Misty Mountain Hop 黄山

If you go down in the streets today, Baby, you better,
You better open your eyes.
Folk down there really don't care, really don't care, don't care, really don't
Which, which way the pressure lies,
So I've decided what I'm gonna do now.
So I'm packing my bags for the Misty Mountains
-Led Zeppelin

Early September, we escaped the concrete jungle with an easy two hour flight south to Anhui Province. Our goal was to see one of China’s national treasures: Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain 黄山).  The dramatic scenery has inspired legends, poetry, and the backdrop for James Cameron’s Avatar.

Huang Shan did not disappoint. The pines precariously lodged within the chiseled cliffs and the clouds mysteriously slinking through the crevasses like a silent mountain song overwhelmed us, inspired us, and revived us. Our awe was only interrupted with the sounds of rambunctious tourists chatting, talking, yelling, and spitting. Yes, like any spot in China, the place was covered with people.

The following is a detailed description of our 4-day excursion south to a warmer clime. Information on travel to Huang Shan is scant, so I hope the following may help backpackers planning to experience one of China’s natural wonders. Skip to the pictures if you don’t like to read (you know who you are).

This blog entry includes the following main points:
  • Day 1 – Beijing (北京) to Tunxi (屯溪)
  • Day 2 – Tunxi (屯溪) to Huang Shan (黄山)
  • Day 3 – Huang Shan (黄山) to Tunxi (屯溪)
  • Day 4 – Hongcun (宏村) Ancient Village to Beijing (北京)
  •  Cost
Read enough? Click here and just look at pictures
Day 1 – Beijing (北京) to Tunxi (屯溪)

After landing in Tunxi late Sunday night, Steven from Huang Shan Bed and Breakfast picked us up from the airport. That evening we chatted with Steven and sipped tea. The accommodations were extremely clean, comfortable, and came with a fried rice breakfast. Our one night stay in a private room and bath was a deal for 150 RMB ($25 USD).

Day 2 – Tunxi (屯溪) to Huang Shan (黄山)

Steven drove us to the train station and arranged for us to take a bus to Huang Shan’s front gate. The 2 hour ride cost 17 RMB ($3 USD) per person. After arriving at the main gate and paying another 19 RMB ($3 USD) per person, we boarded another bus bound for Yungu (云谷) Temple Station located on the east side of the park. There we paid the steep Huang Shan entrance fee of 230 RMB ($38 USD) per person.

From Yungu Temple Station, tourists can ride a gondola for 80 RMB ($13 USD) per person, or climb 6 km of stairs. As self-proclaimed hikers and frugal travelers, we opted for the stairs. After about an hour of stairs (and only stairs), I felt like my 13-pound backpack was 50-pounds. I was literally from-head-to-toe drenched with sweat and wishing we had forked over the 80 RMB to ride the gondola.

I am so sweaty
We climbed the stairs alongside a parade of porters-- the unsung heroes of mountain tourism. They were work oxen, their lean bodies balancing heavy loads across their shoulders as they carefully took each ascending step. They rested their loads on a bamboo stake as they sipped water, wiped their brows, or smoked a cigarette. Their calves bulged- the result of thousands of uphill treks with 100 to 200 pounds of supplies. The porters were both young and old. Despite laboring under the load, they willingly offered a smile or asked what country from whence we came. Ok, maybe my 13-pound backpack was not so bad after all.

 As a side note: I have added Huang Shan porter to my list of jobs in China I would hate (another example is bathroom lady: she sits in a stinky public bathroom but I don’t know if she actually does anything because the floors are dirty and the wastebasket is spilling over with used toilet paper).

These porters probably carried up the drywall, paint, concrete, and other supplies to construct the large hotels perched at the top of the mountain. The hotels are not quaint structures that blend in with the mountain scape. The purple carpets and purple velvet sofas, the gold chandeliers, and fake marble paneling reminded me of Reno’s casinos which saw their heyday 20 years ago. Despite clashing with the environment, the hotels are a construction marvel.

We lodged one night at the Paiyunlou Hotel. We chose the cheapest option at 150 RMB ($25 USD) for single-sex dorms. The rooms were small and crammed with three bunk beds. Each dorm room has a bathroom.  I roomed with 5 other Chinese tourists. Bedding is provided, but no toilet paper or towels. The rooms are definitely not luxurious, but they start out reasonably clean. After one night of sweaty tourists, a perpetually unflushed toilet, and used toilet paper accumulated in the waste bin, the place reeked. My roommates were nice—and I hate to nit-pick— but they just didn’t flush the toilet and they smelled like body odor. Fortunately, perfect mountain weather beckoned us outside and we spent little time in the dorm.

Our dorms were conveniently located at the edge of the West Sea (西海). The “sea” refers to the layer of clouds that hover above the canyon and below the mountain peaks. Our legs on fire after the morning’s tough climb, we spent the rest of the day hiking the well-maintained paths that descend into the canyon. The scenery was amazing.

Feel the love! Lovers inscribe their names on locks, lock them up and throw away the keys to symbolize everlasting love

Day 3 – Huang Shan (黄山) to Tunxi (屯溪)

Early in the morning, a parade of tourists fumbled through the dark and up the steep stairs to claim a spot at the edge of the rim and watch the sunrise. We fumbled along with them, and thinking ourselves smart, perched at an outlook that connected to the main trail and a bit below Red Cloud Peak (丹霞峰). We hoped that the procession of tourists would continue onto the peak and leave us alone. But that hope was in vain. This mountain was just simply covered with tourists. We soon found ourselves elbow to elbow with chatting, snacking, and spitting tourists. Come on people! The sun gently rising above the misty clouds should be enjoyed in silence.

Watching the sunrise along with everyone else
After a pretty anti-climactic sunrise (the clouds blocked the rise and the tourists blocked the silence), we beat the crowds and took a relatively solitary hike. Even though our legs ached from the previous day’s climb, we persevered and climbed up to Flying Over Rock (飞来石) and Brightness Top (光明顶) to take in more amazing scenery.

Flying Over Rock
Six kilometers of stairs, two bus rides and 4 hours later, we returned to Tunxi. Deprived of food, we ate at the first restaurant we could find in Tunxi Old Town.

Tunxi Old Town, the city’s historical center, now caters to tourists. The narrow alleys house charming calligraphy, knick-knack and garment shops as well as restaurants. birdMAN is not much of a shopper. He tends to briskly walk through merchant areas— especially if he is hungry. If you are not like my husband, Tunxi Old Town offers plenty for the curious shopper inclined to spend money.

Anybody want to buy this very uncomfortable bathtub? Just kidding, I have no idea what this thing is for.
We wandered up, down, and around the alleys for about 2 hours before we finally found the Hui Boutique Hotel. We had booked our room online for 350 RMB, a considerably steeper price than our stay outside of Old Town. However, the location was ideal—smack in the center of charming old town. The staff was friendly and the hotel was clean, neat, and reminiscent of ancient China. We spent the evening relaxing and watching Seven Pounds starring Will Smith (I give the movie a C) on the room’s flat screen television.

Courtyard at the Hui Boutique Hotel
Tunxi Old Town
Day 4 – Hongcun (宏村) Ancient Village to Beijing (北京)

We had the whole day to kill before our evening flight, so we took off to the countryside. Our destination was Hongcun (宏村) Ancient Village. Scenes for Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger were filmed there. After paying the 104 RMB entrance fee per person, we only had about 3 hours to eat and explore.

There we wandered the narrow passageways from ancient home to ancient home, from garden to garden, from craft shop to craft shop. At a family run restaurant, we bargained with a friendly young man for a 3 dish meal for 100 RMB. As we savored streaky pork, spicy tofu, and braised vegetables, we watched the clouds threaten rain, the tourists taking pictures in the alley below, and the family’s freshly-washed laundry dry in the gentle breeze.

The internet provides good direction on how to get to and from Hongcun. We could have opted to pay a private driver or taxi for a quicker (and more expensive) ride, but sitting among the locals and taking in a piece of their lives is far more interesting. Along the 2 hour route, we watched both old and young rural people get on and off at the small villages dotted along the highway. They carried pieces of their lives with them: plastic bags full of green veggies for that night’s dinner or pickling for a later meal, school bags with books and cellphones, a set of pots and pans and a large grey sack full of sundries. After feeding her children packaged stinky tofu, a mother nonchalantly chucking the plastic wrapping out the bus window. Two men speaking in the Anhui dialect as their cigarette poofs wafted through the bus and amongst fellow passengers. School children in white and blue jumpsuits heading home after a long day at distant schools.

That night we flew back to Beijing. And Beijing welcomed us with familiar sounds of the Beijing dialect and pollution.

Art students hone their skills in Hongcun
Where is a ninja when you need one?
Rice harvest


This trip was not cheap (especially if you are surviving on Chinese wages). For comparison, a typical plate of dumplings would cost 10-15 RMB ($1.60 -$2.40 USD). On the mountain, we forked over 40 RMB ($6.50 USD) for twelve dumplings, which scarcely sated our hunger. A liter of water cost 25 RMB ($4.00 USD), verses 3 RMB ($0.50 USD) off the mountain. Each person pays an entrance fee of 230 RMB ($37 USD); in contrast, a carload of people can enter California’s Yosemite National Park for $20 USD.

Including plane tickets from Beijing to Tunxi and back, we spent about $870 USD for 4 days. See Vacation Cost Table for a cost breakdown.

In sum, we spent a lot of money. We rubbed elbows with annoying tourists. We sweated a lot. The mountain climb left us with achy legs and insatiable appetites.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Huang Shan is spectacular. I want to go back next year—and ride the gondola up.

Chinese word of the blog: 壮观 zhuàng guān
English translation: magnificent
Example sentence:黄山的景色真壮观Huángshān de jǐngsè zhēn zhuàngguān
English translation: Yellow Mountain scenery is spectacular.

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