Crazy crowds can make it a bit daunting to visit the Great Wall of China with Kids. Because of this, I did a ridiculous amount of research and had big plans for our visit. We were going to spend a couple nights outside Beijing, at one of the smaller towns close to the wall. From there, we’d spend a day exploring the wild wall, and a day exploring an area of restored wall. We’d arrive before the crowds, and watch the sunset over the wall at night. It was going to be epic! But, life (otherwise known as technology) got in the way.
The plan fell apart when Randy had some drone issues. We’re not going to talk about that right now! He wouldn’t have his drone in time to bring with us to the Wall. Sadly we had to forego any of my dreams of camping on the Great Wall this time! We changed our plans and decided to stay in Beijing for those extra 2 nights, and do a day-trip to the Great Wall. I know, priorities right! It just seemed sad not to have the drone for the GW.
So, a day trip it would be!
Once we decided on a day-trip, I started doing some research. Our hostel ran tours, but I didn’t think our kids could keep up with a bunch of 20-somethings. (Although I think I probably either underestimate my kids, or over-estimate some other travelers!). I deliberated and agonized over what we should do. There’s so many options for visiting the Great Wall, but not many, all at the same time.
I narrowed it down to Gubeiku and Jinshanling. Gubeiku is wild and Jinshanling is restored. If we did the 6+hr walk between the two, we’d get a bit of both. And, in a 6 hr walk, we’d surely end up with a bit of time on the wall to ourselves. I didn’t want to end up lost somewhere between the two sections, so decided to look for a tour company. I found one on trip advisor that looked good, and contacted them. As it turns out, Jinshanling was closed. Of course!! Leo (the guide I choose) suggested Huanghuacheng as an alternative. I figured, he’s the expert, so we took his advice and booked.
I’m SO glad we did!
The Great Wall loomed above us, so close but such a steep walk away! We were sweaty by the time we reached the guard tower entrance, but any hint of being tired evaporated as we climbed up and took our first steps on the wall.
The moment seemed surreal. The Great Wall of China is such an icon, it was almost overwhelming initially to stand on it. Now, if there were thousands of other people around it might not have had the same effect. But there weren’t, so we were able to savour the moment.
It didn’t take long before the girls had turned the adventure into a game. While we admired the view of the Wall snaking over the hills into the distance, they pretended to be guards protecting China from “the Huns” (thanks Disney’s Mulan!). With each tower we passed the game evolved until the few tourists we saw turned into Mongolians we’d have to defeat. You can imagine the girls’ surprised when they found out that the Great Wall didn’t protect China after all. Calais kept reverting back to her extensive knowledge of history, gained from Disney, arguing that Shan-Yu had been stopped! It took her awhile to digest this little tidbit of history and come to grips with the fact that Disney wasn’t entirely factual!
And then we came upon the wild Wall.
Following a steep ascent, a rest at the top, and an equally steep descent, we came upon the “wild wall”. There was a small goat path where the 5m wide wall used to stand, and an overgrown drop-off falling down the mountain on either side. The girls loved this, and their game quickly morphed from being guards to being foragers.
The initial plan was to walk to the first tower on the wild wall, as it was a pretty strenuous uphill climb with a significant drop off to one wide. The girls were playing nicely, and enjoying their game foraging for food in the wilderness. We let them play as we enjoyed the spectacular views from the windows of the tower. Then Randy looked out one window to see the girls half way up the hill to the next tower.
So much for only slogging our way up to the first tower, now we had to keep moving!
The views from the second “wild” tower were even better than the first, and (almost) worth the sweaty climb. It was strenuous enough the girls decided they didn’t want to go any further. Why is it when we want them to move quickly they’re slower than turtles, but when we’re happy not going any further, they run ahead with reckless abandon? I’ll never understand this!!
It was a downhill trek to the village where our ride was meeting us. This was more treacherous than uphill because of how steep it was, so we held onto the girl’s hands for the wild part. When we stepped off the wall Calais turned and looked at a large archway through the wall. She looked at me “well, no wonder the Mongolians took over China, they could just come right through the wall there!”
Oh how I’d love to be in her mind sometimes!
We booked our day-trip with Beijing Walking Tours and can’t recommend them enough. Leo, our guide and the owner, was a wealth of knowledge and did a great job playing right along with the girl’s game. He has a 5 year old son, so was used to the antics of kids. The day went off without a hitch, and I couldn’t have asked for more.
Our tour included pick up and drop off at our AirBnB, fully guided private tour of the wall (where we only saw 10 other tourists with their guides!), water bottles and lunch.
Cost: 1700 Yuan ($333 CAD) and worth every penny.
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