How to get to Jinshanling (Great Wall) from Beijing
Seeing the Great Wall is epic, but not as epic if you’re on a crowded tour group with hoards of chinese tourists, or if you’re walking on sections of the wall that are overcrowded with touts selling you things the whole way. Jinshanling is the preferred choice for those who choose to go the distance. While it’s considered to be the toughest part of the wall due to the steep climbs and unrestored terrain, the promising view and serenity of seeing the magnificent Great Wall in peace is especially worth your while.
The hike from Jinshanling is really beautiful. Not only is it mostly empty, there are also parts of the wall that are unrestored, making the experience a little bit more meaningful. Beyond the steep climb and some loose stones, it’s definitely a better choice as compared to Badaling or Mutianyu. Some locals we spoke to don’t recommend coming to this part of the wall, claiming it to be dangerous especially in Winter, but don’t let that stop you – as the Chinese seem to prefer safe options and follow tour groups.
We took a hiking route that didn’t require a return walk. Starting at the visitor’s centre and ticket booth, we started the hike and headed up towards the East Tower. This took a total of 4-5 hours, with ample time in between for breaks, and lunch.
While we couldn’t proceed on beyond the East Tower to Simatai due to snow/ice forming on the wall, the 4 hour hike itself proved to be picturesque and continually mind-blowing the further we progressed. Beyond the East Tower lies a suspension bridge over a reservoir that we missed, (which was a shame) but seeing this part of the wall at Jinshanling already made me content.
There are several ways to get to Jinshanling from Beijing,
Take the subway in Beijing city to WangJing East, then catch a coach to Luanping, before transferring to a shuttle bus to Jinshanling. (We did not take this option as we weren’t sure if the shuttle buses were running in Winter. However this seems to be the cheapest route to Jinshanling.)
Take the subway in Beijing city to Dongzhimen (4RMB). Upon exiting the station, follow the signs to the Bus Transfer Hall at Exit H. Take 980快 (980Express) to 太扬家园 in Miyun —> This is the first stop after the highway. The entire journey from the Bus Station to Miyun takes about 1 hour and cost 7RMB. You can pay with your metro card. From Miyun, take a private car hire to Jinshanling visitor’s centre.
>> Now this, is where your haggling skills would come into handy. Upon alighting the bus, drivers would start following, touting and targeting you like vultures. They’d use all the oldest tricks in the books to emphasise on the distance between Miyun and Jinshanling, and how much it would cost based on their calculations. They’d insist that taking a private car transport two ways would cost less than a one way trip, and they would also wait for you to finish your climb at the Great Wall. We were initially quoted 800RMB for a 2 way journey, and eventually managed to haggle the price down to 240RMB for a 1 way journey. The plan was to take a shuttle bus back to Beijing.
*Claiming that you know for the existence of a return shuttle bus would humble the drivers a little, since they know they can’t cheat you any further. As I mentioned before, the key to China is repetition and persistence. Stay strong in your price, and eventually they’ll cave or reach a middle ground.
The journey back to Beijing
From the East Tower, you will find a small flight of steps that leads you through a beautiful park to a square & carpark area. From here there is usually a shuttle bus that takes you to the Service Center. BUT, this shuttle bus may not run if there are not enough tourists, and the only way to know is to ask the locals.
Where is the Service Center?
It’s far out before the toll booth to enter the Jinshanling tourist area, and is housed in a huge parking lot, inside a convenience store. From this square, it is a 15-20minutes walk if the shuttle bus doesn’t run. Just walk along the road, in the opposite direction of the Visitors Centre (Where you bought entry tickets from). From this “Service Center” area you can catch a bus back to Beijing. It will cost 32RMB.
Booking a seat
Important thing to note is that the buses back to Beijing REQUIRE a seat reservation or you cannot get on. The general rule for long distance bus travels is that NO STANDING is allowed, and the bus is full once all seats are filled. You can reserve seats from the staff inside the convenience store, wearing the blue and yellow jacket of the bus company. There will be just ONE person sitting at the corner like an unknowing passerby. So ask around.
These buses also stop taking seat reservations after the bus which leaves the terminal at 330pm (and arrives at the service center at 4pm). Any buses after (the one that leaves the terminal at 4pm and arrives at the service center at 430pm) will not accept any bookings, and works on a first come first serve basis. You cannot get on if it’s already full, unless someone alights.
To avoid disappointment and getting stranded, it is highly recommended that you call ahead and get a seat, or plan your hike in a way that you have enough time to descent from the Great Wall and get to the service center in time to reserve a seat ahead of time.
What happens if you miss the last bus?
That’s exactly what happened to us. We missed the cut off for the seat reservation(not knowing it was required) and the other buses coming were all full. Thankfully we were with 2 locals who were also stranded and headed back to Beijing. They recommended that we go across to the opposite side of the highway (travelling in the direction of Beijing), and at the toll booth itself we flagged down buses that had signs of ‘Beijing’ written on the front. Buses came and went… Those that were full couldn’t accommodate anybody, but those that had empty seats would let you on. So that’s where you try your luck to avoid taking a taxi back (which might set you back by a hefty 300RMB or so)