There are times in your life, when you just have to say, “Holy Sh*t, that’s a nice wall.” The first time I said this was 2014 when I built my first wall with Habitat for Humanity. The second time I said it was at the Great Wall of China this spring. Tony the Tiger agrees that it’s GRRREAT!
I was only there for one day, and it’s not really a relaxing walk on the wall. By the time I reached the end of the trek, I was cursing my legs for ever being born. Then an old Mongolian woman tried to sell me some Cola and said she does this hike every day. I truly felt ashamed of my earlier tears and actual crawling.
But I would do it again!
My friend and I decided to go to China for a three day vacation we got from our job as ESL teachers in South Korea. We were so close, so we figured why not. We only had time to go to the wall, then return home. This wasn’t a problem, because we both had the same general feeling about China—it’s a beautiful place, but we only care about the wall.
So we booked our flights and accommodation, we were ready to go. We just needed one more thing. We went through the annoying process of getting visa and, counting travel costs to and from the embassy in Korea, it cost us about $200. To get your visa for China, you need to have your flights and accommodation booked and paid for. But, unless you are some major criminal mastermind, you will be approved and get your visa in about a week.
Now, to go to China for less than 3 days, you don’t need to get a visa as an American. But, you have to fly into another country before heading back to wherever you are living. We didn’t have time for this, so we decided to go with the visa. It doesn’t expire for ten years, and you can go as much as you want. (I will be taking advantage of this to go to Shanghai Disneyland for my birthday this summer!)
We chose a hostel recommended by a friend of ours called 365 Inn in Beijing, which is located right next to the Forbidden City. The original plan was to go to the Forbidden City when we arrived at our hostel, considering we were so close. However, our airline had a different plan. Our flight was delayed by hours, getting us into Beijing after the Forbidden City closed. I will never travel with that airline again. (*Cough cough* Air China *cough*)
(To be fair, AirChina did give us food vouchers because we would have to be in the airport during lunch time, which to us meant spend it all on Dunkin’ Donuts. And we did. $14 worth of donuts is a lot of donuts.)
The Forbidden City closes pretty early so if you want to make that a part of your trip, look up the times first. I did, however, get to see the city from the outside and it is beautiful. Truly a missed opportunity. But luckily, I have 10 years to go back.
Our hostel was great, very clean. The staff spoke fluent English and Chinese so they are able to make any arrangements for you. They also offer a tour of the Great Wall. 365 Inn doesn’t do the tour themselves, but they are connected to a company that puts on the tour. There are two options: easy and hard, basically. We decided to do the hard one because we thought we were in shape. To my surprise, I was not. My friend had just completed a marathon, while I almost passed out because I had to run to catch the bus. The tour comes with a bus ride there and back, breakfast (which is just bread and juice, there is an option to opt out, and I recommend it if you are a person that needs real food; there are convenient stores and dumpling stands everywhere, also a McDonald’s nearby), and a delicious almost non-stop lunch.
The bus ride was long and bumpy, making it a little difficult to sleep. But you can still get a couple of hours in. Did I mention the bus leaves at 6 a.m.? You will be tired. When we arrived they explained the route to us and gave us an English map. Navigating the wall is pretty easy; it’s a wall, so don’t be worried that the guide isn’t with you the entire hike.
This is the entrance we used. The hike was mostly the western part of the wall.
The hike was rough. I’m young. I do yoga. But I looked like a dying dog, mostly because I was crawling for the majority of the hike. My friend made sure to photograph the event, and that picture now has the most likes on my Facebook.
About halfway through the hike for me.
The hike features major inclines, many stairs of course, and steep drop offs. I’m constantly standing in the middle of the walkway. In my mind, if I get even close to the edge, the wind will knock me off. I did manage to get one picture of me sitting on the edge of the wall. This was accomplished by me crawling to the edge, and then sitting.
Can you tell all my muscles are flexed in the goal of not dying?
I was passed by many of the elderly and even children. It got so bad I swear I saw a pregnant woman pass me. Most of time I was thinking to myself, don’t go for the cool picture, just don’t die. Take tiny steps. Crawl when needed. Don’t be a hero. But I made pass the seven or eight small towers to get to the goal. It was truly amazing. The weather was also perfect, sunlit and windy.
I started the hike strong with just regular stairs. So you get a good warm up. At the top of the stairs, we were able to stop and take a breath, thank goodness. As I was already dying.
The key to getting through was taking a break at every tower, and there are a lot of towers. Another key, for me, was to not focus on balancing. I’m one of those people that when I see tiny stairs that I could easily fall off of, I will fall off of them just thinking about it.
View from the bottom of the stairs.
Along the walk, there were many sellers of Coke, souvenirs, and such. The key is to not look them in the eye. I looked one woman in the eye, and she followed us for a few minutes trying to sell us chopsticks and popsicles. I don’t know why she thought I needed chopsticks at this point, but I wish I bought some to use as tiny walking sticks later.
The best part (once you reach the bottom again), there’s beer, and other things, I guess. But definitely beer. It’s not great beer, but it’s cold. And that’s all beer needs to be, if you don’t agree with me, this is a travel article, not a beer review.
We got back to the hostel fairly early. Early enough to go to the Forbidden City, but our legs had different plans; so we decided to stay in and watch the Mindy Project. The next day we were heading back to Korea. This flight, thankfully, had no delay, and we made back early enough to take a nap before going to bed and back to work.
In the immortal words of Sean Spicer, “It’s a wall, not a fence.”
For more information about the 365 Inn hostel or visa information, visit the links below.
(For Americans) http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/hrsq/
(For Americans) https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/china.html