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The Great Wall of China (长城 Chángchéng; literally translated to "long city/fortress") was built to protect the northern border of the Chinese Empire from Mongol, Manchu and other tribal invaders. The wall stretches across many provinces: Liaoning, Jilin, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu, Xinjiang, Shandong, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Qinghai. At its peak, the wall is estimated to have had one million soldiers guarding it at any point in time, however it fell in to disrepair as the need for it receded although its fame still inspires wonder and awe. When the first Europeans rediscovered China in the early 16th century they heard about the wall even in the south.
The Great Wall is actually a series of walls that where connected by different emperors in different dynasties. As the wall snakes across China from the ocean to Gansu province it changes drastically. Although most people are excited to see the wall once and to get a picture next to it, many people want a greater Great Wall experience. This can range from camping one night in a Ming Dynasty tower, to trekking hundreds of kilometres along its base and top, or stopping off at different locations of the wall across the country as it slowly turns from stone, to brick, to mud to a pile of rubble barely a metre high dissolving into the sandy desert.
In the last few years the Chinese government have been making repairs to the wall in order to restore some of its grandeur. Nevertheless, many non-restored sections can still be seen just as easily as walking 100 metres from the photo point – which some claim are much more impressive than the restored sections.
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A recent Chinese government survey using advanced technology found that the wall spans 8,850 kilometres; consisting of 6,259 kilometres of wall, 359 kilometres of trenches, and 2,232 kilometres of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. This new finding is far longer than previous estimates at around 5,000 kilometres only. At either length, it is the world's largest man-made structure. In 1987, UNESCO inscribed The Great Wall as a World Heritage Site.
These are sections of the Great Wall such as Badaling (八达岭) or Simatai（司马台) outside of Beijing. All of these sections will have official federal government tickets and ticket vendors. The ticket price can range from 30 RMB to over a 100 RMB depending on the location. The crowds can vary greatly and so can the number of vendors selling water and souvenirs. In addition there can be many non-related wall attractions at these locations. The usual extra activities include horse rides, zip lines, gardens and small museums. Remember the imagination is limitless and who knows what will be available next. You can usually get to these sections by tour bus or taxi.
These sections of the Great Wall are usually maintained by the local government or sometimes even just local farmers. The price of entrance is usually around 10 to 20 RMB but sometimes can be free. Remember there will be very few people and almost no vendors so bring all the stuff you need for a day. Also, these sections of the Great Wall can be poorly restored or not restored at all. Usually you have to hire a taxi for a day to reach these places. Or stay in a small town hotel/family near the section and they will arrange to drop you off and pick you up at different places. If crossing farmland to get to these sections it is best to always offer something, if not money beer or cigarettes, to the farmers if they are around, even if they don't ask right away.
These sections of the wall are not maintained except by the occasional farmer knocking holes in it for sheep or collecting bricks to build an extension to his house. There will be no entrance fee but giving something to the local herder or farmer, if around, a beer or a pack of cigarettes won't hurt. The only way to get to these sections is by hiring a taxi or hitching to a place where the wall comes near a road or the road goes through it. Be careful because many remote sections of the Great Wall, especially the further west you go, sometimes go into military areas and as a foreigner you will be arrested and kicked out of China if you are caught there. This has happened to several tourists whiling visiting remote sections of the Great Wall.
From Beijing, tour buses operate and private drivers can be hired from most of the guesthouses or hotels. Also it is possible to flag down some taxis for a day trip to the Great Wall, but just remember to agree on a return time before hand. It should be noted however that reconstructed zones of the wall are geared more towards tourism and therefore has such things as toboggan rides down from the top of the wall to the main parking area.
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