During my first visit to China in 2015, I managed to travel nowhere near the Great Wall of China. When I began organising this trip to Beijing, visiting the wall (as well as my friend!) was at the top of my priority list.
There are numerous sections of the Great Wall that can be reached from Beijing, give or take a couple of hours. However, as luck would have it my friend’s university was organising a trip to Gubei Water Town, a tourist resort built at the base of the Simatai section of the Great Wall. I was able to join the trip, which worked out perfectly as we were taken directly to the town in under two hours via a private bus. So much easier than navigating public transport!
I was so excited when we got of the bus, as the town was covered in snow! It was only a small covering, but enough to have this little Aussie gal excited.
From what I could gather from the limited English information about Gubei, is that the town is actually a rebuild in the style of traditional Chinese water towns. The town is a ‘resort’, in the sense that one has to buy a ticket to enter the town. There are shops, food stalls, roaming entertainment and museums, rather than locals living in the area.
The Great Wall in the distance! I was basically crying from excitement at this point.
We left the tour group and headed straight for the wall. I am so glad we did, as by the afternoon clouds had set in around the mountains.
We decided to save our money and ‘experience’ the wall by climbing along to all ten watchtowers, rather than catching a gondola to the top of the wall. This turned out to be the best way to see the wall, but also the most exhausting hike! The wall was incredibly steep, and less well kept than other sections of the wall. As a result, the steps were crooked, narrow, and a bit all over the place! At the same time, this made the wall feel a bit more authentic, as it wasn’t crawling with tourists and rebuilt.
After the first few watchtowers we stopped for a picnic lunch. Despite being freezing cold in the water town, after hiking for half an hour we were all ripping off our layers, beanies and gloves! It certainly got the heart rate pumping.
I basically couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the whole time, even through the pain of hiking! The wall was so much more than I imagined, with such stunning views of the wall sprawling ahead for miles, the mountains, and the snow covered forests.
As I mentioned before, there weren’t many other people on the wall, which meant we were able to get some amazing uninterrupted views.
Everyone else we did see was struggling as much as us though! These photos don’t do justice to how steep this was.
Best. Day. Ever.
After spending a few hours hiking to the top, and back down again, we were in desperate need of a break. We had a coffee stop (and wifi, gotta upload all those photos!), before spending the remainder of the afternoon exploring the town.
An absolute novelty of the town to me was the purpose built design of the ‘snack street’. Numerous street vendors sold traditional snacks (pancakes, skewered meat, tofu, cakes, etc), which were only worth a few dollars each. However, the street was completely cash free – every transaction and order was placed through ‘wechat’, a kind of messengers/facebook/eftpos hybrid app that seems to do just about everything possible in China. I would have starved if my friend hadn’t been there and able to use wechat!
We made one last trek to get this stunning night time view of the water town, before heading back to the bus. Totally worth stretching our legs one more time.
Whilst Gubei Water Town is a bit difficult to get to via public transport, it is totally worth visiting to check out the Simatai section of the Great Wall, as well as exploring the town itself. So if you are ever in Beijing and considering which part of the wall to visit, consider Gubei!