In April, my friends and I took a trip from Shanghai to Huangshan, or Yellow Mountains. Located in the Anhui province, Huangshan is known for the incredible views that can be seen from its peaks. I was so excited to see some nature, get in a good hike, and of course, to experience another part of China.
When I was planning this trip, I was a little bummed out, because it was scheduled to rain on the day we were going to ascend the mountain. But, we were very lucky because a lot of things ended up working in our favor, and this trip ended up being one of my favorite trips I have done in China. And the view from the top? One of the most incredible things I have EVER seen in my entire life!!!!!!!!!!! (yes that many exclamation points are needed to emphasize how amazing it was!)
The trip started with a grueling 6 hour bus ride from Shanghai South Long-Distance Bus Station to the small town of Tunxi. Tunxi is basically the “springboard for trips to Huagnshan and the surrounding Huizhou villages” (according to my Lonely Planet guidebook). The bus ride cost about 130yuan and we bought it at the bus station, although if you have a Chinese ID you could buy it ahead of time through Ctrip. But since none of us are Chinese nationals, we had to settle for buying it there (although I later learned that we could have bought tickets at the local ticket office near our school as well).
Anyways, the bus ride wasn’t that bad, except it was completely full and it got REALLY stuffy towards the end, which was not fun. There was one rest stop halfway through, which we were all thankful for.
At the Tunxi Bus station, we bought a bus ticket to Hongcun for 4pm to secure our spots on the bus, and headed to Tunxi Old Street for lunch. Originally, I planned for us to stay one night in Tunxi before going up the mountain the next day. But, we decided to splurge and stay in nearby Hongcun instead. I’m glad we made this decision because we absolutely loved Hongcun (more on that later), and also, because from my research it seems that Old Street is kind of the only thing to go/do in Tunxi, and it ended up feeling sort of touristy and not very authentic. There are some cool shops to look at, such as many calligraphy stores stocked with ink stones and brushes of all shapes and sizes. However, there were quite a few that stocked the same things, which is why I feel like the street seemed “touristy”.
Lunch was unmemorable except there was a cute cat. Hi cat! Okay, moving on.
We got back to the Tunxi Bus Station via taxi (pro tip: Travel with 4 people or less so y’all can fit in one taxi) to get on our bus to Hongcun. The ride from Tunxi to Hongcun is about 1.5 hours. So at this point, we’ve basically been sitting on a bus all day. Having left Shanghai at 6am, we were all pretty tired too! I really wanted to nap on the bus from Tunxi to Hongcun, but I kept staring out the window because the views were incredible! I’m talking lush mountain greenery, pastoral fields, and rivers. I tried to snap some photos, but I was on a moving vehicle, and it was rainy outside. These blurry pictures do no justice to the beauty of the Chinese countryside.
Hongcun is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and renowned for being the backdrop of the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. I was hesitant about adding it to our itinerary for the following reasons: First, there is an entrance fee of 104 yuan (although there is a 50% discount for students). Second, as mentioned above, we had to first arrive to Tunxi, then take another bus to Hongcun. This is an added step to our journey. And we are lazy. Third, my Chinese friend from Anhui was kind of meh when I asked him if Hongcun was worth a visit. He said that it’s just like any other Chinese countryside village.
But it was totally worth it, because unlike a lot of other places I have been visited in China (*cough* Suzhou, Hangzhou, Qibao old street), Hongcun felt authentic. As soon as you step in the main entrance, there is an entrancing view of the lake, and the Anhui-style whitewashed buildings behind it. It’s beautiful, tranquil, and best (and rarest) of all, THERE WEREN’T THAT MANY TOURISTS THERE.
We wandered around the small town, taking in the sights – the calmly rippling lake, lanterns swaying in the breeze, the gray stone walls, the legs of meat hanging everywhere (…wait what???) . It was cloudy and slightly misty today, but not full-on rainy, which we were thankful for.
For dinner, we wanted to try local Anhui cuisine (one of the 8 traditional Chinese cuisines). We had trouble figuring out what to order, since we are all n00bs who know nothing. We settled on xuecai, or pickled wild vegetables, a dish with bamboo shoots (probably also wild and local) and a meat dish. All 3 things we ordered ended up being incredibly salty. The vegetables are pickled, so of course they are salty. But we didn’t realize that the meat is also cured (aka preserved through salt). Remember those chunks of meat hanging outside? Yeah, those are all cured/salted meat that has been left out to dry. Ugh, my tongue is shriveling up just thinking about how salty that meal was…. but, the food was actually quite good with a healthy helping of rice 🙂
It took us a while to find Qingheyue Hostel, which is where we stayed the night. Qingheyue offers dorm rooms, but they were sold out on the night we were there, so I booked 2 rooms for the 4 of us. Although it was a tad bit more expensive than getting dorm rooms, we were all really happy with our rooms, which were adorable and private, but also with all modern comforts that you could imagine (a heater, toiletries, nice bathrooms, etc.)
By the way, if you are a foreigner looking to stay in the area, I highly recommend that you call and inquire as to whether or not the hotels/hostels accept foreigners, and if it is okay to book online via sites like Ctrip. Not all hotels in China accept foreigners – especially smaller ones like the ones in Hongcun, and don’t assume they do just because they are listed on Ctrip’s English website! And, some of the places I called said that the prices or availabilities listed on Ctrip were outdated. So it would have been a hassle if I booked online on Ctrip and we showed up to a room that didn’t exist or couldn’t accommodate us!
We all really enjoyed our stay at Qingheyue – it was clean and comfortable, and although we did not interact too much with the other guests, it has a very hostel-y vibe where young people gather in the back to play guitar, sing, and chat. So if you are into that, you will like staying here!
Stay tuned for my next post, which will actually be about Huangshan!