The Great Wall of China - how could this not be on your bucket list? My around the world adventure would not be complete without seeing this iconic wonder dating back 600 years ago. The Great Wall, or Chang Cheng in Chinese, did not disappoint as it takes you back in time through China's ancient history.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Beijing, of course! The Northern Chinese city boasts one of the largest airports in the world so flights here are not hard to find. The main problem with Beijing is the smog, however. There are such bad smoggy days in Beijing that people have to wear masks and can hardly go outside. Ick! It's so sad because Northern China is stunningly beautiful with bright green mountains as far as the eyes can see. Getting a (relatively) clear sunny day in Beijing would be a stroke of luck so your best bet is to not spend too much time there. In fact, I flew in for just one night to see the Great Wall. It was actually a layover between two planned places but I called the airline upon booking and had it extended by a day so we could visit the wall.
WHERE TO STAY
The Fairmont Beijing is as luxurious as it is beautiful. Using points, we stayed here our one night to clean up before the seeing Chang Cheng the next day. The hotel has many great restaurants including a Chinese fusion with a huge variety of vegetable dishes. Chinese food is actually very vegetable focused and traditionally healthy. The problem is the use of MSG in China and other Asian countries, ugh! It is such a bummer to see food ruined like that. Sticking to nicer restaurants (although pricey) is a safer bet when traveling in China to ensure MSG is not being used.
POINT OF ENTRY
Once in Beijing, you will have to make your way to one of the many entrance points of The Great Wall. These are outside the city about an hour away depending on which you choose. What we did (and what I highly suggest), was entering from Mutianyu which took an hour and half from the Fairmont. This area is far less touristy than other points like Badaling. It is also particularly scenic with bright green mountains divided by the endless meandering Great Wall. Be sure to arrive early in the morning (no later than 9:30am) to avoid the crowds. Kyle and I literally had the wall to ourselves for nearly an hour! My photos are not photoshopped, there are actually no other people in them.
At Mutianyu, there is a cable car onsite that will take you to the top but this is optional as you can walk. Don't be fooled by how much you can see! This is quite the trek and just as much work once you are up there. I suggest taking the cable car so you can save your energy for exploring the top of the wall itself. Between the entrance fee and cable car ticket, the amount was USD $90 a person.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you have it in your budget, get a driver. There are many tour busses available but these will get you in later with the crowds and will force you to be on the schedule of the bus. The private car gives you flexibility with your schedule and gets you in nice and early. It is also great because if you are leaving directly from the Great Wall to the airport you can easily bring your luggage and leave it in the car. If you have extra time have your driver take you to various temples in the area or Tiananmen Square. We used the company Mark's Guide and absolutely loved our English speaking driver at USD $120 for the entire day.