On our way out of China, we spent a long weekend in Beijing. After living in China all summer, we felt we HAD to see the Great Wall before we left. After doing some research, we decided to visit the Mutianyu section of the wall. Although it was further away than other sections, it was less crowded and commercialized, and provided great views of the Chinese countryside. I found that since it is at least an 1.5 hour drive, taking a taxi was out of our price range. There were options to hire a private car and driver for 600+ rmb, or join a tour. We opted to join a smaller group bus tour offered through Tour Beijing. For 350 rmb p/p, we were picked up at our hotel, had an English speaking guide that gave us information about the Great Wall and sorted out entrance tickets for us, and a Chinese lunch. There were cheaper options available for tours, but they all included shopping stops at various factories, and with a toddler, we just wanted to see the wall and call it a day.
The Mutianyu section has a few options for getting onto the wall. The parking area is about an hour hike from the actual wall, and since we were there with a tour and a toddler, we did not want to spend the whole time hiking up to the wall. Two separate companies operate other modes of transportation to get up the wall. Our tour guide informed us that the best, most pristine part of the wall (and the highest points) are the towers going up from tower 14 to 20. A cable car goes from the base to tower 14, so for those low on time and not wanting to embark on a very long, strenuous hike from the other areas of the wall should opt for the cable car. The other company has a chair lift that goes up and down the mountain at Tower #6, as well as a toboggan/alpine slide track down the hill. We figured that we should take advantage of such a fun and unique way to get down the wall, so we opted for the chair lift/toboggan ride option. Austin was afraid that the three of us would be overweight on the chair lift, so Landon and I followed after him. It was a little scary because Landon looked so small in the chair, and even though I held onto him so tight the whole way, I still envisioned him falling off onto the mountainside below!
The Great Wall itself was awesome! The air was fresher than the city, there was a nice breeze and although it was sunny, it was not too hot. The wall is a very tall wall, so we were way up off of the mountainside. Every so often, a guard/watch tower broke up the stretches of wall and offered shelter from the sun, and a landmark to use for cajoling Landon along. The Mutianyu section has some stretches of very steep stairs. Landon had a hard time with the stairs- especially since they were often uneven! We found that taking very short breaks in the shade helped him to recover, and then go a little further. Austin ended up carrying him almost the whole way back to the toboggan ride. Good thing I have a strong husband!
We had watched Mulan recently to teach Landon more about China from the best source- Disney. In all seriousness, we watched it because there is a cameo by the Great Wall in the beginning of the movie. When we got up on the wall, he was excited to try to find some guards and soldiers. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any, but we talked about what they used to do when the wall was actually used to guard China. A few of the guard towers had stairs to reach the top of the tower. Landon took a break on one of these tower roofs to pretend to be an excavator. It was all I could do to make sure he was not throwing dirt at people coming up from the first floor of the tower!
Our goal was to make it to Tower 20, which the guide said offered the best views of the open portion of the wall as well as some older sections that have not been rehabilitated. Since we started at Tower 6, we knew we were in for a long walk. Landon was just not up for it this particular day. It was a steep, hard climb, and we decided around tower 16 to call it good. We still saw most of the open sections of the wall, and we wanted to make sure we made it back down to the bottom of the hill in time for lunch. I think it is reasonable for fit adults to make it from the chair lift up to Tower 20 and back in the allotted 2.5 hours, but with a toddler and a 31-week pregnant lady, it just wasn’t happening for us. This was a big day for us that we called it quits earlier than planned, but I think that’s what being traveling parents is all about. Sometimes, you just have to let go of previous expectations and respond to the needs of the children.
Climbing around on the wall, it was incredible to think about the man power and time that it took to build it. The mountains in the area are steep and the range has many ups and downs that I’m sure made it difficult to haul building materials as well as construct the wall itself. This section of wall was first built in the Qi dynasty in 550-577 AD, and was strengthened and rebuilt in 1404. This section of wall is unique in that it has protected holes in the wall for archers to shoot their arrows down on attackers.
Landon did well on this hike. We walked over 5 hard miles up and down steep stairs. He was already tired and perturbed because we had packed up his life and left the place we had been living for the past few months. This decreased his tolerance for being uncomfortable. Fairly soon after we started walking, Landon started sweating. He made sure to let us know that he was uncomfortable. Just like our prior hike, we were able to give him a snack and a break, and then cajole him into continuing. I didn’t want to push him too hard, because he’s only three and I definitely sympathized being so pregnant and trying to climb those steep stairs! At the same time, I think the ability to push oneself past the point of being in total comfort is a good skill to have for life. So, we worked on life skills development in helping Landon realize that he had more in the tank than he thought. Every time we took a break, he would eventually get back up off the ground and take off RUNNING down the Great Wall. This often happened without warning and Austin had to book it to catch back up to him! Of course, the promise of a toboggan ride kept him going far longer than I think he would have lasted otherwise.
We knew it was time to turn around when Landon said he wanted to go back to the hotel- and forgo the toboggan ride. We finally made it back and had to wait in a 10-15 minute line for our turn on the toboggans. I was barred from riding down because of my pregnancy, but I had a nice chair lift ride with a Korean girl studying Chinese in Beijing. She was so nice and friendly, and was happy we loved Seoul so much. We commiserated on how different Koreans are vs. Chinese, and went on our way. Landon and Austin went down the toboggans. While still in line, the ride operator grabbed Landon and put him in a toboggan. Landon loved sitting in the seat even though they were not going anywhere yet! Although Landon’s eyes were watering when they got to the bottom, the only feedback I received about the ride was that the lady in front of Austin went very slowly down the track and rarely let off the brakes. Landon said, “Daddy and I wanted to go fast, but the lady in front of us wanted to go SLOW.”
At the bottom of the toboggan rides, we ran into soldiers! After looking for them all along the wall, Landon was excited to finally meet some soldiers! It seemed that these two ancient men were friends and made a living by dressing up and taking pictures with tourists. Austin gave them WAY too many yuan for the few pictures that we got, but hey, we had to get rid of our yuan before we left China!
Our tour included a “traditional Chinese lunch” at a nearby restaurant. Many of the dishes seemed westernized vs. what traditional Chinese food we had previously had, but it was a good lunch with a variety of dishes. The tour guide made sure everyone made it back to the bus, and we were dropped back off at our hotel in the late afternoon. It was totally worth it to do the tour because we did not have to worry about transportation, tickets, or lunch, and we had sufficient time to explore the wall because we opted for the “no shopping” tour. As a family, we would recommend the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall!