History. Military. Architecture. The Great Wall of China is an impressive structure and one of today’s Seven Wonders of the World. The Great Wall has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, and it’s an incredibly popular destination for good reason.

I had just come off of a 10-day work trip in North Korea last October. Yep, you read that right. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (or North Korea) isn’t a popular tourist destination for Canadians, but it was a very unique opportunity for me. I entered the country as a humanitarian, spending time with government and hospital officials working to improve the quality of life for children in rural areas. But my trip to North Korea is a story for another time.

From Pyongyang, North Korea to Beijing, China

I returned to Beijing from Pyongyang with my colleagues on Air Koryo’s retro Russian plane. In some ways, the trip had zipped by, but I was also quite tired and happy to be back at the Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido. I was nearly ready to return to Canada.

Those who know me know that I’m a big fan of ice cream. Have you ever opened your freezer to find a full tub of Ben and Jerry’s staring straight at you? This is even better when you thought you were fresh outta the good stuff. This is kind of how I felt when I realized that my flight wouldn’t depart until the evening—much later than I initially expected. And then it dawned on me…. I have a whole day alone in Beijing!

Maan Coffee’s delicious breakfast: Waffles and Latte.

My Final Day in Beijing

What do you do with an extra day in Beijing? You leave Beijing—at least that’s what I did. Sure, it would’ve been fun to explore more in the city, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Like most of my peers, I grew up hearing about The Great Wall, but I never imagined I would actually get to see it.

After our final debrief, I prepared to part ways from my travel companions in the hotel lobby. One of my colleagues egged me on. “When are you gunna be in China again?” she urged. “This could be your only chance to see it. You gotta go!” She was right. I usually try to seize opportunities as they come, because you never really know if you’ll have another chance. Tomorrow, I would visit the Great Wall of China.

I woke up with my usual stuffy nose in my “non-smoking” hotel room. I quickly showered, packed, and made my way down to the main lobby. The night before, I arranged a driver to travel an hour and a half from Beijing to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. I was a bit nervous to strike out on my own after travelling with five colleagues for the past 10 days. But it was also refreshing to march to the beat of my own drum. I was ready to go.

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The Beijing Chaoyang Side Park is a beautiful place for a stroll.
Driving in Beijing (Thankfully, I wasn’t behind the wheel!).

Visiting the Great Wall of China

The drive from Beijing to Mutianyu is about 73 kilometres and took an hour and a half. I watched out the window as the bustling city turned into forest and mountains. Now and again, I’d pull up my phone’s GPS just to make sure we were on the right track. My driver was friendly but mostly quiet. When we arrived at Mutianyu, I purchased my admissions ticket from a vendor in the parking lot. I decided not to buy the gondola ticket because I wanted some fresh air and exercise. But once I did the math, I realized my time on the wall would be at least an hour shorter if I didn’t ride the gondola—so I sprung for the ticket. I only had a few hours before I needed to leave for the airport.

Taking the gondola up to the Great Wall.
The view from the gondola. The mountains are incredible.
When you’re on the Great Wall, you gotta take a selfie.

The official length of the Great Wall of China is 21,196 kilometres.

I remember sitting down on the steps, gazing out into the mountainous terrain with the wall crowned on the ridge. The Mutianyu Section was first built in the sixth century and rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty in 1569. Oh, the stories this wall could tell. This place is full of history—a grand display in an ever-changing world.

I arrived in the morning and stayed until late afternoon.
There were lots of people on the wall (to be expected at such an incredible attraction).
There are over 7,000 lookout towers on the Great Wall.
Looking through the window on the wall.
Mutianyu is the longest fully-restored section of the Great Wall open to tourists.
Mutianyu means “Admire Fields Valley”.

If you only have one day in Beijing, there’s no contest. Go see the Great Wall. I visited in October and it was a beautiful time of year with perfect temperature and colourful leaves on the trees. There are several restaurants near the entrance, so I was able to grab supper before heading off to the airport. I was tired but happy that I took advantage of this final day in China. This was quintessentially China… and the best way to end my trip.

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