Trip to The Great Wall: Jinshanling and Simatai

This morning, we woke at 5:45 to the alarm of our aged mobile phone. At 6:15 we were to be picked up for a day trip to walk sections of The Great Wall.

There are numerous sections of the wall. Each offers different flavors of restoration, scenery, and tourist numbers. We chose to visit Simatai based on a friend’s recommendation. The tour we booked at our hostel actually upped the ante by reaching this wall on foot from Jinshanling. That sounded fun to us. We booked the tour for 250RMB each. Breakfast and lunch included; entrance fees extra (around 100RMB for both wall sections).

Breakfast was a ham and cucumber sandwich with peach juice to drink.

Jinshanling is 130km outside of Beijing, about 3 hours away. The tour bus had little leg room and was half full of a friendly bunch of tourists around our age. It was a different, more adventurous group than you’d find on a touristy wall section like Badaling. We all signed up knowing that we’d be hiking 10km up and down a crumbling wall in 40 degree temperatures. J. and I were a little nervous about the exertion, as yesterday we biked around town for 6 hours nonstop. But our knees seemed to be holding up.

The bus pushed through town on a crowded highway lined with trees and surrounded by a massive amount of massive new buildings. All over Beijing construction dominates the skyline. It’s a powerful and imposing sight. There’s something about the large proportions here that stir up my Texas upbringing. If everything is bigger in Texas, it must be biggest in China.

Eventually the road opened up. Scenery changed from car dealerships and machinery shops to farms and clusters of rough brick buildings. Corn was everywhere in piles, drying on rooftops. The road followed a valley road lined with trees and even smaller farming villages. The river had iced over in fascinating crackles.

The windows of the bus were foggy, so I wasn’t inclined to take many photos along the way. Plus, I fell asleep.

Trees along the valley road.

A little village.

Ice crackles on the river.

Trouble in paradise: a new highway getting built.

We were dropped off at Jinshanling around 10 and we began out ascent. Immediately, a pack of ethnic minority looking old women began following the group and making small talk. It took a moment to realize that they were trying to be tour guides and sell us drinks. It wasn’t that hard to shake them, but their cohorts could be found in various towers offering “coca, water, beer” or “t-shirt, post card”. What a weird job it must be to climb The Great Wall every day hoping to sell a can of soda. I suspect they have muscular legs defy their age. Plus, it’s probably easier than farming corn.

Once we climbed the path to the wall, the view was amazing. Much of this wall had been restored, but there were still plenty of rocky sections to traverse. Besides the novelty of being on The Great Wall in China, the view and scope of the endeavor is awe inspiring. Its planners must have been a little insane to build it. Not only is it a crapload of stone, but it had to be build on top of mountains across great distances. That’s about as hard of a construction project you could have as a Qing. Qrazy!

Despite nearly continual stair climbing and tricky descents, the walk wasn’t horrible. My knees started getting shaky midway through, but it’s nothing a little shark cartilage transplant can’t fix.


Jinshanling snaking over the hills.

View out a tower.

Drain hole.

Looking back over some of the wall we’d traversed. It seems to go on forever.

The morning haze.

A Mongolian grasshopper that didn’t make it over.

An un-restored tower.

A steep, rough climb. Good for butt watching.

Inside a tower.

Me and the wall.

Warning sign in front of a death drop.

I’m not sure where, but at some point the wall became Simatai. This was the home stretch. By then, I was getting tired. So tired in fact that I sat down and rested my legs and drank a sip of water after eating some banana chips.

More wall.

Tower overlooking corn and wheat terraces.

A sparkling new gas station in the middle of nowhere.

J. and I get one last look before the home stretch.

Simatai is split in two by a a gorge. There’s a narrow suspension bridge over the gap that has to be crossed for 5RMB. As luck would have it, wind was rocking the span. Scary.

Trash bins.

Fuzzy branches.

The lazy way to the top: the lift. Not operational in the winter.

On the way back, we stopped for gas and peeing. There was the start of an amazing sunset. The roof over the pumps was huge, but small compared to some other stations we passed.

My legs felt sore on the ride home. I dozed off a little. The sunset was amazing. Many of the trees lining the highway had big bird nests. The bases of the trees were painted white for safety and cool points. People in commuter buses would look over with curiosity. I looked back. I don’t look forward to being a commuter again, Asia or elsewhere.

In the thick of traffic in the outskirts of town, I saw a dead body lying face down on the shoulder of the road. His arm was outstretched as if hailing a cab. No one was stopping to investigate. Was I the only one who saw him?


wow. incredible shots. freaky about the dead person on the road. i think i will have interesting dreams tonight thinking about your description of that.


I am going to Beijing in 3 weeks and want to do the same trip that you did to Simitai.
Do you have the contact details of the tour company that took you there and can you give me an indication of costs?
Great photo’s, What camera and lens did you use?


Hi: just read your news. Have you some other pictures of the very Simatai village ? It would be great ! Thank you for your answer.

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November 26th, 2008. Categories / China

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