Jetting off on a gap year should be all about experiencing new things, meeting new people and generally broadening your perspective on the world and its cultures. A visit to China, therefore, is likely to tick all your boxes and more.
There are many reasons to head to the vast Asian country, from its stunning natural landscapes and fascinating heritage to its bustling cities and interesting culture. One of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in the destination is to get out and explore on foot – something that is particularly worthwhile if you plan to see the Great Wall of China.
In fact, booking a trekking tour along part of this immense structure is a good idea, especially if you’re travelling solo, as you’ll not only get to meet new people, but will also learn about the Great Wall’s history from an experienced guide.
This kind of walking holiday is a great way to kick-off your gap year travels, as all your accommodation and transport for the duration of the tour will be prearranged, leaving you with fewer things to worry about – click here if you’d like more information about what’s included in this type of trip.
The Great Wall: the basics
Everyone knows the Great Wall of China is one of the most astounding feats of human engineering on the planet, but it’s hard to put this into context. The structure has a total length of more than 20, 000 km and was built in several stages by successive Chinese dynasties between the 3rd century BC and the 17th century AD.
Some of the best-known sections of the wall were constructed under the Ming Dynasty and are the newest parts of the defences. Unsurprisingly, the Great Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walking on the Great Wall
Hiking along the entire length of the Great Wall of China is a massive undertaking – and not something you’ll do on standard tours. The advantage of going on an organised trip is that you’ll visit several sections of the wall, allowing you to see the different construction methods used and fully appreciate the challenging terrain the fortifications were built on.
Starting out at its western end in Shanhaiguan in the Hebei province, you can see the section of the wall that stretches down to the sea and this is where you’ll first ascend on to the structure and trek along the part around the First Pass.
You’ll then travel west, allowing you to see some of the most impressive parts of the defences. Among them is the section that crosses a lake, entering the water at Panjiakou and Xifengkou. Take a boat trip to see the wall rise up from the surface before heading south-west to join it further along at Luowenyou.
A highlight of your hiking tour will undoubtedly be tackling a section that you can access near the Eastern Qing Tombs that will lead you to Huangyaguan. At the beginning of this route you’ll climb one of the tall watchtowers, from where you’ll have amazing views over the hills and the wall stretching out in either direction, before heading down and following the fortification towards another tower next to a river.
Your final days of walking on the Great Wall will be around its eastern end, where you’ll pass numerous beacon and watch towers as you trek. Some parts of the structure here are partially damaged, while there are also restricted sections of the landmark that you will be able to see, but not access on foot.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can experience on a trip along the Great Wall of China as part of your gap year – in between walking along the defences, you’ll have the chance to visit some of the country’s top historic attractions, such as the Eastern Qing Tombs and the Forbidden City.
Matt Cook enjoys travelling and cycling which helps in his role of eCommerce Manager for Adventure Travel company Explore.