The Best Sections of the Great Wall of China

Almost everything in China is confusing, particularly if you don't read or speak Mandarin. And not surprisingly, that includes getting to a section of the Great Wall.

Honestly, I thought it would be really simple to get to the Great Wall. After all, it's the most popular attraction in Beijing, let alone China. And it wasn't like I was trying to get to an off-the-beaten-path section of the wall.

I wanted to get to Badaling, the section most popular to Chinese tourists. Google, ahum, I mean Bing told me it was an easy train ride away from Beijing, so I jotted down an early train, and gave myself plenty of time to get there – or so I thought.

It turns out, trains are punctual, and it seems the gates to the platform close before the departure time. So you need to give yourself plenty of time to actually get on the train. Not to mention buy the tickets.

As you can probably guess, I missed the morning train. Still, to this day, I'm not quite sure how it happened. One thing led to another and after a lot of fuss, I finally managed to buy tickets. Evidently, without enough time to get on the train. I had to wait a few hours for the next one, and to kill time, made friends with a group of young boys eager to practice their English speaking skills in the waiting lounge.

Lesson, treat the train like an airplane. Get to the station a 1.5 to 2 hours before the departure time to make sure you don’t miss the train.

Another thing to mention, because it really made the whole experience, is what happens when the gates open. These trains don’t allocate seats and can get pretty full. So when the gates open to let people through to the platform, the Chinese tourists RUN. It's one of those experiences that really show the difference in culture. We walked, giggling to ourselves, taking in the chaos of it all. And guess what, we found two seats. Suckers.

The Best Sections of The Great Wall of China

1. Mutianyu

The most fully-restored section, and for that, most popular for foreign travellers.

Features: watch towers, fortresses, fully-restored wall.

Getting there: by bus, or private car.

2. Jinshanling

The most beautiful section, which is half-restored and half-wild. It's said to be a great hiking route.

Features: half-restored, half-wild, hiking.

Getting there: by bus (departs 8am every day), or private car.

3. Jiankou

A totally wild section of the wall, but for that, you'll have it all to yourself. Be prepared for some serious hiking though.

Features: totally wild, free from tourists, great landscapes.

Getting there: there's no direct bus to get to Jiankou, so you'll need to get a private car. It's best not to try to get there on your own if you don't have any Mandarin skills.

4. Juyongguan

One of the greatest fortresses that defended Beijing. Juyongguan has plenty of history, and is the closest section to Beijing.

Features: one of the most important fortresses in Chinese history, beautiful scenery, close to Beijing.

Getting there: by bus, private car, or taxi.

5. Simatai

One of the few sections that's unrestored, but still retains its original appearance.

Features: totally wild but still intact, watchtowers

Getting there: by train, bus and taxi, or private car.

Something extra: you can actually hike between Simatai and Jinshanling, which should take about 4 hours.

6. Badaling

The most popular section among Chinese tourists, for its fully-restored wall and beautiful scenery.

Features: fully-restored, watchtowers, history of where the Yuan dynasty began preceding the Ming dynasty.

Getting there: by bus, train, or private car.

Have you been to the Great Wall before? What section did you go to? Where would you like to visit?