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huang shan mountains

Sunrise in Huang Shan

Sunrise at Huang Shan

China kind of killed our fervour for travel.  A friend who has lived in Beijing for the last several years described travel in China as "hot, slow, and miserable."  After 25 days in China, we knew exactly what she meant. 

Huang Shan mountains

Mountain lake

From the difficult and expensive visa application process pre-trip, to the the worst travel day ever from Datong to Hohhot, to the stomach bug that left me miserable for a full week, to the time we were stuck on the tarmac for 4 hours on the flight from Xi'an to Shanghai, nothing about traveling in China was easy. 

Waterfall at Huang Shan

Nine Dragons Waterfall

The insurmountable language barriers left us constantly confused and disbarred from the vast populace and I was just about ready to scream if one more Chinese man grabbed me by the shoulders or arms to get me to go into his taxi or buy his cheap merchandise.  (They never seemed to grab at Patrick . . . only me . . . leading to my mounting irritation.) 

Huang Shan waterfall Waterfall Huang Shan

Nine Dragons Waterfall

We were in Shanghai at the 25 day mark, 5 days before our Chinese visas expired.  We considered heading out of China altogether, jumping into Hong Kong directly from China or maybe spending some time in Macau.  Heck, I even researched whether we could fly to Malaysia and sit on a beach and go diving for a while before flying back to the United States from Hong Kong. 

Locks of love at Huang Shan

Locks at Huang Shan (to symbolize a couple's commitment to each other)

But, everything was too expensive and too far away given our time constraints.  So, as a last recourse, we opted for the Huang Shan mountains, a 4 hour bus ride from Shanghai.

Sunrise at Huang Shan

Sunrise at Huang Shan

Best.  Decision.  Ever. 

Huang Shan

Huang Shan after a rainstorm

I could tell you about the sublime beauty of this place, or how Patrick believes it is the most awe-inspiring place he has been, or how we suddenly were reinvigorated by the mountain air and the waterfalls and the green canopies that spread through the rocks.

Tourists climbing Huang Shan

Tourists climbing the stairs at Huang Shan

Or, I could discuss how our thighs, calves, ankles and backs screamed bloody murder as we pushed our legs up and down, up and down, and up and down 20 kilometers of stairs carved into the granite mountains in less than 24 hours.

Huang Shan

Welcome tree, Huang Shan

I could tell you about how we continuously laughed at the fact that while we took pictures of the stunning scenery, the Chinese tourists took pictures of us

Huang Shan sunrise Huang Shan sunrise
Huang Shan sunrise Huang Shan sunrise

Sunrise

I could tell you about how, despite our aching legs, smiles were plastered on our faces for the 4 days we spent in the Anhui region.

Huang Shan

Cable car station

Or, I could just shut up and let you enjoy the views.  Yeah, I think I'll do that.

Details

Tourists at Huang Shan

Tourists at cloud-covered Huang Shan

We had a hard time finding information about Huang Shan, perhaps because it is a primarily Chinese-oriented tourist attraction, and very few foreigners head to that region, so I will try to be overly detailed in this section.  If you are interested in going to Huang Shan (and why shouldn't you be!) and need more information, leave a comment and we'll try to help you out.

Ancient Street in Tunxi

Tunxi

Getting to Huang Shan: Tunxi in the Anhui province is the gateway city to entering Huang Shan mountains.  You can reach Tunxi via air, train, or bus.  The Tunxi airport (TXN) is teeny tiny with only a few flights every day, primarily to Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Beijing. 

The train from Shanghai to Tunxi takes about 7 hours, so you are better off taking the bus.  To take the bus, we highly recommend that you ask your hostel/hotel to purchase tickets for you in order to avoid the inevitable language difficulties (learn from our lesson, we beg of you).  If you are sensitive to smoke, ask that they book you on the non-smoking bus, where they rigidly enforce the non-smoking rules, much to our surprise and delight.  The bus ride took about 4 1/2 hours and drops you off at Tunxi downtown Bus Station.  From there, you will need to take a taxi to your hotel/hostel.  [Note: You can also to get to Huang Shan by going through Tangkou, a town on the opposite side of the mountain.]

 Tunxi

Tunxi

Staying in Tunxi: Tunxi is a beautiful traditional village that serves as a stop off for hordes of tourist buses during the day.  At night, it is a singularly charming place and it is easy to find traditional Anhui cuisine and nice restaurants in the area.  There are several hostels and hotels directly next to the Ancient Street, but we opted to stay at the Xiang Ming Holiday Hotel outside the Ancient Street area, because it had excellent Tripadvisor reviews.  We were so happy we stayed at Xiang Ming: the hotel property was beautiful, our room was wonderful, and the staff spoke excellent English and helped plan our trip to the mountains.  The only negative thing about the hotel was the poor quality food at the restaurants; hop in a taxi and go to the Ancient Street instead of eating at the hotel.

Getting to the mountains:  Tunxi is about 1 1/2 hours (93 kilometers) from the entrance to Huang Shan mountains.  You can hire a private driver to take you to the mountains for about $50 USD for two people or you can take a local bus for about $6 for two people.  Guess which way we chose?  As usual, the local bus driver noticed that we were not Chinese, drove for a while, and pointed to the side of the road so that we stopped somewhere else than the local people.  On this occasion, we were dropped off at Mr. Cheng's Tourist Restaurant, run by Simon Cheng, an English speaking tour guide who sold us a map of the mountains and gave us advice on hikes to take in the area.  Mr. Cheng was really helpful and we highly recommend that you stop off at his Restaurant.  If you would like his email address and contact information, leave me a note in the comments below.

Nine Dragons Waterfall

Nine Dragons Waterfall

Hiking Huang Shan:  There are many, many ways to get up to the top of the mountain.   We took the road less traveled.  Mr. Cheng suggested that, as usual, we take a locals' only path that wound us through the Nine Dragons Waterfall.  The Waterfall was absolutely beautiful, worth the hike, and the peace and quiet because no one else was on that path.  However, he said that it would take us only 2 1/2 hours to get to the first cable car station and it took us more like 3 1/2 hours, including time stopping for pictures.  If you plan on hiking through the Nine Dragons section, leave early in the morning to give you enough time to hike the rest of the way up.

Cable car to Huang Shan Flower at Huang Shan
Sitting in bamboo at Huang Shan Cable car to Huang Shan

Cable car up to top of mountain; flower; me resting on the steps

Most people take one of the three cable cars to the top of the mountains, leading to often huge lines - especially at the Yuping Cable Car.  We highy recommend taking the Yungu Cable Car either up or down, which offers majestic, unbelievable views of the surrounding mountains.  Then, we hiked the entire top of the mountain --- almost 7 kilometers of stairs going up and down the mountains to a hotel on the other side of the mountain.  We woke up early the next morning, watched the sunrise, then hiked down to the Yuping Cable Car station, and took the cable car down to the Huang Shan station.  If you have plenty of time, you can hike the whole way up and down, but we only stayed 1 night on top of the mountain, so we had to save time by using the cable cars (and we think that the Yungu Cable Car is worth taking just for the views).

Climbing up and down Huang Shan

Guy carrying a pole

Climbing up and down mountain; construction worker carrying rebarb up the mountain

There are no roads to reach the top of the mountain.  Every piece of equipment --- rebarb, furniture, laundry, food, trash, and people --- come up and down the mountain on either cable cars or by walking the steps. 

Palanquin up Huang Shan

Palanquin up to Huang Shan

Of course, if you're feeling especially lazy and indulgent, you can hire a palanquin to reach the top of the mountain.

Huang Shan

Mountains after the rain

Staying in Huang Shan:  Given the physical limitations of staffing a mountain top hotel without roads, trucks, and easy transportation, there are surprisingly a handful of hotels on top of the mountain.  They are all quite expensive (expect to spend $140 USD/night for a standard room and $45 USD/night for a dorm room).  If you can build it into your budget, we highly recommend staying two nights at the top of the mountain.  Book early because those rooms go fast!  We stayed at the Baiyun Hotel (Cloud Dispelling Pavilion hotel) which was in a very nice location to watch the sunrise, but all of the hotels have beautiful views and comparable amenities, so I am not sure that it makes a difference as to where you stay.

Locks near Baiyun Hotel

Cloud Dispelling Pavilion

If we could do it over again:  If we could do it over again, we would have hiked up through the Nine Dragons Fall to the Yungu Cable Car, then taken the Cable Car up to the top of the mountain.  At that point, we would have stayed one night at the Beihai hotel, which is about 45 minute walk from the Cable Car station.  On the second day, we would have woken up early for the sunrise, hiked through the entire mountain top, taking enough time to enjoy all of the different sights (about a 5-6 hour walk).  Then, we would stay the second night at the Jade Screen Hotel, which is right near the entrance to the Western Route.  The hike down the Western Route is about 6 hours and there are some really tough spots going up and down the mountain but the views are sensational.

11/16/2010 08:03
Wow those pictures are amazing. I traveled China for about three weeks, mostly solo, and I absolutely loved it. But what stands out the most is how tired I was, at the language barrier, at every time I wanted to find something it took my contact in broken Chinese to tell her friend who would tell her friend who could actually WRITE down in Chinese where I was going. Then I could go get a cab. Everything took sooo long! And of course, then when you get there, you are the main attraction ha. These mountains look stunning. China is so very green, which I loved. Loved this post.
11/16/2010 17:56
Are you kidding!?! I don't believe this place exists. It's Shangri-La!!!!!!!!!! I mean talk about heaven on earth.
11/17/2010 00:52
Oh my goodness! You guys got SO lucky with weather - I'm very envious. We couldn't see a thing when we were there due to clouds, and it was not fun at all. Guess the lesson is to pay attention to the weather report!
11/17/2010 15:03
Abby, I absolutely know what you mean. It takes forever to do the simplest thing in China if you don't speak Mandarin. It was the first country where we ever had to buy a phrase book!

Andi, absolutely! Seriously, we couldn't believe it, when we first got up there. And, it's so much better in person.

Jess, we got so lucky with the weather, actually. We stayed in Tunxi for four days and rigorously monitored the weather channel and opted the day with the least chance of rain. It rained a bit while we were up there, especially when we were hiking down but the rest of the time, it was absolutely beautiful. Wet weather gear up there is essential! That's too bad that y'all couldn't see it. You'll have to make another trip sometime because it is worth seeing. :)
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11/30/2010 09:52
Can't believe I've just come across your blog. Awesome collection of posts on China. That's our first destination for our own RTW trip next year and this place looks beautiful -- will definitely try to check this out.
12/05/2010 04:02
Lee Wei Lian (Malaysia)
Hi there - glad to hear your visit worked out and thanks for sharing your tips on Huangshan.

If I may, could I ask a couple of questions? I will be in Shanghai in late December - do you think its better to take the fast train to Hangzhou and then the 2.5 hour bus to Huangshan or take the bus from Shanghai as you did? It sounds like the bus has improved as some websites list the bus traveling time from Shanghai as 13 hours!

Also - since I only limited time, which cable car do you recommend? I understand there are now four? Is there a significant difference between the four of them? And if I want to stay at the top, are there porters available to carry luggage to the hotel from the cable car station? I can't imagine dragging a wheelie bag up and down th stairs from the cable car station.

Are there easy hikes in and around the hotels and cable car stations? Maybe 1-2 hours in length?

Thanks so much.
12/15/2010 08:58
Thank you Jill - it is an incredible spot!

Lee Wei Lian, I think you should take the bus. It took us four hours and was incredibly fast - it was actually the best bus that we took in China. The train will take you much longer. Just ask your hotel to book the bus for you. I would recommend that you either take the Yungu or the Taiping Cable Car up and then take the other one down, or if you have limited time, then you can just take the cable car up and walk around in that area, and take the cable car down.

There are porters who will carry the luggage to the hotel from the cable car station but I advise you to leave your wheelie bag in Tunxi at the hotel/hostel you are staying at and just take a small daypack up for overnight. The porters are quite expensive and you won't really need too much if you are staying there for just one night. The whole top of the mountain is one big hike, basically, because everything is paved in stairs and you will have to climb the stairs up and down to get to the hotel, the cable car station, or the scenic viewpoints.

If you want to do an easy trip, then consider taking the Yungu Cable car up, walk about 45 minutes to the Beihai Hotel which has gorgeous views of the mountains and then you can spend about an hour walking around that area. The next morning, you could wake up for the sunrise and head back down the same cable car. Have fun and let me know if you need any more help!
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01/22/2011 20:26
Tracy Kirby
Hi.This was helpful as I am going to Huang Shan in March. Can you send me Mr. Cheng's contact info? What do you think it would be like to hike up the western steps and maybe stay the first night at Baiyun Hotel and then the second day hike further on the routes to the Beihai Hotel and stay there the 2nd night? Thanks :)
01/23/2011 10:28
Tracy: I think your plan is a good one. You'll definitely be sore because it's a lot of walking but I think you'll get to see the best of the mountain top. Mr. Cheng's information is also listed in Lonely Planet but if you want to call him ahead of time, his number is: 130 855 92603. If you ask any of the taxi operators for Mr. Cheng, they will direct you to him.
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02/23/2011 03:54
Jade玉
Great blog! Thanks for sharing!!

A friend and I will be leaving the comforts of Shanghai to explore Huangshan in late March and are trying to decide on a route plan.

We are thinking of staying 2 nights in Tunxi (arriving by plane in the evening) - to see the ancient towns of Xidi and Hongcun and then heading up the mountain - staying one night at the top - and then heading back down (and flying back to Shanghai).

I really like the sound of your suggested route...

Hiking up through the Nine Dragons Fall to the Yungu Cable Car, then taking the Cable Car up to the top of the mountain. Then staying the night at the BeiHai, then up early for the sunrise, hiking through mountain top...

I'm wondering;
1. How long the hike through the Nine Dragons Fall to the Yungu Cable Car is?
2. Where the Nine Dragons Fall is... I cannot find it on any maps.. only the thousand-feet waterfall and the 人 shaped waterfall.
3. How long it takes to get to the BeiHai from the Yungyu Cable Car?
4. What is the best way to come back down (bearing in mind my friend has a bit of a dodgy knee, and so it will need to involve a cable car, and we will need to catch a flight around 10pm from Tunxi)?
5. What Mr. Cheng's email address is?

Any help is much appreciated... if you aren't sure i'm sure we can wing it and find out along the way :-)

Thanks again for a great blog!
02/23/2011 10:23
Thanks Jade! I'll answer your questions below, but first, because you only have one night, I would recommend that you take the Yungu Cable Car up, walk around the top of the mountain that afternoon, and stay at the Paiyunlou Hotel that night. In the morning, you can wake up and see the sunrise, then head down to the Jade Screen Hotel and take the Yuping Cable Car down. You'll end up hiking about 3-4 hours on the first day and 5-6 hours on the second day.

To be honest, though, if your friend's knee is really hurting, I would not recommend Huang Shan because it is a LOT of uphill and downhill walking . . . like being on a Stairmaster for hours on end. The easiest way to do it is to take the Yungu Cable Car up, stay at Beihai, walk around that area, then the next morning, take the Yungu Cable Car down. That way, you'll avoid the worst of the walking.

In response to your questions:

1. It took us about 3 1/2 hours to get from the bottom to the Yungu Cable Car BUT we were walking slowly and taking many pictures. Definitely pack a lot of water beforehand because nobody sells water until you get up to the Yungu Cable Car.

2. On this map, it's called the Thousand Feet Waterfall but it's the same thing: http://www.maps-of-china.net/tourism_map/h_touristmap1.html

3. From Beihai to the Cable Car, it's about a 30 minute walk but you will do it much more slowly because you'll want to stop and take pictures.

4. Honestly, if your friend has a dodgy knee, then I would not recommend the hike through the Nine Dragons Fall/Thousand Feet Fall because it is quite a long hike going up and it's all uphill - we were quite exhausted by the time we got to the top. If you want an easy way, you could just walk back to the Yungu Cable Car and take it back down because there are taxis that wait at the cable car stop and they can drive you back down. Alternatively, if you have the time and feel like your friend's knee would be okay, you could walk from Beihai to the Yuping cable car and take that down. The walk from Beihai to Yuping would take about 3 - 4 hours.

5. I don't have Mr. Cheng's email address, unfortunately - only his phone number.

Have a great trip! It is beautiful!
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11/18/2011 13:08
CA-kk
Great post.

Hotel

Did you reserve the hotel yourself before going up or did you have a local person take care of it?

thank you!!
(going to the mountain next friday!)
11/23/2011 09:16
We reserved the hotel ourselves through Expedia's Chinese website partner but you could definitely get a travel agent to book it for you, too. Have fun at Huang Shan!
10/26/2012 08:33
Just spent the day hiking up Huangshan mountain and absolutely loved it (minus the one part where there were literally hordes of Chinese tourists with their obnoxious tour guides and loudspeakers). We only had the one day since we had a hotel booked in Tangkou at the foot of the mountain so we hiked up the eastern steps, hiked around the top of the mountain, went up the Lotus Peak and all the way down the Western Steps. We were surprised by the great time we were making since we assumed we'd have to take at least one cable car to save time but we ended up being able to fit everything in and loved being able to walk every minute of it! Unfortunately visibility wasn't perfect today but it was still a great experience! I first found out about the mountain while reading your blog months before our trip even began so many thanks for introducing me to such beauty!
11/08/2012 12:53
Vicky: First, I'm so jealous that you were in Huang Shan! It's simply the most stunning place and I'm so glad you were able to fit all that in one day. You guys must have been hauling (and are probably way more fit than we were when we tried it). :)
08/20/2013 20:29
Andie
Hi! thanks for this informative post. We are going to be traveling to adopt a little girl, but wanted to spend a few days beforehand traveling and Huangshan looks like the kind of place we'd like. We enjoy National Parks more for vacation as opposed to cities and shopping. Here is my question, though. If we make reservations only 3 weeks before our trip, will there be space. We will probably be traveling in March or April. Because we are traveling for an adoption we don't have much say over when we go and only get dates less than 1 month in advance. Thanks for your input!
01/25/2014 20:32
This is really beautiful. Huangshan, together with Zhangjiajie, are right at the top of my mountains-I-definitely-must-visit list.

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