I have seen pretty much all of the modern wonders of the world and now all of the new seven wonders that were voted last year. I believe that the Great Wall of China is as good as any of them. Today, I had the priviledge of walking and climbing the wall for several hours early in the morning with very few people around. It was in a word; wonderful.
Originally when I woke up this morning I was going to take a bus to Badaling which is the most visited part of the wall but after discussing where to go with several people I met last night out in Beijing and some very helpful site readers, I decided to get up at 5:45am and hire a private taxi up to Mutianyu. It was the best decision I’ve made in a while. I was literally the first one on the wall and basically had it to myself for two hours. This wall site is 90km from Beijing or about 1.5 hours by car and 2 by bus so literally it was just me for a while and by the time the tours got there I was far away up the wall.
The wall is truly mindblowing for several reasons. First, it is huge and runs for about 4000 or so miles up into the Gobi Desert. It is also baffling to think how it was built in that setting, similar to Machu Picchu and how did they get all those stones all the way up there. Furthermore, the views are spectacular and looking at the wall snaking in and out of the mountains is really awe-inspiring and hypnotic.
Mutianyu, renowned for its Ming Dynasty guard towers, was a fabulous place to be introduced to the wall especially at the time of day I arrived. I avoided the main tour busses full of tourists and older people and missed the heat of the day. Don’t get me wrong it was still oppressively hot out but when I left by 10:30am it still wasn’t nearly as bad as it would get.
I was also shocked to find out just how steep and difficult some parts of the wall were to climb. The amount of steps is brutal and can really make your legs feel like jello. Anyone can do it I suppose but just be prepared as I wasn’t, for such a challenging hike. Additionally, I suggest bringing suntan lotion and a second shirt to change into if you go in the summer because you sweat-a lot!
After having an amazing experience at Mutianyu, I decided it was still early enough that I wanted to see what I was missing at Badaling so I asked the taxi driver to bring me there and it was as people had described it. There was a carnival type atmosphere with amusement park rides, a safari park and shops as far as the eye could see. But of sourse the worst was the long lines and overcrowded wall because I would estimate 20,000 tourists. I am so glad I did it the way I did it. I am also glad I saw Badaling which does have impressive views but for my money Mutianyu is the way to go. You get a partially rebuilt part of the wall with a little wild wall mixed in and you can just see forever in the gorgeous green mountains of the Chinese countryside.
The wall itself is amazing and as former President Richard Nixon eloquently and poetically said to Mao Zedong on his historic visit to China decades ago, “It really is a great wall”. Tricky Dick knew what he was talking about on that front-maybe not anything else but the man knew a good wall when he saw one!
I am taking the miserable Air Astana red eye tonight to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Yes, that country that Borat was from. It is a real place as some people have shockingly asked me. Stay tuned.