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krisek Mutianyu - A travel report by Krys
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Mutianyu,  China - flag China -  Beijing
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krisek's travel reports

The Great Wall of China. Mutianyu Section.

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In Mutianyu, the section of the Great of Wall of China has been partially restored, but if one goes far enough, the completely unrestored and overgrown by the vegetation sections of the wall is up for grabs and exploration, or rather admiration.

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The Great Wall of Mutianyu is one of the three very popular sections of the wall, frequently visited by tourists. Both local and foreign. It can therefore get crowded, particularly at the weekends. In the summer, on a weekday, it can be relatively empty. It was when I visited. Visibility was bad, due to smog, or a combination of haze and something else, which might have been a factor for poor tourist turnout. However, I still expected more people walking, and sometimes climbing, this magnificent structure.

The wall was constructed over a few centuries to keep the Mongols from invading China. And it failed spectacularly! If I were spectacularly cynical, I would have said that the wall might have been mankind's largest project failure, which did not deliver its expected benefits. Anyway, the wall is also one of our planet's greatest sights. And contrary to the massively exaggerated claim by the Chinese, it is most definitely not visible from the Moon! It is not visible from the orbit either - Google Maps are here to prove it.

Well, before I travelled to China, I could not decide, which section of the wall I should visit. I planned at least two side trips from Beijing to see the Great Wall, and a few days of careful analysis, enquiries and investigation, I shortlisted two spots, one of which was obviously Mutianyu. The other one was Badaling or Samatai.

Favourite spots:
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I decided to get a tour from my hostel to the Mutianyu section, as the price was quite good - ¥230 (€23) and I could pay with the credit card. I wrestled a little with the idea, as I generally do not like organised tours that much. Yet those organised by youth hostels tend to be better as young travellers go on them, usually. The scheduled departure was 10:30 am, which was rather late for taking pictures, but it meant I could have a lie in after a late night socialising with the hostel guests from Sri Lanka, Spain, France, Argentina, Britain, and Malaysia. In the morning, to my great surprise, I found out that the tour, since it was Tuesday, was just for me and a lady from South Korea. We travelled in a nice limo driven by a crazy (in Chinese: normal) driver.

I got to the wall at noon and had two hours to climb the wall. It was a bit short, but since weather was not great for taking pictures, I did not cry. I knew I was going to Badaling on my own, probably on Friday, so kept it cool.

What's really great:
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The guide was rather blaze and not particularly helpful. I had to finally disagree with him that the Great Wall of China was not visible from space, actually. He did not argue. Surprisingly! Also, he said the section of the wall to the right of the entrance was more scenic and less crowded than the left side. That was also not true. The right side was shorter but steeper and, as a bonus, had a section closed for tourists, beyond which no restoration work had been done. It was not closed to me, and I ventured a few yards into the wild section of the wall, as it was overgrown with bushes full of bugs flying around, and it crumbled as I stepped on it.

I liked the left side better though. It was more scenic, longer, and easier to climb. Actually, if I went on my own, I would have gone up with the cable car (the cabin car), walked the length of the wall from left to right, and then gone down by the other cable car (the seat on rope) or taken the skid (a bobsleigh-like on a metal chute).

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The unrestored sections of the wall in Mutianyu (far right from the entrance), was a completely different sight and different atmosphere altogether. I would not encourage anyone to break the law or damage the wall by walking on it, but if one decided not to ignore the multitude of signs forbidding access (none of them were fool-proof though), the authentic parts of the wall are still visible in the distance. And immediately after the end of the visitors' path. I would probably be too sheepish to trespass, but a couple of visitors told me to try it and be careful with my steps.

I expected many more people to be visiting the Wall. There were not that many at all. And the local merchants were not as aggressive as some reports had stated. Had weather been better, and had I drunk less beers the night before, it would have been a perfect day. Some sections were really steep. Sweat of the size of chicken eggs was dripping from my forehead and nose. I wish my sunglasses had automatic wipes!

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It was possible to camp (wild camping only, as I am not sure it was totally legal) on the remote parts of the wall, and I met a few very happy people, who did that. But I decided to stay overnight in Beijing.

The 9 Dragon House was great. It accepted credit cards with no surcharge. It had more of a feel for a hotel with many ensuite rooms, supplied with towels, toiletries, condoms (not yet sure about the size...;)), and a curious ancient Chinese medicinal lotion extending sexual pleasures, which came in two pouches, one exclusively for women, and one for men, and it clearly stated on the pouches that these should not be mixed up! My room (#312, ¥180) was air-conditioned, had a phone, and a satellite TV. The bed was large and nicely firm. The shower/loo was clean and good size. The only disadvantage of the room was a lack of closet to hang clothes. I was staying at the place for six nights, and found it inconvenient. The restaurant was one of the common areas.

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The Wall closes at night, and unless one decides to camp on the remote parts of the wall, there is no nightlife of any sort.

In Beijing, Cafe & Bar Berry, at 42 Sanlitun Street, the one with many bars and clubs, had Erdinger hefe weizen beer, both the light and dark versions (¥60, credit cards accepted) and had a good selection of okay wines and spirits. It was small and probably least sleazy than many of the bars/clubs in this area known for the many embassies. Just at the beginning of the street, by the Yaxiu Shopping Centre, Nigerian guys could secure a supply of any kind of stimulating substances one would desire. They were really friendly and took refusal with grace and dignity, as well.

The street's bars-cum-clubs employed bands and singing groups to give 'live' performance to (doubtfully) pleasure the customers. Well, some of them were only slightly below average Idol's and X-Factor quality, whereas others just counted on their girl's attractiveness to do the trick.

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The Wall boasted numerous watch towers and small garrisons, which were perfect for catching one's breath, stop and watch the scenery, or just pause for a moment and soak the atmosphere.

Many horrendous stories about thousands of people dying during the construction of this gigantic barrier popped into my mind. They had been buried under the Wall. Would this therefore make the Wall, world's largest and longest cemetery? Hmm...

Another curious thought I had when sitting at the top of one of the towers, was that walls never actually stopped humans. Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall collapsed. And yet, walls still are being erected around the world; the one between the US and Mexico is ironic, given the establishment of NAFTA, and the wall in the Holy Land to separate the Jewish and Palestinians seems like a terrible thing as well (nevermind that is being raised illegally...).

Back to China. Along the Wall, refreshments were being sold. Not in cafes, but by locals. For a price, of course.

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So, there were not any cafe-style hangouts on the wall, unless one brings their own coffee and teacakes. Yet, sipping water or green tea at the towers and garrisons were a great hangouts indeed.

At the approach to the main entrance to the Great Wall in Mutianyu, there were a string of simple food stands, which offered instant food. Nothing special, though. After the climb, I had a spicy beef noodles and an egg pancake from the northern China. It was expensive (¥25), but hey, I was not going to come back there again... The pancake was rather tasty and unusual (I would recommend trying this), and the soup was very standard, and its kind was widely available in all supermarkets and shops across the country. I would not recommend going for it at Mutianyu, as it was about 20 times more expensive there than in the shops. I did not notice any more sophisticated restaurants in the area, though. Not that I was looking for any either. I did not have time for that.

Other recommendations:
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Getting to the Great Wall in Mutianyu was rather simple, and a number of buses ran daily from a few spots in the capital. Also, many touts everywhere in central Beijing kept offering rides to all of the popular sections of the wall. They had albums with pictures and had a number of various trip options in their sleeves. Many of them were not bad at all and not that expensive, either. They were making more sense for groups of three or four, as they worked out much cheaper, and allowed for a lot of flexibility of a private escapade.

Organised tours made through hostels were often good value also, provided they allowed for a few hours of walking and climbing at the wall. Two hours at Mutianyu was by no means enough. One would need about 4 hours, to enjoy the wall properly. 1.5 hours was about right to do the section to the right of the entrance. And the section to the left was longer, and more spectacular. One would also need to time to pause and enjoy the scenery, rather than rushing it.

Published on Saturday December 19th, 2009

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Tue, Dec 29 2009 - 11:20 PM rating by gloriajames

very informative! how was the climb for u? was it tough? hot? it was below freezing point when i scaled the wall.

Mon, Dec 28 2009 - 09:14 PM rating by bootlegga

Interesting report on Mutaniyu Krys.

Sat, Dec 19 2009 - 08:41 PM rating by pesu

Glad you've shared another outstanding report with us - it is always a big pleasure to read your texts.

Sat, Dec 19 2009 - 04:09 PM rating by mistybleu

This is a lovely read and personal account. I am really fascinated by the Wall thanks for sharing.

Sat, Dec 19 2009 - 10:12 AM rating by jacko1

Another highly readable and informative report Krys you should take up journalism, if you haven't already done so, regards, Tony.

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