If you go to China, you go to the Great Wall. Its famous, its epic, its beautiful, you can see it from space (not really), etc. etc. etc. Very few sites in the world rival the great wall – the Pyramids, Angkor Wat, Machu Pichu.
I had long been dreaming of my own trip to the great wall and I wanted to make sure that the experience was very special. I dreaded the thought of a crowded bus dropping me off for a few hours at a chaotic section of the wall.
When I heard about the Great Wall Adventure Club I thought I had found the perfect alternative. They promised a two day, one night trek across several undeveloped sections of the Great Wall. Even better, they were the only company that offered the option of camping on the great all. It sounded amazing. The price was steep – around $300-$350 a person depending on your group size. However, it seemed well worth it based on the experience.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The first sign of trouble was when I got an an email the day before our trip. Apparently a new rule prevented any camping on the wall. We would have to stay in a local guesthouse – but we could still do a very similar tour which included stunning views of the sunrise and sunset.
You can check out the full tour description here.
I was sad to miss out on camping, but I sympathized with rule changes. After all, hadn’t we had our own issues with random Chinese laws and regulations? This new tour still promised a great experience:
Witness something that most travelers never get to see-both the sunrise and sunset over the Great Wall. This natural sensation will take your breath away, and will be one of the most photogenic opportunities of your China visit
The trouble continued the next morning when our guide, Barry, picked us up. When we asked him about camping he told us that it had not been allowed since January of 2012. That would mean that the law was in place a full seven months prior to our booking.
Next up, he told us that the sunrise and sunset were not possible and he had no knowledge of that being part of the plan. He was like Barry, the fun killer.
At this point I feel I should point out the name of our tour:
“Sunset and Sunrise on the Great Wall”
One would think the guide of the Sunset and Sunrise tour would know he should be showing us a sunset and sunrise. But no, not the fun killer.
After some arguing and back and forth we convinced him that it was important that we see the sunrise and sunset. At the same time, he told us that it would require us to rearrange the entire agenda and our guesthouse in order to make it possible. He even said that we may have to go on our own. Thanks fun killer.
We stopped for lunch at a generic restaurant before the hike.
Still unsure of the situation, we began the hike. And for the most part, our time on the wall was amazing. The unrestored section was deserted except for us and we had an wonderful time hiking, climbing and enjoying the wall.
Then sunset came. Let’s go back to the tour description:
Before we climb down, we’ll stay in order to view the sunset over the Great Wall. This experience will be a nature lover’s delight, and is also a great opportunity for photos. After the sunset we’ll climb down to a nearby guesthouse for dinner.
Well, as it turns out the fun killer struck again. Barry, our guide had no special place planned for sunset and as the sun went down the wall and the sun were on opposite sides of the view so it was impossible to get photos of the two of them together.
As for that “nearby” guest house? Yeah, the fun killer told us it was two and a half hours away. At least dinner would be good. The program promised the following:
The chef here used to work in large company’s canteen for 28 years! He is going to serve you Kong Pao Chicken, Stewed beef and potato, Green Pepper and Pork, Fried Tofu in Spicy Sauce, Fried Egg Tomato, Sweet and Sour Chicken, and vegetables (great for vegetarians), and soup. What’s more important is that all the vegetables he uses are planted in his own yard, so it is organic and fresh!
Well, instead fun killer took as back to the same random, generic restaurant we had gone to for lunch. He told us that since we had wanted to watch the sunset, we were really behind schedule. It was already 7:30 and the guesthouse was still very far away (not nearby as promised in the program)
We asked if we could go to a nearby guesthouse, but he told us that the nearby one was not nice and the far away one was much nicer. Also, it was too late to change. Thanks Barry.
Okay. At least we would have the night the a nice guest house.
Wrong. The place was a hot mess. No heat, not toilet paper, no hot water. The place was covered in dirt, mold and bugs. I shudder to think what the less nice one would have been like.
The next morning looked promising:
In order for us to catch the sunrise over the Great Wall, we’ll wake up bright and early at 5:30am. We’ll climb up about 15 minutes to a watchtower at the Gubeikou Great Wall, and from there we’ll view the sun rise over the Great Wall. At about 7-7:30am we’ll climb backdown for breakfast.
Then came Barry, the fun killer. He told us it would be impossible to make sunrise if we waited until 5:30 am. We would have to wake up at 3:30 am. Also there was no way we could come back down for breakfast. We would have to buy something at the convenience store next store and carry it up ourselves.
We each picked out a few items and then he informed us that the budget for the entire breakfast was 50 RMB. Let me break that down for you. 50 RMB for a group of 5 people is 10 RMB per person. Which is about $1.50. Thats right, our budget for breakfast was $1.50 – on a tour that cost $300.
Once again, Barry the fun killer had no particular plan for seeing the sunset and our 15 minute hike turned into an hour long death march through the jungle before we reached the wall. Of course, Barry hadn’t brought a flashlight of any kind so he had to depend on the headlights we had brought.
Luckily, we had woken up so early, the by the time we hiked to the restored area – the place normally mobbed by tourists it was only 8:00 am the it was deserted. We were even able to enjoy a morning breakfast beer overlooking the wall.
To summarize: The wall was amazing. Great Wall Adventures was total crap. I’ll have another post soon about our actual time on the wall.
_______________________________________________________________________Disclaimer: We received a discount from Great Wall Adventures in exchange for my review. Obviously, all thoughts and opinions are my own.