When I made a trip to see the Great Wall of China back in the Winter of 2014, I wasn’t quite as savvy a traveller as I am now. My pal Laura and I booked our flights extremely last minute and decided just to show up and wing it! Excited at the prospect of actually visiting the infamous China, we forgot to prepare ourselves for all the things that China is infamous for. And although the trip will always be one of my fondest memories of my time in Asia, there are a few things I would do differently if I went again today.
So do as I say, and not as I do. Here’s how NOT to see The Great Wall of China.
Show Up With NO PLAN!
Did I mention that my trip to Beijing was shockingly last minute? So last minute that we literally had to run to the travel agents after booking our flights so that we could get our visas on time! While we were busy planning all the amazing Instagram pictures we could take at The Great Wall of China, we forgot about the not so great wall of China– the great firewall. We also didn’t realise that even the nicest hotels and coffee shops in Beijing wouldn’t have wifi. What can I say, we are spoiled in Korea!
That romantic notion of jumping on a plane with no guidebook and no plan is all fine and well most of the time- but don’t do it in China.
Just Book a Tour Through the Hotel Reception
They’re going to chuck you on a bus with shitloads of people, charge you shitloads of money and take you to shit loads of boring jade museums. Don’t do it. Find out how to get there yourself and save some money. Or, even better, hire a driver to take you there and save time. It will probably cost about the same amount as a private tour would, and you’ll be able to plan your own itinerary.
Don’t Worry About the Day’s Itinerary
When you book your tour make sure you cover all the important details. Where will you be going through the day? When will you be picked up and dropped off? What time will you arrive at the Great Wall? This is very important! We voluntarily went on a tour with a 5am pick up (ouch!) only to get on the bus and realise we were making numerous stops at random tombs and silk factories first. If that floats your boat, fine. If not- don’t put yourself through that boredom!
Turn Up at Lunchtime
I think this is an obvious point to be made when visiting any major tourist attraction. It’s always better to get there early and see it without the crowds of tourists and selfie sticks. One of the main gutters about getting dragged around all those tombs and museums wasn’t just that they were extremely boring. The worst thing about it was that it meant we didn’t actually arrive at the Great Wall of China until midday, despite our 4am wake up.
Head to the Most Touristy Part of the Wall
Most tour groups go to Badaling- steer clear of that place unless you want to be packed up like a battery hen between herds of Chinese tourists. We visited Mutianyu, which is still a pretty touristy and well-preserved part of the wall- but not quite as bad as Badaling. Although I really liked Mutianyu, if I could visit again I’d probably go to one of the “wilder” parts further east for a more authentic experience.
Feed the Bears!
Yes, there are bears at The Great Wall. And camels. And horses. It’s all a bit strange, but as you probably know, animal welfare isn’t quite up to scratch in China. Don’t feed the bears. And if you do (like we did) and don’t want to pay (like we didn’t) you will get chased up the wall by a tiny, scary, old Chinese lady. SO don’t do it!!! Not only is it encouraging animal tourism but you don’t need that drama in your life!
What Did We Do Right?
Of course, it wasn’t all riots and mishaps. These are the few things that we did do right…
Visited in Winter
We visited The Great Wall of China over our Christmas holidays and I felt this was perfect for a few reasons.
First, smog is nowhere near as bad in winter as it is in the summer months, so the visibility was decent.
There were also much fewer tourists to barge past since peak season is between May and August.
And, for some strange reason, winter means blue skies in Northern Asia. And blue skies are always lovely.
Of course, winter can be harsh in China. I just happened to visit in a particularly mild year. Chances are you could visit on the same day next year to snow storms and heavy smog. It all comes down to chance.
Went to Muitanyu
Ok, I’m backtracking a bit now but bare with me! Earlier I said that I would rather visit a wilder part of the wall but actually, I’m glad I went to Mutianyu for one reason- you can take a toboggan to The Great Wall of China!
Yes. You read that right. An actual toboggan. Even if Mutianyu was a bit less authentic, it’s not every day that you get to take a toboggan to one of the seven wonders of the world!
I hope these tips can help anyone planning to visit The Great Wall of China to not make the same mistakes I did! In all honesty, I wouldn’t actually change a thing about my trip because it was such a good laugh. Things are never perfect and being able to take things with a pinch of salt is really important when you’re travelling! This trip would only have sucked if we let those things get to us.
So, if you do get dragged around a jade museum, sit outside and take selfies. Make pals with the other mugs on the hotel tour bus. And just keep running when maniac bear whisperers are chasing you!
Planning a trip? Don’t miss my penny saving posts!
- How to Save Money for Travel
- My 5 Month Mega Saving Challenge
- How to Travel in Korea and Still Save Money
Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve visited The Great Wall of China! Did it live up to your expectations? Did you have any mishaps?