One of the most pathetic things I’ll admit to about myself is that I might just be the most ungrateful traveler known to man. I grew up in the valley of Arizona, which is surrounded by picturesque mountains and cactus-filled deserts. Only did I start taking advantage of them a month before I left to China. At one point in my life, I referred to the Grand Canyon as a “giant hole in the ground”. The nerve.
I still have yet to go.
I like to blame this on my life-long desire of becoming a city girl, which I feel I have accomplished by surviving a year in Beijing.
One might think that after making a little trip to the eastern hemisphere, I’d be all over visiting wonders of the world. Wrong. If anything, I became more concerned with working my way to other surrounding Asian countries, thus resulting in me occupying the north of China far too long.
That said, you probably won’t find it hard to believe that it took my best friend moving to my side of the planet for me to actually visit The Great Wall of China. Real talk. The first time I went to The Great Wall was just in March of this year. But Beijing, like most metropolises, will suck the humanity out of you, leaving you with a hunger for nature. Before I was nearly rendered lifeless, I made a trip to the The Great Wall of China Jinshanling.
This article is less of my experience on The Wall (a dream) and more of a guide on how to make it to The Wall by yourself (a well worth it nightmare).
Getting to The Great Wall of China Jinshanling
When I initially went to an unrestored section, I spent 400RMB ($63) on the tour. We used Beijing Hikers Club, which I guess is cool, but also a total rip off. What’s included in the tour is transport there and back, a guided group hike, and a meal post-hike.
From the outside looking in, it might sound like a steal when it comes to convenience. In all actuality, you can get all of that for about 1/3 of the price with just a tiny bit more effort. Besides, you’re coming to China to save that cash flow, not blow it on outings geared towards tourists.
Here are the directions I read on how to get to Jinshanling, minus the tour group.
The tourist bus operates on weekends and statutory holidays during the peak season (April 3rd to November 1st)
- Take the metro to Dongzhimen bus terminus in Beijing
- Ignore the signs that point to the bus terminal and go towards Exit B (take the right Exit)
- Walk towards the east (early morning this is where the sun is 🙂 ), but you can also walk having the main road on your right side.
- After very short walk pass the bus terminal on the left.
- You will come to an intersection, where you have to turn left.
- Walk for about 5-10 minutes, pass many buses and you will see an outdoor bus terminal (Great Wall Terminal) on the left side
- The first counter on the left, once you enter the driveway, sells Jinshanling Tickets which have a golden souvenir coin (120 CNY in September 2012). It includes round-trip bus ticket, admission fee, cable way, and the tourist car at the scenic spot.
Address: 东直门外斜街 45号 (45 Donghimen Wai Xie Jie)
By following these directions to the T, you will get to The Great Wall of China Jinshanling for a mere $19. But, as it happens, things don’t always work out so easily.
As we’re waiting to meet with a friend, an older local woman approaches us with some decent English, which is uncommon enough for me to be in awe. She asks which section of The Wall we’re going to and tells us to get on a bus that will take us there for 12rmb ($2). I’m already amazed that she speaks English, so I ditch the directions above, listen to her, telepathically say “eff you” to The Beijing Hikers Club, and believe I’m on my way to The Wall hassle-free and on the cheap.
I’ll admit she had the best of intentions. It was clear she was excited to speak with us and help out. But as we’re boarding the bus, she explains we’ll have to take a secret taxi (basically a ring of guys that don’t register as taxi drivers and use their own vehicles to earn some extra money) to take us the remainder of the way, because the bus only takes us about an hour outside of the city.
When should a person get in a secret taxi? In an incredibly desperate situation. Maybe it’s raining or snowing, maybe it’s rush hour, maybe you’re just having no luck hailing a taxi at all. Rates skyrocket, and a “fa piao”, or receipt, is not given.
Needless to say, this situation was a desperate one. After haggling the driver down from 120rmb ($19) each way per person to 90rmb ($14) each way per person, we started another hour-long journey to Jinshanling, which, fortunately, was a scenic drive.
Our driver was actually cool as hell, so I didn’t feel so bad about getting ripped off and helpin’ him make that money. We didn’t have to pay him until he dropped us back off at the bus station, which was decent.
Once we got to Jinshanling, we had to pay the entrance fee of 55rmb ($8.50) which did not include the lift that the 120rmb package above had. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world by any means to not have the lift, but again, the fees just kept adding up, totaling us at 259rmb ($40) per person. While that’s nearly double what we anticipated, it was most certainly worth the trouble.
Jinshanling is gorgeous. We went on a day with zero pollution, which is apparently not common these days in the Bei area. While the beginning of this section can be touristy, you can certainly do the first hour to get passed the tourist sites and challenge yourself by doing a climb up Jinshanling.
A few tips to keep in mind:
- Follow the directions, which can also be found here. You’ll see the outdoor ticket stand with the Great Wall tours sign, passed all the busses in Dongzhimen station.
- Don’t talk to anyone. Just keep moving and DON’T get on any city busses. I believe ours was “897” or something. Just don’t do it.
- The tourist bus leaves at 8am, so try to get there earlier.
- Bring water to The Wall. Prices go up a lot once you’re on tour grounds.
- Hikes in China are all about stairs. You can see from that long stretch above you need to be in decent physical form to conquer it. Wear good shoes and prepare for a solid calf workout.
- If you’re afraid of heights, this may not be for you. You’re going to be on top of ancient structures, which are pretty secure, but steep. If you follow directions, you’ll have the lift included on your tour.
Snapping this photo while being winded from the climb and delirious from amazement was a tough call, but obvs necessary. Duh.
This experience was dream-like. If you really can’t get enough of our day on The Wall, check this video. It’ll knock your socks off:
Or you can peep our Vine and get lost in the loops of our getaway:
Which parts of The Great Wall have you been to? Did you prefer a tour group or not? Let us know and let’s get to hiking!