Great Wall of China

Monday 11/09

We have an appointment (at our place) with the guide who will show us the Great Wall. We are all thrilled to go and visit this wonder, which is one of the (modern) Seven Wonders of the World.

Isabelle booked a 2-day tour (for our family only) to discover different parts of the Great Wall, some more ancient and some recently renovated. It’s with Great Wall Hiking (

We take a minibus for 2 hours. We stop on our way in a Subway to take sandwiches with us (there’s no restaurant on the wall…). We discover the traffic jams of Beijing (on a Monday morning…). There are so many cars in China that the country established (in 2011) a license plate lottery system to tackle the pollution issue (electric cars are exempted from such lottery). As per our guide, the probably to win is 1 out of 800…

We see (from the car) the very nice Yanqi Kempinsky hotel on the way. Superb shape.

We see parts of the Great Wall for the first time from the highway!


A few words about the Great Wall of China:

Originally a series of disparate earthen ramparts built by individual states, the Great Wall was created only after the unification of China under Quin (around 200 BC). Despite impressive battlements, the wall ultimately proved ineffective; it was breached in the 13th century by the Mongols (Genghis Khan took Beijing in 1215) and then, in the 17th century, by the Manchu. Today, only select sections of its crumbling remains have been fully restored. Most of the wall is still unrestored and has crumbled away leaving only the core remaining. The wall runs from the North Korean border to the Gobi Desert, a distance of around 3,000 km (or, according to recent survey taking in all the disconnected sections, over 20,000km). However, many talk about 9,000km.


We start the tour with a one-hour ascent, quite steep (it reminds us of our trek along the Baikal Lake). But our efforts are rewarded: we reach a watch-tower of the wall with a great view, in an area where the wall hasn’t been restored. We take our lunch there. Superb view (and good sandwiches).

Ready for a 10km walk on the wall! The first half is in a rather “remote” part of the wall, not restored. Superb scenery. Because the wall takes advantage of the natural terrain for defensive purposes, following the highest points and clinging to ridges, it offers superb panoramic views. Access is not always easy; vegetation is dense. One of the descent is particularly steep (and stones are so smooth than they are slippery). Although not touristy, it’s not really remote in fact: we are only at 100km from Beijing, which we can see in the (far) background almost all the time with this very clear day, which is apparently exceptional. The weather is indeed great: nice blue sky! We’re very lucky (it was raining yesterday). But the light is not great for the pictures (very early afternoon). We see very few people, except a group of loud Americans that we saw at the first tower but that went further ahead (they left the first tower when we started our lunch). It’s a fantastic feeling to walk on this wall! The whole family enjoyed a lot. There are very few flat areas; it goes up and down all the time. There are a lot of watch-towers: a Ming addition, these served as signal towers, forts, living quarters, and storerooms for provisions.

After 2.5 hours, we reach the part of the wall near Mutianyu that has been restored, which is about 6 m wide. There is a sharp contrast. It’s good to see both parts, although there are a bit more people on this section. It is well restored, with (uneven) stairs and nice towers. The brickwork is elaborate, with crenellations on both sides and finely curved eaves on some watch-tower roofs. There are of course as many downhills and uphills as on the previous section. After 4 hours (10 km) walking on the wall, we reach the touristic part where 2 cable cars bring people up. Kids walked very well. They are happy to take the toboggan to go down. It’s a nice 5′ descent.

We then take the shuttle (everything is very well organized) to the meeting point with our minibus.

Then we drive 2 hours to reach a traditional local farmer’s guesthouse at Gubeikou village, where we stay for the night.

Just the time for a quick shower and we have diner (sweet and sour pork, crusty chicken pieces and rice).

Kids sleep together (Jules doesn’t want to sleep alone in the third room).

I take advantage of the fact that the vpn is working (for the first time in 3 days) to publish the 2 first posts on Beijing on the blog. Good idea to have taken my laptop with me for this excursion!



Tuesday 12/09 (1/2)

We wake up early, to be on time for the 7am breakfast. We want to be on the wall before the tourists arriving from Beijing (although the today’s section of the wall, near Gubeikou, is not very popular).

At 8am we are on the wall. Beautiful section, unrestored. Nice setting! It’s as if we had privatized this section of ourselves: there’s nobody except us! Moreover, the weather is as sunny as yesterday. Wow!

We walk during 3.5 hours, until 11:30am.

We love this 2-day visit of the Great Wall. It was the most impressive site of our world tour so far!

To conclude, I’d like to quote this sentence from the Lonely Planet, which I like: “The fortification is a fitting symbol of those perennial Chinese traits: diligence, mass manpower, ambitious vision and engineering skill (coupled with a distrust of the neighbours).





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