How I almost followed a Floppy Rabbit around the Great Wall of China.

Yup, so we made it to Beijing. We’ve contemplated careers as police officers, we’ve watched scorpions writhe on skewers, and we’ve seen the wrinkly old gentleman (ok, perhaps gentleman is the wrong word) take a poo on the sidewalk. We’ve seen everything the tourist books never told us about.

I guess it’s about time we saw some of the things we’re supposed to see. I mean, I guess.


It’s the Great Wall.

Right? Come on. It should be seen. It’s kiiiind of a big deal.

We wanted to do it on our own. Screw tour companies; they cost a lot and the guides are usually a) annoying,  b) impossible to understand, or c) -and this is true especially in China- they make you wear matching “tour hats” and “follow the leader”, which is, in reality, a man holding a stuffed-bunny strapped to the top of a stick, flippity-floppiting through the crowds. Not normal, right?

No. Thank you.

So what did we do? We searched high, we searched low. We searched all the corners of China’s heavily censored internet for words of wisdom on doing the big wall on our own.

What did we find? A whole lotta nonsense. It was like a giant funnel where the end result was always some sort of tour company. Of course, you could do it on your own. But you’d take half the day to get there (unless you went to Badaling – see below), and taking that amount of time to get to a wall wasn’t something I was willing to negotiate. Or we could hire a personal driver. But who has that kind of money? (If you just nodded your head, “I do”, you need to send me an email – the two of us have things we need to discuss).

And then was the question of what part of the wall to go to. Always assuming that the great wall was one continuous stretch of greatness, probably built to keep the rabbits out of China, I was surprised to learn in my research that there are actually a bunch of different fragments of wall scattered all about (rather haphazardly and somewhat inconveniently, if you ask me). The most popular for tourists is Badaling. It’s easiest to reach, which is unfortunate because it’s “overcrowded, over-commercialized, and completely renovated.” Just like we’d rather not follow a rabbit strapped to a stick, we’d also rather not take a tram-ride to the top of one of the great wonders of the world (no disrespect to Grouse Mountain, I still love you).

There are a bunch of other options, but we settled on the hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. This is the “best preserved section” and still maintains many original features. It’s further from central Beijing than the other options, taking about 2 hours by bus to get there. You’ve gotta be able to hike a bit (and by hike, I mean walk), but you should probably get out there and stretch your legs anyway, fatty.

We finally settled on a small tour organized through our hostel. We were assured that there would be no floppy rabbits strapped to sticks, no matching baseball caps, and no annoying guides that we couldn’t understand. We were promised that, for a price $15 more than if we were to get to the wall on our own (aka: bus + walk + bus + likely getting lost), we’d get a pick-up from our hostel, a drive direct to Jinshanling, and a pick-up in Simatai 3 hours later (the truth of the matter is that these were all truths, and they even threw in a Mars bar for each person on the bus).

The stretch of the wall that you cover on this hike is actually breathtaking. If you have a clear day, you can see the wall snaking away far into the distance. You’ll pass something like 22 towers. Some parts of the wall are renovated, which gives you a good idea of how it probably looked centuries ago, and some stretches haven’t been touched at all. It really gives you a perspective on how much of a threat Genghis Khan and his horseback armies really were. (In one of my more intelligent moments, I learned that the Mongols, under the command of Genghis Khan, ruled what is modern Beijing in the 1200’s. Then, under the rule of Genghis Khan’s grandson, Beijing became the capital of all of China for the very first time. And I don’t know about you, but I find it a little bit crazy that Mongolians ruled all of China from Beijing before any of the Chinese did. But I digress.)


When you start to get back to reconstructed parts of the wall closer to Simatai, there are a bunch of guys around practically every tower selling cold beverages. You have to give them a little bit of credit for carrying their coolers, complete with ice and full of every type of liquid quencher known to China, up the steep hills surrounding the Wall in the hopes that they might make a sale to you. Obviously it was only out of consideration for this hard work that I bought myself a beer.

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The tour was organized for us through our hostel, which, by the way, was the most awesome hostel ever.

It’s the Peking International Youth Hostel.

And it’s pretty rad. It’s relaxed and it’s comfortable. They have a fully-staffed kitchen with reasonably priced food. You can sit on a sofa and watch Chinese TV. Or surf the heavily censored internet. Or buy a Tsing-Tao and sip it on the beautiful garden terrace. Or not, if it’s winter, like it is now. You might prefer a little baileys and coffee instead. I know I did.

The hostel is also walking distance from the Forbidden City. Which is pretty radical if you want to see that which used to be Forbidden. We went there too. There were many floppy rabbits and there were many matching hats. Matching shirts, too. But that is a post for another day, my friend.