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The Great Wall: Beat the Crowds at Mutianyu

by Joe O'Neill   - Jul 24, 2015

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We visited the Great Wall on a weekend. My wife said the section we visited, Mutianyu, was quieter on a Saturday than Badaling (the most popular section) had been when she visited it on a Wednesday.

Badaling is popular for a reason: it is the closest section of the wall to central Beijing. Badaling is at an almost walkable 70 kilometer distance from the city center, while Mutianyu is an unreachable 72 kilometers from Beijing.

To help you decide whether to travel the extra two kilometres to Mutianyu, we’ve compiled this simple quiz:

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Crowds at Mutianyu


1. What are you most anticipating about your trip to the Great Wall?

     A. Seeing this incredible ancient structure.
     B. Seeing the same people you saw at your hotel breakfast buffet.
 
2.  You came to China for:

     A: Solitude and nature: the plains of Mongolia and camping in a Xinjiang desert.
     B. People’s Square in Shanghai at rush hour. I’m never alone in a crowd!

3. When you go back home you plan to:

     A: Rave about the friendly people, fantastic food, and majestic scenery that can be found all over China.
     B: Grumble about the overcrowding, the pollution, the scammers and the rip-off merchants.

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Badaling during Golden Week (picture: chinacitysearch.com)

How To (and How Not To) Get to Mutianyu

If you answered mostly B’s, head to bustling Badaling. But if you’re in the A league, you’ll prefer Mutianyu.

The good news is that following the well-known 916快 bus route to Huairou (怀柔), followed by a minibus to Mutianyu,  is certainly achievable. The bad news is that there is some confusion about where to get off the 916 快 and find an elusive minibus to the wall, a fact that many private drivers are exploiting.

The (extra) good news is that at least there are plenty of private drivers hanging around in Huairou, so one way or another, you’ll make it to Mutianyu (if you’re not confident in your Chinese, have your destination printed out in advance).

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Want even more good news? We’ve compiled a special Mutianyu phrasebook to help you on your way. Just check at the bottom of this article.

And the best piece of news of all. Mutianyu is slightly confusing to get to, but it’s not that bad. And it’s significantly less crowded than Badaling.

The Easy Section of the Journey

• Go to the bathroom before heading out (you’ll see why shortly).
• Take the subway to Dongzhimen (东直门) on Line 2 or Line 13 .
• At Dongzhimen, leave via Exit B.
• Head into the building just outside Exit B. From this bus station, you can catch buses that head to near Mutianyu. You can also find the worst toilets in Asia here, but you won’t have to if you’ve been taking my advice.
• There are a number of electric sign boards around the station displaying bus numbers. One of these signs reads 916快. ( The 快 is important as it means quick).
• Join the bus queue for the 916快. Don’t worry if the queue is long; these buses turn up regularly, so the speed the queue moves at is very 快.
• Pay 12 RMB per person when you get on the bus. Try to have the correct change prepared before boarding.

The Confusing Section


Many internet and guidebook sources tell us to take the 916 快 and get off at Huairou (怀柔). This leaves the question of which Huairou (怀柔) ? Should we select Huairou Nan Da Jie Dong Kou (怀柔南大街东口), or Huairou Nan Da Jie(怀柔南大街)? Do we prefer Huairou Bei Da Jie (怀柔北大街), or Huairou Qi Che Lu(怀柔汽车路)?

Huairou(怀柔) is a town on the outskirts of Beijing,  but none of the bus stops on the 916 快 route are simply called Huairou. When we made the journey, I asked the bus conductor which stop to get off at.

‘Friend,’ he said, ‘I’ll tell you when to get off.’

‘Here,’ he said, just over an hour later. ‘I’m getting off here too.’

Of course he was. He waited for us to be quoted extortionate prices by the private drivers lined up outside this stop (we were so surrounded by drivers, we couldn’t see the sign telling us which Huairou we were at). Then he came over and asked how much I was being quoted.

‘But we’re friends,’ he insisted. ‘How about this. I’ll take you in my car. How about 120 RMB.’

As I was in a small group, we agreed for simplicity; the money wasn’t much between us. I thought he would just take us one way, but he insisted on waiting, and also took us back. The drive was about 20-30 minutes each way. We paid him a total of 240 RMB.

As we left the car he handed me a business card which confirmed him as one of Beijing’s smartest bus conductors; he used the route he worked on to find customers for his second business, driving people to the Great Wall and back.

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The Elusive Minibus


So, it’s likely that wherever you get off in Huairou, someone will be happy to take you to Mutianyu for enough cash.

The Mutianyu Great Wall website tells us to take bus 916 快 to Huairou Bei Da Jie (怀柔北大街). From there, we can take the bus (shā yù dòng tái gōngjiāo chē
沙浴洞台公交车) to  a stop next to the Mutianyu site (mù tián yù huándǎo
慕田峪环岛). These buses leave every half hour, the website says.

Of course, failing that, you can just take bus 916 快 to Huairou Bei Da Jie (怀柔北大街), and then take a taxi. Either way, Huairou Bei Da Jie (怀柔北大街) seems the best place to get off the 916 快.

Huairou Bei Da Jie (怀柔北大街) is the fifteenth stop on the route, including the stop the bus leaves from. So, if you count the stops after the bus sets out, Huairou Bei Da Jie (怀柔北大街) should be the fourteenth.

A Great Many Tickets


By the time we left the ticket booth, we had three tickets each. They were these:

• A return ticket for the shuttle bus to the scenic point entrance (15 RMB each)
• A return ticket for the cable car/ speed chute that transports you to the Great Wall and back (100 RMB each)
• An entrance ticket to the Mutianyu scenic area itself (45 RMB each)
• Total ticket cost (160 RMB)

Enjoy the Wall…

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The view from Mutianyu


Mutianyu isn’t deserted. You’ll see some other visitors. You’ll also see views that really stretch for miles, and just enough quiet to appreciate them.

...But Not So Much You End Up Sleeping There

The last 916 快 runs from Huairou to Beijing until 18:50, according to Baidu. It’s probably a good plan to be at the bus stop well in advance of that time.

The Mutianyu Phrasebook

Where can I take the 916 快 bus?

我在哪里可以乘916公交车.

Wǒ zài nǎlǐ kěyǐ chéng jiǔyāoliù  gōngjiāo chē

Please take me to Mutianyu:

请带我去慕田峪长城.

Qǐng dài wǒ qù Mmùtiányù Chángchéng.

How much is it to go to the Mutianyu Great Wall?

到慕田峪长城多少钱?

Dào Mùtiányù Chángchéng duōshǎo qián?

I would like to take the 916 快 back to Beijing

我要乘916快公交车到北京。

Wǒ yào chéng jiǔyāoliù  kuài gōngjiāochē dào Běijīng.

I would like to take the 916 快 back to Beijing. Please take me to the bus stop

我要乘916快公交车到北京。请带我去公交车站。

Wǒ yào chéng jiǔyāoliù  kuài gōngjiāochē dào Běijīng. Qǐng dài wǒ qù gōngjiāo chēzhàn.

Mutianyu is beautiful! Much better than Badaling!

慕田峪漂亮极了,比八达岭好得多!

Mùtiányù piàoliang jíle, bǐ Bādálǐng hǎo de duō!
 

About Writer

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Joe O'Neill grew up in Salisbury, England (often confused with Salisbury, Maryland, USA). He lived in Taipei and Seoul before moving to Shanghai, where he worked as a web editor for two years. When he's not writing, he can be found running, swimming, or downloading ebooks in the hope of getting a chance to read them. He holds a BA in Creative and Professional Writing from the University of Glamorgan (now called the University of South Wales).
 
 

 

 

 

 
 

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