Note: I took this trip last weekend but I didn’t have time to sit down and write something until now.
I thought I knew what the Great Wall looked like until I went to Huanghuacheng. It’s a vast, expansive, slightly dilapidating man-made wonder with some parts submerged under water.
The image of the Great Wall that is most familiar to many Americans comes from one of two places: Mutianyu or Badaling, which are the two most popular tourists spots for snapping that take-home photo of you and the Great Wall. But when I say most popular there are some other things that accompany that familiar image: crowds, families with wailing children, a photo of you with the Great Wall ……. and a billion other tourists in the background.
I haven’t been to Mutianyu or Badaling myself, but I’ve heard plenty of people who’ve indicated it’s not a fun experience on a nice day jammed with tourists.
I have yet to visit the more touristy places but for today all I can say is Huanghuacheng was heaven. The Huanghuacheng Lakeside Great Wall Reservoir has tourists, but mostly Chinese tourists the day I went with a co-worker and her friends. It’s also not that crowded. There’s enough to do in the area that its pretty easy to spread everyone out so that the pictures of you and the Wall turn out perfectly (because that’s why you’re there, right?).
This portion of the wall was constructed during the Ming Dynasty. The story behind the lakeside wall that makes it unique compared to the other portions is that in the 1970s a reservoir was built and that caused several sections (I’ve read online that it was three sections) of the Wall to sink into the water.
I highly recommend going here. It’s beautiful, it’s serene. When I was looking out across the landscape I could almost imagine myself as a guard on the wall thousands of years ago. It hit me that the landscape I was gazing out on (I was looking in the opposite direction of the lake) had largely remained unchanged. It was cool to know I shared this same view with those who’d stood on the wall long ago.
[I’ve added some photos on this post but make sure to check out my Flickr page for more Great Wall photos and stills from my other adventures. They’re better quality there, too.]
The portion of the Great Wall that you can climb is pretty steep, but the view at the top is phenomenal. It goes without saying that you should bring plenty of water and good hiking shoes. To get to the wall you have to take a beautiful hike around Jintang Lake, or you can pay to take a ferry or speedboat. We took a speed boat on the way back and it was a great experience to zip along the water as the wall and trees raced past us.
There is a slight obstacle for foreign travelers: It’s roughly a two hour car ride outside
Beijing and, unless you’re a crazy person with no regard for your own life, I do not suggest a non-Chinese native drive on China roads. I suppose I can speak for myself but the drive itself is quite an adventure. Congestion in and out of Beijing, rural roads with not only lots of construction but also people, dogs, cats, grandmas on bicycles, and not to mention motorists who have their own driving agenda. I know myself well enough to know a the drive would be very stressful and I’d probably end up pulling over to the side of the road and curling up in a ball after the fifth time I almost hit an old man on a bike. That said, if you think you can do it, by all means. The view is worth the trip, definitely. A quick Google search found some bus hopping options.
The village below the wall has some good local cuisine. My friends and I ate at a restaurant that someone said was run by local farmers. We dined on several dishes filled with squid, chicken (every part), beef, fresh greens and veggies, tofu and soup. Our outdoor seats gave us a great view of the Wall.
Although the Great Wall is still the same wall no matter where you go and see it, last weekend proved that the scenery can make a difference.