In China, no matter where you go you can rarely escape from the crowd. So, if you fancy having a 7-world-wonder all to yourself, come follow me to the Gubeikou (古北口) Wild Great Wall.
WILD WILD EAST
Very often tourists themselves are the plague of tourism. But with some simple planning, it is possible to stay ahead of the crowd. Some people wake up earlier, others choose to visit before the peak tourist season.
As for visiting the Great Wall (GW) of China, one advantage is of course its sheer scale. Stretching for thousands of miles, the GW is not a single entity, but the collective term for tens of different stretches of defense structures built throughout the ages. It goes from the Gobi desert in the West through the mountain ranges south of inner Mongolia, all the way into the sea at Shanhaiguan.
In other words, you really don’t have to frustrate yourself at Badaling. Being close to Beijing, the Badaling GW is very popular with local tourists. Many foreign visitors choose Mutainyu to avoid the Chinese tourists. I chose the Gubeikou GW, 3-4hr North East of Beijing, to avoid both.
FOLLOW THE DOTS
Unlike many other GW sections, Gubeikou is not a theme park. There’s no entrance gate with opening and closing times. In fact, you may have some trouble locating the beginning of the GW trail, except for a series of orange dots on the ground.
Between Gubeikou (古北口) and Jingshaning (金山嶺) is a solid 5-hour hike, with no bathrooms, McDonald’s, or 7eleven convenience stores. There is however a basic hostel halfway along the trail, where you can get some soft drinks.
The majority of the Gubeikou GW are from the Ming dynasty. Many parts have collapsed during the WWII and never been restored, so you will find evidence of heavy air-raids. At times, you may even have to climb through the rubbles with your hands. With China developing so rapidly nowadays, it’s precious to see something authentic and original. When you’re here, don’t forget to take a deep breath and feel the earth beneath you.
I always thought the Great Wall should be photographed in red. Blood red. For all the souls lost building it, defending it and fighting it.
“Come on, all you people who don’t want be be slaves”
“With our flesh and bones, build a new Great Wall”
Gubeikou is such a military gateway into Beijing that, from the Mongol to the Cathay, everyone’s had a go at it for the past 1500 years. In the Spring of 1933, the invading Japanese Imperial Army launched massive air-raids over the Gubeikou Great Wall. The bloodshed here inspired the chilling 《義勇軍進行曲》"March of the Volunteers" that later became the PRC national anthem.
After getting to Jingshaning, you can either keep walking for another 2 hours, or take a taxi back to Gubeikou village (around 60RMB). The village itself is very cute, so don’t forget to explore the area. On the other side of the Chaohe River, is the steep 臥虎山 “Crouching Tiger” Great Wall, perfect for daredevils with a generous life insurance policy.
You’re not supposed to camp out on the GW overnight. Cough cough. But nobody’s there to slap your wrist if you insist on bracing the windchill inside a watch tower to gaze at the Milky Way.
1) Take the subway to Dongzhimen Station
2) Walk to the Bus Transfer Hall
3) Take Bus No. 980 Express (55km, 1.5hr, RMB15) to the last stop Miyun Changtu Chezhan (Miyun Long distance bus stop)
4) Cross the 6-lane Expressway to the other side of the road and find the bus stop for Bus No. Mi25
6) Take Bus No. Mi25 (55km, 1.5hr, RMB9). Tell the driver to let you off at the Gubeikou bus stop right before the tunnel.