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The Great Wall. In my mind it stands as the ultimate irony tourist trap. What was started ages ago to keep foreigners out… is now responsible for bringing millions of foreigners into the country every year.

It’s one of those things you just have to see or do… like getting a hot dog / bagel in NYC. If you’ve visited China the first thing anyone will ask is if you visited the Great Wall (ignoring the fact that there’s a LOT of China you can visit that is nowhere near the Great Wall). So we did it.

Yup. It’s a big wall. That’s what I was left thinking after about 15 minutes, but let me back up a bit first.

I researched and researched about which section to go to. I knew I didn’t want to spend the entire day (I only had one full day) doing the Great Wall. So the larger excursions and trips along the wall were out. The debate came down to slightly closer and possibly more awe-inspiring / overcrowded or a tiny bit further out and not as visually impressive / less crowded. We chose the later – the Mutianyu Section.

It’s a quick 60KM ride out of Beijing and into the burbs rural outlands of Beijing. You arrive and must soldier uphill, braving a gauntlet of souvenir peddlers just to make it to the cable car.


Don’t be a hero here folks… there’s no one to impress. You’re a tourist and unless you fun run skyscraper hotels you’ll want to take the cable car to the top… which isn’t actually the true top, but it cuts enough of the stairs out that you’ll be able to appreciate the view once you make it up.

Once up there the view is amazing. There’s a rolling landscape of burnt out trees and subtle mountain ranges. It made me homesick for the lazy mountains of Santa Fe.


The wall itself is amazing to explore and observe. Each stone seems to hold a story.


Maybe I lack the true adventurer spirit, maybe I’m too cynical from all my travels, or maybe I’m just a horrible person… but honestly after a few short minutes I had seen the wall. Or at least as much as I cared to see. I mean you’re just kind of standing on concrete that goes on as far as you can see. It’s a marvel… but to me a sight that was infinitely cooler when populated with horse mounted soldiers and not mesh wearing euro-trash travelers. And when it’s not a loud backpacker ruining your serene moment it’s a pants-less Chinese baby going where he pleases


I hope I don’t seem too down on the wall. The Great Wall is an amazing thing to see and if you’re in China, certainly go see it. DO NOT take the tour buses if you can avoid it however. The groups get there late and all at the same time so things will move slowly. Instead hire a driver, the cost isn’t much, and you can come and go at your pace. I was glad we went this route as we were free to head back into town after about 30-45 minutes.

We left early to get there by 8, but as you can see from the pics by the time we were actually up on the mountain the sun was moving up overhead and not ideal for serious landscape photographers. Head out really, really early and you’ll be rewarded with an epic sunrise… possibly with fog!


The Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall

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