Great Wall of China at Yaoziyu
An unrestored section of the Great Wall of China near Beijing
There are numerous places to visit the Ming Dynasty Great Wall of China near Beijing, ranging from the completely rebuilt, absolutely touristy section at Badaling (sometimes derisively referred to as the "Disneyland Great Wall") to crumbling sections of the Wall that are off-the-beaten path such as the lesser-known section at Yaoziyu a couple of hours outside of Beijing. Named after the 800-year old village there, the Yaoziyu Great Wall of China is a fantastically beautiful but somewhat dangerous part of the Wall that is rarely seen by visitors. Situated to the west of the Great Wall at Huanghuacheng, this section can be reached by walking along along path to a pass that allows relatively easy climbing up on to the Wall itself. Walking to the east from this pass will take you on the the Wall at Huanghuacheng, while walking back to the west is the section known as Yaoziyu. It is a steep climb either way, but the climb up on the Yaoziyu side is particularly steep. Once at the first guard tower, visitors face a rather perilous walk along a narrow section of the Wall that is approximately 18 inches wide and 10 yards long with a big drop-off on either side that could easily be fatal if you are unlucky enough to fall off of the Great Wall there. This part of the Wall is definitely not recommended for those with vertigo or drunkards! (Save the drinking for later when you get back down off of the Great Wall.)
Once past the narrow crossing, it is still a steep climb on up the Great Wall as it follows the natural mountain ridge, but the views are spectacular. Shrubs and other vegetative growth also impede climbing, but there is a reasonably well-worn path to follow if one is observant enough. One of the big guard towers along this route has a huge crack running vertically the full length of the tower, which makes one wonder exactly how much longer this guard tower will last without some type of preservation effort. Sadly, throughout the length of the Great Wall there seems to be no middle ground with preservation - it is either allowed to completely crumble away or it is fully rebuilt, as was done at Badaling and other sections, and as is currently (2010-2012) being done at the incredibly beautiful section of the Great Wall at Simatai.
At the summit of the Yaoziyu section of the Great Wall there is a large guard tower that provides a great place for a rest stop and some fantastic views of the surrounding area. Although it is possible to climb on top of this guard tower, in order to preserve what is left of it as well as for your own safety, it is best to just enjoy the views from below rather than risking life and limb to get on top of a 500-year old crumbling part of the Great Wall. From this guard tower, you can continue walking west along the Wall or try to follow a sort of path (it can be a bit hard to follow) down from the Great Wall to a road that leads to the 800-year old village of Yaoziyu that lends its name to this section of the Wall. There are a couple of very friendly home-based restaurants where you can get a great meal and a drink or too - a well-earned reward after some tough hiking along the Great Wall of China!