The Simatai Great Wall of China

A few days ago, I was going through some old photos in search of a "Picture of the Week." While clicking through iPhoto, I stumbled across the pics from my adventure to Korea and China, and spent some time reminiscing on that great trip. It was my first time traveling abroad, so almost everything about that trip was memorable, but without a doubt the most amazing part was the hike on the Great Wall of China at Simatai.Great Wall of China Simatai
As I shared in a much earlier post, the purpose of my trip to Asia was to visit my college roommate who was teaching English in Naju, South Korea. When we began planning the Beijing portion of our trip, I was most interested to know about our visit to the Great Wall, because I assumed it would be the highlight of the adventure. The private tour we had booked included a stop to the Badaling section of the wall, but after a bit of research I soon learned that this portion was very touristy, and might not provide the most authentic of experiences. After perusing many message boards and blogs, it became clear that to maximize our experience, we needed to visit the Great Wall at Simatai.Great Wall of China Simatai
I contacted our tour company to see if a visit Simatai would even be possible, knowing that it was considerably further from Beijing than Badaling. I had my mind made up at this point, and if they could not oblige, then I would simply find another way to get there outside of our private guide. Thankfully, they were happy to accommodate this request, although due to the extra travel time needed, it came at the expense of visiting other sites that day. I was happy to trade visiting yet another temple for the hike on Simatai...
Great Wall of China Simatai
We met our guide and driver in our hotel lobby at 6am, for the two hour drive out to Simatai. About halfway into the drive, our guide informed us that he would not be accompanying us on the hike, as he was not "licensed" for that section of the wall. I didn't find any problem with this, because I assumed there would be others hiking the wall as well. This assumption proved to be hugely inaccurate....Great Wall of China Simatai
We arrived at the entrance, which consisted of a small parking lot and a ticket booth. Our guide purchased our tickets, while I looked around and noticed there were no other cars in the snow covered lot. We were given our tickets, as well as those to cross the bridge, which I didn't know existed, near the end of the hike. Our guide gave us his cell phone, and showed us how to dial the driver should we need their help. My nerves began to get the best of me, because I couldn't help but feel we were being dropped in the wilderness, and our guide doubted our survival.Great Wall of China Simatai
My nerves were quickly replaced by a feeling of amazement as we began our hike, and it didn't take long for me to understand why most said Simatai was the most authentic portion of the wall. Many sections of the wall were crumbling away in spots, and some of the watchtowers were all but gone. Shrubs had overtaken the wall in places, and there were even a few spots where the wall stopped altogether, and we had to detour in order to get back on.Great Wall of China Simatai
The first half of the hike was almost straight up one of the mountains, with the second half being downhill and much easier. At the peak watchtower, we stopped to eat our box lunch and to rest. My buddy and I had also planned ahead, and brought a small flask to toast our adventure. That feeling of being dropped in the wilderness was always very present, because there was no development in sight for much of the hike. While I enjoyed my ham sandwich and chips, I looked across the tree covered hills, and couldn't help but wonder what the heck I was doing there.Great Wall of China Simatai
Aside from the wall itself, perhaps the most incredible thing was that we didn't see another sole the entire journey. The lone exception was a local couple that tagged along with us for almost the entire hike. At first, I was a bit annoyed by their presence, but after coming across a section where the wall ended, I was sort of glad they were there to show us the way. It wasn't until the end of the trek that we learned their reason for coming with us...they wanted us to buy a book on the Great Wall. They asked for the equivalent of $8, and I gladly handed over three times that. The way I figured it, outside of our guide's cell phone, they were the only other people on the planet that could have helped us if something bad happened. As I looked through the pics the other day, I couldn't help but wonder where they are, and if they're still helping lost tourists like me.Great Wall of China Simatai
As we completed the hike, I was met with a feeling of accomplishment, but also relief. I knew that there was a better than not chance that I'd never have that same experience again, but I was also glad to have made it through safely. Apparently the Chinese government also had some concerns with safety as well, because they indefinitely closed the wall at Simatai last year. It is said that a renovation is to be done, and while I'm sure it will help keep tourists more safe, it saddens me that the experience I had may be lost for future visitors.Great Wall of China Simatai
Looking back, I'm grateful I took the time to research the wall before our trip, because the adventure to Simatai turned out to be the greatest story of my traveling life.

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