Last Tuesday we crossed a big thing off our China bucket list: we visited the Great Wall. There are lots of sections that are easily accessible from Beijing like the Mutianyu or Badaling section, but upon the recommendation of one of our coworkers we decided upon the easternmost section, where the wall meets the sea.
To do this entailed a two hour train journey from the Beijing Railway Station to Qinhuangdo plus another 20 minute taxi ride
to Old Dragon’s Head (Laolongtou) aptly named for the shape of the last fortification literally going into the ocean.
We arrived, got our tickets and walked from the surrounding garrison and fortifications down to the ocean. It was amazing to finally be on the Great Wall itself after hearing so much about it.
The town where this section of the wall is located is named Shanhaiguan, and it is normally a very busy seaside resort town
in the summer. When we visited, it was hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit with a stiff sea breeze which had the effect
of eliminating most of the tourists from the site and our pictures. Honestly, I enjoyed the off season experience, the cold is definitely worth the freedom you get to explore at your own pace and inclination.
After we had explored that area, it was time for a bit of lunch and some more hiking. As we were looking around trying to figure our the best course to get some grub, we were approached by a man parked in front of the monument area who seemed to be using his car for a taxi. Normally, in Beijing, we only use official taxis, but after surveying the area and thinking the likelihood of finding one slim, we decided to go with this guy who told us he would take us to a restaurant for 10 kuai (about $1.50). He drove us up a hill to a deserted parking lot, which looked a little sketchy, but turned out to be a fairly expensive seafood restaurant which was only deserted
because it was cold outside.
As we ate, we tried to formulate a plan for the afternoon. I had heard that hiking around Jianshan, the first mountain of the wall, was pretty good so we were discussing how to best get there. The unlicensed taxi driver kept talking to us saying “Jiumenkou.” Eventually, through a lot of google translate, Pleco app and showing us a picture, we understood that this was a different section of the wall. He said he could get us there for 50 kuai (about $7.50). The pictures looked very nice, and he had been very accommodating, so we decided to go for it. He drove us through the town and we saw very dry countryside with mountains not too far off. He proceeded to drive us up a mountain, zooming around tight windy roads. We were chuckling about the speed of our mountainous journey considering how both Alex and Carson can sometimes get carsick, which the driver interpreted as us enjoying his speed which he then increased to the point that we were actually drifting on the gravel around some of these turns with the mountain on one side and a lot of empty space on the other (sorry Mom). It was at this point, we decided to call him “Drift King.” As Shanhaiguan receded further and further into the distance, we began to grow more concerned about where we were actually going, and I for one had second thoughts about going here instead of nearby Jianshan. But, we finally arrived in a tiny town/village where our driver pulled up next to a house and began to charge his electric car. Suddenly, his
insistence on this spot made sense, it was his hometown.
We proceeded to buy tickets, but then he walked us away from the entrance to the wall. We were very confused, but still trying to figure out what our driver was trying so hard to explain to us in Chinese. By his gesturing, we thought maybe there was another entrance where we would go up by chairlift and then hike down the mountain to the entrance. (There are various attractions like chair lifting up or tobogganing down different sections of the wall.) We gave him money for what we thought were chairlift tickets, which we never saw again as it turned out to be his driving fee (which we got ripped off on), but it turns out that he had led us up the hill to see a Buddhist temple which was included in our entrance ticket. On the way back down, he pointed out a grove of apple trees which seemed to be a major crop and gave us his phone number so that we could call him after we finished walking along the wall.
At this point, we had a lot of doubts about going to Jiumenkou, but once we went in the running river meeting the ice, taken from the wall through the entrance, this changed. It was absolutely beautiful. This section is named by some to be one of the most important sections of the wall as it contains a walled bridge over a strategic river. When we arrived, the river was in the process of freezing which produced a beautiful tinkling as the running water hit the ice. The wall was almost deserted. I estimate there were between 12 and 20 other tourists on the roughly mile long stretch of deserted wall. We felt like we had the place to ourselves. Overall, the backdrop of the mountains combined with river and the lack of people made me extremely happy we had not missed out on this lovely place. I’ll definitely recommend it to people in the future.
After hiking, we were pretty exhausted and met up with Drift King. He bought us some of the local, delicious apples and we asked him to bring us back to the train station. Following a quiet ride, he indicated for us to get out, pointing that the train station was a block ahead and to the left. Confusedly, we exited the car, uncertain of why he hadn’t dropped us off at the entrance. Suddenly a silver sedan accelerated towards our car and swerved into our lane, stopping a few feet in front of our car. Drift King checked behind him to make sure we were out of the way before he zoomed into reverse away from the car. The silver car advanced towards him and four policemen jumped out. Drift King whipped around– still in reverse– and gave their car a bump before zooming in reverse down the street out of sight. The silver car chased him as we walked away, more confused than before. We decided that our best course of action was to walk and get our train tickets back to Beijing before someone tried to question us about illegal activity we had no clue about. From the station, we saw the police blue lights around Drift King’s car. Needless to say, we had plenty to talk about as we rode the train home. It was definitely an exciting end to a crazy day. We hope Drift King is alright.