Mt. Huangshan! This trip takes place two days after my Guilin trip. I thought that I would be super tired and a little stressed for this trip, since I was traveling again so soon, but it was the exact opposite. This was a sort of impromptu and unplanned trip that was fun, exciting, amazing, relaxing, and so many more adjectives besides. David, Megan, Alex, and I traveled to and hiked Mt. Huangshan, which is fairly close to Shanghai, as well as visited a hot spring.
(4/7) No Plans
This is probably the least planned trip of my study abroad. It came together when Alex, Megan, David, and I all realized we had nothing to do this weekend. We looked into going to Nanjing, but then just sort of decided to come to Huangshan to see the Yellow Mountains instead. No one’s really done any research or really has concrete plans of what to do. We’re just going to wing it in the truest fashion possible.
I got up this morning and had a long walk to class in the rain with all of my clothes in my backpack since we would be leaving directly from class. After class the four of us met up and grabbed a cab from campus and took it to the airport. It was surprisingly empty for a Friday, and we got tickets and cleared security with ease. I grabbed a quick lunch at Subway while we waited for our plane to board.
I somehow managed to be first in line for boarding and was the first person to get on the plane (first time that’s ever happened to me!!). I really shouldn’t have been excited about this though, because it meant that I had the longest wait time for the mandatory flight delay out of anyone on the plane. We got delayed at the gate for over an hour, which was a little ridiculous, since Huangshan is super close to Shanghai, and so the flight itself is only an hour.
This was annoying but not terrible, but there wasn’t really any way for us to get behind schedule since we didn’t actually have a schedule to fall behind on. We grabbed a taxi from the Huangshan airport and had took it to our hostel. Our hostel location was very interesting. It was in the middle of a big market street, like in Beijing, but not as easy to find. This was because the hostel was in the back of a produce store, meaning that we had to walk through a store to get to the front desk. Not at all what I was expecting.
We got checked in and unpacked a little bit in our room. It’s so nice not really having a real schedule or plan to follow. We were just four good friends hanging out in a small town. No one was holding anyone up, or slowing down the group. We weren’t running to get somewhere, or double and triple checking to make sure everything was going to work out the next day. Just a nice relaxed trip to some mountains. Such a nice and refreshing change of pace.
We set out to just explore the town we were in which turned out to be pretty great. I had no idea what it would be like (since I hadn’t researched at all) and so I loved our little adventure around town. We started out in the market street where we were staying, then walked to the river side. We walked along the river for a while towards a bridge. We crossed the bridge, walked the other way along the river, crossed back to the original side, and circled back to the hostel. Really got a full lap in.
We saw a lot of little shops, stores, restaurants, bakeries, bars, clubs, and parks. It was very quaint and reminded me a little bit of a small beach town in Florida, not least of all because of the weather. It was sunny and warm that afternoon which was spectacular. It has been getting warmer in Shanghai, but this was true-to-form shorts weather which was very much appreciated.
After getting back to the hostel we headed to a small Chinese restaurant we had seen. This was pretty much the only option for us, since we really wanted to sit outside because of how nice the weather was, but not many places had outdoor seating. It’s just not a very Chinese thing to want to eat outside so you only really see that at Western restaurants. Regardless, we found a Chinese place with outdoor seating and sat down.
We got served by every person working there that day. I don’t think they had seen many Americans before, so everyone wanted to bring us a dish. The food was very good and filling. It was also very cheap, about 15USD for all four of us.
After dinner, we walked around a bit more, picked up some fruit for tomorrow’s hike, and got dessert at a nearby bakery. The streets all had lights up and had a really busy and full atmosphere. We headed back to the hostel and I showered. We then chilled at the bar and played pool and sung karaoke to every English song that they had in the system. We got to bed a bit early, since we’d have a long and early day tomorrow.
(4/8) China? America.
Today was very long. It started at 6am and ended at 2am. We got up early and went downstairs to catch a bus to the mountain that the hostel had arranged. We got onto the bus and started going to the mountain. Except we didn’t. We actually just went about a minute down the road to a gas station. Then we stopped, and waited for a little bit before a lady came onto the bus and pulled the four of us off said bus. We got marched to a much smaller van and got in along with some Chinese hikers from the hostel. The van then started driving, in the wrong direction, just kind of going wherever. After about 15 minutes of aimless driving, we end up at the train station and park for a little bit. The driver got out and ran away and besides that no one entered or exited the vehicle. We didn’t drop anyone off, didn’t pick anyone up. Why the heck were we at the train station then? Even if we had been changing passengers, that wouldn’t have been OK either. The ride should have taken around an hour, and we had been told by the hostel that that’s what this bus would do.
After about 5 minutes the driver runs back to the van and gets driving again. I told him the name of the place we were supposed to be going, and showed him on my map but he just kind of waved me off. We headed out of the train station and drove a bit more (still in the wrong direction). At one point the guy stopped at the side of the road and picked up a random moped driver. She just ditches the moped and hops in with us. The male driver drives for a bit longer, and, now done parading the Americans around, gets out and just leaves the van. The lady we picked up takes the wheel and finally gets the van moving in the correct direction. This whole ordeal has taken about an hour and a half and left us further away from Mt. Huangshan than we started. Ridiculous! Why did they think that was OK to do? Why did none of the other Chinese tourists in the van say anything?! How is this allowed to be the normal way to do things!?! It makes no sense to me.
After two and a half hours in the van we finally end up at the place we were supposed to be going. Horribly upset about that crazy cab, and fairly hungry from not having eaten breakfast, we stopped by a KFC for a quick meal. We then headed to a bus station and got tickets for a bus that would take us the rest of the way up the mountain (this was part of what the hostel had told us). We took the bus up a series of switchback roads and end up at the park entrance for the mountain.
We find the ticket booth for the mountain as well a cable car that can take us a significant way up to the hiking trails. The prices for them were roughly double what we expected them to be, and didn’t even include a round-trip on the cable car. This was a bit upsetting, but we didn’t really want to spend the entire day hiking up to the mountain when all the views were at the top. We sucked it up, paid it, and got onto a cable car. They sat 8, so we shared a car with a group of 4 older Chinese men. Everyone was taking pictures all the way up, but at one point they did try speaking with us. It was interesting how they asked us where we were from since they just pointed to themselves and said ‘Zhonggou’ which just means China, not Chinese. One of them even said ‘I am China’ at one point which was an interesting way of saying our nationality, especially since he did it in both languages. We replied in kind with ‘I am America’ but man does that sound odd.
Once we made it to the top we were excited to start seeing some mountains. What we saw instead was people. A whole bunch of people. We could see the mountains off to the side, but the sheer number of people diminished it a bit for me. It was less like hiking and more like shoving your way throw a crowded metro station in Shanghai during rush hour. I guess that’s a bit harsh though, the metro is never that crowded.
We did get some good shots of the mountain though
We adopted a roughly 3kph average speed as we pushed through the crowds deeper into the mountains. The scenery was stunning, but it was really hard for me to enjoy it. Hiking is supposed to be peaceful, quiet, and relaxing. This was none of those things. We did manage to make it to a peak that had a stunning view of a valley running between two of the mountain ranges. We got a ton of shots and stopped for lunch there.
After lunch we braved our way back into the crowds before eventually finding a path that broke off from the main road and somehow had no people on it. We didn’t know where it led but we didn’t care. We took it just to have some peace and quiet. My mood increased drastically almost immediately once we were on our own. Suddenly we were hiking and it was amazing. The mountains both towered above us, and fell away beneath us. The rocks composing them were gigantic and oddly smooth. It almost looked like the kind of fake plaster rocks that an amusement park would set up. We walked around for a bit longer, before turning back midafternoon. There was a weather system moving in that night, and we didn’t want to miss the last cable car and get stuck in it.
We ran back into the crowds on the way back to the cable car and fought through them to get onto the car, having to pay yet again to get down. Once off the mountain we attempted to take the bus back to the base using the tickets we had purchased earlier, yet this too was a one-way pass. Although the bus ticket had been then one reasonably priced thing we had bought all day, we decided that we had had enough of the constant price gouging and so decided to just walk down the mountain instead. This actually worked out well since we had heard there was a hot spring nearby and by walking we could go check it out to see if it would be worth doing.
We walked off the mountain for a while and followed signs towards the hot spring. We found it eventually but it wasn’t quite what we had hoped it would be. It looked more like a hotel pool than springs (probably because it was the pool area for a hotel) and it was going to be very expensive. 45USD for a day pass, but with their hours of operation, we’d only be able to use it for about an hour and a half tomorrow given travel times. This was a deal breaker and we left, sad about how we wouldn’t be able to make the hot springs work after all.
We continued our trek down Mt. Huangshan, passing forest paths and mountain streams as we went. We also passed by a mixture of small villages and towns and in one of them found a taxi.
We hailed the taxi (not wanting to deal with busses anymore) and started heading back to town. Directly back to town. We didn’t hang out at any random train stations, or pick up strangers from the side of the road. We just went directly where we should have. What a concept. Our driver was really awesome too. He didn’t seem to have met many foreigners before because he was incredibly excited to have us in his cab. We were chatting with him as best we could with our broken Chinese, including the “Where are you from?” question in the form of “China? America.”
Once we got going I took a quick nap since I was beat from our long day with a wide range of stress levels. I got woken up when we were near the hostel to take a selfie with the taxi driver.
We got back to our hostel, dropped off our hiking stuff, and headed directly to dinner. We had heard that there was a very famous restaurant in the city, and we were staying directly across the street from it! We headed over to it and got a table. Dinner consisted of an incredibly spicy duck that was too hot for me, a somewhat less spicy pork dish that was a challenge but doable for me, a dish that was a sweetened mix between a pancake and flat bread, and a soup that had some amazingly delicious broth and chicken meat that was somehow fully cooked and hard as a rock. It was a mixed bag of really good and ‘I can’t eat this.’
During the meal, the storm we had been aware of all day finally broke and it started downpouring. There was even thunder and lightning, which is the first time I’d seen either in China. We sprinted back to the hostel to grab umbrellas, and then walked around for a while. The streets had completely cleared out because of the rain and we stopped by a Dairy Queen for dessert. After having a real tough time asking for a strawberry blizzard (for some reason, no one can understand me when I say ‘strawberry’ in Chinese. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong), we got ice cream and just hung out in the DQ while it stormed outside. Once we had had our ice cream fix, we walked back to the hostel. I was ready to take a long hot shower and just relax at the hostel before going to bed. Just lying down just sounded so nice. But that’s not what happened.
When we returned to the hostel, Megan and I went directly to the room to start getting ready for bed, while David and Alex talked to the front desk about the bus fiasco and the possibility of finding another hot spring. While I was waiting for my turn in the shower, David and Alex ran back into the room and told us about another hot spring that was within the city and was much cheaper than the one we had looked at on the mountain. The catch was that it wouldn’t be open tomorrow morning, but would be open for the next few more hours tonight until midnight. They suggested we go, and I basically though ‘Yeah sure. Why not?’
Once Megan finished up her shower, we all threw on our swimsuits, packed some towels and spare clothes, and headed out to the springs. We tried hailing a cab for a while but to no avail. While we were doing that, this guy drove up to us on what I can only describe as a three-wheeled electric rickshaw (Electric Rickshaw. Band name. I called it.) He very much wanted to take us wherever we wanted to go, and once again we thought ‘Yeah sure. Why not?’ We all piled into the back and off we went, whizzing down the streets, getting major hangtime on every bump, and feeling like we could fall out at any moment, while laughing our heads off and thoroughly enjoying every second of it.
We got dropped off in some dark back street on the other side of town, shrugged, and headed down the street. We saw a bunch of signs that just had the Chinese characters for hot springs on them and just followed that. This led us to the lobby of a hotel which had a bunch of people hanging around in bathrobes. The receptionist pointed us down a road when we asked about hot springs and we got to it. While walking down the road, one of those elongated golf carts/van things pulled up full of all the people in robes we had seen before, it pulled to the side of the road next to us and after a quick ‘hot springs?’ we got in and waited to see what happened.
The people in the cart asked us where we were from with that classic, “China? America.” Exchange that we had come to know so well. When we told them we were Americans, one of the guys in the cart just said (in English) “America very beautiful. You are very beautiful too!”
The ride was perfect and we ended up at a pool house/locker room sort of place. There was a front desk where we had to pay to get in. We had been told that it would cost us 188kuai from the hostel, but all the signs said 231. When we told them there were four of us, they started charging 231 a person. We just said ‘188?’ and they shrugged, and gave us entrance for that. We really should have named a lower price if that’s how the system works.
We got into the locker room to change and saw some things that I don’t really want to talk about here or anywhere else. We changed and left as fast as possible to avoid all the naked people, and walked out into the pool area. This had a large lap pool, as well as some very large hot tubs. The three of us guys met up with Megan, and then walked out back to the actual hot springs.
The rain had started back up, but it was fairly soft so, while cold, it wasn’t dangerous. The hot springs were a series of small pools, tubs, and ponds that had been built into a little garden area. I didn’t realize this beforehand, but each pool was had a ‘theme’ of sorts, which is to say that they had had something added to them that was supposed to help sooth your body and soul.
We started out sitting in a warm red wine pool for a little while. From there we visited the milk pool, which was a very cloudy white color and oddly slimy inside. After that was the allo pool to help with the sunburns we got on the hike that day, followed by the lemon pool which was right after it. The next pool should have been the coffee pool, but there was a group of around 12 Chinese people that had just set up camp in it and didn’t move for the entire time we were there. I was a little sad since I was getting a little drowsy and could have used the pick-me-up.
We had to walk around a bit more after that but eventually found a Jasmin pond, then a honeysuckle pond, followed by a Chrysanthemum pool. We also found a pool that did not have an English description, only a Chinese and Korean. It was thusly named the Korean pool. It was crazy hot and I couldn’t actually stay in it longer than about 5 minutes. We then circled back to the wine pools, and had a dip in the white wine pool this time.
We spent almost two hours just pool hopping, talking, and generally hanging out and being friends. It was so relaxing and so much fun. It was a perfect and very unexpected way to end the day.
In true China fashion, the place that closed at midnight kicked us out at 11:30. We went back to change in the locker room and then got back on the golf cart van to head back to the front desk. We asked the front desk to call us a cab, but while they were doing that a cab pulled up to the front drive, so we just nabbed theirs and took it back to the hostel.
We took turns showering while everyone else hung out at the bar. We had some ice teas and played pool for a bit before turning in for the night.
What an incredibly full and amazingly enjoyable day. This has completely felt like a vacation from beginning to end and I love it.
(4/9) Chinese Bacon
Today was incredibly relaxed, especially considering it was still part of a trip. Since we had had such a long night last night, we slept in until 10 this morning. We got up and went out to find a little western restaurant for brunch. I got a BLT and a mango smoothie. The BLT was interesting. It had pickles, small tomatoes, and what I’ve come to know as ‘Chinese bacon’ which is just a thick slice of ham that’s been browned. It actually was what I was expecting to get after spending over 3 months here, but in the US we’d probably just call it a ham sandwich.
We hung out and talked in the restaurant for a while before going back to the hostel, packing up, checking out, and riding to the train station. We got tickets and cleared security with no issues and got on our train after a short wait.
The train ride was about 5 hours long. Had we gone directly to Shanghai, it probably would have been about 3 hours, but the train stopped a total of 9 times between Huangshan and Shanghai, so we were never at the top speed for long. Regardless, it was one of the better train rides. There weren’t many children, and none of them were being loud. No one around me was doing anything overly strange and I was able to get a lot of journaling done while also watching a full movie.
When we arrived back in Shanghai it was only six, so we decided to head downtown to the French Cession and get some burgers and milkshakes from a place we had heard of there. I got a bacon cheeseburger (or rather a Chinese bacon cheeseburger), some fries, and a peanut butter brownie milkshake. It was astounding.
We then headed back to ziroom for the night. I had so much time when I got back that I was able to actually just relax at my desk for a little bit before getting ready for bed. There’s something to this whole relaxed travel thing.