Great Wall Campout Posted by sasha on Jun 5, 2013 in Culture
Visitors to China almost always swing through the capital. Beijing is not only a city with thousands of years of history, but it’s also the political and cultural center of China. On the top of most travel itineraries in the “Northern Capital” is a visit to the Great Wall (长城 – cháng chéng). Although you can’t actually see it from space (that’s just an urban legend), it is an epic structure that was built way back when from 220-206 BC. Stretching 8,851.8 kilometers (5,500 miles) from the east coast at Shanhaiguan all the way to the Jiayuguan Pass out in western China’s Gansu province, the Great Wall comes in many different shapes and sizes, and cuts through a variety of landscapes.
From Beijing, you have the chance to visit many different sections of the Great Wall. Most people head to the Badaling (八达岭 – bā dá lǐng) section of the Wall. This is due to its convenient location related to the city, the fact that it’s highly developed and easy to walk on, and Chairman Mao’s famous statement about this section – “He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a real man” (不到长城非好汉 – bù dào cháng chéng fēi hǎo hàn). Should you get stuck on a tour bus headed to Badaling, be prepared to deal with massive crowds of pushy Chinese tourists wearing matching ball caps and following a flag waving, mega-phone wielding tour guide. If it is the old, wild Great Wall which you seek, do yourself a favor and skip out on Badaling.
For those more interested in fresh air, fantastic scenery, and a challenging hike, it’s better to head to some of the sections of the Wall that have not experienced much restoration. Near Beijing, some options include the Jiankou (箭扣 – jiàn kòu), Jinshanling (金山岭 – jīn shān lǐng), and Simatai (司马台 – sī mǎ tái) sections. At these more remote sections of the Wall, you won’t find so many people, and you won’t be pestered by hacks trying to sell you postcards and t-shirts.
A video tour of the hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu Great Wall.
If simply hiking along the Great Wall just isn’t enough to satisfy your appetite for adventure, then you might want to try an overnight camp-out. While people may try to deter you – “You can’t camp on the Great Wall!” – ignore their claims and head out to see for yourself. Camping is in fact allowed on a few parts of the Wall, including the stunning Gubeikou (古北口 – gǔ běi kǒu) section, located northeast of Beijing city out in Miyun county (密云 – mì yún).
At Gubeikou, you can visit the “Crouching Tiger Mountain” (卧虎山 – wò hǔ shān) or the “Coiling Dragon Mountain” (蟠龙山 – pán lóng shān). If you’d prefer a longer hike that gives you the opportunity to walk all the way to the Jinshanling section, you’d better go with the latter. On our recent visit, we tried to make the hike to Jinshanling and camp there, but we were greeted with a sign that reminded visitors in classic Chinglish “not to camping.” Although I had camped out on Jinshanling a few years ago, we didn’t want to risk being booted off the Wall, so we headed back up the Coiling Dragon and found a nice restored watchtower to set up camp.
We pitched our tents, enjoyed a packed dinner of pasta salad, cheese, and wine (who says you can’t be classy when camping?), and kicked back to enjoy the stunning views of a sunset over the Great Wall of China. With nobody around but us, no car horns blaring, and no flashing neon lights, it was hard to believe we were still technically in Beijing. Such a moment of peace and solitude in the most populous country on Earth is hard to come by, and it’s definitely something to be cherished. Sleeping under the stars in a watchtower of one of the greatest man made structures in existence is certainly a life-changing experience. To quote my lovely girlfriend, it was “The coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life!”
The sounds of birds chirping served as our alarm clock, as we got up at a quarter to five to see the sunrise. The weather gods smiled upon us with a crystal clear blue sky, a rarity in Beijing, and we were treated to a magnificent sunrise. After a few more hours of shuteye, we enjoyed a little breakfast and then hiked back to the entrance.
At the small guesthouse near the village, we were welcomed in by the proprietors, who were excited to have some foreign guests. They cooked us up a tasty lunch of cucumbers, tofu, scrambled eggs and tomatoes, and fried sauce noodles, and they brought out a few ice cold bottles of Yanjing beer. Lunch for three plus the brews and a ride back to the bus station set us back a mere 150 RMB, and I enjoyed chatting with the owner of the inn as we drove. In my experience, people out in the countryside are much friendlier than their city-dwelling counterparts. After all, they live out in the mountains, breath fresh air, and enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, while those of us stuck in the city are in a concrete jungle full of crowds, vehicles, and dirty polluted air. For one night, though, we were able to escape the hectic pace of city life and re-energize our minds, bodies, and spirits. A camp-out on one of the new Seven Wonders of the World will do just that!
To practice your Chinese, try answering these questions about the Great Wall, in Chinese:
- Have you been to the Great Wall? Which one?
你去过长城吗？哪个？- nǐ qù guò cháng chéng ma? nǎ ge
- What did you think of the Great Wall?
你觉得长城怎么样？nǐ jué de cháng chéng zěn me yàng
- Do you want to camp on the Great Wall?
你要在长城露营吗？nǐ yào zài cháng chéng lù yíng ma
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