Four years ago, when I visited Beijing, I did a day tour to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. This section was a great – it was well-maintained, easy to walk, fascinating, and great for photo-taking. Coming to Beijing a second time, however, Tom and I thought it would be best to check out a different section of the wall.
After some Google detective work, we decided to visit Simatai, a section of the wall that had not been restored and was supposedly very picturesque. However, when we got to Beijing, it seemed that Simatai wasn’t the easiest section of the wall to get to. Not only would we have to hire a taxi for a fair part of the return trip, making the visit quite pricey compared to other sections, but we would also have to ‘reserve’ a spot on the wall using a Chinese phone number, which we didn’t have.
As a backup option we had read that it was instead possible to enter the wall at the Jinshanling entrance and then hike a rather challenging 9-10 km to Simatai. Challenge accepted!
How to get there
The cheapest way to get to the Jinshanling entrance to the wall was to take the bus. At 8am daily a tourist bus leaves from Beijing’s Wanjing West Bus Station to go to Jinshanling. To get to this bus station, simply take the Metro to the Wanjing West Station, take Exit B of the subway if getting off line 13 or Exit C for line 15. When you leave the station go left and walk until you see the bus station. There is a second, small, bus station to the right-side of the station exit as well. Do not go to this one like we initially did!
When you arrive at the bus station, on your right you will see a place to queue for the tourist bus. Just before 8am the tourist bus should arrive. The bus costs 32 yuan each way, unless you have a Beijing public transport card, in which case it will cost only 26 yuan. If at least 20 tourists get on the bus to go to Jinshanling, then the bus will take you directly to this entrance of the Great Wall. However, if there is not enough people, the bus instead becomes a public bus to Luanping. rather than being dropped off at the wall entrance you will be dropped off at the Jinshanling Great Wall Service Centre. From here, a free shuttle bus will take you the extra 5km or so to the wall.
If you miss the 8am ‘tourist’ bus, don’t despair! Public buses to Luanping depart from Wanjing West every 30-40 minutes. Simply hop on one of these, get off at the Jinshanling Great Wall Service Centre, and then get one of the free shuttle buses. These depart at 10:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, and 3:30pm.
The Jinshanling Section of the Great Wall
Approaching the Jinshanling Entrance of the wall was surreal. Why? Because there was no one there! For the first time since Tom and I had arrived in China weeks earlier, there was absolutely no one else around. It was great! It turns out the reason for this was that the Jinshanling section was a much steeper, harder walk than the other parts of the wall. There was also no cable car (a staple in China) to get tourists on at this entrance. For these reasons, the Chinese tour groups and their megaphones simply did not come here, which suited us perfectly.
It also turns out that we had been dropped off at a back entrance to the Jinshanling section rather than the main gate, which the shuttle bus driver indicated he would be picking us up from at 3pm. With this in mind, we decided to just walk the section we were told instead of hiking to Simatai, as we did not know how to get there from where we were. Fortunately, Jinshanling did not disappoint!
At the gate we paid 60 yuan each to get onto the wall and proceeded to walk up the steps that would actually get us onto the wall. The walk was steep, but over in about 20 minutes. When we got to the top of the steps we also a got a glimpse of the spectacular wall from the outside. In the perfect weather we were experiencing, we could already tell that it was going to be a magnificent day.
Once we got onto the wall itself we were faced with two options: turn left onto the unrestored part; or turn right onto the also beautiful, but restored section. I think you can guess which way we went…
Turning left we followed the path less taken. This section, with all its loose stone bricks and overgrown grass, was oozing with character. We followed this path until the second tower, where we discovered that we could not go any further as the path was closed off. Even if we had, we would have needed to turn back to go the other direction anyway just to get to our 3pm pick up point, and we had no idea how long the walk would take.
After this short detour, we were back on the right track. This part of the section was also very beautiful. It twisted and turned and undulated up and down, making it very steep but also very entertaining to climb up and then run down.
We passed numerous towers and old ruins that we explored in depth. The only thing pushing us to move faster were the extremely annoying beetles that flew into us every 15 seconds. Gah! Even writing about them makes my skin crawl.
From here, there is not much more to say about this section of the wall, except that it made for one of the best, most beautiful experiences of my life to date. So now, I will let my pictures do the talking.
Getting back to Beijing
After about 4 hours of (albeit slow) walking and picture-taking, Tom and I made it to the main entrance at around 2.20pm. With around 40 minutes to spare before the shuttle bus was due to collect us, we sat, liberated our feet from our shoes, and rewarded ourselves with a nice, big, well-earned bottle of Tsingtao.