As we drove along the expressway I couldn’t help but notice how picturesque everything was. The bright blue sky, the rolling hills, the bamboo peaking out above the highway barrier, and the clouds, are so few in number that I appreciate their presence. We kept passing villages built right up to the highway, usually on lower ground. I had a bird’s eye view of disheveled rooftops and alleyways: clothes left out to dry, a lonely cartwheel, decrepit furniture, and stained white walls. We were on our way to China’s most famous mountain range and the scenic centerpiece of Anhui province, Huangshan. The 154 square kilometer scenic area is comprised of 72 mountain peaks that poke through a flowing sea of clouds like a celestial archipelago. Veteran hikers who’ve spent a night atop Huangshan can confirm that witnessing a sunrise from one of its main peaks is a truly unique experience.
From Hangzhou, the quickest and easiest way to get to Huangshan is by bus. A scenic new expressway, completed in December of 2006, allows buses to get from the Hangzhou West bus station to Huangshan City in about three hours. But be careful when purchasing your ticket because Huangshan City and Huangshan Scenic Area are two different locations an hour apart, and there are buses headed to both places. The buses that go three and a half hours directly to the Huangshan scenic area will drop you off in a village at the foot of the mountain called Tangkou(汤口).
In Tangkou you can stock up on water and snacks for the hike as well as hit the ATM in anticipation of the 15RMB sodas being peddled at the summits. If you’re looking for a place in Tangkou to grab a bite to eat, Mr. Cheng’s Restaurant (which was the only sign we saw with English) is located near the bridge at the entrance to the village. There you can also leave some bags while you hike, or get some information about transportation to Huangshan. Bear in mind that many of the supermarkets in Tangkou are about as well stocked as the average convenience store. Granted, you shouldn’t need more than a couple liters of water and a few snacks to get you up the mountain, but if there’s anything in particular you plan on taking with you, you’ll need to get it before you arrive in Tangkou. From Tangkou it’s another 15RMB bus ride to either the Yungu Station on the Eastern side of the mountain, or the Mercy Light Temple Station to the West where you’ll be able to buy a ticket and start your ascent, either by foot or by cable car. If you want to go to the northern entrance so as to hike through the West Sea Canyon on your way to the summit, there are plenty of buses ready to make the hour-long trip to Taiping.
Unfortunately, with Huangshan’s notoriety come raucous crowds and prices intended to humiliate customers – which reminds me – bring a student ID. In order to hike the mountain you’ll have to drop 230RMB on a ticket, but the student price is only half that much. You can also skip the bulk of the hike by taking a cable car up the mountain for just 80RMB.
There are several ways to approach the summit, one from each of Huangshan’s three entrances. Regardless of which route you take, you might want to pick up an English map for 10RMB at one of the kiosks on your way up to the summit. Getting to the top is pretty simple, but a map makes getting around on the summit much easier.
If your main objective is to avoid the crowds then maybe the Northern route is what you’re looking for. You could take the twelve minute Taiping cable car up to the base of pine forest peak. Then spend 4 or 5 hours hiking through the West Sea Canyon, which may require too much effort for most – if not all – of the boisterous tour groups. The West Sea Canyon, which was only opened to the public in the summer of 2001, has some of the best views on the mountain. You can “descend” into the canyon at the Cloud-Dispelling Pavilion (排云亭) and come up out of the canyon around the Heavenly Sea Hotel (天海宾馆). From there you can make your way back Northeast to the summit to spend the night at either Beihai hotel(北海宾馆), Shilin hotel(狮林饭店), Xihai hotel(西海饭店), or Paiyunlou hotel(排云楼宾馆). These hotels are all relatively close to each other and their prices similar. But you will need to book in advance, because they are well-established and, especially on weekends, full of tour groups. The morning after you can look forward to waking up sometime around 5:00am and depending on which hotel you stay at, either watching the sun rise from Refreshing Terrace(清凉台) or Lion’s Peak(狮子峰). Hike up some of the highest peaks like Brightness Peak and Heavenly Capital Peak before descending down the western steps. Unfortunately, Lotus Flower Peak, the third of Huangshan’s 1800+meter mountains is closed at the moment due to over-erosion of plant life.
Another option is to hike up the Eastern steps and spend the night at one of the 天海 hotels, like the newly established White Cloud Hotel (白云宾馆) or the 4-star Heavenly Sea Hotel (天海宾馆), located at the base of Brightness Peak (光明顶). In this area of the summit the place to watch the sun rise is in front of the meteorological observatory with the crowds atop Brightness Peak’s Alchemist Point(炼丹峰) or atop the more tranquil Aoyu Peak (鳌鱼峰).
If you’re on a budget there are a few things to keep in mind. Dorm beds at each of the hotels will cost somewhere between 120-280RMB per night. If you use a travel agent, and stay on a weeknight, and book a dorm with a shared bathroom you can expect to pay closer to 120RMB per night. But like anywhere else, it’s always a good idea to take a look at a room before signing anything. The White Cloud Hotel, which is where we stayed, had standard doubles for under 800RMB a night that were arguably as nice as some of the rooms at the 4-star hotels. Their dorm beds, however, did not pass muster. For one, their location was across from the main building above and behind the kitchen. Secondly, they were segregated by gender, and finally, we had to be let in and out of our rooms each time by one of the employees because they weren’t entrusting customers with keys. Despite good reputations, and the rarity of the situation, it still helps to just peek in a room ahead of time.
If you do decide to plan a trip, don’t forget to check the weather forecast ahead of time too. Huangshan is known for its capricious weather so definitely check the forecast before getting packed. The best place to go for weather forecasts is the Huangshan China International Travel Service website at http://www.huangshantour.com/english/SmallClass.asp?typeid=17&amp;amp;BigClassID=58&amp;amp;SmallClassID=124.
Finally, don’t forget to pack either a long sleeve shirt or a sweatshirt for the morning of the sunrise so you’re not shivering while trying to get that perfect picture of jagged peaks, contorted pine trees and incandescent clouds.
By Bus: There are busses leaving from the Hangzhou West Bus Station (杭州长途汽车西站) to the Huangshan Scenic Spot and Tunxi (屯溪). The first bus to the Scenic Spot leaves at 8am, the last at 3:10pm. Busses headed to Huangshan City (also known as Tunxi) start as early as 6:50am and continue until 6pm, leaving about every hour. From Huangshan City (Tunxi), you’ll need to then take a shuttle bus to Tangkou. The direct route is quicker and a bit cheaper, but there are only about half as many buses making that trip each day so you may need to book in advance. Tickets cost between 74RMB to 99RMB depending on the type of bus.
By Car: You can either take Tianmushan Road heading towards Liuxia (留下), then get on the Hanghui Expressway, or take the West Ring Road to the Hanghui Expressway. The speed limit is quite low, but traffic’s always light, so enjoy the view and watch your speed.
Where To Stay:
Tianhai Hotel (天海山庄) Tel: 0559 5582626
Baiyun Hotel (白云宾馆) Tel: 0559 5582708
Xihai Hotel (西海饭店) Tel: 0559 2120196
Beihai Hotel (北海宾馆) Tel: 0559 5582555
Shilin Hotel (狮林大酒店) Tel: 0559 5584040
Standard Double Rooms are normally around 800RMB-980RMB/. They’re a little cheaper on weekdays. Extra beds run around 150RMB-200RMB. Bunk beds are available in some of these hotels for around 120RMB-220RMB. They’re shared by 6-12 people per room.
More hotel info, check out: