My first experience on the Great Wall a few years back was much of a disappointment: it was marked by rivers of tourists, screeching loudspeakers and weather that would make anyone search for the nearest air-conditioned enclosure.
However, on a recent WildChina trip, I was fortunate enough to return to a different section of the Wall with a group of international students on a trip to Beijing. As part of their WildChina trip, the student group spent a night hiking and camping on the Great Wall at Simatai – a vastly different experience from my previous Great Wall fiasco.
Sitting on the wall, surrounded by the vast pristine landscape during sunset, seemed almost too good to be true. It was more than the combination of a lack of tourists and stunning yellow foliage; it was a moment of total freedom with the Wall stretching endlessly for me to explore.
What made the camping that much more enjoyable, regardless of the rain and cold, (pack warm clothes!) was the kindness of the local people from neighboring villages who made sure that we felt welcome. The hike was not as hard as one might think. Of course, the zip-line ride down from the top of the Great Wall at Simatai was the perfect end to our hike.
With the setting sun on Simatai ended a new perspective on the must-do Great Wall experience. I’m glad I had a second chance to do it right.