Written by Cynthia Drescher, Conde Nast Traveler
Bypass the selfie stick swarms for a luxury ride to the less touristed sections of the Great Wall, courtesy of the Opposite House Beijing.
Imagine hiking the Great Wall, from tower to tower, in quiet solitude—no throngs of tourists competing for your view, or stopping mid-stride to take a selfie. The moment goes from obligatory—”a China must-do”—to a lifelong memory.
It’s more than a fantasy: We recently took a guided and chauffeured tour organized by the Opposite House, an ultramodern hotel in Beijing’s energetic Sanlitun district. With the help of a registered guide, fluent in both English and Mandarin, and a chauffeured Audi A6, we were able to bypass the popular, overrun Badaling section of the Wall to explore less-touristed stretches—Mutianyu, Huanghuacheng, Simatai, or Jinshanling—free from bus groups and souvenir hawkers.
We traveled in air-conditioned comfort, nodding off during the hour-and-a-half ride to the outskirts of Beijing, completely free from the headache of public transportation and a rigid schedule. Due to crowds, a visit to the Great Wall can be as nerve-wracking as it is awe-inspiring; but our ability to dictate everything according to our individual interests (photography), time frame (a few hours before a business meeting), and energy level (relaxed) removed all potential frustrations. It let us just be there in the moment, experiencing one of the world’s great wonders.
Beyond sharing the history of the Great Wall, our guide helped set up photos, remained patient whenever we got into Snapchatting, and even rode the Mutianyu section’s famous toboggan track exit from the Wall with us. On the way back into Beijing, bellies grumbling, we requested a stop at the city’s infamous Wangfujing Snack Street, where our guide negotiated with local food vendors to make our dream—a lunch of scorpions-on-a-stick—a reality.