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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

GREAT WALL OF CHINA: All for Ourselves and for Free!!! Zhuangdaokou-Huanghuacheng Hike

"Just get your butt in Beijing and avail of cheapest, easiest package tour to the Great Wall" was the original plan. Never in my wildest dream that I will see this wonder in a different way that in those guided tours where you have to bare with the crowd. But we got more that we asked for, we went into a section of the wall which is not yet open to tourists. Yes, we had a part of the Great Wall all for ourselves and for free!

How did we do it?
We wentt to a section in
Zhuangdaokou and hiked to the nearby village of #Huanghuacheng

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The GREAT WALL OF CHINA All for Ourselves and for Free

Getting to Huairou from Beijing is pretty easy. Dongzhimen Transport Hub is accessible by subway and from there you can practically ride to any direction up North. Huairou is the gateway to most Great Wall tours. Badaling, Jinshaling and other famous tourist areas tours have to go through this city. And finding the next bus stop to Huanghuacheng or Zhuangdaokou is also easy. The tricky part is the bus going to the final destination as they don't have any number and they come only hourly. We got so bored waiting for almost an hour.

I was about to give up when I saw a couple from the US. We were the only foreigners in the bus stop so it was obvious they were also heading to same spot where we wish to go. They were also carrying the same Lonely Planet book that prompted us to try Huanghuacheng.

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I talked to them and they were very friendly. The guy (Jules) is fluent in both spoken and written Chinese because he worked in Southern China as an ESL teacher a few years back. We were lucky.

We went with them and lucky we were indeed because a few minutes later we were in the bus going to Zhuangdaokou. I really have difficulty ready Chinese characters. And if you think talking to locals to ask for help on directions would be helpful, think again. And this bus I was referring to only passes by the set off point to the nearest section of the Great Wall.
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 It is in a small village with hardly any landmark except that is it the first small village closest to the walls. 1 hour from Huairou is your hint. You have to be alert 45 minutes into the trip. A few kilometers from this village and you see nothing bus rice fields and hills. Once you get to notice the Great Wall being prominent on the hills, look for the village. You have to get off the buss before it crosses a small river.

There is a small grocery store before the stream where we bought our water. Make sure you bring more than a liter of water because the climb could prove to be drenching. Even when you are confident you have enough water with you, it is best that you maximize drinking it. There will be no stores until you get to the other village.

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Getting to the spot where you can climb the wall is another tricky part. It took us a while to find it and the directions on the guide book is hard to follow because there are no clear signs. The hint is the river. Don't cross it but follow its banks instead until you get to a dead end. Near that is where you hike up. A little up from the river is a wall with the picture of the Great Wall and some writings in Chinese characters. From here, the hike is pretty easy and it takes only around 10 minutes. The way is not so wild as they seem to be preparing the place for future tourist site.
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Hitting The Wall

Once on the wall, ( facing same position before you climb it) you can choose to either go left or right. The one on the left is restored on the first few meters and the rest are crumbling so it could be very challenging. Plus, it leads t nowhere. Try this route if you feel like walking for days before you get to another village. The one on the right will lead you to another village ---Huanghuacheng. 

The wall on this side is partially restored, meaning, steps are a lot easier. I said partially because through the 1-hour hike to the next village, you will notice parts of the wall (especially many of the towers) still crumbling. This may not be the authentic Great Wall more than a thousand years after it was constructed but this is the closest to original that you can get. The ones where tours will take your are restored sections so it is normal to hear people a bit disappointed upon seeing them in person because they don't look ancient anymore.
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The Left -- crumbling in most sections and leads to nowhere
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The Right --leading to the other village 1 hour away by hike. Partially restored
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View of the left section on our way up taking the route on the right

The Hike from Zhuangdaokou 
to #Huanghuacheng 
I would rate this hike moderate. It could take a bit strenuous if you rush yourself. Take your time. Enjoy every step. And with should be respect for this great place. Sabi nga ng wife ko, hinalikan nya yung wall when I was not looking. If you will hike through it in moderate speed, it will only take 1 hour and you will be on the other side. I remember going through three towers before we reached the highest portion. From there it was downhill and a little more easy. I took hundreds of photos of course. It was already past 10:00 am when we started our climb and it took us more than two hours to get to the other side because we had a lot of stops for rest and taking photos.
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The Wall All for Ourselves
The best part is that-- we had the wall only for ourselves 90% of the time! Yes! Kami lang tao mostly, me and my wife. And this is something impossible to achieve of you take the tours. It means, we didn't have to wait for turns to take that postcard-perfect shot with us in the frame. It also meant we could take the time to stop at any point and appreciate the view. Plus, we didn't have a guide to tell us we have to hurry coz it's almost time to leave.

I said we were alone 90% of the time because as soon as we hit the wall from Zhuangdaokou, Jules and his wife went to the other direction. They tried climbing up the crumbling sections passed a few towers before going back to take the direction we took. They were able to catch up with is on the highest section separating the the villages and we went down together from there. Bilib ako sa hiking skills ng dalawa.
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The Reservoir
One key feature of this route is the reservoir. You will notice of it before you get to the highest section. I actually thought of it as a lake. Reservoir pala because there is dam that cuts the walls into separate sections. The view of the reservoir from the wall gives more drama into the landscape. Then you can notice the Great Wall on this part going up the mountain again as steep as 65 degrees. When you see the wall hugging the contours of the mountain seemingly endless, that is when you get to admire and respect it even more.
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Going Down to Huanghuacheng Village
Going down the village is of course easier than the ascend but one has to be careful. You need to take it slow because it most of the wall on this part is smooth---meaning, no steps. We were lucky it wasn't rainy on our visit or else it would have been very risky going down. The floor of the wall and most parts is restored and that leaves me wondering if this was the original state of this section when it was originally constructed because I get the feeling that it was not at tinamad nalang sila so they just made it flat. Hahahaha
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Jules and his wife
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WHICH IS BETTER?
Zhuangdaokou to #Huanghuacheng or
the other way around?


And the above description of the walls condition going down should be your maim consideration if it is from Huanghuacheng to Zhoudaokou for you or not. If you are into adventure then start at Huanghuacheng. Sure, it easier to get to this village from Huairou but it is more difficult to hike up coming from here because of the absence of steps. I still suggest to start from Zhuangdaokou and end in Huanghuacheng.

The other goof reason is that, even if you finish later during the day, there are more buses coming from this village back to Huairou.
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Way Back
The distance between Beijing and the Great Wall
Beijing (about 103 km) The Jiankou Great Wall;
Beijing (about 150 km) The Gubeikou Great Wall;
Beijing (about 157 km) The Jinshanling Great Wall;
Beijing (about 149 km) The Simatai Great Wall;
Beijing (about 81 km) The Mutianyu Great Wall;
Beijing (about 80 km) The Huanghaucheng Great Wall;
Beijing (about 59 km) The Juyongguan Great Wall;
Beijing (about 69 km) The Badaling Great Wall.
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HOW TO GET TO 
HUANGHUACHENG/Zhuangdaokou

1. Dongzhiment Transport Hub>>> Huairou 
Bus #916 -12RMB 
2. Get off at Nanhuayuan Sanqu bus stop Walk to the Next Bus Stop on the same Street (same side).
You will be crossing an intersection on your way to the next bus stop. That street is where bus 916 from Beijing makes a right turn that's why you have to stop at the bus stop before that and then walk to the next bus stop.

3.The next bus stop is Nanhuayuan Siqu and that's where you will take a bus to Huanghua Cheng for 8 RMB.
This bus doesn't have a number so you have to look for the electronic signboard on the windscreen. That sign is written in Chinese characters so it's really tricky. >>>  怀柔 -黄花城
(That means Huairou to Huanghuacheng.)
4. If you choose to go to Zhuangdaokou then look for this sign on the bus>> 撞道
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Jules about to board the bus back to Huairou

PS: Special thanks to our roommate at Happy Dragon Hostel for telling us about this place and for even making us borrow his Lonely Planet book which gave us confidence to try this section of the wall. If not for him, we would have opted for the usual tours. Also to Jules and his wife for allowing us to go with them from Huairou to Zhuangdaokouand from Huanghuacheng back to Huairou and Beijing.


2 comments:

  1. I didn't know about this section of the Great Wall when I went to China last 2013, maganda rin pala though it looks scary parang madulas! Do you recommend going here during winter? I went to the Mutianyu section since less tourists then and meron cable car para sa tamad magtrek up. :)

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