This would be our second section of the wall that we have gone to. Simatai is located 120 km’s northeast of Beijing. We were told the visibility should be a lot better here than Badaling. This section being a lot further away from Beijing and with less transportation options is much less visited than Badaling.
It ended up being a bit of a mess to get there. We decided to save money and do the wall at our leisure by taking local transport instead of a prearranged trip. We went to the bus station and asked which bus would take us to Simatai. We loaded onto the bus and after about 2 hours into the ride we were approaching a city called Muyan. For about the last 4 or 5 stops before we got to Muyan, guys kept coming onto the bus and yelling at us Simatai, Simatai. We were the only foreigners on the bus, so they had no interest in the locals. We looked at the ticket lady in confusion, she didn’t say anything. We said to her Simatai, and she said yes assuring us the bus was going to Simatai. So we ignored these men having no idea what they were up to.
The bus came to a stop at the Muyan bus station and everyone started to unload. We were very confused. Were we supposed to switch buses now to be taken to Simatai? We went into the office and they said no there is no bus to Simatai. How nice to be informed of this now. We were supposed to fork out more money for one of these guys with mini vans parked at the bus station. They are not taxis, but illegally run transport by private people. We were quite upset and asked why we were told that the bus would take us to Simatai. They had no response. As we came back out of the office the mini van guys were all fighting over which one was going to take us.
We decided they were all in cahoots with each other, the mini van guys and the bus station, so none of them were going to get anymore of our money. We would walk back into the city center of Muyan, there must be a travel agency or tour office that has trips to Simatai. It was quite a long walk along the side of a major roadway. As we walked the various mini van guys kept pulling up and yelling Simatai. They would stop a ways up from us and then walk back trying to coax us into the van. We just kept ignoring them and walking forward. They were so persistent they tried for over 20 minutes to get us to go with them. One guy just wouldn’t give up. He thought we would eventually get in the van. At one point we think he tried to fool us by approaching us in a different vehicle. We were now refusing to go with them just out of pure spite.
After about an hour walk we finally made it into town. It seems Muyan is not a tourist destination at all, other than a few hotels for business travelers there are no tourist amenities. We went to a large building that said International Hotel. Luckily a man at the reception spoke some English. We said we wanted to go to Simatai and asked how we could get there. Our only option was a private taxi. Even though it was more money we decided we would rather pay it than go back to the mini van creeps. It turned out not to be an official taxi either, most likely a friend or sister of the guy at the front desk. It was a nice car though and the lady was very friendly. The man at the desk explained that she would take us to Simatai which was now only about 45 minutes away. She would wait for as long as we wanted to stay there and then bring us back to Muyan.
You have to make your way up the mountain to get to the wall. None of it starts from the ground level below. We decided to pay a bit extra for the chair lift. It saves you the majority of the climb up, but you still have to make your way up some steep paths after the chair lift to get to the wall. This definitely is not a section to come to if you are not fit.
The air was definitely a lot clearer here. We could see the wall winding through the mountains for many miles. It was an amazing site. There were hardly any people. In fact in the late part of the afternoon we had the section we were on all to ourselves.
The Simatai section is 5.4 km long with 35 watchtowers. It featured great strategic significance. Simatai Great Wall is separated by a valley into eastern and western parts. The western part has hills with gentle slopes with 20 well-preserved watchtowers dotting along the wall. Going further in this direction you can walk for 10km’s all the way to the section of the wall called Jinshingling. This is supposed to be an amazing walk that takes about 5 hours and goes through some very steep and rugged parts of the wall, but offering incredible scenery and views along the way. We wanted to do the walk, but because of all the hassle getting here we didn’t have enough time.
The eastern part is much steeper, following more rugged terrain that includes cliff edges and kilometre-high peaks. This section has 15 watchtowers that are closely spaced and provide spectacular views. In this area the wall is unrestored and you are not allowed to go on it. Well so the signs say any ways, but 4 guys in front of us paid off the guards to let them go. One of the guards even went with them.
The Simatai Wall incorporates the different characteristics of each section of the Great Wall, but also displays some of it’s own unique features. This section is known for its steepness, ingenuity and uniqueness. One of the towers named Watching Beijing tower is at an elevation of 986 meters and is regarded as the summit of the Simatai Wall. It’s name comes from the fact that at night with good visibility one can see the lights of Beijing shimmering in the distance 120 km’s away. More interesting is that the bricks used to build the walls here are even stamped with the date on which they were made and the code numbers of the armies that made them. There is one area called Sky Bridge, it is as little as 40 centimeters wide in places. Originally built during the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577) and rebuilt in the the Ming dynasty, this section of Great Wall is one of the few to retain the original features of the Ming dynasty Great Wall.
While we were on part of the wall there was a para sailor going over us. What an amazing view he must have been getting. We stayed up on the wall until about 5 o’clock. We wanted to stay until sunset, but we still had to get all the way back to Beijing. We were seeing another wall section early in the morning and had to be up before 6am to leave.