New parts of Great Wall of China to open to tourists

New parts of Great Wall of China to open to tourists

The Wall just got greater. Here are six of the best ways to take it in

Newly accessible areas of the Great Wall of China are marked in blue. Authorities have yet to announce when they'll open.More areas of the Great Wall of China will be opened to tourists, according to a report by state media agency, Xinhua. 

The Great Wall of China is some 21,196 kilometers long, but tourists (domestic and international) have been only able to officially access around 30 kilometers of the structure.

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To accommodate swelling visitor numbers during weekends and holidays, authorities will open two more Great Wall of China sections to travelers.

Access to additional areas is also aimed at preventing further damage by tourists climbing closed sections of the wall, said Kong Fanzhi, chief of Beijing’s cultural relics bureau.

A Huanghuacheng section (黄花城 in Chinese, 60 kilometers north of downtown Beijing) and a Hefangduan section (河防口 in Chinese, 70 kilometers northeast of the capital) are due to receive tourists gradually, but authorities are yet to announce when they’ll be fully open.

Currently, travelers can visit four sections of the Great Wall: Badaling (八达岭), Juyongguan (居庸关), Simatai (司马台) and Mutianyu (慕田峪). All are near Beijing. See the map above for their locations.

Visitors to these sites, which have been restored, often complain of overpriced tours, aggressive touts and armies of tourists that would put the Mongols to shame.

To sidestep such hassles and admire the true majesty of the huge fortification, here are six suggestions for alternative ways to take in the Great Wall of China.

The high-flyer: Great Wall helicopter tour 

Great Wall of China -- inline 1Even Chinese emperors didn't get this view.

Badaling is notorious for queues and tourist groups. Fly over them, the view is better.

HNA Capital Helicopter, a subsidiary of Hainan Air, lets travelers view the Great Wall of China from the air, out of the window of a six-seat AS350B3 chopper.

The flight soars over the Great Wall’s guard towers and ramparts, and provides a chance for taking unreal aerial shots of the structure snaking off into the distance.

Flying comes at a price. The cheapest option is RMB 1,500 (US$236) per person for a mere 15 minutes.

Helicopters takes off at Badaling Airport, which is six kilometers, or a 15-minute drive, northwest of Badaling. Tours usually last around 15 minutes, but can be extended up to an hour for a higher fee.

Passports are required for the flight.

Reserve a trip a few days in advance through helicopter@hnair.com or +86 10 9507 1039.

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Along the dragon’s back: Wild Great Wall of China tour 

Great Wall of China -- inline 2Rural Gansu: a young native and the ancient wild wall, or "mud Great Wall" (土长城), as locals refer to it.

Erected to ward off pesky barbarians, the Great Wall of China stretches from the coast of Hebei far inland towards the Gobi Desert.

Most of it remains standing, but only small sections have been restored for tourism.

“The places around Beijing are very Disneyland-ified,” says Nellie Connolly, marketing director of Beijing-based travel company WildChina.

“When you get further away from Beijing, there are very few people,” adds Connolly. “You’re in one of the wonders of the world, and you’re really one of the only ones looking at it. “

There’s far more to explore on the ancient wall from Shanhaiguan (山海关), where the wall meets the sea, to Jiayuguan (嘉峪关), where the wall crosses the old Silk Road.

All of these sections remain wilder than the Potemkin Beijing sections.

WildChina’s 11-day tour “Along the Dragon’s Back” takes travelers to most of the Great Wall of China sections in one package. The trip costs US$3,100 for two people, but can be individually customized.

WildChina, +86 10 6465 6602 (China), +1 888 902 8808 (United States); www.wildchina.com

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The outdoorsman: Stay overnight on the Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China -- inline 3Check in to your room at the Gubeikou.

“When people come to the Great Wall of China, they want to explore the history and see why it was built,” says Terrence Ou, CEO of the Great Wall Adventure Club.

A day trip to the tourist sites won’t achieve that, but a sleepover on one of the world’s most storied ruins certainly will, he says.

The Great Wall Adventure Club organizes trips to sleep in a watchtower where soldiers were formerly garrisoned.

When night falls, the only thing above is the stars, while the incredible land of the surrounding hills is absolutely silent.

Options include a two-day stay in a watchtower at the Gubeikou Great Wall (古北口长城) in Beijing’s Miyun county. Price starts from US$579 per person.

The Beijing-based tour company will provide a Chinese-English bilingual guide to explain the legends behind the wall, from sections used to resist the Mongols to those that repelled the Japanese.

Great Wall Adventure Club, +86 13811545162, greatwall@greatwalladventure.com, www.greatwalladventure.com

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The road racer: Bike to the Great Wall

Great Wall of China -- inline 5The Great Wall of China is no stranger to bikes. Cyclists races beneath ramparts during the 2008 Olympic Games.

Most travelers whiz along the highway in order to reach the Great Wall of China. That's a shame.

“When you take a bus you don’t have time to stop,” says 24-year old traveler Henry Yin, who’s originally from Kunming.

“But when you bike you can stop whenever you want,” adds Yin. “You feel closer to the scenery.”

Riding a bike will take much longer than riding in a vehicle, but visitors see a different side of China -- on the way to the Great Wall of China lie quintessential Chinese villages and rolling farmland.

Several companies organize biking trips to the wall, such as Bike China.

You can also rent a bike and get a map. From the Summer Palace north toward the Huanghuacheng (黄花城长城) section the road is easy, and you pass beautiful scenery on the two-hour journey.

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The speed freak: Great Wall of China via sidecar

Great Wall of China -- inline 4You can visit lesser-known parts of the Wall in a lesser-known way.

The best angle for petrol-heads to admire the Great Wall of China may just be aboard a vintage motorcycle sidecar.

Yves du Parc of Beijing Sideways prefers “to take guests to the lesser known parts of the wall” in this lesser-known way.

The motorcycle tour company provides tailor-made trips on vintage Changjiang motorcycles that blaze around the mountains to hidden parts of the wall, with a hike and a homemade lunch.

A typical trip goes to Huanghuacheng (黄花城水长城), stopping on the way at the Silver Mountain Pagoda Forest (银山塔林), a collection of Jin Dynasty Buddhist towers.

The tour takes one day and costs RMB 2,000 (US$314) per person (lunch included).

The trip can be extended with a sleepover in a guesthouse near the Great Wall of China for RMB 3,500 (US$550), or two full days for RMB 4,000 (US$629), which includes meals, accommodation and a trip to the Ming Tombs and Summer Palace.

One-day tours can only accommodate one person per motorbike, but longer tours can take two.

Tours are available in English, Spanish, French and Italian.

Beijing Sideways, +86 139 1103 4748; booking@beijingsideways.com; www.beijingsideways.com

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The sedan chair: The Great Wall of China done in style

Great Wall of China -- inline 6That's not a painting of the Great Wall of China in your room. It's a view of the real thing.

See the world wonder while resting in the lap of luxury.

Boutique hotel Commune by the Great Wall is located right next to the fortress. All of the 35 inventive villas, created by 12 different Asian designers, provide a front-seat view to Shuiguan (长城水关), a wild wall stretch 40 kilometers northwest of Beijing. This is the east part of Badaling.

The authorities have done little restoration along the wall here: ancient ramparts are only a 10-minute walk away from those ultramodern digs.

Commune by the Great Wall (长城脚下的公社), exit No.53 at Shuiguan G6 Jingzang Highway, Beijing 北京市G6京藏高速公路53号水关长城出口; from RMB 2,300, +86 10 8118 1888, www.communebythegreatwall.com

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