Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chinese Mountains: Huangshan and Zhangjiajie

We visited two different national parks in China: Huangshan and Zhangjiajie. They were both really amazing. Pictures and words can't do them justice. Plus most of my pictures were on my phone so they're not great quality.

We arrived in Huangshan after an overnight train, and took a tuk-tuk to our hostel to drop off our bags. He tried to get us to pay double for the ride since there were 2 of us, which was annoying and slowed us down. But our hostel helped us sort it out, and once we left our big bags there were were pretty close to the bus station. We took the bus to the city closest to the entrance, and just stopped at what seemed like a random shop. We had to walk a couple minutes down the road to get to the busses that go to the park. A really nice Chinese girl who spoke English saw that we looked confused and helped us get our bus tickets. We reached the eastern entrance and said bye to her since we were walking up and she was taking the cable car. It started raining pretty hard, so we ended up getting giant yellow ponchos to help keep our stuff dry. It helped us stand out less, because everybody had one! Some people had plastic rain pants and booties too. It was pretty steamy inside our plastic bags so it got kind of sweaty, but the views whenever the clouds moved out of the way were amazing! We got to our expensive dorm room at the Baiyun Hotel in the afternoon and relaxed and had some instant noodles for lunch. The clouds were so thick you could hardly see anything in front of you. I walked around a bit more but mostly we just hung out and tried to use the internet when it was working to plan the next parts of our trip.
clouds rolling in
The next day, we got up to see the sunrise along with the rest of the Chinese tourists who were there during their national holiday (in other words, it was crowded). To avoid the crowds and the noise that comes with them, we broke off the path to a cliff that overlooked the mountains. We were lucky that it had cleared up quite a bit so we were gifted with a beautiful sunrise!
We got some cookies for breakfast (there were slim pickings up there. Don't judge) and got ready to hike. We kind of had a map but we didn't ever really know where we were and some trails didn't have names or would randomly be only in Chinese even though the last sign had English as well. We started walking one way and took our time to enjoy the views, but eventually realized it was the western trail down to the exit. So we backtracked and went down a path by our hostel. It was where I wanted to go – the fairy walking bridge. It was pretty cool! We could have gone into the Great Canyon from there but they had blocked off the entrance and it was starting to raid harder anyway, so we walked back up all the stairs and called it a day.
My sleep schedule was still not completely adjusted, so I had been falling asleep around 7 and waking up at 4. I got up to see what it looked like outside and it was clear there was no chance of a sunrise viewing. It was pouring rain and you couldn't see anything. So we took our time to pack up and left around 8. For the most part, it wasn't hard to find the way down but it also wasn't easy. We were never 100% sure we were going the right way. Sometimes we would try to ask one of the Chinese tour guides by miming walking with our fingers and pointing down, or else they all pointed us to the cable car. Unfortunately we missed all the views that make this longer and more difficult way worth it, but when we got low enough we could see out into the valley. It was a lot of downhill steps, and sometimes the water from the stream was just flowing down the river. We had been seeing porters the whole time but we felt especially bad for the ones going up in this weather! They are there skinny old men who carry really heavy loads on just a bamboo stick over on their shoulders. They'll even carry people in chairs on top of bamboo poles! At least they use 2 people for that. We finally made it down and followed some other people who also looked confused and managed to find the bus ticket window. We got our tickets and waited for the bus that was going to leave about 30 minutes later. It was nice to sit down in a dry bus. We got off where the bus ended and amazingly the woman at the information counter at the big bus station spoke English and told us where to go! Except them we realized it wasn't clear. We just ended up in a big parking lot. So I translated “Tunxi (the name of Huangshan City) Long-distance Bus Station” And a lady just pointed at a mini bus. We weren't sure where it would stop but we kept an eye out. We passed the bus station but luckily right after that the driver assumably asked if anyone wanted to get out so we just made an affirmative noise and ended up close to the hostel.

Fairy Walking Bridge
We checked in and our room was ready so we got settled and showered. We met Fabian, a German guy in our room who had just taken a 24-hour train in a hard seat, which he had switched off standing with an elderly lady. So he took a nap.
We pretty much lived in the lobby of the hostel for 2 days. We only stayed 1 night, but our train wasn't until 11pm. They were really nice there and we even got food from them a few times. It was pretty good. Fabian had also decided to take a day off before he went to the mountains so we hung out with him some and tried to do some more planning. We got lucky when it was time to go to the train station because one of the hostel workers was driving home and took us with him.

We got on our overnight train to Zhuzhou in a hard sleeper compartment – they have 3 beds on either side, so you don't quite have room to sit up, and there is no door so it's open to the hallway. We didn't really sleep. They came to exchange our tickets for these little cards, which we were really confused about, but later I realized they do that so they make sure you get off at your stop even if you're asleep. The next morning we switched to our next train. We had to get soft sleepers even though it was during the day, and it ruined us forever. They only have 2 bunks per side, so there's a lot more room, and there's a door so they're more private. We were both on the top and a really nice older couple was below us. I had a great nap in the train.

We got to the Zhangjiajie station and found a taxi. They all wanted to charge more than the hostel said it would cost, but when I tried to get them to lower the price they said no. Some drivers looked at the address and just shook their head. So we just took one. It cost a whole $3 instead of $1.50. We got to our room and met Kit, a guy from Singapore, and David from England. Kit was going to the mountains the next day and had a whole plan (and speaks Chinese) so we wanted to see if we could go with him, but I was planning on meeting an old friend from Germany, Saskia Kroesen. I hadn't seen her in 10 years! She was teaching English in another city in the Hunan province where I was. So we decided to figure out our Tibet trip and stay there another night.
We had a frustrating day of trying to book tickets and confirm our Tibet tour, which we decided to do. We met Saskia and her friend Tracey and they went up the longest cable car in the world to ------------ while we stayed back. I wish I could have spent more time with her but we really needed to get everything booked. When they got back we went to a restaurant for dinner and Tracey helped us order everything. It was so good!! Then we made her come to the supermarket with us and explain what everything was. We hung out a bit but everyone was tired so we said goodbye and went to bed.
We took the public bus in the morning to the train and bus station along with a few others from the hostel. Then we got on the bus to the park with Kate, who was from Germany but had been working in Xi'an and was traveling her way back to Europe.
Kate, me and Jordan after a long day hiking
Once we got our tickets, We took a detour at the bottom to walk up to the Huangxi Village, which ended up taking forever but it was really cool! It makes a loop, but we were pretty much the only ones on the way down so we kept thinking we were lost. If you're ever alone in China, it's usually not a good sign. But we made it and then took the main way up and got up to the hostel. We dropped our stuff off and found a lookout ledge nearby to watch the sunset. The rock formations are really amazing. There are just these giant pillars that go up so high. We were looking down and you can't even tell how far above the ground you are because it is so deep. Once it was dark we went back to the hostel and I had some rice and veggies from them. They gave me hot cucumber but it wasn't bad. There were a bunch of Dutch guys staying there too so we hung out with them.
pictures can't show how high we were
In the morning we walked to a lookout that Kit had messaged and said his favorite. It was called One Step to Heaven. We were pretty much on top of one of the columns! We had a bit of quiet until some Chinese people came up. I took a picture doing a handstand and them one of the ladies started doing the splits and made me do them with here! We walked back up to the road and took the free shuttle bus to another part of the park and started walking down. We giant McDonalds and saw some giant salamanders that are indigenous to the area, but unfortunately they were ones that had been bread in captivity which means they can be eaten. Once we made it down we left Kate since she was staying another night and walked along the Golden Whip Stream all the way back, which was nice and mostly flat. Constantly going up or down stairs was getting annoying. We managed to find a bus that was going back, and once we finally made it back to the bus station we got on the same local bus we had come on but going in the opposite direction. Silly us, that's not how it works. We realized we were kind of driving in circles and the bus driver even yelled at us at some point but no one spoke English. Finally this guy next to me looked at our hostel address and told the bus driver to stop at the park. Luckily we had just walked to it the day before so we got off and found our way back.

View from "One Step to Heaven" and my handstand pic for Kate
 Back at the hostel, we met Jason and Will from Canada and Cerry from Wales. We found a little bar that seemed kind of dead but they were excited to have us there and bought us a lot of beer and played a dice game with us. We also ran into the Dutch guys who had been on the mountain, met up with them at another bar. It seemed kind of sketchy to us and we realized the lady in charge was carefully counting all the drinks but continued to just open them and give them out. We left, and it's a good thing we did. They ended up getting charged a TON of money and when they payed what they thought was more appropriate, they were followed and ended up at the police station. They paid the rest of what she had charged them and were fine, but I'm so glad I wasn't there for that. We hung out of tge rooftop of our bar for a while and then went to bed. Luckily our only plans for the next day were to rest until we had to catch our train in the afternoon.

1 comment: