In the ten months of travel I recently completed there was only one place which I would skip in hindsight. There are hundreds of extra places and different places I would go, including Myanmar, but Huangshan was the only place that was an ill informed choice for our budget and time constraint.
Our general time constraint was quite liberal but more specifically we needed to get to Hong Kong due to having a dual entry Chinese visa and the first half nearly being used up. We had intended to stay five days in Huangshan, or Tunxi as the actual area was called and in this time we ended up doing very little. One thing to be aware of is that the only train to Shenzen comes from Shanghai and so is a very busy route in which you are unlikely to be able to get a bed as they prioritise people doing the entire route and only open the leftover a couple of days before, if there are any. In a town with no English spoken we managed to get around the ‘No’ situation at the train station by getting a quieter train to Guangzhou which then has regular bullets to Shenzen. After doing a few hard seat journeys already I didn’t fancy one for 20 hours.
We had a tight budget and hadn’t realised how expensive everything involving Huangshan would be and we couldn’t afford a stay at the top. This was a big mistake, if you are going up the mountain you really must stay the night to get the best views and a bit more value for money. Of course everything at the top from accommodation to food is very expensive as people are carrying all the food up by hand. This must be one of the most labour intensive jobs I have ever witnessed. Our hostel was right by the train station and to get to the mountain we had a minivan (20 Yuan/£2) that takes you to the ‘mountain base busses’ where you pay for a return bus up to the main entrance (I think this cost 60 Yuan/£6) the entrance to the mountain is 230 Yuan(£23). When you get in you have the option of walking or two consecutive cable cars which each cost 80 Yuan (£8) each way. We, being shocked already at the 230 Yuan, took the walking option.
The scenery is amazing, completely beautiful and makes you really understand why Chinese artwork looks how it does. A lot of money had clearly been put into the upkeep as there were concrete step ways lining the rocks. As two people of average fitness we were completely misguided by our hostel about how much walking was possible before getting the 5pm bus home. We were told that we would be able to get to the top and down in those six hours. In reality we got ¼ of the way up and had to make a seriously hard decision as to whether we would make it far enough to get the cable car down in time or if it was wiser to turn back. Our legs were in pain from constant concrete steps, of which many were very steep and unrelenting, and high altitude on top of this makes your breath leave so quickly.
We made, what I think is one of our wisest decisions in realising our limits and that we were simply ill prepared for the situation, and turned back. After three hours of solid uphill stair climbing we couldn’t gamble on how quick the cable car would be in getting us down after another three hour climb. One of the reasons I am so glad we chose to turn back is because I could barely walk for three days afterwards, it seems like I managed to damage my legs so I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been, perhaps even bed ridden.
So the moral of my story is that Huangshan isn’t a viable daytrip, and isn’t for the budget conscious, it is an expensive two or three day venture. If you have £100 to spend on one event it would be an amazing and memorable experience (memorable for the right reasons). But one misjudgement of destination in ten months is probably quite a good track record.
And here’s what we didn’t see…