Thursday, July 21, 2016

Huangshan, China: This Is What a Magical Chinese Mountain Looks Like

When I was talking to my mom on FaceTime from Shanghai, she was like "Seriously, you have to go to Huangshan. If there is one place you have to go to in China, it's Huangshan. It is the most beautiful place you will ever see in your life. Just like a painting."

I seriously knew nothing about Huangshan, but I found out it's accessible from Shanghai. So I convinced Jesse to come with me, and we set off on our Huangshan adventure.

What It's All About:
Huangshan is one of China's "five great peaks" - this is a thing. It's known for its gorgeous granite peaks, which are often depicted in Chinese literature, poetry, and drawings.  The mountains extend up to 1,800 meters tall (>6,000 ft) - and are often covered in a beautiful cloud-like mist, giving the impression that the mountains are extending up into the clouds themselves.

Magical, misty Huangshan

You can spend a day (or a couple, really) trekking the intricate paths in and around Huangshan - there are a network of numerous paths you can take, with varying difficulty.  The most basic recommended trail, which our hotel provided us, is a full-day, 6-7 hour walk from viewpoint to viewpoint. And this assumes you take the cable car up and down the first base of the mountain. You can seriously spend forever going along these paths.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • First I heard that Huangshan was 3 hours away from Shanghai. Then it was 5.  Well, after we'd gotten on the bus, I really learned that it's about 6.5-7 hours.  Oops, sorry Jesse. I may have marketed this foray to you incorrectly.  
  • We rolled into town well past 10pm, through a random series of events where we had booked a rando hotel and then gotten on a rando free van shuttle based on the rando city I noticed our hotel was located in.  And then our shuttle driver offered to drop us off at the front door of our hotel. I couldn't believe how well it worked out.  Apparently (unbeknownst to us), Huangshan has numerous towns you can stay in to access the mountain, and they're fairly far from each other. It's a miracle we ended up at our hotel at all.
  • Rolled out the next morning in hotel-provided ponchos (our host guaranteed it was going to rain; it's currently rainy season in all of China) to begin our trek.  

We begin our rainy hike in stylish ponchos (Jess said the color of my poncho was the only way he could recognize me amidst the hoards of Chinese tourists)

Did you know, according to China, that Mt. Huangshan is "God's favored mountain"?  Also it is "praised as 'Fairyland in the World' and 'No. 1 Mountain under Heaven.'" #iloveChinesesigns

My mom's most important piece of advice? "Ride the cable car. For the love of God, ride the cable car. Your father and I did not and we almost died and couldn't even enjoy the mountain." #dutifulChinesedaughter

I'm not sure if it was because it was lightly raining, but magical mist was everywhere

  • Get ready for millions of photos of Huangshan. Keep in mind, again, this is the curated version. For every photo you see, I deleted 5 more so as not to overwhelm.

At the top of the cable car, the series of pathways extended in every direction for you to walk through.

The flat trees and green vegetation that grow out of the rocks only add to the magical effect

Jess in his raincoat and a very cool tree

Sometimes it got so foggy that you couldn't see anything at all around you, except for thick, white fog

And then the fog would randomly clear

The mountain had people who offered to carry you up and down the hundreds of steps in a wooden rickshaw thing on their backs, like an emperor.  I personally think I'd feel terrible, but this man clearly did not.

Every five minutes would be a to-die-for view

Some of the more-travelled walkways were CRAMMED with tourists. Like, tourists as far as the eye could see. I'm not sure why it looks like there's something stinky going on in this photo.

Here's cool view of two of the pathways snaking up/down the mountain - and the lines of tourists waiting in both. Like little ants!

Some of the walkways were incredibly narrow and you had to wait in crowds like this moving at a snail's pace for a long time. Now I see why the trek takes 7 hours....


Seriously, I love Chinese signs. So much.
Puff puff puff. So many stairs.


With views like this, I could write Chinese poetry too

Jess and his signature jumping pose

King of the world

Magical scattered fog clouds!

The only way to transport goods up and down the mountain (there are numerous luxury hotels and some stores located along the pathways) is by foot. These men were everywhere, carrying really really heavy looking things on bamboo poles. It was highly impressive.

In the early afternoon, the fog really amped it up a notch

You had to wait around for some of the fog to clear, which would reveal certain mountains, if only for a second

When it gets too foggy or rainy, the paths up the various mountains get dangerous, so they shut them down. This is one of the viewpoints we were able to get to, but couldn't see anything but half a mountain and fog.

Another really amazing viewpoint (allegedly) - all foggy

We waited for the fog to clear

Which it did slightly

Some last shot before heading back down the mountain

Cable cars descending into pure fog

The views down were some of the most incredible ones; seriously

How much do these look like paintings

  • At the base of Huangshan is a series of famous, fancy hot springs.  I wouldn't say the hiking was that hard (it was very up and down, and most of the time the paths were fairly flat), but we treated ourselves to them anyhow.


A quick pano of the super super fancy outdoor hot springs

A lot of the pools were themed and infused with different medicinal/good-for-you concoctions. I think this one was Chinese medicine - it said it was good for the heart


The wine springs were a disconcerting blood red-color, which did not seem to bother Jess

This bath is Vitamin C-infused. I'm not sure what that does for your skin (I don't seem to LOOK any younger here), but whatever

Post dinner, we wandered on down to town to find some dinner

And found one of those street-side meat stick stands. You just pick all the skewers you want and they fry it all up into a delicious juicy skewer plate for you. These are one of my favorites

Delicious juicy meat skewer goodness (and a large beer for $1.80!). We got to eat on the street and watch all the goings on. Sometimes I love China.

My favorite was this (unappetizing-looking, I know) eggplant - they fried it all up, shoved a million garlic cubes into it, and sauced it up real good. Eggplant is amazing here.

The Hotel:
The Xigu Resort came highly recommended on TripAdvisor, and was only $18/night for a twin room.   So we booked it, with no idea where it was.

I think Jess and I might have been the only two guests staying there - which was amazing, because we had the run of the place basically.  The owner, a middle-aged Chinese man, made us feel like we were at home. He walked us through step-by-step what to do, he picked us up and drop us off from the bus station whenever we wanted, he took us to the bus station for our tickets, and had breakfast waiting for us every morning.  He even let us use his free washing machine on the rooftop of the hotel (though sad side note, it was so humid that none of our clothes dried and by the time we'd arrived at our next destination, they all smelled like swamp. Pure swamp).  We had times that he knew we were getting up or leaving or coming, and he'd always make sure he was there.  I loved him, his hotel, and both were a huge part of our Huangshan experience. It's places like this that really stand out after so long on the road.  Also, $18. #CHINA

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