China is a simultaneously a mystical and highly contemporary land, containing more than its fair share of sights and delights for visitors and tourists. From the stunning Forbidden City in Beijing to the neon-drenched modernism of Shanghai, China is host to many an unforgettable excursion for the intrepid BUCKiTDREAMER to experience. Travelers are keenly aware of this fact, which is why the country routinely makes it to the top of bucket lists across the globe and welcomes close to 100 million visitors every year. Indeed, China has grown to become the number one tourist destination in the world in recent times; an unsurprising fact when you consider how many awesome bucket list adventures are on offer.
One such adventure that any serious traveler should be desperate to tick off their list is a jaunt along the Great Wall. Rightly considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World (although there’s nothing much new about it; it’s positively ancient), the Great Wall stretches across China like a magnificent stone snake. There’s only one problem though; it’s perpetually rammed with tourists. Now, this shouldn’t deter you from seeing it, of course…it just might make you eager to explore some quieter adventures in and around the Wall. Well, luckily for you BUCKiTDREAMER, that’s exactly what we’ve got for you here. So, prepare your BUCKiTDREAM planner for an onslaught of unique ideas as we take you through the ultimate guide to non-tourist activities around the Great Wall!
Pick Your Section Wisely Obviously, the Great Wall is very long and contains different sections that come with their own varying amounts of tourist traffic. The most populated of these by far is the Jinshanling, which is crammed daily with clots of tourists. Huanghuacheng, a non-renovated section of the Wall, is officially ‘closed to tourists’, but of course, that doesn’t mean it’s actually closed to tourists. It’ll take you a couple hours on a couple of buses to reach this part of the ancient fence, but it’s worth it for the scenery and relative peace from the hordes. Another section that most tourists can rarely get to grips with is the 80-degree inclined steep hike up the Heavenly Ladder to the Fairy Tower at Simatai. If you’ve got the heart for it, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most stunning views the Wall has to offer.
Rise Early or Stay Late by Staying the Night Most tourists catch a bus out to the Great Wall from the nearby capital of Beijing, which can be detrimental to a trip for two reasons; one, the buses are going to be packed, and two, you’re going to arrive at the same time as all the other tourists. If you want to beat the crowds (and catch a little rural Chinese atmosphere while you’re at it), why not ditch Beijing and stay overnight in one of the boutique hotels around the wall? There are numerous options for gorgeous places to stay, with the added bonus of being able to dodge the crowds and catch sight of the Great Wall illuminated by the unique light of a dawn sky. Some hotels will also afford you the chance to see the Great Wall under the moonlight if you’re lucky, which can make for a seriously memorable experience.
Head for the Shore You wouldn’t usually equate the Great Wall with the ocean, but it does continue all the way to the shoreline, and visiting that section of the Wall can provide an experience that’s worlds apart from the traditional tourist routes. The Great Wall meets the sea at Shanhai Pass, located to the east of Beijing, and while it takes quite a trek to get there, the views are certainly worth the journey.
Take in the Wall from a Boat Continuing the aquatic theme, the Huanghuacheng section comes complete with its own lake; Haoming Lake once served as the north entrance to Beijing, and the all-important gateway to the Ming Tombs. You can hop off the Wall and hop on a relaxed and atmospheric cruise, which will take you along the Imperial Waterway and end up at the Summer Palace, providing amazing panoramas of the stunning local scenery as you go.
See it From the Sky If you really can’t be bothered with any sort of crowds at all, why not opt for a bird’s eye view of the Wall and take to the skies? Fifteen to thirty-minute helicopter tours depart from the convenient Badaling Airport just north of Beijing and provide a fantastic and unique opportunity to see the Great Wall in its entirety. Well, not really in its entirety at all; it’s absolutely colossal. But seeing it from the air will certainly give you a sense of what a feat of engineering the Wall is, and why it’s cemented its place as one of the true wonders of the world. The tours also afford you great views of a similarly impressive feat of engineering, the Bird’s Nest stadium, purpose built for the wildly-successful 2008 Olympics.
The Great Wall can be enjoyed in many ways, but for true BUCKiTDREAMERS, adventures off the beaten track are often the most fun. If this guide has whetted your appetite for an all-out dream trip to the Wall, or even stakes a claim on your mega China adventure, what are you waiting for? Just make sure to take loads of pictures and memories to keep your fellow BUCKiTDREAMERS inspired. Then, if you decide to take on this stunning structure, check out 3 Ways to Experience the Great Wall of China.