Day 12: Huang Shan
Today we set out for Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain), a mountain range in the southern Anhui province located about 200 km west of Hangzhou. Known for its scenery, sunrises/sunsets, and strangely shaped granite peaks (there are 72), it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in China. After breakfast, we left our suitcases with the Hyatt concierge (we would return there on Thursday) and took a cab to Hangzhou’s bus station. We arrived five minutes late for the 8:00 bus, so we bought tickets ($15/each) for the 9:50 bus instead.
The bus was a comfortable Greyhound-style coach and the trip to the Huang Shan scenic area was about three hours, mostly via expressway.
When we arrived in Tangkou (the town at the base of Huang Shan), the bus stopped in front of a restaurant and everybody got off. This was definitely not the entrance to the scenic area. A man hopped on the bus, asked us if we spoke English, introduced himself as Mr. Hu, and invited us to his restaurant where we could have lunch, book return bus tickets, and figure out how to get to Huang Shan. We were a little confused, but by that point the bus had emptied, so we accepted his offer.
As it turned out, Mr. Hu is well-known within Tangkou for helping foreigners navigate the area; he’d been mentioned in Lonely Planet’s guidebook and showed us notebooks filled with messages from travelers all over the world who’d been recipients of his assistance. Mr. Hu told us someone on our bus notified him that we were on the way, which was why he was there to meet us. We ate some delicious noodles while he arranged our return bus tickets, and after lunch he drove us to the Huang Shan transit center. He left us with his business card and instructions to come back to his restaurant the next day to catch the bus back to Hangzhou. The whole encounter was so unexpected yet so pleasant – we would have eventually figured things out on our own, but Mr. Hu made everything so much easier.
We bought bus tickets to the base of the mountain and ended up in a taxi when we were the only two people waiting when it was time to leave. Twenty minutes of winding mountain road later, we arrived at Huang Shan’s front gate.
There were conflicting reports on whether or not the cable cars up the mountain were running this early in the season, and we were pleased (OK, I was incredibly relieved) to discover that they were, since we’d been prepared to hike up to our hotel. We took an amazing ten-minute ride up the eastern side of the mountain – this was the coolest cable-car ride we’ve taken so far in China.
At the summit (approx. 1600 m, or 5250 feet) we followed the signs to Beginning-to-Believe Peak, the nearest one to our hotel. The sign at the top of the peak, in its typically odd English translation, said this: “It’s so fantastic you don’t believe your eyes; seeing it with your eyes you believe it’s really fantastic.” Indeed it was.
Not wanting to have to find our hotel in the dark, we decided to go check in before heading back out to catch the sunset.
The Beihai Hotel is the oldest of all the summit hotels and is thought to have the best location on the mountain for the sunrise. Our room on the top floor was really nice but absolutely freezing; we turned on the little electric heater and hoped for the best. Dinner was kung pao chicken, camping style – Matt brought along a Backpacker’s Pantry meal, and after we added boiled water and waited fifteen minutes, we ate a tasty (and free) meal in our hotel room.
After checking the card posted in the room for the sunset time, we put on our coats and hats and hurried halfway up one of the nearby peaks to catch a view. The weather was chilly, probably around 35 degrees, but all the uphill climbing kept us warm!
Back in our ridiculously cold room, we bundled up and made up our beds with the thick down comforters we found in a cupboard. We were asleep by 7:30 – the sunrise was at 6:15 the next morning and we were planning to scale a few peaks and hike all the way back down the mountain, so we needed our rest!