Visiting The Great Wall Of China

A wall is a basic structure, but where in the world has one been assigned such infamy? At 13,171 miles, The Great Wall of China is easily the longest wall in the world. And of course, on my first trip to China, I HAD to see it during my 3 days in Beijing. If you've heard people talking about the Great Wall, you may notice an interesting choice of verb usage. They will usually say they "hiked" the Great Wall. When I heard this my first thought was "Hike? Don't you just walk along the top of it? It's practically like a paved road, right?" There are different sections of the Great Wall built across a span of 1,800 years. The 'newest' sections are from the 17th century, so none of it is really new at all. Some sections have been repaired and new, straight blocks have been brought in. Other sections are old and crumbly, steep and scary, and really not fit for anyone but marathon runners and Navy Seals to tread on. I know that many travelers scoff at organized tours and want to do everything for themselves. Let me tell you now: unless you speak Chinese, China is NOT the place to do this. China is the place to do your research and hop on a tour. Trust me, I have been there four times. Do not be afraid to take a tour. Yes, you can visit some sections of the Great Wall via public transit, and many people have done it. However, I don't think it's worth the hassle. What if you fall? If you drop your wallet somewhere on the wall and you can't pay for the bus back? What if you can't find the bus that goes back?
Now I can talk about different parts of the wall, but when I first visited I had no idea what was going on. It was one of those experiences where you leave all the planning to your more responsible, logistically savvy friends and just cough up the cash. However, I'm pleased to say that it all worked out, and visiting the Great Wall in Jinshanling was just as magical as I hoped that it would be. My friend booked us a tour that picked us up straight from our hostel in Beijing. Riding an air-conditioned bus (this is key in the summer, seriously) with lots of other travelers, we headed out of the city. The buildings, smog, and endless stream of bicycles and cars slowly faded to a highway with actual greenery on either side. Our guide seized the microphone on the bus to tell us about where we would be dropped off, how long the hike was (11km/6.8mi), and what time to be at the parking lot at the other end.
We started walking along the top of the wall and my eyes soaked in everything around me. As a child (growing up in the Midwest), China seemed so far away. The language, the architecture, and the images of emperors and empresses of dynasties past might as well have been on a different planet back then. But now it all came down to this man-made feat in front of me. The rocky wall was almost empty - after the occupants of our bus self-paced according to speed and ability, it was just me, my friend, and the stones. This is why I highly recommend the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China, solidarity.