Location: North Eastern China (Accessible Through: Beijing, China)
Visited: February, 2010
Background and Opinion:
“What is the Great Wall of China” you ask? No you don’t, no one asks this EVER because everyone knows right? Actually, you might not know as much as you think you do.
First, the Great Wall is not a single wall at all (excellent map here) and would be more appropriately called “The Great Set of Walls.” This name doesn’t sell as many tickets, as you may imagine, so lets just continue calling it the ‘Great Wall’ for now. Secondly, it is built horizontally. While city walls are built in a circular shape to protect from all sides, the great wall was built as a barrier separating the northern people of the steppes (modern day Mongolia) and the Chinese people in the south. Third, it was built by a number of different Dynasties. The wall was started by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China who, coincidentally, also ordered the construction of the Terracotta Army and was the founder of Unified China (busy guy). It was built from 200 BCE – 1400s CE to protect different parts of China from external threats. Over the centuries, the numerous parts linked up in many places, but to this day, more and more parts of the wall are being uncovered. Something else that you might not know is just how many sections are accessible. There are dozens of entry points from Beijing alone if you know what you are doing.
The great wall forum is an awesome website of mostly expats in the Beijing area who are Great Wall hiking (and biking) fanatics. If you like “off the beaten path” travel, but also want to see this super famous site, that forum is for you as you can surely find a piece of the wall to hike on without a soul in sight. (Or just read my next post where I did the research for you).
So… does the wall live up to the hype? Because I was pressed for time, I only visited the “Badaling” section of the wall, what many consider to be the most touristy, and least attractive. Even that section blew me away. We were able to see the wall from our city bus window a good 30 minutes before even arriving. From the road, you can see it weave in and out of a hill for miles, making the anticipation that much better. The Great Wall of China makes pretty much everyone’s “ultimate bucket list” for a good reason. This is one of the most amazing sites in the world, make sure you take your time and enjoy it.
Don’t go in a tour group:
While this may sound like a good idea, prices are inflated and the experience is diminished. Most tour groups I’ve heard about cost about $60 USD total (plus entry fee). The real cost by local bus is about $5 USD. More importantly than nickle and diming, is the experience. Tour buses I’ve heard about give you about 30 minutes – an hour in the most crowded sections of the wall. While it is still amazing, getting there by local buses will give you the freedom to come and go as you please. It will take more research, and a lot of patience, but will definitely be worth it. (Stay tuned for my next post about how to get to the different sections).
1) Completeness and Originality (11.5/15): Many of the tourist parts of the wall are complete, or very recently restored. However, out in the middle of nowhere, the walls have given way to erosion and general wear and tear.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (15/15): At a few thousand kilometers, it stretches longer than most countries. You should really see more than one entry point to get the full effect. This would take a few days.
3) Cultural Significance (15/25): It is an archaeological and cultural icon that is well known everywhere in the world. Not only does it signify a unified China and Chinese architectural ingenuity, but China’s historical struggles over thousands of years with its neighbors.
4) Personal Impact (14/15): Absolutely blown away. It wasn’t named one of the 7 New World Wonders for nothing.
5) Logistics 6/10): It is hard to rate the logistics very high as it is quite difficult for a foreigner to arrive ‘the local way.’ Even with a fluent Chinese person with me, finding the correct bus stops was a challenge. Furthermore, the amount of scammers confusing you at every corner is just a bit too much. Thankfully, the ‘local way’ is extremely cheap.
6) Uniqueness (11.5 /20): It is the size that makes it a world icon. However, fortress walls still remain all over the world, including many in China.
Combined Score: 73/100
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