With a 30 hour transit in Beijing, I knew that my time would be rushed; and I also knew if there was one thing I would want to do in Beijing, it would be to see the Great Wall of China. I was also concerned like with many tourist attractions, the Great Wall would be massively overcrowded, and I just wanted to enjoy the wall without any disturbances.
With a little bit of research, I found out about the Secret Wall Tour, run by Leo Hostel - an alternative tour where you could actually hike a more secluded part of the wall. I dropped them an email and booked the tour, which cost about 280 yuan.
We left the hostel about 730am and hopped into a minivan. There were about 15 of us who had taken part. We drove out a couple of hours in a group of 15, and ended up at the ancient Badaling portion of the wall.
Our guide Stephen gave us a bit of history about the wall itself, painting a picture of how it was like to be a citizen of China at that point, and you would have a choice of dying in the war, or dying building the wall. He reminded us that the wall itself was built from the blood and sweat of countless Chinese citizens, and to remember that the many bodies still remained underneath the structure of the wall; people would literally drop dead during the process and the other workers who would continue to build the wall wouldn't even have time to take away the body for a proper burial.
We started at the entrance of the ancient Badaling Great Wall. The Great Wall itself is about 21000km, but we would be hiking about 8km of the stretch, with the option of climbing all the way up to the seventh water tower, which was apparently 6000 steps.
The area was very quiet, and I was pleasantly surprised as to how much flora was preserved in the area. Somehow, the thought of the wall never quite included the rich biodiversity around, but perhaps it was also that particular section of the wall.
It was a pleasant hike for the first half, walking up some gentle slopes as the wall ran through the mountain. However, once we passed the third water tower, the hike became significantly steeper. There were parts where the incline was close to 45 or 50 degrees, and I could feel my thighs burning. I had to stop every so often to catch my breath, considering how unfit and unprepared I was.
Needless to say, deciding to do a hike like this on 4 hours of sleep with no breakfast probably wasn't the best idea, and I stopped at the fifth water tower after realizing how steep the last two stretches were. I did enjoy myself though, and it was a much more pleasant walk coming down, and I was able to take my time and enjoy the stunning views.
It was a half day hike, and we walked down a bit further to the first stop where the bus had taken us to and were served lunch at one of the restaurants - there was some rice, chicken and vegetable dishes with some fruits, simple fare, but delicious at that point of time.
There was also a stall selling some souvenirs and drinks over at the drop-off point, which was naturally a bit more pricey than what you would be able to get elsewhere, but it was an option if you were desperate enough.
Would I recommend doing this?
If you're fairly fit and you don't like crowds, absolutely. The tour is pleasant, it definitely does exactly what it promises to; experiencing a part of the wall with almost no other crowds - and you do get some amazing views. If you've got bad knees, are generally of poor fitness you can still enjoy the lower half of the wall - it's absolutely up to you how far you want to walk up, or if you want to walk up at all.
You can book their tour here. Once I get my videos ready I'll try and upload some of the footage I captured.