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I'm exploring the feasibility/cost of using Uber/Didi to get from downtown Beijing (near 鼓楼) to the Great Wall (I take it Badaling/八达岭 is the most effective approach) very early -- in time for sunrise, which is around 5 AM these days, meaning I'd leave central Beijing around 3:30 AM.

Using Baidu maps, I saw a price estimate of ¥190 for Uber and something like ¥250 for Didi.

That seems tantalizingly cheap -- can anyone confirm that this is roughly accurate? And that we'll actually find a driver willing to take that fare?

  • Rome2Rio gives a similar dimension for Taxi (RMB200-240) but given that timing is crucial for you you should probably arrange a driver beforehand. However according to Google Badaling only opens at 7:30 so for a view from the actual wall you might want to go to another section? – mts Jun 23 '16 at 14:42
  • @mts good point. I'm also seeing mutianyu opens at 7 (too late). Do you know a centralized place listing opening hours of various sections? Or any part that will be open to new entrants at that time (I saw also a two-day hiking tour which features sunrise on day two) – MichaelChirico Jun 23 '16 at 14:52
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    If this section of the wall is not too strenuous (and too far out) for you, I'm sure there's no such thing as opening hours there. Any of the "wild" sections of the wall will probably do as well. – mts Jun 23 '16 at 14:56
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    @mts great idea! seems it's only a marginally longer drive. Will be trying this in a few hours, I'll report back! – MichaelChirico Jun 23 '16 at 15:42
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Regarding pricing Rome2Rio gives a similar price estimate of RMB200-240. But given that timing is crucial for you, you should probably arrange a driver beforehand who will then wait for you at the wall and take a nap while you hike around and then take you back into town. I find it unlikely that this would even cost that much more than twice your price estimate and find it fair for the driver as well. To arrange a driver likely your hotel will be helpful or local friends.

The issue rather seems to be that Badaling does not open until 06:40 and I am not sure how much you will see there and doubt somewhat that you will be able to climb the wall.
Instead I recommend to go to a wild spot of the great wall.If this spot is not too strenuous for you it will have great views and entrance is a bunch of villagers asking for a contribution but no such things as opening hours. Do calculate some extra time for approach though and be prepared to scramble.

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    To future interested parties: see my "answer" below for some further advice/insights regarding this endeavor – MichaelChirico Jun 30 '16 at 7:23
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+100

I wanted to leave this as a comment but it's running long.

I ultimately decided not to go to see the sunrise. It seems the best option for doing so is to stay overnight on or near the wall (perhaps staying at Mu'tian'yu Great Wall [暮田峪长城]).

A few tidbits of further advice that I picked up in the process of coming to this decision:

  • My initial enthusiasm for Jian'kou [箭扣] was fuelled by finding it here on Baidu maps. From what I can tell, however, this is incorrect. I'm not positive if one could reach Jian'kou from there; anyway, it might take someone from that area's level of know-how to navigate that trek in pitch black (even if you do know Chinese, it seems you shouldn't expect to find many, if any, people out and about in the mountains at 3 AM to point you in the right direction; more below).

  • You can see from a search for a map of Jian'kou that all the maps seem to point to the same basic setup:

original image URL: http://www.tour-beijing.com/great_wall/jiankou_map.jpg

Jian'kou is situated between the Wo'fo mountain resort (not sure the Chinese for this) and the Xi'zha'zi [西栅子] villages (e.g., here, from what I can tell). It seems Google Maps has a better idea of where it is, but relying on this means relying on VPN.

  • Some external reading I found useful: 1, 2, 3 (I believe 2&3 are behind the Firewall). Basically, the consensus seems to be that if you want to do this, you should arrive to Xi'zha'zi villages, make a donation to some locals, then make your way to Zheng'bei'lou [正北楼].

But therein lies the hitch with my original plan. Basically, to get a taxi to Xi'zha'zi is doable -- roughly the same price as to "Jian'kou".

But, it takes about two hours. And if you really want to see sunrise from the Great Wall (as opposed to seeing it while in the woods near the Great Wall), I estimated I'd need at least an extra two hours upon arrival to situate myself and to navigate in the dark.

All told, then, to make a 5 AM sunrise would require heading to Xi'zha'zi at 1 AM, at the latest.

So you're in for an all-nighter.

This is still a viable plan, but perhaps not so wise (why not just pay to stay near Mu'tian'yu? probably comparable to downtown Beijing anyway), and would have torched my sleep schedule for some time.

Best of luck to anyone else brave enough to try this! Perhaps it'll make more sense to do so in the Fall/early Spring when the sunrise isn't so early.

  • Great follow-up, +1 and I would second everything said here. Some links do not load for me right now (including the baidu maps unfortunately, I'm outside of China). For the hike up the trek I would rather calculate 1 instead of 2 hours (with some idea of where you are going ideally) but your conclusions still hold true. Please be around on Travel SE :) – mts Jun 30 '16 at 7:53
  • " it seems you shouldn't expect to find many, if any, people out and about in the mountains at 3 AM to point you in the right direction" - I'm shocked, shocked I say to learn this. – CMaster Jun 30 '16 at 8:05

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