Exploring The Great Wall Of China

Exactly one year ago, on 13th March 2013, I was walking around on one of the few man-made objects visible from space: the Great Wall of China.

It seems fitting, that, one year on, I finally share my great experience and pics with you.

China was my last stop before heading back to the UK, and as my alarm starting screaming at 5:45am, I realised travelling accounts for as many early morning starts as my previous work life. Unlike work though, this was all for fun, and it was time to explore.

As our dinky local bus rattled and rolled its way North out of Beijing, towards the Great Wall in the early hours, we watched the sun rise through the windows (those that were awake, that is). I realised this morning was the first time I'd actually seen the sun in China. This was going to be a great day.

Me on The Great Wall Of China - March 2013

"We specifically got up early because the Great Wall can get very busy", said our guide, speaking a little like Zippy from Rainbow. "Depending on what time we arrive, you guys should be the first ones on the Wall!" Amazing.

We arrived, hopped off the bus, and made our way up the cobbled path that led to the walls entrance. I assumed there was meant to be small market stalls lining the cobbled street, but the wooden slats looked dejected and unused. It made for a simple passage to the....gondola?

Yes, that's right, a gondola. You have the option of walking up, but as we saw another bus pull up in the distance behind us, we wasted no time, bought a ticket, and hopped on.

By this time, it was around 8am, and the sun was perfectly placed to light up the sky, and illuminate the Great Wall.

Standing in the sun on The Great Wall Of China
On the Great Wall, with nobody else in sight
Not only were the views breathtaking, the wall was also completely empty. It was just us, left to roam, and take as many pictures as we wanted.

The sun beating down on the Great Wall

The Great Wall goes on for miles - as far as London to Texas in fact!

We headed West along the wall, taking in the sights of little turrets, and the mountain ranges that seemed to puncture the horizon for as far as the eye could see.

Mountain ranges piercing the horizon - Great Wall Of China

As we turned a corner, I saw a giant, steep, stone staircase, leading to another turret. For reasons I cannot explain, I decided to sprint to the top. A couple of the other lads joined me, and we headed up the steps. One by one we faded, but I kept going until my calves were screaming.

Then, out of the top of the turret, popped out a little Chinese man. "Faster, faster! Haha!", he shouted. "Who the hell is this little p*ick?!", I thought, but it spurred me on.

I got to the top, got my breath back (a slap on the back from Mr China Turret didn't help), and took in the views. They were even better from higher up.

It turns out the Chinese man was a 'street' vendor, selling souvenirs and drinks. You can't really class the Great Wall Of China as a street, but you get what I mean.

As we were the first ones on the wall, and I was the first one to this turret, and Mr China Turret baited me up the stairs, I stole his little Chinese flag for a while. He didn't mind, but I'm glad I did. We got some great pictures at the top.

Simon waving a Chinese flag on the Great Wall
Me waving around the Chinese flag

Blue sky and a red flag - group shot on the Great Wall
Snow on the ground!
Jenny and Jimmy holding the Chinese flag aloft
Such a clear day, with stunning views
You may be thinking "wow, that looks warm and sunny!". It wasn't. It was freezing, and there was snow inside the turret walls.

By this time we could keep walking, but we figured the wall was the wall. More tourists had ventured as far as us, and the photos simply weren't as good. So to keep ourselves entertained, and to warm up, we decided to do a Harlem Shake. We got a passer by to film, and this was the result.


We headed back to our wall section entrance, and headed back down.

Steep steps on the Great Wall Of China
Climbing down the steep steps from the turret
Unlike the way up, we were in no rush, so I decided to walk all the way down. Amazingly, not only does the Great Wall have a gondola to get you up, it also has the option of a toboggan to get you back down. I stuck to walking, but was amazed how the Chinese could make something so significant, so touristy and money orientated.

As we reached the cobbled path, the once dejected and unused wooden slats were now fully alive, with vendors trying to sell you everything from Barack Obama t-shirts (no, really), through to miniature versions of the Great Wall.

Wherever I travel, I like to escape the tourist trap as much as possible. Venture off the beaten path. Sometimes, especially around major landmarks like the Great Wall Of China, that isn't possible. I remember watching Karl Pilkington say "It's not a Great Wall, it's an alright wall".

To some extent, he's right. The tourist sell-aggressively-in-your-face activities took the edge off my experience. But up on the wall, in the sun, with no-one else around, made the experience one of my favourites in China :)

4 comments:

  1. Great post Simon. I'm researching for my trip to China in May at the moment. Would you recommend the tour Company you went through?

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  2. Thanks Nicole! China is a weird and wonderful place, but incredibly interesting and amazing to explore. I went with GAdventures on their Hong Kong to Beijing trip, and couldn't recommend them enough.

    They gave a great balance between free time and itinerary time :)

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  3. Thank you Nicole for sharing about great wall of china, really your traveling to great wall of china is very easy & interesting , I had gone last year on that place .I really enjoyed the great wall of china. This place is full of nature’s beauty and greenery.

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  4. China is a top destination for some of the world's most famous sights and monuments and great wall is its ornament. It is the longest wall in the world and an awe-inspiring feat of ancient defensive architecture. I had visited there before some months with my family through a well known travel agency trekclub. Really the trip was fully adventurous for me.

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