This time we decided to go to Jinshanling, to hopefully get a more real experience of the Great Wall (as opposed to the one you get at places like Badaling, extremely crowded and full of group tours/busloads of people). And it was indeed very special. Unfortunately, the stretch from Jinshanling to Simatai is still closed (except for the first 4 or 5 watch towers). We hired a driver in Beijing who was great but had never been to Jinshanling. So when we got there, he pulled up at the East Gate Visitors' Centre car park to ask for information. This dodgy guy told him that the cable car was closed, so our best option was to walk up to the wall from there (over 30' very tiring walk up, all steps). Our children aged 6 and 3 were with us and by the time we got to the top they were already very tired. And at the top we found out that the cable car was running. Outside of the visitors' centre these 3 ladies starting walking up with us and were with us the whole time. I have to say that, being with kids, they were extremely helpful because we would have never been able to do what we did without their help (walk 4 and a half hours). One of them held the 6 year old's hand most of the way, another one carried our 3 year old on her back in the most difficult stretches. But this was all part of the scam. At the end you have to buy some souvenirs from them. In our case it was fine, their tip was well deserved and it all worked out but I hate been played and lied to! So I would say: be aware, do your research, have a clear idea of where you want to go and if you don't want to have to tip these ladies tell them right away that you want to walk alone and you don't need their help (which we would have done if we'd been without the kids). Anyway, we ended up walking a few towers eastward in the Simatai direction and then back to the Jinshanling cable car. An amazing day (the fact that it was sunny made it even better). Next time I'd love to try the walk to Simatai (when/if it finally reopens again) but without the children! (definitely too hard for them - and maybe for us, too?). In general there are a lot of ups and downs along the wall and some of the steps are broken. There are parts where you're walking on the side of a cliff without much protection. I would recommend a walking stick and having good knees! Be aware that the Jinshangling cable car is closed in the winter (Nov. 11 to March). Bring water and sandwiches and dress in layers (it can get pretty chilly up there but you're going to get hot from climbing at times). No toilets and no smoking along the walk.
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