Stay away from your guidebooks, folks. If you’re researching The Great Wall of China in Beijing, they’ll tell you to go to Badaling or Mutianyu. I’m telling you, you’re going to want to visit Jinshanling.
After running into The CounterIntuitive in Hong Kong, who gave me the very same advice, I knew this was where I had to go. I spoke with a few other travelers as well and, despite what the guidebooks and the receptionist at my hostel told me, I went where my gut told me was the right place: Jinshanling.
The Great Wall stretches for 5,500 latitudinal miles (8,850km) across China. It has a history of more than 2,000 years and, over time, many parts have fallen to ruins or completely disappeared. Many bits are under reconstruction but, of course, the most charming sections are the ones that are entirely falling apart.
As with everything in China, getting places and doing things can be a little overwhelming. I was not in the mood to spend four hours commuting by bus and train, with limited Chinese speaking ability, to get to The Middle of Nowhere, China. Luckily, there are tour buses that will pick you up and drop you in the right place. For the pure convenience of it, it was worth the extra 20 bucks.
Stepping off the bus, our group was assaulted by hawkers. They didn’t come at us and immediately try to sell us anything. Instead, they became our self-appointed tour guides. There was one stipulation, of course: we were going to have to buy something from them later. The poor old lady trotted alongside me, every step of the way. Her stamina was actually remarkable!
One rather awkward nuclear scientist even whipped out his green belt and started doing karate on the wall.
Because, you know, that’s just what you do…
I remember my grandmother telling me about The Great Wall as a child. The way she described it, I was unable to fathom the sheer size of it. It remained a mystery to me and, even to this day, it still maintains a certain level of mystery. There’s something inscrutable about this place. The historical significance, its physical size and the magnitude of its reputation all lend themselves to a certain mysticism. The Wall snakes through the mountains of China, meandering through valleys and over hilltops. It’s hard to even imagine how long this goes on for.
My grandmother had a love for China. The wall in her bedroom adorned an authentic, silk emperor’s robe, something which will be passed along to me. Though we never visited China together, I feel as though she has indirectly passed along a certain worldly wisdom. She’s no longer with us, but I can somehow relate to her again, on an entirely new level. It’s like I’m following in her footsteps.
I just hope she didn’t go to nearly as many bars as I do.
I still find it hard to believe that I’m in China.
Of all places, China.
But I’ve stopped wondering why or how. It’s not worth it anymore!
Instead, I’m making the most of my days, and seeing just where this life of mine wants to take me.
And so far, it’s taken me to some pretty awesome places. No complaints on my end.
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Jeremy ,absolutely love this post! Everything from following your grandmothers step, to questioning yourself about being in China. I feel the same way… I’ve been here the past 6 months teaching English and everyday I find it hard to believe that I’ve been in China for the time being. Ill be heading to Beijing in a few weeks… Look forward to visiting the wall. Thanks
It’s such a strange place isn’t it? You’ll love Beijing—I know I did. Enjoy it, and eat some dumplings for me (I know you already are)!
I was wondering which tour company you used for this trip??
Hi Sarah–I’m not sure anymore. This was a couple years ago, but most accommodation options should be able to hook you up with a good company.
Hi Jeremy. I hope you are still here and offering support and advice to us mere mortals. 😉 My Husband, John, and I are planning to travel to China next year (May 2016 for two weeks) and when I found this webpage I fell in love with your stories. Hopefully we can stay in contact with you, I can make your ears bleed with never ending questions and when May 2016 comes around we will be so much more informative of the correct things to do/say/see in China. Thank you, Carrie
I can’t wait to hear more about your time in China! I love it there, and I just know you will too. Let me know if you have any questions 🙂
Beautiful photos of the Great Wall! It looks very uncrowded at this section. Some photos I’ve seen are just packed with people.
These are spectacular images of the wall! I will look forward to following in your footsteps, as you have followed in your grandmother’s!
I hope you can make it there soon!
I love that your photos aren’t full of other tourists. What time of year did you go? How long did it take you to get to Jinshanling from Beijing on the tour bus? We are thinking about going to China next May, but we will only have a few days in Beijing, but the main reason we are going there is to see the Great Wall and this looks like the perfect spot.
And by the way, what plugin are you using for your About the Author section? I really like it.
It’s called WP Biographia. It’s versatile and looks great!
I visited the Great Wall in July so the seasons shouldn’t be too radically different if you’re there in May. I booked a regular tour to Jinshanling with the booking counter at my hostel, which made things really easy. The bus ride was about 3.5 hours each way and took the entire day. There are other places that are closer but will be thronging with tourists and the views aren’t as good!
Wow! Amazing photos. It is really worth trying. Thanks for sharing with us
Great photos! I’m surprised at how few people there are in Jinshanling! I only visited Mutianyu when I was in China. I liked it but I will go back to visit Jinshanling and Simatai.
Definitely worth it. I’ve heard Mutianyu is cool, but Jinshanling is way, way better.
I want to do an extended hike of the wall sometime, and these pictures are giving me some major wanderlust at the moment. Gorgeous!
Thanks, Sally! I’m not sure what hiking options are available for extended hikes, but I know there are a lot of limitations. You might have to get a guided tour for that one.
Awesome photos. I only got to visit the Badaling section when I was in China (big school tour; no choice), but this part does indeed look even more awesome!
Thanks! Badaling is still great, I’m sure, but this was amazing!
Great insight. It’s always great to read posts like this one, of people that have actually experienced the Wall and experienced this wonder. I hope one day to get to the Wall too and see exactly this places.
I hope you make it one day, too, Laura! It is, of course, quite the tourist attraction in China, but this particular segment was less touristy, and much more glorious!
Great post and terrific photos! An amazing journey continues…
Impressive! And thanks for the tip, I will definitely be headed there when I make it to China 🙂
When are you coming?
No clue…some point towards the end of this year, probably around Christmas or New Years. I hardly know where I will be at the end of this week, let alone a few months from now LOL.
However long it takes me to get from Singapore -> Malaysia -> Thailand -> Laos -> Cambodia -> Vietnam -> China, that’s well I’ll be there. Will keep you updated though bro!
Keep me posted. I’ll be in Southeast Asia in a couple months!