Huangshan at glance
- 200 days of rain, 50 days of sunrise/ sunsets, visit in October / November
- Bus in / out from Huangshan (formerly Tunxi) around 22 yuan (£2.50) pp to the tourist distribution centre
- 18 yuan (£2) pp to bus to one of Huangshan’s entrances
- 240 yuan (£27) for Park entrance
- Either take the cable car 100 yuan (£11) or walk the East or West steps, we walked up the Eastern steps in 2.5 hours with backpacks
- Stay in one of the 4 hotels or bring camping equipment and camp outside the Beihai hotel for 30 yuan (£3.40) per night
- Few Chinese tourist scale Xihai canyon past the cable car so that is the best place for peace, quiet and nature.
An American in Beijing
From the moment we got talking to an American Chinese resident in Beijing, Huangshan mountain was his and everyone’s favourite Chinese attraction. People spoke of infamous trekking routes through gorges, scenic photogenic peaks and the much famed 200 days of rain a year that causes daily fog on the peaks. Our American friend had lived in China for 4 years and, in all honesty, hated the place. Couldn’t wait to leave. But in his demonic rant about all the things wrong with China a small light of hope shone bright on his great experience at Huangshan National Park. With the bar of expectation raised so high, were we doomed to hate this place?
Don’t worry no suspense needed on the answer. It’s safe to say Huangshan mountain was a memorable experience and visual spectacle, I mean just check out those photographs. But overall, it's more of a love/ hate affair. Let’s start with the good things. We were incredibly lucky to visit the National Park on one of the, statically rare, 50 good weather days. In fact we had 4 days of outstanding sunshine which more than made up for the steep 240 yuan (£27) entry price. We camped, cooked and chilled outside a fancy hotel that we couldn’t afford, that was fun. We partook some easy treks and made a good friend on the way. Keeping our costs down by eating pot noodles and carrying in sacks worth of snacks. Opting for just one proper meal a day in the hotel which cost 100 yuan (£11) a day. They also had WiFi so we could download a movie on Popcorn time to watch in tent later. Star Wars 7 as I recall, to Ali’s peril.
But Huangshan is not without epic ridiculousness and frustration. Sorry if we offend anyone but the Chinese tourists of Huangshan are truly annoying. Imagine waking in your tent at 4am to a rowdy tour passing you like laughing hyenas? As we disembarked the tent for our daily breakfast we were greeted by thirty people taking photos of us like they’re on safari (see photo above), sneaking a glance into our tent and laughing at the very idea of mental western tourists camping on mountains rather stay in the warm hotel next door. Bits of the park are pure Disneyland, just imagine concrete steps, concrete safety rails, a safety sign at every turn warning you not to ‘jump off the mountain’..... because this place might make you want to! As you enter the restaurant areas loudspeakers play repeated safety messages, that play 9 to 5, telling you not to touch monkeys, make fires, deviate from paths, talk to loud, litter, photograph tourists and I’m sure one of them says don’t fuck the monkeys. I hope these warning weren’t put into place after real events!
All the hilariously specific rules are a constant reminder that your are in China and that the National Park organisers do not care for westerners. We’ve been trekking up mountains for years and like the challenge, perseverance and occasional danger of a good hike. China hasn’t really got a grasp on what the rest of knows as trekking, National Parks and nature. It has made the whole experience so safe, un-challenging and boring that it is better described as a concrete theme park on a mountain than a National Park. Shops selling tat, restaurants selling overpriced food and constant building works make the mise-en-scene akin to a middle eastern Bazaar and not in a good way! This place is a huge pointy peak of a cash cow and government milks it from every udder, it owns all the hotels, cable cars and buses in and out of the park.
Maps To Nowhere
The most time-consuming part of Huangshan National Park is trying to read the Chinese maps. If we would give budding visitors one tip, that we ourselves should have followed, would be to buy a darn map! This is no lie, almost every map in Huangshan is inconsistent with the next one. Some change the names of the peaks, or translate them differently, some zoom to show macro details others zoom out so far that it takes out certain key routes. We found it easier to navigate the park by just looking at where the sun was and memorising which peaks we’d been up. Of course the Chinese didn’t need the maps, they had a young tour rep with a red hat, large flag and loudspeaker to shout at them with. Lost in Huangshan? Impossible, just use your ears and follow the screaming tour groups!
What A Difference A Day Makes
Huangshan hating over now. The sunrises and sunsets were outstanding, we woke at 6 every morning to watch the mist disperse and reveal rolling valleys and sun dried peaks from the Harp Pinetree viewing point. As evening approaches the hotel dwellers and campers make their way to the Xihai Grand Canyon for dwindling amber skies. Although the routes were busy there were enough trekking paths to keep us busy for 3 whole days and the least crowded routes were the toughest climbs. Few Chinese tourist actually walk up down the Xihai canyon so that is the best place for peace, quiet and nature.
We stayed an extra day in Huangshan because the good weather continued, against all odds. By the 4th day we had stopped complaining and started laughing at utter grandiose absurdity of this place. True juxtaposition; on one hand a place of stunning natural beauty yet filled with thousands of tourists who take more photos of themselves than the nature around them. Don’t be put off by our words, it’s an experience that is worth all the hardships. Just remember that when the chaos drives you mad, laugh it off and stare at the mountains.
Watch our travel video from our adventures on Huangshan mountain
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