China: The Great Wall of China. How to visit for less than £12

Bucket list time! Climbing the Great Wall was something we had both wanted to do for ages and we were really looking forward to it. Our main priority was to find a really quiet section of the wall with very few people so we could enjoy it. The hecticness of Beijing was starting to take its toll!

Badaling is the closest section to Beijing. It’s also the easiest section to access and takes roughly 1 hour by train, costing only CNY6, if travelling second class. As we were in Beijing during the Chinese holiday: Moon Festival, I really didn’t want to visit this section because I knew it was going to be packed full of people. A friend recommended Simatai to me and we also asked our hostel who recommended Jinshanling. Our hostel was offering a tour to the Great Wall which included transport and ticket entrance for CNY288 per person. This did seem the easiest most convenient way… but I’m not a fan of group tours and we wanted to spend more than a couple of hours there.

We spent the evening before doing some research. It was hard to find information online but after a couple of hours trawling through blogs and China Highlights website I read it’s possible to hike between Jinshanling and Simatai. It wasn’t entirely clear how to get there so we asked our hostel for a bit of help, which to be fair to them they were really helpful considering we decided against their tour option!

Getting to the Great Wall: Jinshanling section

There is a direct bus which sets off from Bafangda bus station every morning at 8am. The closest subway station is Wangjing West. If you take exit B the pickup point is located 100 meters eastwards on the right hand side. This is the bus we were meant to catch but we missed it owing to the subway taking longer than we anticipated. This is the route we ended up taking:

1. Finding the bus stop

The bus picks up from the same point as the direct bus (above). We asked some nearby security guards for directions and they pointed us down the road which we continued on until we eventually saw a small sign for the bus to Jinshanling. It would have been easy to walk past it. There were a couple of “taxi” men at the side of the road kindly telling us there wasn’t a bus and offering to take us for CNY50 each.

Subway to Wangjing West: CNY3

2. Boarding the public bus

We waited about 10 minutes for the public bus to Luanping. There were bus conductors also waiting around and we double checked with them. The bus stops off at Jinshanling service centre, which is where we got off and caught a connecting shuttle bus to the Great Wall. The public bus turned up around 8.30am but we waited around for a while before being able to board. I think we ended up leaving nearer 9am. The bus cost us CNY13 (we received a discount when we showed our IC metro card)

3. Catching the shuttle bus to the wall

The service centre is approx 5km away from the ticket entrance for Jinshanling. It was a huge open area at the side of the highway, with a building housing a toilet and small shop. A free shuttle bus picks up from Jinshanling service station at: 10am, 11am, 1pm and 3.30pm. There were “taxi” drivers telling us the bus wasn’t running (which obviously meant it was!). A white mini bus finally pulled up around 11am with a sign in the front window for the Great Wall, so we knew it was the right bus. The journey took approximately 20 minutes to the Jinshanling ticket office.

Entering the Main Gate: Jinshanling section

The bus drops off outside the ticket office for the main gate of the scenic spot, where we paid CNY65 for the entrance. Once past the ticket office there is a long windy path which leads up to the start of the Jinshanling section, and there will be some steps up onto the wall. There were a few people trying to sell us things and two ladies followed us because they wanted to be our guide. We didn’t need a guide so told them straight away.

Walking along the Great Wall (from Jinshanling towards Simatai)

The wall was almost empty when we climbed up onto it. We passed a couple of people and some ladies trying to sell us their handmade souvenirs, which we declined, numerous times! Had to applaude them for their repeated efforts 🙂

The walk was really awesome and the views were unreal. We felt miles and miles away from Beijing. It was such an enjoyable escape from the madness, and no one wanted to take our picture which we had found was the case in Beijing.

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View from the Great Wall
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View from the Great Wall

Some parts of the wall were very steep and we walked through dozens of towers. Most of them has people selling drinks and snacks. I think we even passed a man selling cold drinks from a fridge!

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Peering through the doorway
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Climbing some steep steps

As we walked further away from Jinshanling the paths became looser and there were areas that hadn’t been restored and overgrown weeds blocking the paths.

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The broken path along the Great Wall
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The broken path along the Great Wall
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The broken path along the Great Wall

There were a couple of towers which we had to jump from and climb up to because there weren’t any stairs connecting to the wall.

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Some parts of the wall were trickier to access than others
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Some parts of the wall were trickier to access than others

We passed a group of hikers heading the opposite direction. We found out one of the towers had been blocked off with a security guard standing outside who wasn’t letting anyone pass. Apparently they had started to renovate that section of the wall.

We decided to turn back and followed the path from where we had come from, taking a right had turning towards East Gate (visitor centre & car park). The free shuttle bus was picking up from there at 3pm and dropped us back at the Jinshanling service centre.

The times the shuttle bus picks up are: 10.30am, 11.30am, 13.30pm and 3pm.

If we were able to carry on to Simati we had planned to take a taxi back to the service centre, and catch the public bus from there to Beijing. Note. We had been told there would be an additional entrance fee to pay because we would be entering a different section of the wall.

Getting back to Beijing

The public bus picked us up from Jinshanling service centre. We weren’t able to board to first bus which arrived because it was full so we had to wait for another bus. We were told the last bus picks up at 5pm, we caught the bus at 4.30pm. The bus back to Beijing cost CNY13 (discounted when we showed our IC card)

Overall, we had such an amazing day. We got to experience the Great Wall without the crowds and it cost us only £11.28 (as of Sept 2016). It definitely wasn’t the easiest way but it was the most fun!

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