The Great Wall of China is one of the 7 Wonders of the World, and dates back to 700BCE. It truly is a magnificent piece of history and deserves a visit – even if it isn’t exactly ‘off the beaten tourist path’. The Wall itself has been a fortress for China for thousands of years, and still remains its most visited piece of history. However, its fame does come at a cost. Most of the well-visited sections of the wall are overrun with tourists and can often become crowded, making unique and Instagram-worthy photos almost impossible. There are, however, some sections of the Wall where you can escape the ‘tourists’ and truly capture a glimpse of this magnificent wall.
The Simatai section of the wall is less ‘touristy’ and much less busy than other sections. It is also the rawest and is relatively unaltered, having only been restored to protect its structural integrity, not simply for tourist use and aesthetics. We guarantee that you’re going to love this lesser known, and lesser explored section of this internationally renowned landmark. You’ll have the opportunity to capture all the photos you want, and really feel the power, majesty and history of the Wall. So, without further ado, here’s our Great wall of China Guide – helping you to explore this incredible feat of human architecture, perseverance and determination.
History & Geography
The Great Wall of China was built as a fortification, designed to stretch across the northern parts of China. The Wall crosses from east to west, originally as a defence mechanism to keep the northern Mongolians out. Sections of the Wall were first built in the year leading up to the 7th century BCE, and since then different dynasties that have ruled China have built on and fortified the Wall. Another purpose of the Wall was for border control, keeping track of the goods that enter the country along the Silk Road. The Wall stretches from Dandong in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, for about 9,000kms. Persistent rumours claim that the Wall can be seen from the moon, however this is yet to be confirmed.
Gubei Water Town
To visit the wall section, you must divert through the Gubei Water Town, an incredible man made town, that inspired images of Venice, Italy. The consistent architecture, stunning water ways and glorious Great Wall backdrop make this little town unmissable. You will walk through the cobblestone streets, pass the beautiful canals, under the stunning hanging trees and forgot that you’re in China! There are a plethora of cafes and restaurants, plus a brilliant visitor centre at the entrance where you can get all the information you need. With the Wall, mountains and waterways as a backdrop, this little town is straight out of Europe. Take some photos, stroll through the streets, and you’ll come across the ticket centre to buy your way up onto the Wall.
From the Water Town, you have two options to get up to the Simatai section of the Great Wall. You can either walk, up a well maintained pathway, zigzagging across the mountain, or you can take the cable car.
The cable car ticket centre is in Water Town, and they will provide a shuttle bus to take you to the cable car. Expect to pay $27USD per person for a one way trip up the mountain. You can then walk all the way back down the Wall, and down to the shuttle bus as a return journey. The cable car will take you to the eighth watchtower, the highest point in this section of the wall. This is the perfect spot to start, as you can see far across the valley, and the rest of the wall. You will walk all the way down the Wall to the first watchtower to exit.
The views from the top of the eighth watchtower are magnificent. With sections of the wall dating back over 1000 years, you are guaranteed to feel awestruck by its majesty. Walking the Wall with relatively no tourists enables you to imagine how imposing the Wall must have felt to potential invaders. Perched on top of the mountains, the Wall dwarfs the surrounding landscape. The Simatai section is almost untouched, and therefore is difficult to traverse, even crawling on hands and feet to ascend to the next watchtower, making the experience edgy and dangerous – but totally worth it. This place is truly sacred, every smooth brick that you run your hands over tells a story. The photos do not do this ancient Wall justice. You can’t simply read about it, it’s a place that you need to feel. You’ll walk/climb/scramble/crawl between the 8 watchtowers, until you reach the last one, where you’ll start your walk back down to the shuttle bus. It’s a massive day, and will probably take about 10 hours in total from Beijing. The expenses can also add up, including entrance into the Water Town, the bus and the cable car. But the untamed piece of the Wall will be completely worth your time and money.
How to Get There
When you visit the Great Wall of China, you will need to fly into Beijing, the nation’s capital. Flights from LA generally take 12 hours and a ticket will cost travellers approximately $1000USD. Air China runs three flights per day.
Once you’re in Beijing, you have two different options to reach the Simatai section of the Great Wall. You must first arrive in the town that is the entrance point to the Simatai section, called the Water Town.
A private driver –
You can arrange a private tour with a driver who will take you to the Great Wall and will wait for you up to an entire day to take you back to Beijing. On the way back, stop at the Bird’s Nest, officially known as Beijing’s National Stadium, or arrange with your driver to see other Beijing sites. The benefit of having a driver is that it’s less time wasted waiting and/or finding public transportation. Contact us to arrange a private driver to the Great Wall.
A private bus company –
There is a direct bus that takes you from Beijing’s bus terminal called Dongzhimen, arriving at the Water Town. This tourist bus will be called Gubei Water Town. There are about 4 buses per day, and the trip will take approximately 2 hours. The ticket price is $9USD per person one way. They will drop you right at the entrance of the Water Town, where the information centre is.
Public transport –
There is also the option of taking public transport. There is a bus that departs also from Beijing’s bus terminal, Dongzihimen, and is more than half the price of the private bus company. Take the 980 bus from the transit hub, for about an hour, to Miyun bus station (the end of the line), where you’ll transfer buses to the Mi 37, Mi 50, or the Mi 51 to Simatai Village. Please be aware that the entrance to the Great Wall is through the Water Town, not Simatai Village.
You will, however, be at a greater risk of scams if you take this option. Some travellers have revealed that when they got on the bus in Beijing, a uniformed lady informed them that the second bus was not available, and that you must take a taxi for the second part of the journey. After about an hour, a man on the bus started shouting at them to get off, as they had arrived at the bus station to transfer. Once they got off, the man walked straight to his car and told them that no other buses are coming and that he will drive them in his taxi. Scam artists are extremely persuasive, and will bring out maps to show you how far you still have to go. They will also tell you that there are no more buses and that this is your only option. Reject their persistence, walk away and find McDonald’s or Starbucks, access the wifi and find your way back on track. The travellers suspected that the uniformed lady at the bus station was in fact working with the taxi drivers. Don’t fall into the trap, keep your wits about you and gain control of your circumstances.
Well friends, this is everything you need to know about the incredible piece of history that is the Great Wall of China. Exploring this iconic landmark and fortress in one of the most secluded and less ‘touristy’ sections is unimaginable, until you can do it yourself. This section is dangerous, raw, real, crumbling and like nothing you’ve ever seen before. But, because we have shared this valuable information with you, you must keep it a secret! It’s all of our responsibility to keep travel tips like this a secret, only revealing for the worthy. And you, reading this post, are worthy. ENJOY!