Huanghuacheng is a great place to see the wall away from the crowds at Badaling and Mutianyu. We were there twice and saw a total of 11 other people. There is a mix of old (wild) wall that has deteriorated over the past 500-odd years and renovated sections which provide a stark contrast. There are very steep sections on the old and new walls so be prepared with proper footwear and lots of water if it is a hot day. There will be no vendors with cold drinks on this part of the wall. If you have limited time, you may want to hire a guide but we found that going it alone on public transportation works just fine as long as you do some prior research and don’t mind spending some time waiting for buses. Here’s how to do it:
1. Take bus 916 express (the express symbol looks like a stalk of bamboo with a man running if you use your imagination) from Dongzhimen bus depot to Huairou (4.8 RMB with transport card). At Dongzhimen, it is important to get in the right queue (which can be very long but moves quickly with buses lined up to load on passengers. The signage is very good. At the Huairou end, you need to get off at the right stop to connect with the local bus. Web sources give information about which stop to get off at BUT none of the stops seem to be labeled (at least not in a way that a foreigner can understand) and the stops mentioned don’t match with the stops on the official 916 express route (use http://www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/beijing/bus-subway-search.htm to look up stops for different bus routes). Pay attention to the stops once the bus exits the expressway (about 50 minutes from Dongzhimen) and goes through the toll gate = time 0:00.
a. 0:01 stop #1
b. 0:02 stop #2
c. 0:07 stop #3 This is the place NOT to get off. Lonely Planet (as a Top Tip in the section on Mutianyu Great Wall) warns : “…ignore the tout who almost always gets on the bus at Nanhua Shichang and tries to lure foreign tourists onto an expensive minibus tour to the Great Wall.” This is the place and the guy. He wears a light blue transit uniform so it is easy to be deceived into thinking that he is someone official. He is there to scam tourists. We had read the warning and were still nearly fooled so be very wary.
d. The bus will turn left at a big round-a-bout and proceed along Nanhua Dajie
e. 0:10 stop #4
f. 0:11 stop #5 time to get off! This is the stop described as Nanhuayuan Sanqu by Lonely Planet
g. After you get off, you will see the bus turn right at the next traffic light. It will go by the bus stop that you want to catch the next bus at and stop again in the next block so if you miss stop #5, get off at stop #6 (Huairou Fangshan)and walk back to the public toilet.
2. After getting off at stop #5, walk straight ahead (follow the bus), cross the lights and turn right. The building on the corner is the tax building – there is a blue sign that reads “taxpayer service hall” (in English) - and right beside it is a very obvious white brick building which is a public toilet (see photo). The bus stop is on the boulevard directly in front of the public toilet. There will be taxis, minibuses and people milling around.
3. The bus you want is not numbered but has a sign on the dash (in Chinese) that says huairou ↔ shuichangcheng (water great wall). See the photo attached or use Lonely Planet, Google translate, web sources or a Chinese friend to get the Chinese characters. Cost is 3.2 RMB (with transport card, 8 RMB without card) but it only comes once an hour so it can be a long wait. We negotiated a ride with a minibus that came while we were waiting (80 RMB for 4 people).
4. The bus ride takes about an hour through a number of small villages and past fields and orchards. You want to get off at the village of Zhuangdaokou. It is the village after a wall on your right immediately next to the road decorated with an extensive bronze mural. Look for the mural/sculpture and/or show the bus driver a note with the village name in Chinese characters.
5. When you get off the bus, walk through the village towards the mountains – the Great Wall is obviously visible – along the right side of the creek. Within a few hundred meters, you will see a sign describing Dragon and Phoenix Pine Trees. Turn right, go past a large sign titled “Record of Zhuangdaokou Village” with a painting of the Great Wall and proceed along the trail up to the wall. It is a 10-15 minute stroll to the wall. We found some yummy ripe mulberries on the way up.
6. Once you get to the wall, turn right to walk along renovated sections or turn left to see the old wall. There is plenty to explore in both directions. A view of Jintang Lake is over a crest to the right.
7. A one-way trip to Lakeside Great Wall (shuichangcheng and Xishuiyu Village to the west about 4 km??) may be possible but we chose to explore both directions and retrace our steps. The bus back to Huairou stops in Zhuangdaokou at the creek opposite the big tree. It is hourly and seems to appear between :30 and :45. It seems to go from Huairou past Zhuangdaokou to Shuichangcheng, turn around and go back to Huairou so if you see it going past (the road is visible from the wall), you can expect it to be back in 15-20 minutes.