Most people who visit the Great Wall go to Badaling because it is closest to downtown Beijing.
Nearly all tour groups use this section of the Wall for the obligatory half day excursion. As a result, it's often described as the most crowded section of the Great Wall by those who have been fortunate to visit other more remote sections like Simatai and Gubeikou.
One of the first sights you'll see after getting off the bus is a long row of souvenir stalls all selling the exact same merchandise. At Badaling there can never be too many identical souvenir stalls, and so once you get on the wall you will find more of the same stuff as you hike toward the beacon towers on either side.
Despite the fact that you might be out of breath after walking up hundreds of steep steps, vendors will greet you at places on the Great Wall which they have determined are most frequently used for taking a rest. One annoying young Chinese man even offered to teach me magic tricks, actually hoping that I would not simply take a rest but also take an interest in buying his magic kit.
Unique Suggestions: Just ignore the vendors. You'll quickly tire of returning "hellos" as you get tired anyway.
Fun Alternatives: The nearest good alternative is Mutianyu, which does not have as many vendors atop the Wall. If you have enough time for a full day excursion then go to Simatai/Jinshanling, Gubeikou, or one of the other more remote sections such as Huanghua or Jiankou.
You may find that you will be so dehydrated while climbing the Great Wall during summer and will rush to buy the bottled water from the local traders around the wall.
Be aware that they tend to sell you "fake" mineral water which is actually tapped water in empty bottle collected from the bin. Most of them will freeze the bottle into ice and sell it to you as if it is a mineral water from the water plant.
Take a close look at the bottle cap and make sure that it has the standard leak-preventive ring below the cap. Otherwise, that is a re-use bottle.
Unique Suggestions: Carry one bottle water with you before you leave the city.
Fun Alternatives: Otherwise, don't buy mineral water but get other types of drink which are less likely to be fake, for example Green Tea, Ice Tea, Coke, etc etc.
In the guide books it tells you to go to Deshengmen bus station to get the 919 bus to Badaling Great Wall. As a matter of fact, its not the bus station you go to, but 'Gulou' which is a big watch tower. The buses are directly behind it. The bus station DOES have 919 buses but they are city buses and wont take you anywhere near the wall. The ones you want are comfortable looking green and white buses.
Apart from that, there are private taxi owners hanging around that area just waiting to pounce on tourists not really knowing where they are going! Two weeks ago I was faced with the dilemma of either getting the bus for 24yuan return or a private taxi for 300yuan return! Not much of a dilemma you say...but...when the taxi driver tells you that its very easy to get the bus there but very difficult to get it back and you could be left there stranded, you do begin to wonder if the cheap deal is in fact the best deal! But I went over to the bus lady and she told me getting seats on the bus back was very easy! So we decided on the bus!
One thing that does annoy me greatly is that there are no signs whatsoever in English at this bus stop. Maybe the majority of people go to the Wall with a tour group set up by their hotel, but for those who are travelling on their own, there really should be a sign saying Badaling in english. It's' ok for those who can read Chinese, like myself, but what about the rest of you who can't?
Unique Suggestions: The way the taxi drivers hang around and try to confuse you and tell you things which sound feasible, but which are in fact not true at all is ANNOYING! Today I returned to the same place to put some more of my friends on the bus. We got there at 1030am to find there were no buses but a very long queue of people waiting! Again a taxi driver came over and told us that the buses had finished at 10am! Well why shouldnt I believe him..there certainly werent any buses to be seen. And again he told me about going in his car for just 300yuan return! I told him I would go over to this long queue of people and see what was happening but he kept saying, 'theres no point, there arent any buses now!" After managing to shake him off we went to the front of the queue and asked a lady there and she said, "yes, this bus goes to the Great Wall, we're just waiting for it to come that's all!" And it was as simple as that! The traffic must have been bad hence no buses being there when we arrived, and the long queue of people waiting! Again another guy came over telling us that the queue would take hours to wait in and it would be very difficult to get the bus back. I told him "been there, done that...so thank you very much!" And then we were finally left on our own!
SO JUST REMEMBER THESE IMPORTANT THINGS:
1. Do NOT whatsoever be duped into believing that there are no buses running.
2. Don't get the private cars because they take you to a very small piece of the wall where you're charged lots of money to get in.
3. The taxi people tell you its 100yuan per person, but it is in fact 300yuan for the car,so you could have one or four people and it will still be that price!
4. The buses leave every five to ten minutes. They are air conditioned and cost 12 yuan there and 12 yuan back.
5. Stick to your guns and don't let them confuse you!
I once visited the Great Wall at Badaling with my sister. As I had forgotten to take any food with me I wanted to buy some cookies and a bottle of water at a state owned shop. They had the prices shown in the display, but it took them 3 times of counting until they got it right.
At one of the souvenir shops I saw a hat, which I liked. I bought it for a good price. But I did not check the change. A few minutes later I discovered that I had got some Taiwanese papermoney as change. I returned to the shop. When I waved the money at the shopkeeper, she changed it to the correct money without any discussion. I think she was very afraid, that anybody would see, what she tried.
Unique Suggestions: Be carefull at any tourist spot in China! Never trust a shopkeeper when it comes to money. Sometimes I thought it is maybe a kind of sport for the Chinese to see, how much money they can get out of a stupid western tourist. But they respect it, when you show them that they cannot cheat you. So I made it my sport not to be cheated. I did not always succeed but most of the times.
Fun Alternatives: Take your own food and water with you, which you bought at a shop downtown.
Avoid Badaling which is the most popular and well-restored part of the Great Wall and hence it means it is heavily touristed. Scores of tourists are disgorged by the bus-loads.
The 'amusement park' is filled with stalls selling tacky T-shirts, 'I Climbed The Great Wall' certificates and kitsch souvenirs for you to splurge more money on.
Fun Alternatives: Instead, go to Huanghua Chang Cheng (Yellow Flower Fortress) which is a wild, crumbling, barely-restored but still rather well-preserved part of the wall with beacon towers and broken steps overgrown with foliage. There are at most a handful of tourists around.
The Longdi Superior Jade Gallery is a tourist bus stop on the way to Badaling Great Wall. It was designed to feed tour groups in an attached restaurant and then hold them captive inside a sales exhibition warehouse after the set meal. Each table of the tourist restaurant has a bottle of China's strongest rice wine with rows of small "shot glass" sized cups enabling groups to drink simultaneously. The bus driver is held hostage in a separate cell so that the bus door can be locked, thus preventing tourists from boarding immediately after lunch.
Visitors are marched like prisoners through a corridor past a glass enclosed workshop where Chinese artisans labor over jade handicrafts that they've been carving all day long. They then serve their brief sentence inside a massive gallery of merchandise featuring not only jade but also porcelain, carpets, and cloissonne.
Closed circuit television cameras monitor prisoner activity so that a tourist who gives any merchandise a second look is quickly approached for immediate sales assistance. (All major credit cards accepted!)
Unique Suggestions: At least take a photo of the large jade ship inside the gallery. There are English signs telling you that such picture-taking is not allowed but this is a gift shop, not a Buddhist temple. (See my additional photo)
Fun Alternatives: The alternative is to visit a more remote section of the Great Wall, but this is not possible if you are travelling with a tour group. Almost all tour groups visit Badaling Great Wall instead of Mutianyu or Simatai, and so the arrangement with Longdi Jade Gallery is very convenient for tour companies who like the close proximity of the jade factory to Badaling because then they don't have to worry about where to eat lunch.
Most tours to/from Badaling will include an "unscheduled stop" (as far as you're concerned) to a centre of Chinese Medicine.
Part of the experience will be a free check up. DO NOT feel obliged to volunteer or accept their diagnosis. If a condition/illness is diagnosed you'll be written a prescription and almost immediately presented with a bill which can be quite costly. You will be made to feel as if you don't have any other option.
Unique Suggestions: Quite simply, have a look around the centre but don't feel obliged to accept the invitation of a "free" check up.
About the Badaling section of the Wall;
I've wanted to see the Great Wall for many years. Having just visited I'm very dissapointed - not by the staggering significance of the Wall but by the neglect and lack of care given it. The sentry point towers all stink of ***, and the general neglect leads to a general contempt from the masses - I frequently saw locals spitting and climbing over parts next to sign-posts (in mandarin) to respect the site.
It is a global heritage site and wonder of the world. I wonder how ashamed the Chinese will be when the rest of the world gets exposed to how they're abusing it when they all descend upon it in 2008.
Unique Suggestions: I had a day in Beijing and wanted to see both the Great Wall and the Forbidden city. No tours really fit the bill. It turns out the reason is that they pad the tours with side trips where they try to get you buy crap.
I took the option set-up by the hotel concierge - 500 yuan for the day with a taxi, pay only on return and the hotel takes the details of the cab, giving you some sense of security.
Oddly enough the driver ran his meter, which at the end of the day came to 510 yuan!
From a western perspective this is a bargin - no hassle, no surprise sidetrips.
The Great Wall at Badaling is the most visited section of the Great Wall of China, approximately 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Beijing. It is the most well-preserved section of the Great Wall, built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). This section, with an average altitude of over 1,000 meters (3,282 feet), was the first section of the wall to open to tourists when it opened in 1957 and is now visited by millions annually. Because of this, the area has become a bit of a tourist trap with souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, theme rides and a cable car. I actually thought they'd be a lot more commercialism here than there actually is but what is here is a bit too much - local bears in a bear pit being one example.
Something that I found particularly repugnant when visiting the Great Wall at Badaling was the carnival atmosphere. Especially vile are the pits full of sun bears. When traveling through the developing world, I have always been amazed by the cruelty towards animals shown by the locals. This includes China. These sun bears are kept in pits were they beg for food from tourists who buy frankfurters from vendors nearby that are to be fed to the unfortunate creatures. Please do not participate. Perhaps one day the organizers of this atrocity will get the picture and put a halt to it.
Also to be found nearby the Great Wall here are all kinds of souvenir stalls and a KFC. Personally I have no interest in any of it.
Unique Suggestions: Perhaps the weirdist thing to do here is to take the "gliding car"(that is what my tour guide called it) up to the wall itself. This is commonly done by tour groups like the one I was on. By taking what is especially a roller coaster up to the wall, you will save some time in your visit. The ride down was actually a mild thrill.
When you go to Badaling, just know that you will be run down by merchants. They are there to make money, and they will not be ignored...Its actually quite impressive seeing 70 year old women run up the Great Wall faster than I can even though I'm 23 and should be in good shape for my job.
Just remember to say no, or I don't want it...bu yao... simple, easy to remember... you don't have to elaborate
Unique Suggestions: You have no chance, they'll get you.
Fun Alternatives: There are 4 or 5 amazing different spots to see the Wall around Beijing, hit up one of those.
If you want to go to the Great Wall at Badaling using the public bus no. 919 (12 Yuan each way), and you try to find the bus from Jishuitan subway station (as described by the Lonely Planet), be sure to walk ALL THE WAY to Deshengmen, which is a whole block east of the Jishuitan Subway Exit A. You have to cross the road at the end of the block, going underneath an overpass road. .
On your way you will encounter another 919 bus station (quite close to Jishuitan Exit A), but that is headed towards the CITY, and is the WRONG direction. There will be allegedly "official tourist information volunteers" with red badges on, who will try to get tourists to get on their minibuses (for 80/person each way), and they will come up with all sorts of excuses to lure you on. We got there at 10:30am and they told us the public bus to Badaling was no longer running, and the only way to get there would be by the "official" minibus. DON'T FALL FOR IT! Just walk away, further towards the east, and you will find the Deshengmen bus stop from which the 919 headed for Badaling departs. It's rather confusing that there are like 5 lines of 919 in Beijing which lead to different places all throughout Beijing. Be sure to get on the right 919 and don't fall for these "official volunteers"! The photo on the right show some of these "volunteers", who ducked away the moment we took the photo!
Unique Suggestions: You can follow the route shown on the Google map below to get from Jishuitan subway to Deshengmen bus stop:
All tours in China have some stop at some shop that will offer you "special price".
I have traveled to Badaling via hotel arranged tour bus: cost 400Y Lunch, water included.
Stopped at Jade factory for 1 hour and Lunch was next to gift shop which was another 1.5 hours. We arrived at Badaling at about 2 pm and it was over at 4 pm. Bus guide arranged a nice photo book of great wall with group photo 100Y extra. So summary 500Y/person 4 hours in the bus, 2 hours tourist trap shopping,1 hour at Ming tombs and 2 hours on the wall, wall tour guide 30min.
I also did a taxi tour with 2 other people to Jinshaling: Hotel arranged a trustworthy taxi. Like 3 hours drive each way, paid 300Y for taxi. Stopped at some silk factory+ lunch which was 100Y each person Taxi stalled us there. We arrived at Wall and there was less people but we were done after about 3 hours. Paid 50Y per person to go in to wall, 30Y for cable car going up to wall, 60Y for tour guide at the top 30min. This wall is not restored, looks more interesting but can also be risky with regards to falling and twising ankles. Hard to find our taxi driver so we grabbed another taxi and he took us back to the hotel 200Y also stopped at a store with a restauraunt attached. So summary 5 hours taxi, 3 hours great wall, own Lunch, own dinner total approx 400Y per person.
Unique Suggestions: Well I have to say...just about EVERYONE that takes you to the great wall is going to stop at some place hoping you will spend money, the only real problem here is the time lost.
But I have to say...the Bus tours to Great wall are still the best option, they bus is comfortable, the tour is organized, the photo book is a nice touch and you get to meet tour buddies on the tour bus.
And just as a note...I have traveled the world...Egypt Tours, Greece tours, Mexico pyramid tours and they ALL have some designated tourist shops they stop at.
Fun Alternatives: The only real alternative is a REAL local friend who will take you in their personal car.
The part of the wall in Bejing which is world famous is very heavily travelled but is not representative.
Unique Suggestions: Take as little cash with you as possible so you will not be tempted to buy too much!
Fun Alternatives: Try taking a trip out of the city to a seperate wall adjunct - this will be much quieter, you will be able tot ake more pictures unobstructed and the scenery is beautifully breathtaking. An idea is to check with your hotel for reputable taxi drivers. Not many will speak good english.
Some people condemn the stalls by the monuments, and their oppression on the tourists. Some times they are right - it becomes uncomfortable - but not always.
In an isolated place where thousands of people merge each day, a basic structure of support is fundamental. If they don’t force you, (and they don’t), if they are just there, hopping that you will need something they sell, they are useful. And we felt it in Badaling.
So, I don’t agree with the general accusation of “tourist trap”.