Each section of the Great Wall is different, has a unique character and appeals to different types of tourists. Badaling is the most famous, popular and easy to visit section of the wall. It is also the most crowded, the best maintained and over developed section of the wall.
I have been hearing stories from fellow travelers about the Badaling section of the wall for years and the theme of these stories invariably were crowds, voracious hawkers, hordes of tour groups, rampant commercialization and more crowds.
Going to Badaling
Not being keen on crowds and preferring to enjoy the majesty and beauty of the Great Wall in relative solitude, I had always avoided Badaling like the plague. Morbid curiosity gradually got the better of me and I finally broke down and took a trip to Badaling.
The Badaling section of the Great Wall of China was everything I had heard it to be and so much more !!!
Badaling is by far the easiest section of the Great Wall to visit and you can get there by train, multiple bus lines, taxis, private cars and with tour groups. After many trips to different sections of the wall that involved multiple buses, taxis and hiking, the luxury of taking a train was irresistible.
There is a train that runs from Beijing North train station that drops you off at the Badaling train station. Yes. This section of the wall has its own own train station. The easiest way to reach Beijing North train station to catch the subway to Xizhimen on subway line 2 and use exit A which is right in front of the train station. A quick subway ride, a few minutes queuing for a 6rmb ticket and I was on the train and on the way to the famous (infamous) Badaling section of the Great Wall of China.
After a very comfortable 78 minute train ride, I disembarked at Badaling train station and followed the crowds of other tourist to the Badaling village where the Badaling Great Wall experience began.
On the wall
The first part of the wall complex is a moden retail center cum village that has gift shops, restaurants such as Subways, KFC and California Beef noodles, a lot of ATM's and an empty tourist information center. About the only useful thing I could see there were toilets.
After the village was a large walled compound and square where tickets are sold and the crowds began. Tickets were only 45rmb which was surprising after hearing how expensive Badaling was to visit. After buying a ticket, you start the climbing the wall and you have a choice of turning to the left and going south or turning to the right and going north. The crowds were going north so I took north.
To say the Badaling section of the Great Wall is crowded is a massive understatement. From the moment you turn right until you pass the North Eighth Tower which is the highest and most northern point of the wall at Badaling, the wall is crowded. The higher you go, the more powerful the crowds are. At the top of the Eighth Tower where people slow down to take photos, recover and enjoy the view, the wall is so crowded that people are packed in and the only way to make progress is to push and squeeze.
For some sections of the wall, getting into shape and packing a food and drink for one or two days is essential preparation. For preparation to climb Badaling, I recommend you take a ride on the Beijing subway during peak hour.
The wall itself
Badaling has been completely restored and I doubt very much if any of the original wall remains. One advantage of this is that the wall is in excellent condition, safe and very easy to walk. About the only tricky part of the wall to walk is where the walking surfaces are flat (no stairs) but very steep. These areas are extremely slippery and it is very easy to fall over or slide all the way to the bottom. Most people haul themselves up and down the wall by the hand rail at these areas.
The Badaling section of the Great Wall is shaped like an inverted “U”. The starting point with the ticket office is in the South West area. The wall heads north to the “North Eighth Tower” which is the highest and most northern point of Badaling then the wall continues to the South East where it finishes.
Most people only do the first section of the wall and either catch the chair lift down from the Eighth tower, take a ride on the trolley / slide that starts near the Eighth tower or turn around and walk back to the main entrance. The second section of Badaling after the Eighth tower is MUCH less crowded. Once you reach the Eighth Tower and start walking the second section of Badaling, you can easily relax and really start to enjoy your time on the wall.
The second section of the wall provides even better views than the first second, is longer, steeper in some parts and a lot of fun to walk. Walking the first section takes one to two hours depending on crowds. Walking the second section takes around an hour.
The wall itself continues and joins the Juyongguan section of the wall that you can see in the distance. You can not reach the Juyongguan section because the Badaling section ends at a blocked watch tower. You can not jump of the wall, walk around the blocked tower and continue walking the wall because the wall is too high above the ground and there is a metal barrier to stop people who do manage to climb off the wall.
The entire Badaling section of the wall only had two hawkers who had set up stands on the second section (first section was too crowded for stands) and there were no hawkers harassing people or being aggressive and obnoxious.
I was standing near one of the hawkers admiring the view when I overheard a Chinese female tourist ask about the price of one of his wares. 40rmb. I waited a few minutes then asked him in English how much the same product was. 85rmb. I then had the satisfaction of watching him squirm when I asked in Chinese why he just offered it to the lady for a much lower price.
Difficulty – The Badaling section of the Great Wall is very easy and safe to climb and suitable for people of any age or fitness level. For people who have trouble walking, the entire section of the wall has very secure hand rails on either side and you can easily take regular rests.
Leaving the Wall & Going Home
The South East exit at the end of the second section of the wall is like an amusement park with a two bear enclosures, horse rides, camel rides, food stores and gift shops. Once you lease the amusement park there are toilets, a major bus stop and another train station.
When I reached the exit, there was not another train due for over an hour so I jumped on the 919 bus and was back in Beijing in 70 to 80 minutes. The final bus stop in Beijing where I got off is only around 500 meters from the A exit of the Jishuitan subway station on the number two line so getting back to my hotel was quick and easy.
Was it worth it?
Surprisingly, yes. Absolutely. I really enjoyed walking Badaling and it was a great day out. Compared to every other section of the wall, Badaling is very easy to get to and the ease of transport is a refreshing luxury. No hiking for hours just to reach the wall, no haggling with taxi drivers, no getting lost in the wilderness and no marathon bus trips. The restored wall is extremely easy to walk and the views are magnificent.
That said, I would only recommend Badaling if you have very limited time in Beijing, if you have problems walking or if you have already seen other less crowded parts of the wall such as Simatai or Mutianyu.