Our first stop in China has been unreal! The Great Wall at Gubeikou was more than we could ever have expected. When thinking of the Great Wall of China, one imagines a long snake-like structure of brick and mortar, running in a single direction over the mountain tops, but it is so much more than that.
Staying at the Great Wall Box House in Gubeikou, we were literally surrounded by the Wall. Gazing in every direction we could see some part of this ancient structure. Even sitting on the patio outside our room we could see the remains of an old watchtower perched up on the hill above us.
This part of the wall is wild and totally unrestored. Time, forces of nature and the many battles fought here in the past have taken their toll, giving this section a unique character and a sense of charm. Some of the watchtowers along the wall still stand strong and proud, while others hold onto their last bricks. In other places, to our dismay, the wall has been removed to install infrastructure; such as a toll road.
Hiking the wall was challenging, but ultimately rewarding. We kept saying to each other, “Can you believe we are walking on the Great Wall of China.” It was totally bewildering! I also believe we received our black belt in mastering the stairs, if there were such a thing. No, seriously, you climb stairs for days while hiking the wall, getting to the top and walking along it. Be prepared for what seems to be an endless amount of stairs.
From Gubeikou you can hike the sections called Panlongshan ‘Crouching Tiger’, in the east and Wolongshan ‘Coiling Dragon’ leading to Jinshanling, amongst others. Both of these hikes start very close to the accommodation and the staff are more than happy to lead you in the right direction. It is also possible to reach the Jinshanling wall from here, bypassing the militarized zone by taking a detour from the wall. Check out the Great Wall Forum for more information on this. After hiking Crouching Tiger on day 1 we decided to see the contrasting difference by hiking the Jinshanling section from the West Gate to the East Gate. It was easy enough to get there, as our host at the Great Wall Box arranged a driver for us. The traveling time between the gates and the accommodation is about 20-30 minutes and cost approximately 120¥ there and back. Definitely worth it.
Making our way up the Crouching Tiger section was much harder than we thought it would be. The path is dusty and covered in loose gravel, making it somewhat slippery on the inclines. As you get higher you start walking on the actual wall, well, what remains of it. Here, the wall was narrowly built and walking along it, so high up, I felt sensations of vertigo more than once. Especially, when faced with narrow eroded stairs at a 90 degree angle, and sheer drops on either side. Sitting in the highest watchtower on the top of Wohu Mountain, we enjoyed a lunch of fruit and nuts with a view that will remain in our memories forever. I get goosebumps just thinking of it.
Walking the wall at Jinshanling, from the West gate to the East gate, we were again, absolutely dumbfounded. The wall was so different here to that at Gubeikou. It was a section of the wall that had been partly restored and it was just so big and stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction. The wall was much wider and the bricks that were used, enormous. We started out at Zhuanduokou Pass and made our way through the different watch towers. As we went on, the wall slowly began to show signs of aging and eventually we were walking on an unrestored section again. Finally, after a crazy amount of stairs and steep climbs, we were coming off the wall at the Eastern Five Window Tower, down a thousand more steps to the bottom to meet our driver waiting for us in the parking lot.
We can honestly say that visiting this part of the Great Wall was a great decision. Sure, we were also lucky that this was the quiet season, so we barely saw people on the wall at all. Having it all to ourselves a lot of the time was something quite special. The views were spectacular and we were blessed with great weather. However, it was still a bit nippy in the mornings and evenings and the vegetation was brown instead of the lush greens you get in the spring and summer. To be honest, we liked the contrasting browns with the wall snaking through, it gave it that rough disposition you would expect from a structure last restored in 1567.
Where to stay:
The Great Wall Box House
Address: No. Jia 18, XiDui Main Street, Gubeikou Village, Miyun
We highly recommend staying at the Great Wall Box in Gubeikou, Joe the owner and his team were wonderful hosts and extremely helpful. The original house is more than 100 years old and Joe has built it up to be comfortable and spacious. The dining area on the second floor overlooks the courtyard with a view of the Crouching Tiger Great Wall in the distance, fantastic for sunset views. If you love cats then this is also a great place for you; they own 7 of the friendliest cats in China. Check them out on Facebook or booking.com. You can also reach Joe via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
How to get there:
From the airport you can take the express subway to Dongzhimen station, it is the last station from Terminal 2, about 30 minutes on the subway. Then exit the station and follow the signs to the bus terminal as you exit. Take No.980 express bus at Dongzhimen bus station(东直门交枢纽), pay for the ticket on the bus, and get off at the last stop, which is Miyun Changtu Chezhan(密云长途车站). This takes about 1:30 hours. Then, cross the road and turn right to find the Mi 25 bus, a short green bus (密25), also about 1:30 hours. The bus runs on the hour, the last one at 16:50. Ask a local or the bus driver to let you off at Yong Jun Road(拥军路) before the Gubeikou tunnel, there you will find a river, walk back to the south side of the river, turn right and walk about 10 min to find a big sign “the Great Wall Box house”.
Alternately you could also hire a driver from the Miyun stop, that would only take you around 45 minutes to reach the Great Wall Box and they will drop you off right at the entrance.
The staff will help you with transportation too, if you just ask 🙂
• Express Subway ticket 25¥pp
• Bus 980 to Miyun 17¥pp
• Bus Mi25 to Gubeikou 11¥pp
• Driver to Gubeikou 140¥
• Driver to drop off and collect at Jinshanling 120¥
• Entrance at Jinshanling 55¥pp
• Entrance at Coiling Dragon and Crouching Tiger 25¥pp (If they are monitoring the entrances.)
• Support the locals. Walk through town and pop into the little shops, the fruit shops are especially great. Nuts and fruit are pretty cheap and great for the hike. We paid about 12¥ for 4 bananas, 2 apples, 2 pears, 2 oranges, and a bag of peanuts. The best peanuts I have ever eaten.
• Get up early and get onto the wall for sunrise. It’s absolutely breathtaking and entirely possible. Don’t forget your flashlight and a jacket. Especially if you are doing it around March like we did.
• Make sure to take a lot of water with you on the hikes. Around Gubeikou, it is impossible to get any on the wall. Do not drink the water from a tap/faucet in town, the accommodation has filtered water, so be sure to fill up before setting out.
• Prepare the exact amounts when paying for the bus tickets on the bus. If you pay with larger bills, you will not get change!
• When in doubt, ask a local. We found most people to be very friendly. If you premake some cards with the Chinese locations written down and show it to someone, they are usually willing to help.
We had a blast at the Great Wall, absolutely blessed to have been able to see it! We look forward to returning in the future and hiking other sections. Have you been to the Great Wall, where did you visit, what was your impression? If you have any questions about our trip and want any other information. Drop us a message or email and we will be more than happy to help out.