The Great Wall at Badaling

The Great Wall stretches 5,500 miles (8,850km) across China and even into parts of Mongolia, great enough to be seen from even the moon. Naturally, there are many possible spots for exploring different portions of the Great Wall. One popular area is outside of Beijing at Badaling, in the Yanqing province. While some portions of the Great Wall have a reputation for being in ill-repair, often very dangerous to walk on because it could crumble out from under your feet, most of the Great Wall here in Badaling has been either preserved or restored. Being both incredibly safe and very scenic, Badaling has become a favorite for tourists, both foreign and Chinese alike. Many western style accommodations can be found in the nearby Yanqing area, and the train from Beijing to Badaling is about 6RMB and only 2 hours. Tickets can be purchased at the Xizhimen North Station.

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The base of Badaling

Badaling’s section of the Great Wall is located in a mountainous area, but fear not, no extreme hiking or rock climbing is needed to make it to the top and see the views. With gondolas running up and down the slope, and multiple slow moving slides going down it, Badaling is quite friendly to tourists. There are some long stairways and some sloped portions of it, but all of the have rails on each side and aren’t difficult to get up. You should be more worried about a Chinese tourist elbowing you out of the way than you should be about the terrain.

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Slopes and stairs

DSC_0084If you are familiar with Beijing’s subway system, because of Badaling’s popularity crowds here can be just as bad as at the metro, and only slightly more considerate. An older woman practically jabbed my kidney into full on failure to get past me on a slope, and if it weren’t for the railing I’d have gone tumbling. This leads me into the next part of my discussion, when should you come to Badaling?

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Summer is tourist season:
Being a northern portion, and also the most popular area conveniently outside of the 12th largest city in the world, it stands to reason that in the warmer hospitable months, this place can get CROWDED. Weekends especially are going to draw in the most people, since even with travel time you could do everything on a day off and never spend a night away. I can guarantee the crowds this place can draw in will definitely affect your trip, and suggest going on a week day when most people are working or in the off season.

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This isn’t even close to crowded by China standards

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Weather matters more than you think:
Obviously hiking in the rain or below freezing temperatures will suck, but I’m including this to consider some other factors. Iciness and slickness on the wall could make those slopes and rolls deadly, without the diminutive geriatrics that are gonna shove past you because to their generation being a foreigner makes you a second class everything. Even at tourist friendly Badaling, portions of its Great Wall can be precarious on a good day, and it’s better to schedule any activities away from any recent rainy days.

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But the level of danger isn’t the only reason to coordinate with weather, the area is a rocky, earthy, mountain side, and pretty lacking when it comes to vegetation. The summer is when there’s gonna be the most green, and if you can catch the narrow window where the fall leaves will be on the trees then you’ll really be in for a treat. That said, any time other than full bloom, unfortunately also the height of tourist season, is gonna make for dirt brown background, and while the Great Wall itself is awe inspiring, the landscape surrounding it will be barren and ugly. Right about now you’re probably moody, the thought of having to compete with China’s elbowy elders to see a flourishing green Great Wall taking the fun out of planning; but let me reinvigorate your plans by informing you there still is a way to get a beautiful AND crowd free (mostly) experience. Snow. Let me say from experience that snow makes the Great Wall area at Badaling an epic sight. Because of the high-elevation, dry mountain climate, it’s easy to have snow here without ice, and even into late March the ground will be covered in it. It’s beautiful, and everything you need for amazing pictures. I’d honestly say hitting the Great Wall after a snowfall is a must-do for anybody who can; that ultra-scenic hike in the crisp air is incredible.

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The Surrounding Area:
I’ve mentioned a little bit about the dangers of the great wall, let me now also take a moment to mention a possible inconvenience. Badaling is essentially centered around one big mountain cluster, and the side you come in on isn’t Badaling’s only side. It’s very easy to end up on the other side of the mountain, a 5km walk to where you started or a hike back up and over. The taxis know it, and the vendors know it. Prices are jacked up high at shops, and the cab drivers are ruthless and patient. I do think the other side is worth seeing, there’s The Sun Bear Park and a marketplace built into the side of the mountain slope that make for a pretty cool experience, I’m just giving you a heads up so you know how to plan and pack. The Sun Bear Park, while kind of depressing because of the quality of life, or lack there of, for these animals is painfully evident, is quite amusing and really cool to see the animals that roamed this exact area up close. If you pay you can also throw them carrot chunks, which they’ll do tricks for. The market place is a mixture of street foods, tourist souvenirs and tacky photo-ops you can pay to be in, and overall nothing unique but still amusing to roam around.

The Great Wall Museum:
The Great Wall museum is also nearby, which I wholeheartedly suggest checking out. It’s maybe 25RMB, and you can easily walk the whole thing in an hour. Inside is a huge amount of history and relics, and after hiking the Great Wall they add a lot to your experience. Learning how it was built, the weapons and social structures on it, and about it’s elaborate defensive methods is pretty interesting having just stood on the actual thing, and definitely worth a quick look at the least.

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