Me on the Great WallWith Jacob in town, I made my second trip to the Great Wall this week. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been to the same place twice.

It’s not something you necessarily think about if you haven’t been to the Beijing area, but travelers have several options when heading to the wall. Most tourists go to the Badaling section, which means that it’s often so packed with people that it’s difficult to truly appreciate — or even see — the scenery. Luckily, I avoided that experience by heading farther afield. My classmates and I went to the Jinshanling section, and Jacob and I headed to rugged Simatai. Both locations are about two hours outside Beijing.

If you have the time, I recommend avoiding the crowds and heading to Simatai or Jinshanling. You can even hike between the two sites if you’re feeling particularly peppy. I don’t think you can go wrong with either site, but I had different experiences at each. I got the best views at Simatai, but that might have been because it was rainy and foggy when we went to Jinshanling. And the climb at Simatai seemed much more steep and tiring, but, again, the hotter weather on that day might have been a factor. If you’re fatigued at all, you can take a cable car and small train at Simatai; I recommend taking both, as that would give you more time and energy to walk along the wall itself.

Jacob and I hired a taxi from Beijing for the day for 600 RMB, or about $80. I’d imagine you could bargain and get it for even less, but some drivers asked for 1,000 RMB. For less money, you could take a couple of buses or join a tour through a youth hostel. I decided to go with the taxi because tours and private drivers often make unwanted stops at jade-carving factories and the like, where your time is wasted and you’re pressured to buy souvenirs. I had also heard complaints about the buses and minivans, which drop you off at a stop where you may be forced to take a taxi at a highly inflated price. It’s much easier to bargain with a taxi driver when you’re in Beijing than when you’re a hundred miles away and have no other options.