Title: New to Great Wall
Preparation: It’s very intensive and challenging, so to be prepared with enough water to prevent dehydration and some food (fruit may be the best option, like apple). There are some (not lots of) shops in the parking lot, with restaurants. However, it is more than likely that the visitors will arrive in the morning and spend most time hiking till mid-afternoon. We didn’t get time to have lunch until taken off the Lifter. Obviously, it is also a bad idea to hike with purchased items. You will get pretty hot even in Winter, light clothes will be enough, and no need at all to purchase any hat and glove from those small souvenir shops for protection.
General opinion: One thing to notice of visiting the Great Wall, is to make sure you are visiting the best great wall. There are two great walls along the way to the final BaDaLing Great Wall (neo Great Wall, ShuiGuan Great Wall), and they should not be the destination for most visitors. Some taxi drivers may cheat on this.
Attractions and activities: Great Wall is the one of the greatest scene to visit. That was my first time being there and was new to Beijing as well. The total time for hiking the Great Wall varies, depending on how many towers to accomplish. A typical route is to hike the north towers up to highest point (North Tower 8th), we (two adults, two seniors and one 3-year-old boy) finished in about 4 hours (one way up). I am so proud of my son, he lead the way and reached the peak without our help (almost). Around North Tower 4th, there is restroom and Riders to the ground if tired. Around North Tower 7th, there is restroom and a small shop for snack and water, and most importantly a Lifter to take you down to the parking lot. Some of the “hikers” actually take the Lifter to the peak, and then “hike” down. After touching the peak, we were pretty exhausted and time (to meet the taxi driver) was running out. The famous saying states: Haven’t managed to reach the Great Wall, you won't be a Hero. Well, this seems easy now, but I won’t forget that I had been there and had climbed to the peak, which is my way of showing respect to the ancient builders.
Commute: We lived in a hotel in Downtown Beijing. I assume in every major hotel, there will be taxi services. However, the distance to the BaDaLing Great Wall is about 1.5-hour driving (one way) and the driver can’t find another rider on the way back, it is a general practice that the rider will have to pay the driver for the whole day and he/she will wait for you and take the rider back to the city. Notice, it will be pretty difficult for the traveler finding a hotel at the town if missed the taxi. The driver may ask for deposit for the way back, I don’t know whether it is common or not, I prepaid about 200 RMB, and got back to city as expected. Of course, it is important to take the driver’s cellphone number and picture the taxi permission number, and agree on the pick-up time (usually 4-6 hours later). The total cost of whole trip is negotiable before taking on the taxi, it costed us about 800 RMB. There are other ways to visit the Great Wall, by subway-then-by-bus, by-bus, by-train, it will take longer time to get there. If there could be dedicated traveler bus, it will be the best option.