Huangshan: The Most Beautiful Mountain in China

About five hours into our six hour bus ride from Shanghai to Huangshan, the bus driver pulled off into an area that was obviously not our final destination. He turned and announced something in the local dialect, so even Sara could not understand what he said. Whatever it was, though, it pissed off two-thirds of the people on the bus, because they suddenly erupted into angry shouts. Apparently, he wanted them to get off the bus immediately. This was not their destination. The driver matched their angry words with shouts of his own. He was tough and he wasn't going to take any crap from these people. The shouting intensified and Sara whispered to me to watch out. We were in the front seats of the bus, between the driver and the masses, not a good position in a riot. The day had started early in Shanghai. Our friends, Charles and Vina, and Sara and I boarded our bus and were pleasantly surprised to find that we had front-row seats and the bus was almost empty. It was a nice, clean bus and it left on time. What more could one ask for? We suspected our driver might be a con man when, less than hour into the trip, he made an unscheduled stop and picked up enough people to fill the bus. The fare for all of our new arrivals was paid for in cash by one man, who didn't get on the bus. The bus finally pulled out, and we were once again on our way. The bus was no longer peaceful, but everyone had seats, so everyone was happy. We were minding our own business, when the shouting started. Sara could catch a few words here and there that she understood and she was visibly frightened. The people on the bus wanted to get to their final destination and the bus driver was absolutely not going to take them. We were stopped in an unpopulated area, and obviously not close enough to where the driver had originally promised to deliver this crowd. The yelling intensified and suddenly the driver darted off of the bus. We did not know what was going on, but the people did not chase him, so this was a good sign. A few minutes passed and the driver re-boarded the bus and announced to the people that he had secured another van for them that would take them where they needed to go. They seemed satisfied if not pleased, gathered their belongings and left the bus for a much smaller van in which they all needed to fit. As soon as they all disembarked, our bus driver high-tailed it out of there and we never saw the people again. The bus driver dropped us off at a restaurant where we refreshed, had lunch and waited for our taxi to the entrance to the mountain. Since we only had one night to spend there, we opted for the cable car to the top, rather than the ten-hour hike. When we reached the top, the view seemed like it was from a movie. In fact, it is said that James Cameron based his floating mountains in the movie Avatar, on Huangshan. The clouds filled in the valleys and the peaks of the mountains popped through so they seemed to be floating. The weather is ever changing on the mountain, so even if it is raining, just be patient and it just might stop and be sunny in 10 minutes. We found the view to be excellent when we arrived, but then it clouded up after we hiked to and checked into our hotel. You should know that it is necessary to be in decent shape to visit Huangshan. Even if you plan to take the cable car and stay close to your hotel (there are several at the top, but they are not cheap), you will end up hiking up and down hundreds if not thousands of stairs. There is no easy way to go, only more difficult ones. On such a long trip, each person develops certain noticeable habits that become expected and joked about throughout the rest of the trip. At the top of Huangshan, Charles became known among us as the one who could get things. It seems that our hotel was a bit stingy with the toilet paper (you would be, too, if you had to hike it 10 hours up a mountain). Charles was the man to go to for TP. He quickly made friends with the right person at the hotel and we each had three or four rolls in our rooms. It was a good thing, too, because lunch turned out to be not my friend. (Every trip I take I have at least one run-in with the food) We hiked for the rest of the afternoon and enjoyed the scenery that has graced the most famous Chinese art for thousands of years. If you see ancient drawings and paintings with steep mountains in the clouds, it is most likely Huangshan. This is one of the top destinations of most Chinese travelers at some point in their lives. During summer months, it can be very crowded, but we were fortunate and the crowds, with the bullhorn-armed tour guides, were somewhat minimal (for China). Late in the afternoon, Charles and Vina ventured off on their own, with the hopes of catching the sunset, while Sara and I remained in our room, with the hopes of me staying near the toilet. They missed the sunset, but managed to catch a really, really intense downpour. I caught some Imodium and a nap. Still not feeling great the next morning, Sara and I slept in while Charles and Vina went to see the sunrise. Oops, rain again...no sun. We met up at breakfast and headed out for more hiking. The fog and rain kept us from seeing too much, but it was still a very enjoyable experience. We met some fellow travelers:  Pascal, Remy and Sabine. They were interns from France and Germany, living in China for a year. They had made the mistake of staying in the town of Huangshan, rather than the mountain of Huangshan. It is about a 45 minute taxi ride from the town to the mountain, not to mention the hike/ride up the mountain. They did not seem to mind too much as it is quite a bit cheaper, but if you are going, be sure you know the difference in locations. The Huangshan experience can be expensive and the crowds can be extreme, but there is a reason that it is famous as a destination in times both modern and ancient. If you are only going to China once in your life, you should consider putting Huangshan on your list of things to see.
  • Another thoroughly enjoyable chapter! But, I am just dying to know what the whole thing with the bus driver was really all about! The part about the TP reminds me of that scene in Seinfeld where Elaine went into the restroom and discovered that there was no toilet paper available, and when she asked if she could have a square, the response that met her was “I have no square to spare.” LOL. Anyway, thanks for continuing to share the story of your trip. I am enjoying the journey very much!

    • Flip

      Thanks, Bobby! We had a lot of fun on the trip and are glad you are finding it enjoyable as well. Our next stop is Xian, but we got delayed on the next post because Chinese New Year was this weekend. We hope to have it up soon.

      Flip

  • Blackchecks

    what a scary start to the journey up mountain! but it looks like a really beautiful place! how did you travel to shanghai? free and easy or tour package? I’m planning my trip and am deciding between the two on travel.insing

    • We did it on our own. Shanghai is pretty Western-friendly and if you normally travel independently, you’ll be fine. However, if you normally travel with a tour group, you might find it a bit foreign. Just be sure to have someone write things down for you in Chinese and always card an address card from wherever you are staying because most taxi drivers do not speak English.

  • Rudy F.

    Great report! I went there in May on an absolutely splendid day sunny with no clouds – people later told me that this was a rare occasion. Just on timing, if you are in OK shape you shouldn’t hesitate walking up the western steps as it is much more quiet, because I guess that 98% of visitors take the cableway. So you can take in the scenery and see the changing mountain as you walk up. Took me 2.5 hrs to reach the top cable car station – I had bought a ticket for the cable car already but the indication was a 2 hour wait in line so then I decided to climb up. Really not too bad if you’re in OK shape (I’m 40 yrs old and do sports maybe once or twice a week so by no means well trained).

    To get there I thought about the bus as well initially but everybody I knew in Shanghai discouraged me from that because of the frequent accidents and other problems, so I took the plane, which is great and actually quite cheap if you book in advance.

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