A Guide to The Remoter Sections of the Great Wall of China

For me, the Great Wall of China exists as two separate entities – the touristy, restored sections and the more authentic, un-restored parts. As I am sure many of you will agree, I enjoy the latter much more. Having spent time on the all-singing all-dancing restored sections, I was pretty underwhelmed by the obviously in-congruent new brick and the crumbling mortar. As such I decided to find ways to explore the remoter parts, the areas which still carry an imprint of the impressive history enacted on their bricks. In the following guide I will tell you my three favourite unrestored sections, as well as providing directions how to get to them. Please note, some of these sections are not officially open to tourists. As such I urge you to think carefully about your own safety and the impact on these sections of the wall from tourism before you go. I’m not saying don’t go – after all I did and I loved it. Just give it some consideration and make sure you follow all the usual respectful codes of behaviour – don’t drop litter/food, try not to disrupt any brickwork etc.

Favourite Section#1 – Simatai

For me, this section was the perfect juxtaposition between old wall and new, where section of – surprisingly tastefully – restored sections run seamlessly into old crumbling parts. In this first picture I am standing on a new section, with the part in front of me having almost completely collapsed – and anyone who knows me knows how I adore this juxtaposition of old and new life.

Unfortunately for us, when we walked from our amazing guesthouse (details below) and reached the wall the gate on our side was locked. Given that the wall continues famously for many hundreds of miles, we didn’t fancy our chances of being able to walk around it. We therefore had to resort to a slightly unusual access method – which I really wouldn’t recommend imitating!


Once recovered from the indignity of emerging onto the wall like a worm coming out of the soil, we were rewarded with stunning panoramic views of old and new wall and the light from the sunset highlighting everything in a soft orange light. We were on a raised part of the wall, looking down on an ancient, untouched section that dipped down across the valley. If we turned 180 degrees we were looking up at a newly restored section which was serviced by a cable car and after sunset was lit up by strobe lighting. For me, this was the perfect meeting of old world and new – and despite the cable car and the lights was actually one of the better restored sections I’ve visited.

Practicalities:

How to get there

From Beijing use the underground to get to  Wangjing Xizhan bus station (望京西站). To get there take subway line 13 to Wangjing Xizhan (望京西站) and use exit B. Walk east 200 meters. You can also take subway line 15 to Wangjing Xizhan. After exiting the station go south 150 meters.

Once there, take the bus to the Jinshanling Service Area (金山岭服务区). It is on the right after entering the bus station and the name is written  in English. Buses leave Beijing approximately every 30-45 minutes between 7 AM and 4:30 PM. They return schedule is similar (both time & frequency). The price is around 32 RMB (21 if you have a bus card). This is subject to change. The trip takes around 1 hour 40 minutes, depending on traffic. Pickup and drop off at the Jinshanling Service Area, as well as the ride to the Great Wall at Jinshanling (金山岭景区)from the guesthouse is included in the price of the room (see below).

Where to stay

Simatai Guest House/Dongpo Restaurant. This place costs 300RMB per person and this included collection and drop off at the Jinshanling service area as well as dinner, breakfast and transport to a really cool section of the old wall on the morning of the second day. For us they provided breakfast at 3.30am so we could be there for sunrise, and then waiting for 4/5 hours whilst we wandered around and took photos. After this they even took us for second breakfast (which we paid for) as the owner stopped to pick up some food and we were hungry! Can’t think of a better way to see the wall than this.


It can be difficult to contact them as they don’t have online booking and don’t speak English. We found the best way was to get our hotel in Beijing to call for us and make the arrangements. Advanced booking isn’t really necessary as they are seldom full.

Contact:

(from outside China) +86.136.1314.3252
(from inside China) 0136.1314.3252
WeChat (微信): Add using the owner’s cell phone number: 13613143252

Favourite Section #2 – Gubeikou

Since much of the wall around Simatai that was previously accessible directly from the Guesthouse is closed for refurbishment (rumour is they are building a big hotel…), the kind people who run the place will now drive you a fair way to this unrestored and wild section of the great wall. Ticket price is 25RMB and is the only thing not included in your trip. Since we wanted to be on the wall for sunrise this meant breakfast at 3am and leaving the guesthouse with all our bags at 3.30. But I think the photos show you that it was so worthwhile! We had the entire wall to ourselves, stretching for miles into the distance. It is an untouched section which dips down to meet the forest below in sections. But due to its remote location, it is well preserved. There are multiple guard towers like the one above where you can peek through the arched window or climb on top to view the mind-blowing vistas.

Practicalities

This is a very remote section and difficult to get to by public transport, unless you are willing to walk for hours. I would recommend doing it with this small guesthouse as it is easy to do and the intimate nature of the family you will stay with means the ‘package’ only adds to the experience. However, if you don’t want to stay, you could hire a taxi from Jinshanling service area to go there and back in a day trip from Beijing (though you might be struggling for time to get back for the 4.30pm last return bus).

Favourite Section # 3 – HuangHuaCheng

This third, and in no way least, section was probably the strangest we visited. The main part of the wall at HuangHuaCheng is gaudily restored with modern grey brick, crumbling mortar and a fairground feel around the man-made lake. The village that has grown up around it is full of make-shift motel-like hostels and small but good restaurants. It has a bizarre ‘thrown-up to meet the tourists’ vibe, but certainly when we were there, tourists were few and far between.

However.

Take a small detour from the main gates, through the car park and up a small track going up hill (turning a blind eye to the ‘closed to tourist’ signs if your conscience allows you) and you will be on one of the best sections of the wall I have seen. Scrambling up over piles of rubble, using ropes left by previous visitors to balance on precipitous ascents and emerging onto a (slightly crumbling) guard tower to gaze upon the expanses of wall – old and shrouded in mystery on one side, new and covered in tourist ants on the other. Magical. Once again we had the whole wall to ourselves in the two hours we were there, and met only one local out for a walk in our descent.

Please note, this is not suitable footwear for climbing this section of the wall. I was lured out of bed at 3.50am with the promise of a ‘quick stroll around the village’ to watch the sunrise. But when faced with the prospect of climbing this wild section of history, who can resist?!

Practicalities:

Getting there and away

Take the 916 Express service from Dongzhimen Bus Terminal out to Huairou Station (12RMB; around 1 hour, traffic depending; runs 5.50am-7.50pm; last bus back to the city is 6.50pm); from there, take the H21 local bus service (7RMB; around 70 minutes; runs 5.40am-6.20pm) to its terminus – the Huanghuacheng car park. The last bus back to Huairou leaves at 7.20pm.

As a general rule, H buses are infrequent and can be unreliable, so taking a car from Huairou is a fair option; you will receive a flurry offers on exiting the bus at Huairou station, but do not pay more than 100RMB for a round trip. We waited around an hour for the bus from Huairou, but got one straight away on the return journey. Please note – we got told to get off the bus early on the way there, resulting in a long walk (though we did discover a great restaurant so silver lining!) – the stop you want is the very last one in the bus station.

Where to stay

The hotels in HuangHuaCheng are much of a muchness. A quick look on a booking site and you will find somewhere to suit your taste and budget, from a cheap hotel like we used to a plush 5 star villa with spa and pool. We personally stayed in the HuangHuanChen Beijing Waterside hotel which was great. Really cheap, owner was lovely and the breakfast (15RMB per person) was delicious. It had a nice courtyard garden where they grow their own vegetables. I would recommend this for a budget traveller, but I’m sure the other places are similar.

Hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. Do let me know your thoughts – have you been to any of these places, or are you planning to visit? If you use this guide to explore do let me know how you get on!

 

 

 

51 Comments on “A Guide to The Remoter Sections of the Great Wall of China”

  1. I was literally just talking yesterday about how I want to go to the great wall but the more remote sections! Some really good advice on here! Cant wait to do it!

  2. These photos are unreal!!!! I love that you visited a less touristy part of the wall! That’s the kind of trip I want to do to the wall. It seems so much more authentic without the hoards of people!

  3. Oh my your views were amazing! I’ve only been to the wall in the main tourist areas. They are beautiful but certainly nothing like the views you got. I think that is pretty crazy you had to jump up and climb into that hole in the wall for the first one. I appreciate the directions you provide so we can all find these awesome locations!

  4. Looks like the upside to this section is having it all to yourself! Though I must say, I like the aesthetics of the tourist section. I had no idea this section even existed, but sounds like the perfect spot if you want photos without 1000 people in the background!

  5. I really like how you detailed how to get to remoter parts of the Great Wall. I’ve always wanted to go but wasn’t too enamored by the promise of crowds. Also, thank you for showing folk that pretty sandals are not meant for trekking the Great Wall. Many travelers think it’s a great place to pose but don’t think about the practicalities of walking there in those shoes!

  6. First off, the pic of you crawling through the wall is hilarious:-) Having never been to the Great Wall (not yet at least), I had no idea that is was pretty much in 2 sections. Wow oh wow I’m blown about by your pictures. No wonder this is one of the new 7 wonders of the world. I like to think when I make it, I’ll take the unrestored route too. Thanks, I know I have a reference!

  7. First off, the pic of you crawling through the wall is hilarious:-) Having never been to the Great Wall (not yet at least), I had no idea that is was pretty much in 2 sections. Wow oh wow I’m blown about by your pictures. No wonder this is one of the new 7 wonders of the world. I like to think when I make it, I’ll take the un-restored route too. Thanks, I know I have a reference!

  8. Just like you, I tend to avoid tourist traps, but I also try to be highly respectful of the area. Sometimes it’s better to point it out straight, as people tend to forget how to behave!

  9. Brilliant write up. I have always wanted to travel to China especially the non-touristy places and this article mentions all of it. Its very informative in terms of accommodation, transportation etc.

  10. What amazing finds! Thank you so much for sharing these three great, non-touristy areas of the Wall with us. It’s so beautiful to see it empty, with such amazing views! I swear every time I’ve seen photos of the Great Wall of China, it’s been absolutely packed with tourists. It never dawned on me that there are other places you can visit. When we make it here next, we will definitely use this guide. Thanks!

  11. Thanks for a blog post highlighting the lesser/unheard parts of the Great Wall of China. Simatai looks like a great find and that pic of yours crouching shows how much fun you must have had while discovering it!

  12. Good for you for uncovering the remote sections of the Great Wall. It is worthwhile for the little extra travel to avoid the crowd. Those views are worth waking up early for!

  13. Now, that’s a very novel post! Often either you see a very crowded ‘bad’ review or an empty ‘instragrammable’ review of Great Wall of China. This is a new look!
    I particularly like Gubeiku and HuangHuaCheng. Esp HuangHuaCheng is just too gorgeous! The view from atop is just too good!

  14. Just the perfect post for a more experienced traveller…thanks for sharing!
    I loved the section on how to get to these places…though I am not sure if I want to potter around in China alone, esp with the language barrier. The HuangHuaCheng section looks stunning!

  15. I loved every bit of reading this post and all the information you gave, a fantastic guide for anyone gin got visit the Great Wall of China, and the photography was just beautiful.. Going to share this post around and I’ve bookmarked.

  16. This is such a useful post with so valuable information! When I visited Beijing I was so tired, after a trip through Russia and Mongolia, that I had to skip the Great Wall thinking of the crowds. I didn’t know that there were remote sections like this one and that you can actually stay at guesthouses that will drive you to them. Or stay in a hotel fairly close, like at your last suggestion. I am thinking of going back to China one day and I will follow your advice and go see a remote area of the wall. I don’t like a lot of tourists when I go visit a place 🙂

  17. Nice tips, it will come useful since the Wall is still on my bucket list. And I love your photos, that one with “recovering dignity” made me laugh, but the last one left me in awe! 🙂

  18. Wow! Well, me, I’d just be happy if I got to see the Great Wall at all, let alone the more remote parts, lol. 😀

  19. This landmark is just plain incredible and stunning – to enjoy a sunrise or sunset atop the wall is a definite bucket list moment. Wonderful tip about asking the hotel to make arrangements for tickets. You might have the most unique story about accessing the wall!

  20. I’m so happy I found this post! I’ve been to the Great Wall only once…on a tour…to the touristy section. I’m glad I had that experience, but I’ve been hoping to explore the quieter sections ever since I saw Karl do it on An Idiot Abroad. I’m hoping to head back to China in the next few years with my kids, so I’m saving this post!

  21. I really enjoyed this post. It is not often you see some beautiful pictures of the more remote parts of the wall. Usually all we see and the well kept or rebuilt parts. It looks amazing to visit here

  22. What amazing advise! I had absolutely no idea that there were different sections to the Wall…always assumed the touristy part was the only option for travelers. Thank you for the wonderful breakdown! (Oh, and I’m absolutely dying over that picture of you sticking out of the wall 😂)

  23. I love this post. It’s easy to forget that away from the popular sections of the Wall, there are hundreds of isolated sections, without the teeming crowds.

  24. This is an amazing experience to do. I’m not a big fan of china, I went just 2 times for job and is crazy sometimes but the great wall is a thing that everybody should see once in life. Cool photos I love it! We can stay in touch if you like!

  25. I adored this post, I’ve never been to the Great Wall but your pictures made me feel like I was experiencing it with you. What a great post highlighting some parts of the wall that many never see. Such a remarkable trip and memories. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Never seen this part of GWofC in pics. Very daring of you indeed. The pics are out of the world kinds. Did you use drone for photography?

  27. Wow! These pictures were amazing. In fact, I am going to get my little guy up early for camp to come and see them. He’s my smarty pants who is always talking about different places around the world. He was just talking about the “Great Wall” the other day. Beautiful pictures too!

  28. Thank you so much for sharing this information and the photos, my daughter loves learning about different landmarks around the world and The Great Wall of China is one that she wants to research. Will definitely be coming back to show her this!

  29. I literally just came back from a visit to Shanghai, and on my way to the airport to return home I lamented the fact I wasn’t able to go exploring further and get out of the city. While I can stand the odd tourist trap here and there, I’ve always had a soft spot for untouched ruins. There is just something otherworldly, authentic and organic about it all that somehow feels like a more authentic history and some restorations. Brilliant post!

  30. This is how I’d want to see the wall. I have had no desire really because I don’t want to be ushered through a crowd of a thousand people to see it. Your pictures are amazing and I cracked up at the one of you climbing through the wall!! Saving this for future reference!!

  31. I have a couple friends who have gone here and I am always so jealous! This is definitely on my bucket list! I love that your went out of the realm of typical tourist visits and explored more! And I love the pictures!! They are breathtaking!

  32. I would love to go to Great wall of China one day but I am always concerned about the crowd. In this post, you have given us three remote sections and I will definitely keep this in mind whenever I visit. I love all your pictures.

  33. Wow this is great advice. I visited the Mutianuyu part of the wall which was quite busy. I went for a 2-hour walk along it and came to a part of the wall which was completely empty – but it was totally worth it.

    I agree it is so worth visiting the less busy parts and where it’s not restored well it still has so much charm. The instructions on how to get to each area is so handy! If I went back to the wall I’ll definitely try to visit one of those parts.

  34. This is such a comprehensive post, somewhere
    I have always wanted to go, beautiful images x

  35. WOW! Such an exhaustive post. I had been to China but never been to the Great wall of China. You have got really great pictures. I specially loved HuangHuaCheng.

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