us we could go either right or left at the top, but we had to be back down here to the bus by 2:00. WHAT?? That only gives us an hour and a half on the Wall! After wasting an hour
at the stupid pottery barn! No Fair! Well, nothing we could do about it now! The 4 of us climbed into our own car, and we were rapidly whisked to the top.
Once the cable car dropped us off, there were restrooms and a kind of "patio" area, for us to take our first pictures on the Wall. There were also some vendors there, selling sodas and water...but we had been smart enough to pack our own! We had been told that we could go right or left once entering the Wall itself, but we were told the left had better views, so that's the way we went.
One of the many turrets on the Great Wall
There were many other tourists there, but not so many that we couldn't get many good shots without a bunch of strangers in them. We followed the Wall up and down, over and through turrets, all the way until we couldn't go any further. The end was a very steep section, and the very last part was so steep, you actually had to grab the steps with your hands and almost crawl up. On top, the rest of the Wall was blocked off, as it was crumbling and dangerous to proceed any further. We weren't there very long, before we had to turn and start heading back. The bus was waiting, and we didn't have as much time to spend as we wanted, thanks to the pottery stop. We headed back the way we came, but the guys soon got way ahead of me, as I kept stopping to take pictures!
By the time I made it back to the entrance area, I was the last one to return from our bus group.
twists and turns for miles
As I walked down the hill by the shopping stalls, I was immediately pounced upon by the street vendors, hawking their wares. T-shirts, books, knick knacks, anything they could push on the tourists was on display. Of course, I had to get an "I climbed the Great Wall" T-shirt....(I'm in the habit of collecting cheesey souvenir shirts from places I visit...even if I never wear them!) Lee had seen the shirts and said "That's a Walt shirt, for sure!" We began the haggle-dance, with the vendor starting at some ridiculous price.. I wound up settling for the US equivalent of about $8 ... which I thought was fair for an extra large T-shirt. I found vendors a little farther down, though, that were offering the same shirt for 1/4 that price! Oh, well! I also saw a nice artistic cloth wall hanging that I thought Dawn would like, so I started bargaining for that as well.
Hiking the Great Wall...priceless
She started at 285 RMB, I offered 20RMB (for some reason, the initial offer has to be crazy at both ends!) I offered 40RMB, she said no, then I started to walk away....by now Lee was yelling for me, as I was the last one waiting to board the bus! The lady GRABBED me by the arm and pulled me back....not letting me get away that easy! "OK, OK, 40 OK she said!" I only had 100RMB note on me, and she didn't want to make change. "How about Two?" she asked. No! Give me change or I leave! "Ok,Ok," she said and gave me the wall hanging and 60 RMB change. By now, Lee was screaming at me. "COME ON, MR. POKEY!" he yelled from the parking lot.
me and Lee...this has been a goal of ours for years
I stuffed my souvenirs in my bag and ran to catch the bus. Bye bye, Great Wall! I wish we had more time to spend here!