The hostel that we stayed at also organized trips to the Great Wall, including a trip to hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. I highly recommend this section of the wall, as I had heard horror stories of the wall being ridiculously crowded, but this section wasn’t crowded at all, and we felt like the only people on the wall for stretches of it. I will say that we lucked out on the weather while we were in Beijing, as it was hot but clear (and had relatively low levels of air pollution).
Jinshanling is further away than Badaling or Mutianyu, so it took a couple of hours to get to the wall (and even longer to get back because of traffic). Take lots of water and food with you as the hike can be pretty steep and strenuous in certain parts, although there’s no hurry to finish quickly.
The hike is about 6km long, and it’s beautiful. The Great Wall really is magnificent and awe-inspiring. I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves (and I didn’t have to try very hard to get pictures without many people in them).
Pretty soon after we got off the bus and started making our way up to the wall, I noticed that there were two older Chinese women who had apparently joined the group. They just started walking with us, and they started chatting with me in Mandarin as I was the only Asian person in our group. Every day, these women hike the Great Wall, attaching themselves to tour groups and trying to be helpful to people by doing things like taking pictures and providing information. (After the fact, I was told by other people in the tour group that I had made friends with that they saw that the two women essentially homed in on me immediately and didn’t bother talking to anyone else. They also defended their territory by not allowing a third woman to join the group and talk to me.)
They hike with you the entire way (or almost the entire way), and then they try to sell you things. I really didn’t want to buy any of the things they were selling (these are very low quality goods), but I wanted to give them money because I really did appreciate the help that they offered. They took tons of photos for my friend and me, and they were actually pretty good tour guides who taught me things about the Great Wall since our “tour guide” from the hostel just left everyone behind so he could smoke by himself (smoking is supposed to be prohibited on the wall).
So I gave 200 rmb (about $30 USD) to one of them for some crappy souvenir worth maybe 5 rmb if I’m being generous, thinking that they would split it since they seemed to work together. But apparently they don’t work together, and so the other woman was mad at me for not buying anything from her. I tried to get the first woman to give me back some of my money so I could give it to the second woman, but the first woman wasn’t going to give me anything back, and then I felt bad for the second woman. So I then coughed up some more money to give to the second woman.
All in all, I found the experience pretty funny. I don’t really mind getting “fleeced” by these women as I have a soft spot in my heart for older Chinese people, and I did value their help along the hike. I was very clearly the initial target of these women because I’m Asian American, which was a first for me. But it’s so interesting to me that hiking the Great Wall with tourists is a valid business model for these women. And I’m impressed by the amount of English that they know, given that they’ve just picked up the language from interacting with tourists every day.
Anyway, I highly recommend hiking the Great Wall at Jinshanling since so few tourists go to it, and be ready to be followed by Chinese women, particularly if you’re Chinese American.