Notes from the Great Wall

Steph at the Great Wall of China

Sometimes I travel for work, sometimes I interview people about their travels. In a story published a month ago, I had to interview fellow travelers who’ve crossed off items on their bucket list and for one respondent it was heading to the Great Wall of China. (It was for this lovely girl named Steph, a model and former intern in the magazine where I used to work, who became a speech pathologist in Shanghai, but who’ll soon be moving to the US).

I have to say that stepping onto this ancient wonder is on my own bucket list, but since it’s not yet on my immediate travel plans, I thought I would post my complete interview with Steph (with her permission of course), who shared some really helpful tips when it comes to exploring the Great Wall.

Was going to the Great Wall of China something you’ve always wanted to do?
Yes! When I think of China, the Great Wall is one of the first things that come to mind. I knew it was one of the wonders of the world and I felt that the whole China experience wouldn’t be complete without seeing it. The moment my friends and I had a chance to make a trip to Beijing–the Great Wall was our first stop!

Some preparations and arrangements
There are numerous hotels and hostels in Beijing, and most of them offer tours to the Great Wall ranging from 150RMB to 300RMB (around US$22 to US$45), which usually includes transportation, lunch and the entrance fee already. There will be separate fees for other attractions though, such as the cable car or zipline, so bring extra money! We stayed at the Sanlitun International Youth Hostel, which I would totally recommend to the average backpacker; they had extremely good rates and amazing service! Make sure you have a bottle of water, a fully-charged camera and a really good pair of walking shoes before you go.

Access through the Great Wall
You can access the Great Wall through several entrances, each boasting their own attraction (i.e. cable car, zipline, museums, etc.) so it’s important to do your research beforehand to see which one you’d like to see. Also, some parts of the Great Wall have been extensively repaired and some are still in its original condition. We went to the Mutianyu Great Wall as we were told that this is one of the least touristy parts, so you can enjoy the scenery more. Our bus driver gave us the option to start from the bottom or start at the middle–we chose the middle and boy did we choose the right one! (I knew my limitations since I wasn’t exactly the most athletic person around.)

Start walking…
Right away when you get off the bus you can already tell that the experience will be epic. We started hiking uphill on a paved road until we finally reached the actual wall, and then the real trek began! The steps are so small that it will take you forever to reach one tower. And just when you thought you were already at the highest tower, you’ll see that there’s about 100 more to go! Going from tower to tower is not easy, the steps are so small that it is so easy to trip and fall, and they did not put any rails and handles so you need to be very careful. It takes easily over a hundred steps to reach the next tower, so its very tiring and you need constant breaks. This just made me wonder how the soldiers got by back then! And if you think going uphill is hard, going down is also a challenge! The wall will definitely test you physically as well.

How can you not jump for joy at the Great Wall

I can’t even begin to describe how it felt to be there. Aside from the amazing view, you’ll get a feel of China’s history and culture, and I felt honored to be at a place that had so much historical significance. The Chinese say that you’re not a warrior until you climb the Wall. But I think its simpler than that. It may be physically challenging to just get up the Wall, but it challenges your own perspectives, making you maybe a little more humble than before. So you may not be a kung-fu chinese warrior coming off the wall, but you might stand a little taller and you’ll definitely have bragging rights for seeing it before your friends. Also, the wall itself is so vast and long that it simply leaves you wondering how long it took to create it and how many people were involved. It is truly a world wonder.

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