Great Wall at Simatai




October 2009 • Canon 40D camera

UNESCO World Heritage site
The Great Wall

The day had finally come to see the Great Wall of China. One of the world's most well known ancient sites was finally upon us. Our trip in China was coming to a close and this would be our final attraction to visit. We had planned to visit a section of a wall that was not frequently visited by tourists—The Great Wall at Simatai 司马台长城. Listed by UNESCO, this section of the Great Wall retains it's original appearance from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

It's is in a bit of a bad condition compared to other sections of the Wall. This appealed to me to see more of the authentic Wall in it's true form opposed to the cleaned up, paved for tourists versions that everyone goes to. The Simatai Great Wall is built on steep mountain ridges and visitors could either hike for 30 minutes to the top or catch an open air gondola lift up. We chose to catch the gondola lift and hike down.

The sun was out in force this morning as we slowly ascended up towards the Great Wall. It was a great way to see the length of the Wall from the distance, snaking it's way on the surrounding mountains. As we got closer we could start to see the Watchtowers appear.

There are 35 Watchtowers along this section of the Wall. Separated by a valley, the valley is divided east and west by the Simatai reservoir—16 towers east, 23 to the west. The gondola lift would take us up to Tower 8..

Did you know...

Simatai Great Wall is 5.4 km long (3.4 miles) On the east, the elevation goes up from 295 meters (968 ft) to 986 meters (3235 ft), making a breathtaking scene.

At the end of the cable ride we still had another 20 minutes to hike up to reach the Wall. It was hot and we were slowly peeling off our layers. Ollie had recommended we wrap up warm as it is usually cold in the mornings at the top. I guess it was not the case today as we had blue skies with no clouds. At Tower 8 we decided to explore further up to Tower 13 as Towers 14–16 were closed to the public. The views were fantastic. The landscape had a nice autumn colours of brown and orange hues.

There were a few local tourists around but if felt like we pretty much had the whole wall to ourselves. The Wall itself was quite wide in some places and narrow in others. The steps was uneven and in some cases missing. Parts of the Wall was so crumbled you had to walk on the edges of the hill to walk around. But the rugged feeling add to the atmosphere that made it feel you were stepping back in time. The Towers were empty inside with small windows. They reminded me of the Aleppo citadel in Syria. They also seem to be slightly different architecturally, with some being small and narrow, while others wide and square.

Just before Tower 13 we had to stop as there was two security guards. Actually one was openly sleeping on a chair. For safety reasons no one could go further.We were now quite high up and could see the cliffs on either side of the wall path. Wonderful blue hues of the sky disappeared into the horizon. The sun was really beating down on us. Forgot our sunscreen. It was also really quiet up here as no one was around. It was a big change to the crowded experience we had yesterday at the Forbidden City. You could feel the historic atmosphere surrounded with the authentic crumbling walls. We spent some admiring the views and taking photos and videos, before heading back down to the first Tower.

When we got to Tower 3, Ollie was there and told us about a zip line across the reservoir back down to the entrance instead of hiking down for 35 minutes. We decided to go for the zip line. Ollie was kind enough to carry our back packs down. We both strapped on together and zipped down 40 seconds! Amazing experience since we both had never done a zip line before. It was a great way to end our trip to the great Wall.

Final thoughts

Just like the Pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China was a historical site that I wished to visit in my life since I was a kid. Today I got a chance to full fill the dream.I was not sure what to expect when I came here. After all it was just a brick wall. But it was a fun and interesting experience. The open air gondola lift was a great way to witness the sheer size of the wall from the distance. I recommend take this route up instead of hiking all the way up.

It costs 30 ¥ single way, 50 ¥ return. With the authentic crumbling bricks and Towers it truly felt like we were visiting an ancient site. If you want a more historic feeling when visiting the Great Wall of China, I recommend to visit this section. And the zip line (45 ¥) down was a surprising bonus—the icing on the cake for our visit to The Great Wall.

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