Badaling Great Wall Travel Review

Being considered by many western guidebooks as the most "touristy" sections of the Great Wall, I was skeptical of Badaling's appeal. I was concerned about hiking along a wall rife with peddlers, large signs, or overtaken by the Chinese desire to beautify things that can stand alone as magnificent (blinking Christmas lights in caves and painted rocks are two examples that come to mind). While Badaling is more visited than the similar Mutianyu section, it's certainly worth a trip.

Originally I thought Badaling's popularity was derived simply from its proximity to Beijing, but along the way there were other Great Wall entrances. The Badaling Expressway has helped to make it more popular, though part of its appeal probably lies in the steepness of the wall, which can make hiking it in the rain very difficult. Luckily there are handrails, which are helpful for anyone who wants to play it safe. But you wont fall far; there are enough tourists to stop you within 30 or 40 feet of tumbling down the wall. Despite the influx of tourists, there were relatively few foreigners. Chinese students would quickly pose for a fake photograph, while the photographer's camera followed me, snapping away. It felt like my days as a volunteer in - oddly normal.

The emergency call boxes are an interesting feature that was lacking at Mutianyu, as well as the "No graffiti," and, "No climbing" signs. Parts of the wall visible from the road are lined with clusters of 400 watt lights designed to illuminate the wall at night. A large sign, reminiscent of the Beijing Olympics, reads, "One world, One Dream" in Chinese Characters large enough that they need to be held in position by large steel girders. It's obvious that more money is coming this way. 

That's the feeling at this section of the wall: everything is bigger and more planned out. And that's exactly the reservation many foreigners have when traveling to the Great Wall; they want to see the sections untouched by developers and more lightly traveled by tourists. If the main concern is crowds or authenticity, you would do well to avoid Badaling and Mutianyu altogether. 

Badaling is probably the best for someone who wants a quick, cheap alternative to a private bus or entire day excursion. The public bus doesn't stop at other attractions, like many tours tend to do, and one can leave Beijing early and be back by lunchtime without feeling like they rushed through the experience. 

When I arrived, I hiked along the road to the entrance; the road was filled with new construction - probably new shops and restaurants. After entering the gate and passing throngs of sweatshirt sellers, I was suddenly alone on the wall and wandering along by myself. Most chose to take the cable car (30 RMB) at the North entrance, but I simply purchased an entrance ticket (45 RMB) and started hiking. I turned the wrong way at first, coming to a dead-end or, more aptly put, a brick wall (the guard tower is completely sealed off). I looked around for a way to climb around it and immediately realized it was far too dangerous. With a sigh, I turned around, hiking the entire length of Badaling. It seems farther than a few kilometers because it runs along steep hills and valleys. In the middle there is a quick way down: log rides, which costs around 25 RMB per person.

Many would argue that this isn't the Great Wall, but a reconstruction of the Ming ruins. For me, seeing the restored sections is helpful to imagine what it was like long ago, and just as important as seeing original, unrestored sections.

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