Day 3: Beijing / Xi’an
We meet our G Adventures group in the lobby at 7:30am to check out of the Chong Wen Men Hotel. Loading our luggage into the first van, we pile into the second. We will reconnect with our luggage at the HNA Hotel in Xi’an later this evening. Our group is on our way to number one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China.
We will have three and a half hours to explore the Mutianyu Great Wall. This section of the great wall, between watch towers four and twenty-three, is one of the best preserved and least crowded areas. Badaling, located just outside of Beijing, is the most popular and most crowded section of the Great Wall. Unlike Badaling, Mutianyu’s stairs are steep and difficult to climb, there are no handrails, and it is not easily accessible by public transportation. Another factor deterring visitors from Mutianyu is the sixty minute drive to from Beijing lacking tourist markets and souvenir shops. Looking out of the van window, we watch the city of Beijing disappear. The skyscrapers and highways are replaced with rural multifamily housing and crops. After a slight construction detour, we arrive at the visitor parking lot and anxiously exit the bus towards the ticket adjustment.
We reach the small village of Mutianyu at the bottom of the hill. Restaurants, shops, and stands are selling local food, drinks, hats, t-shirts, statues, and other souvenirs. We pass through the village and reach the ticket adjustment. While Paul, our G Adventures CEO, purchases our tickets, we study the several routes on the Tourist Map of Mutianyu Great Wall. After passing through the South Ticket Check, there are footpaths accessing watch towers six, eight, and ten or a cable car to tower fourteen.
Feeling ambitious, a couple other members of our group join Mitch and me on the footpath to watch tower eight. We quickly begin to feel the early September heat as we begin climbing a steep flight of stairs. With no end in sight, we welcome the small, level platforms providing a brief rest for our burning quads.
We pause a moment to enjoy the scenery. Below us there is a blanket of trees stretching as far as the eye can see until it’s swallowed by the smog. Over ninety percent of Mutianyu is covered in vegetation. Laughing that each set of stairs must be the last, we continue our trek ahead.
The Great Wall
At last the Great Wall of China comes into view as we emerge onto a narrow, dirt path along the outside of the wall. Following the path, we reach a set stairs accessing watch tower eight. At the top of the stairs, we step onto the Great Wall of China. We are the only visitors this early in the day except for a worker quietly sweeping the stones with a broom made of sticks. The wall snakes along the mountain tops until it disappears into the gray haze.
We walk towards watch tower nine. Our visions of a gently rolling stone wall are quickly proved incorrect as we climb the unevenly sized and spaced stairs. To avoid stumbling, we pause to look out at the view and refocus our gaze on the stairs before continuing. At some places the stairs are so far apart I can barely reach the next step. Other areas, my size six shoe is wider than the stairs built extremely close together.
Inside the stone watch towers are cool and a welcome escape from the heat. The Great Wall was built mostly with granite. A maze of archways separate small corridors filled with windows allowing guards many views of approaching enemies. Mutianyu has more watch towers than other areas. There is only about three hundred and thirty feet between every tower. Also, this area has notches along each side of the wall which permitted the launching of arrows from both sides. We enter a room decorated with white canvases covered in signatures and add ours to the Great Wall.
Reaching watch tower fourteen, our black shirts are now evenly damp with sweat as the hot sun continues to shine relentlessly. We climb down a narrow staircase to a busy platform with vendors selling drinks and passengers arriving on the cable cars. From here, we can see the steep, forty-five degree staircase to tower twenty-three. After taking several photos for visitors standing with the Mutianyu rock, Mitch purchases two Tsing Tao from a vendor, and we hike back up to the wall.
Looking at the time, we decide against a hike to tower twenty-three and begin our leisurely descend towards tower six, Zhengguang Terrace, where we will toboggan down from the wall. Giving our quads a break, our calves heat up as we carefully tip toe down the steep stairs.
We follow the perpendicular path to tower eleven. This tower provides a view of the outside of the wall and has more corridors than the others we have entered. Here guards were able to attack enemies before they reached the wall. Every watch tower has a different number of windows on each side and a unique shape.
Reaching tower six, we find the ticket booth, and pay eighty Yuan to ride down from the Great Wall on an unsafe amusement park ride. A small black seat with a joystick moved forward to speed up and backward to brake is our only control as we speed down the aluminum slide. There is no safety belt or feature to prevent rear ending the rider ahead. We pick up as much speed as we can without hitting each other as periodically spaced guards wave at us to slow down. Arriving at the bottom of the hill, we glide to a stop and exit the toboggan. Hungry after our leg workout, we stop at one of the restaurants in the village and order steamed dumplings before hurrying back to the van.
Arriving at a train station the size of a small airport, Paul encourages us to eat dinner because we won’t be arriving to our hotel until late this evening. Spotting a Starbucks, we find the stairs and fall in line behind the rest of our group. A turkey sandwich and iced coffee are a welcome change of cuisine. Finishing our coffees, we browse the small gift shop next door. Checking the time, we reconnect with our group and join the line for the train. We settle into our seats, pop in our headphones, and watch a movie on our IPad to pass the time.
Arriving at Xi’an, we follow Paul out of the train station and wait for a taxi. Splitting into groups of two, we file into separate cars as Paul hands the drivers the address to the HNA Hotel. As we shut the cab door, our driver speeds off. Making great time, we weave in and out of traffic zooming by our other group members. As we approach the city of Xi’an, the enormous walls surrounding the city glow with lights against the dark sky. We slow, passing through the city gates. Not far from the entrance, we come to a halt outside of the hotel. Paying our taxi driver, we enter the hotel and see our luggage waiting for us in the lobby. As the rest of the group arrives, Paul checks us in and hands out room keys. We find our luggage and take the elevator to our room.
*For more information on our tour check out: G Adventures China Express.
- Day 1: Fly into Beijing
- Day 2: Beijing: Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
- Day 3: Great Wall Mutianyu and travel to Xi’an
- Day 4: Xian: Terracotta Warriors Guided Tour and travel to Suzhou
- Day 5: Suzhou: Master of the Nets Garden Tour and overnight train to Shanghai
- Day 6: Shanghai: Orientation Walk of the Bund
- Day 7: Shanghai: Carte Blanche
- Day 8: Fly out of Shanghai