Last weekend we had the Chinese eqivalent of a Bank Holiday because of the Chinese National Tomb Sweeping day (where locals visits and clean the tombs of their ancestors), so we thought we’d spend it on Yellow Mountain (HuangShan黄山). No hangover this time, only sleep deprived, we awoke early on a Sunday and jumped on a train, eager not to miss a moment of our weekend. On the train I, of course, fell fast asleep, leaving Callum to fend for himself in a carriage full of Chinese ladies offering him food (from pistacios to deepfried chicken feet) and shouting over him in Chinese. Turns out they were on their way to HuangShan to pick specific rare pine flowers for some kind of Traditional Medicine/cosmetic make up. Would we like to join them?
We politely declined and headed off to the town in a bus without a clutch. The weather was at least 29 degrees, and after little sleep and a loud train, the constant shaking, juttering, and stalling of the bus forced us off at an early stop to catch our breath and possibly be a little sick in the bushes.
These bushes ran untamed along the side of the river so we decided to follow this unkempt but beautiful meadow into town. The sun was out and we slowly ambled into town, watching the fishermen and women doing their laundry in the river. The walk was long enough for us to straighten our heads and feel a little more human, and it ended as we came to Huangshan’s Old Street. Heading down here we found all manner of old curiosity shops, selling fountains, ink, paintbrushes and various assortments of dried flowers and tea. We bought some flavoured brown sugar and a packet of sweet meat jerky, and settled for some lunch and a beer in the sunshine.
We hadn’t actually booked a hotel by this point, and so we thought it wise to take this time and look for one in the area. We found one that looked cute, with a four poster bed and a western bathroom around the corner from where we were sat. We booked it and headed off to check in.
Huangshan Old Street Courtyard Hotel appears to be notoriously hard to find. We couldn’t seem to match the road with the map, and so we asked a local shopkeeper for directions. He grinned as he pointed us down a tiny alleyway between two stalls. We found ourselves walled in, a typical Chinese thin alley with a large wooden door on the right about halfway down. As we were trying to read the characters above the door we heard a ‘hello’ from inside. We were in the right place.
Inside the main building is all polished yellow wood adorned with old and mis-matched furniture and plants. We registered here and the receptionist showed us to our room.
We reached it through a small but quaint courtyard, with a few wooden tables and wire chairs. The door had a code lock, and she text me the combination. We curiously opened the door to a small but full room, with white walls, two tables, and a handmade four poster bed complete with drapes. The ensuite was a badly pointed exposed brick outhouse type affair that we instantly fell in love with. We couldn’t resist the temptation of having an afternoon nap and promptly fell asleep.
Once awake we took a walk towards the river. It was still very hot so we took refuge in a local cinema. If any sci-fi fans haven’t seen Ready Player One yet, I would fully recommend it.
On leaving we realised that it had gotten dark and we were ready for some food again. We wandered back through what looked like the Art Quarter, full of small bars and hotpot restaurants. It was beautiful at night, with the castle-like bridges lit up in yellow, and old style lamp posts along the river banks.
We found a restaurant called Endear. Sat on the waterfront, it boasted an English garden outside seating area and two floors of pleasant restaurant. We went in.
We were directed to a table surrounded by sofas and shown a Chinese menu. Luckily, our meagre Chinese knowledge told us they sold Western Style steak so we both opted for the lamb. Anyone who has eaten steak in China knows that they are not very good at it – whether it’s ‘Western’ or not. The lamb came with a soup starter, a large side salad, a steak or rice, and a glass of wine, all of which were delicious. We wolfed it down and slowly got the bill, hoping we hadn’t read the menu wrong and would be charged through the nose for it. It all came to less than £20, a steal for the quality of every dish.
From here we wandered back to our hotel for an early(ish) night. Tomorrow we were to tackle HuangShan itself!
Day 2. Slept late.
We woke, fresh and rested (though a little sunburned) late in the morning and opted for the breakfast provided by the B&B. It consisted of small orange kumquats, dry bread, and a fried egg each. We brunched leisurely in the sunny courtyard before asking how we could get to the national park.
‘you can walk there’ said the new receptionist who spoke about as much English as we did Chinese, ‘come with me. I’ll take you.’
Knowing that it was about an hour and a half drive we were curious to where she had in mind. We followed her out of the inn, through the back street, across a main road, and through more residential alleyways before being dropped off inside a beautifully green city park that surrounded a lake. We all laughed together when we realised our mistake, but said thank you and goodbye and let her get back to work.
This park was sunny and warm, making all the colours more vibrant and the birdsong more melodic. We walked for about half an hour around the lake, watching the women wash more laundry, fish come up for food, and some of the biggest pondskaters we have ever seen.
We went to find a taxi to take us to the national park. It was hotter than the previous day and knowing what the busses were like we didn’t want to risk another sea-sick journey. We hopped in an air-conditioned taxi and showed him a map. On clicked the meter and we were on our way. He drove the scenic route, taking winding roads up through the valleys. There was plenty of tea growing, and a few villages, but mostly our view for the next couple of hours was green hills and blue sky.
We reached the gates of the mountainous national park and had to (unfortunately) buy a bus ticket to take us to the bottom of THE yellow mountain. We boarded the half empty bus and found a seat with a couple of South Africans who had come for the same adventure. The journey into the park was about 30 minutes, and by this time we were terrifically bored of sitting down. Let’s walk up the mountain instead of taking the cablecar.
We started the three-hour hike freshfaced and raring to go. It started, and continued, and ended with stone stairs winding through the hills. On the way we met guys sleeping, care-takers of the mountain operating mountain rescue style sedan chairs, and exhausted tourists walking down the mountain. We had a few photos with tour groups before heading on our weary way. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked up 6 kilometres of stairs, but by gosh I felt great by the end. Don’t get me wrong, I ached all over, and by the end could only take about 30 stairs without a break, but knowing that we walked all that way left me elated.
At the top we headed towards a hotel on the mountain and booked in. It was about mid afternoon by now and we were both hungry, so found the restaurant and ordered our favourite Chinese foods before walking it off around the top of the mountain in the dusk. The views of the setting sun over the picturesque hills were incredible.
Well worth the grueling walk.
We laid on a rock and waited for the stars to come out before slowly following Orions Belt back to the hotel and bed.
We decided that it might be nice to wake early and watch the sun rise so rose reluctantly and bleary eyed at 5am. We headed down an abandoned corridor and into an empty lift, chatting about where we thought it would be best to stand. What we didn’t anticipate was that everyone in the hotel had had a similar thought, and had risen as early as us (and earlier) and they were heading out onto the clifftops. It was packed.
We walked for about 15 minutes looking for a place to stand where there were few people but we were unsuccessful. So we shimmied around a boulder and onto a treelined cliff ledge where we couldn’t see any obnoxiously coloured jackets. We were in peace for about 5 minutes before we were joined by three loud Chinese men who managed to stand in such a way that they got into almost all of our photographs. I suppose that’s what you get for living in a country with over a bilion other people.
Even with our three new pests the view was majestic. The sun rose between two mountain peaks, at times reminding us of Sauron’s Eye, before highlighting the rocks and casting long shadows through the hills. We stuck around for a while and took more photos, the Chinese tourists soon getting bored and wandering back to the hotel, we were left with the relatively quiet and beautiful mountain to ourselves.
Hunger struck around an hour later so we headed back for a delightfully hideous Chinese buffet breakfast. In the wake of our spicy noodle and boiled vegetable breakfast we checked out of the hotel and made our way around the top of the mountain toward the path that could lead us down.
Yes, our legs were aching a little from our previous days ascent, but the mountaintop was so full of tourists we had no choice but to stop every three or four stairs. We, in effect, queued to get around the top of the mountain. We were both looking forward to the descent where we knew most people would choose to take the cablecar to the bottom.
The top was hilly and offered wonderful views, so stopping sometimes wasn’t that much of an inconvenience and more of a photo opportunity. The constant ups were hard work, but when you reach the top and witness the sheer size of the mountain range, it really is breathtaking. Stopping momentarily to catch our breath we started down.
Down the mountain was quick and easy so we managed to jog most of it. Still winding stairs for 6km, we stopped every ten minutes or so to give our calves a rest and to drink some water, but we made it down in around 2 hours. Along the way we met a chap called Song, who spoke few words of English, yet we still managed to make friends. He taught defensive martial arts to the Chinese police force, and gave us life-saving tutorials and demonstrations (poor Callum) along the way.
From the bottom we said goodbye to Song and boarded a bus back to the entrance. Catching another taxi to the train station we said a begrudging, achey goodbye to HuangShan. Until next time!
(a week later our legs still ache.)