Mutianyu: Becoming True Men on the Great Wall of China

My Chinese friend once told me (2 days ago) that I could never be a great man until I visited the Great Wall of China. I’ll probably never be a great man, for obvious anatomical reasons, but apparently this wasn’t a personal insult to my manhood—there’s a famous Chairman Mao quote: “He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true man”. And so we set out to become true men.

All the details: Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

Cost: Entry is 45RMB, while the gondola up to the Wall is a further 100RMB. It’s possible to avoid the gondola expense by hiking up to the Wall if you have additional time.

Getting there: The best way to reach Mutianyu is with either an organised group tour or an independent tour. If you aren’t keen to travel en masse, your accommodation will be able to put you in contact with a private driver, who will shuttle you to the Wall and then back to Beijing for around 600-800RMB per 6 people. Find other travellers or people from your hostel to help share the cost!

Where to stay: While in Beijing, stay in Leo Hostel, which offers inexpensive dorm beds ($16-20) in a central location near Tian’anmen Square.

Top tips: The pollution in Beijing makes it difficult to enjoy the views afforded from the top of the Great Wall, so be sure to check the weather before you set a date.

From our hostel in Beijing, 2 Dutch friends in tow, we hire a driver for the day that will take the 4 of us to and from the Wall. It’s not super cheap, but there are enough of us that the cost is only about $30/person. The alternative is to walk to the metro, transfer twice, then walk to a bus stop, take a bus to the tourist area, and then take a minibus to the actual wall entrance (at the base). Considering that Becka is on crutches and I’m still quite tired from the bronchitis I can’t seem to shake, the car is worth every penny.

It takes about 2 hours driving to get to the carpark at Mutianyu, which is the area of the Wall we picked. It has been rebuilt in some places for walking, but also has untouched sections, and it is allegedly not as crowded as the other areas, while still being easy enough to reach. Also, it seemed very green in the photos I looked at, and I love a bit of foliage.

We pay 45RMB for the entrance fee (~$9) and then walk about 15 minutes up a hill to buy tickets for the chairlift (100RMB, which is about $20). You can walk up and skip the chairlift, but apparently it takes about 4 hours (which is out of the question with Becka’s injured ankle and my budding bronchitis) and the chairlift is actually quite scenic, so it seems like an obvious decision.

Becka picks a spot to sit and admire the Wall for 2 hours, while the Dutch girls and I walk. It’s a pretty easy walk, but the humidity is full flame today and we are all looking and feeling a bit like drowned rats. Not to mention my phlegmy coughing and hacking is starting to frighten families walking along the Wall.

It is great, though. I actually really enjoy walking this section of the Wall, especially because it is reasonably uncrowded. I’m not really sure what I had envisioned, but the Wall is massively tall and just runs on as far as you can see in either direction. It’s a bit narrower and there are more stairs than I had pictured, but it is nonetheless spectacular.

We walk in both directions from our entrance point and then return to Becka to go down via the toboggan hill, which is quite fun. The angry Chinese men working the hill scream at us until we figure out how to brake, but sliding down the hill was a pleasant surprise and a nice end to a great day.

Read more about my time in China