Considering that it was constructed for the purpose of keeping foreigners out of China, it's ironic that the Great Wall has become China's number one attraction for visitors from abroad. If you've only done the chairlift at Badaling, however, you can hardly count yourself as a Wall veteran. Indeed, speak to any tourist visiting Beijing, and you may well get the impression that there are only three parts of the Great Wall to be seen in the country. Backpackers are especially quick to make fun of the Badaling and Mutianyu crowd, and speak in hushed tones of the "real" wall at Simatai.
Let's be honest - all three of these sections are intensely marketed to tourists of varying persuasions - and while all of them are fine parts of the Wall to see, on a monument with sections scattered across the country there is certainly a lot more ground to be covered.
We may no longer be able to follow in the steps of William Lindesay - the Briton who journeyed the entire length of the Wall on foot in 1987 - but there are still numerous locations within reach of Beijing where visitors can enjoy features and designs unique to each particular section. If you want to be able to stay a step ahead of those backpackers who assume they've seen more of China than you have just because they've climbed some stairs at Simatai, take a day off to see some of the less-travelled Wall and give yourself something really worth boasting about.
Don't forget that much of the Great Wall in this part of the country climbs near-vertical mountain faces, so if the only exercise you've been doing is thumbing through boxes of DVDs, gird yourself to expend some effort. The Wall sections in most of these locales are rough staircases up mountainsides. The climb, however, is more than worth the effort.
If you're making a weekend of it, you'll usually be able to find a local farmer with a room to rent - they're used to tourists coming knocking. In Xifengkou, however, you'll need to go back to Qianxi to find a hotel, and in Jiumenkou and Laolongtou, head for the walled city of Shanhaiguan to spend the night.