Which Wall is Greater? Si Ma Tai vs. Ba Da Ling

Posted in Beijing, Travel Log (Asia) at 9:57 am by Benjamin Ross

The Great Wall is unique. Of the various tourist attractions I have seen around the world, the Great Wall is one of the very few for which I had high expectations, and I walked away feeling my expectations had been met. The only other place I can think of like this is the Grand Canyon. In terms of Chinese tourist attractions, I believe even the Forbidden City and especially the Terracotta Army in Xi’an all pale in comparison to the world’s largest security system ever built.

This past week, I took my parents to visit the Great Wall. When I first visited the Great Wall in 2005, I went to Si Ma Tai which is 3 hours outside of Beijing. This time I took my parents to Badaling. Here are some pictures to compare the two.

For the most part, Si Ma Tai has been left untouched by restoration efforts.
Badaling has been restored to look all spiffy and new. They even have cool Ming Dynasty security cameras on top of the towers.
The Wall at Simatai has been left to fend against the forces of nature.
At Badaling, nature has been cleared away to make room for droves of tourists who visit daily.
At Simatai you can meet locals like this old Chinese farmer.
At Badaling you can meet Korean tourists dressed up in Chinese monk outfits and rice paddy hats.
Here’s a long view of the Wall at Simatai
…and a similar one from Badaling, check out the cool ski lift!
Simatai was peaceful and quiet. I felt all alone with the Wall.
Badaling was…well…let’s just say I didn’t have to look too hard to find an “I climbed the Great Wall” T-shirt.

For more pictures from Simatai click here.


  1. Xiao Zhu China said,

    June 20, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    I haven’t been to Simatai yet, but I know it has to be better than Badaling.

  2. Terence Australia said,

    June 20, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    In fairness I went to Badaling during Chinese New Year in 1995. It was snowing. It was empty. It was pretty darn nice.

    So ba da ling CAN be okay.

  3. james China said,

    June 20, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    No Mutianyu? It’s decently reconstructed, not ridiculously so, and other than the usual gauntlet of vendors you to have make it through, has very few tourists.

  4. johan China said,

    June 20, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    did you be seeing the story about you across at sinocidal.com ? it’s funny but hoping you have thickness of skin

  5. canrun China said,

    June 20, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Yeah, jive turkey! Did you be seein’ it??

  6. Peter Denmark said,

    June 20, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    I’m going there in about 14 days. Would you say that it would be difficult to go to Simatai compared to Badaling? And how did you get there?

    I love the old nature worn wall and the possible chance to be there alone. Almost as much as I hate the turisty spots, but it may end up so that we go to Badaling due to the transportation possibilities.

  7. The Humanaught China said,

    June 20, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    @Ben: Well done comparison man. I’ve not been to Badaling – for all the reasons you illustrated above.

    @Peter: Simatai isn’t difficult to get to. Worst case, find a Westernized backpacker hostel and book with them – they’re guaranteed to have a tour.

    An alternative to the circus that is Badaling and the isolation of Simatai is Huanghua (Yellow Flower). It’s about an hour and a half or so from Beijing and not near as touristy as Badaling. Before going though, I suggest booking with a Chinese group or via someone Chinese (rather than hopping on the bus), as Dezza had a rough time with it last he went.

  8. Emil Norway said,

    June 20, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    Yeah, ive been to Badaling and another spot. Both big turist magnets and I was dissapointed both of them times. I would really like to go hiking or bicycling along the wall some day

  9. Miles United States said,

    June 20, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    Great comparison. The photos you shot gave a very interesting before and after comparison. Were the aromas the same at Simatai.

  10. Ann China said,

    June 21, 2007 at 12:34 am

    Thanks for you comparison, which is like a attractive ad for Si Ma Tai to me.

  11. Matt United States said,

    June 21, 2007 at 2:09 am

    My visit to Badaling was quite touristy but it was easy to get to and the bus from central Beijing was super cheap.

    There was an interesting article about the Great Wall in the New Yorker last month. Unfortunately, it’s not all online: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/21/070521fa_fact_hessler

  12. Thom United States said,

    June 21, 2007 at 9:58 am

    We went to badaling this winter and it was mostly empty and quite amazing. Obviously you’re pictures and decription make me realize just how empty it was this winter. Si ma Tai looks like it is worth the time and distance during high season. Here’s our description of our day visiting the wall and some factory stores.

  13. coljac Australia said,

    June 21, 2007 at 10:25 am

    The good thing about Badaling is that there are, from memory, 7 or 8 towers you can climb up to. I found that the number of tourists dropped by about 3/4 every tower – in fact, the older tourists and more “heavy-set” Americans tended to give up half way to number one. By the time we got to the top, there was just us and an old Japanese guy. It was still worth the trip.

    Plus we drove past the counterfeit Disneyland on the way there.

  14. Jeremy Yeh China said,

    June 21, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    wow,u really took efforts to make that comparison. awesome!
    yeah,they r quite different. ive never been to simatai b4,but its obvious that the wall is greater in simatai than in badaling. hey,man,guess what,i got a pic of me 11 years ago in the exact same place as where that monk stands!incredible,huh?

  15. Shanghai Roundeye China said,

    June 26, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Really informative post. When my parents came to visit last October, I took them to Beijing. Some friends (both Western and Chinese) warned me to stay away from Badaling. I ended up taking them to Mutianyu which, as James stated, is not crowded but you do have to pass through a vendor corridor. Now I’m really glad that I avoided the circus of Badaling.

  16. Will China said,

    June 27, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    I am with Ryan on Huanghua Cheng. I also highly recommend the nearby Xiaoxihu (小西湖) section, which cuts across a reservoir. Less panoramic and splendid than Simatai, but it has an unrestored but walkable section of wall that is essentially devoid of people, with a nice view across the neighboring valley from the uppermost tower. If you walk a clockwise lap around the lake it can take some real effort to get to (thorns!). Best approach is anti-clockwise around the lake and up through the orchards. But you might have to cough up a few RMB to the farmer for the right of transit. Twice my companions and I have enjoyed total solitude and lovely picnics on that section. Plus, nice hikes through the surrounding old orchards and terraces. The lake is in a park, and you will run a vendor gauntlet on the way in. None inside, though.

  17. G. T. Lin United States said,

    June 28, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    I got into Badaling last year for free as a friend has “guanxi”. Her uncle’s friend’s cousin’s brother’s sisters’ nephew was a train stationmaster and he know some dude who works at the Wall. Ok, fine the connection wasn’t that bad; but it did took a while for all the concerned parties to be notified. I thought it were be more cost effective to just pay the entrance fee. The views were be much better if 90% of the people disappear for the day.

  18. Edward China said,

    June 28, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    As a Chinese,I completely agree with you
    Now,the Great Wall has been over-visited,especially the Badaling.So many repaires in the Great Wall make it so not original.
    Actually,the visitors burden our “treasure” and we do nothing about it

  19. Jaimie China said,

    July 2, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Is this just bias propaganda? You only put the most crowded pictures of Badaling and the least crowded pictures of Simaitai to prove your point? Kinda like Borat, who took millions of footage of Americans and edited the movie so that only the worst side of America is shown? Well, I have something to say about that……….that’s niiiiicee.

    Anyways, I went to Simaitai and it WAS beautiful (why is it you can’t italicize your writing on blog pages? If anyone knows how, let me know)… among to most beautiful experiences in my life. I’ve never been to Badaling, so I can’t be one to compare, I can only say that Simaitai is well worth a trip to Beijing alone.

  20. Bruce United States said,

    September 27, 2007 at 7:54 am

    I’ve visited Badaling twice and another location nearby (don’t remember the name) in the last four years. There is supposedly a saying of Mao’s that (paraphrase), “Only a real man can climb the wall at Badaling”. It is indeed a challenge, being very steep. It will leave your leg muscles trembling if you make it to the top. I look forward to seeing other, unimproved, sections of the wall on future visits.

  21. Andy United States said,

    June 23, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Well done ! You are so brave and adventurous! These are great pictures of the Great Wall! Which reminds me… I should go through my India pictures and post some. Having read this I thought it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it! In return, I also found a great blog of Great Wall travel tips, I’d love to share it here with you and for future travelers. http://www.wildgreatwall.com/which-part-of-the-great-wall-is-the-best-to-visit/

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