You want to know what the (reconstructed) wall looks like? Rather like a wall--a big, wide, and very long wall stretching off to the horizon. There are steps and steep climbs everywhere and people stepping all over each other, cameras flashing. That photo of pretending to hang desperately off the wall by your fingertips just has to be done.
The real wall took hundreds of years to build, mostly under the watchful eye of the Ming Dynasty emperors, and it cost oceans of sweat, blood and tears as well as the lives of around two or three million men. (No one knows the exact number.) It's only now that the work is paying off: Tens of millions of tourists have visited in the last few years, bringing in hundreds of millions of yuan in tourist revenue. Talk about investing in the future.
If you want to "do" the Great Wall of China and get it over with, go to Badaling. If you want to actually see something, though, head 25 miles further out to Simatai and nearby Jinshangling. Although they've just installed a cable car in Simatai--a sure sign it's going to go the way of Badaling soon--these are still far quieter and more beautiful sections of the wall to visit. Take your walking boots and climbing gear and prepare for a workout. (At least you won't have to fight off the happy snappers like the old Chinese soldiers had to fight off the marauding invaders!)
Refreshments at the Great Wall are the traditional Chinese tourist attraction offerings of green pea- or sweetcorn-flavored ice-cream, cans of Coke floating in boxes of ice and stinky bug-like snacks. But at Badaling, you'll find Starbucks has opened up a branch.
Souvenirs come in two flavors: plastic replicas of the Great Wall of China (made in China, of course) and T-shirts that claim "I've climed [sic] the Great Wall of China" when in fact you haven't. And for the animal lovers to cringe over, there are a couple of miserable-looking bears in a pit, staring out at people staring in.
· Beijing coverage [Jaunted]