I've heard soooo many and soooo great things about Huangshan or Yellow Mountain. So when my friend Anne came to China to visit me and we wanted to take a trip out of Shanghai Huangshan was the first place that came to my mind.
The close to 2000 m tall mountain is located in Anhui province near the city Tunxi which nowadays has been renamed Huangshan. From Shanghai to Huangshan city you can travel by flight (1 hour), by bus (6 hours) or by night train (12 hours).
Remember to buy tickets in advance as they sell out. We wanted to go by night train in order to arrive as early as possible at the mountain but when we went to the Station 2 days before departure "sleeper" tickets were sold out (they still had seats left but 12 hours of sitting before a hiking adventure doesn't sound optimal to me). Instead we went with the bus option and bought our one-way tickets as returns have to be bought in Huangshan. They were RMB 132 for a single.
All three transportation options include a transfer to a smaller bus (or taxi) in Huangshan city to go to the ctiy Tangkou which is located at the foot of the mountain - a 1 hour trip. From Tangkou Station an official park bus will take you the last 15-20 minutes to the "entrance" of the mountain where you pay the Entrance of RMB 200 (on a student visa? Bring your student card and save RMB 160) and either start your hike OR jump into a cable car (East side: Yungu Cable Car. West side: Yuping Cable Car).
East Steps or West Steps
You need to know wether you want to climb the East side or the West side before you board the last park bus. It's said that the West side is the most challenging which is rewarded as it is also the most beautiful. We chose to hike up the West Steps because our hotel Yupinglou Hotel was located on this side of the mountain. In order to see both sides we took the East side down the next morning and I can definitely recommend that you one way or the other see especially the top- and last part of the West side. Absolutely stunning. I can also recommend you to buy a tourist map in Tangkou (sold lots of places) and have some locals point your hotel and recommended route out.
Our Huangshan Adventure
We took the bus from Shanghai Long Distance Bus Station (close to Shanghai Railway Station on line 1) at 7.50 and arrived in Huangshan city at 13.40. 10 minutes after arrival we boarded a mini bus towards Tangkou (RMB 17 and tickets are purchased on the bus). This is a 1 hour trip through amazingly green landscape.
After a 10-15 minutes wait where we studied a tourist map we jumped on a Park Bus towards the entrance to the West Steps (RMB 19).
We started walking at 15.40 and arrived at our hotel at 18.10 just before it got dark. Our ascend was a rainy one so we were hiking in a pretty solid pace and limited our stops and breaks. Still it was absolutely beautiful. Green, lush and mysterious.
The East route was quite steep and as with most mountains in China it is stairs all the way. The path is sometimes very narrow and I can imagine that on busy days (weekends and national holidays) where Huangshan is taken over by Chinese tour groups with yelling guides the hiking experience can really be an uncomfortable one. You can say we were a bit unlucky with our weather especially for the sunset Tuesday morning which was hardly there (it just got light no sight of the sun) but as I mentioned it was a beeeeeautiful hike and at many points we literally felt like we had the mountains for ourselves which is a very very rare experience at this popular mountain.
Rise & Shine
Even though the weather forecast did warn us about the non-existing sunrise we still got up at 5 on Tuesday morning to give it a chance at 5.36 (the hotels will know the exact time for sunrise) and as it got light we started hiking the last part to the Lotus Peak which is the highest point. Around 7-8 we reached the peak and some places serving breakfast. Beihai Hotel serves a big breakfast buffet and you can just rock up and pay around RMB 150. We decided to continue the Chinese traveling experience as well as simple hiking living and chose a nearby place that served a RMB 30 very simple Chinese Breakfast.
After breakfast we started hiking down the East Steps and after a few hours we reached the entrance. Here we found thousands of Chinese tourists queuing for the Yungu Cable Car and that really made me realize how lucky we had been with our itinerary. I have been warned by friends about the hourlong queuing for the cable cars as well as the Chinese tourist nightmare that can ruin your Huangshan experience so my biggest recommendation is to plan to go here in the weekdays. My next biggest is to hike up the West side but it depends where your hotel is and how long time you have to reach it before it gets dark.
We easily found the empty Park bus (as we managed to get down so early) and in Tangkou we jumped straight into a mini bus towards Huangshan city. In Huangshan we only had to wait 20 minutes before we found ourself on a bus back to Shanghai. When we arrived in Huangshan on Monday we forgot to buy the return tickets to Shanghai which gave us more flexibility if we wanted to stay on the mountain another night to do some of the extra hikes on the top (especially Xihai which is a 2-3 our hike down a gorge and back to the top is said to be absolutely amazing) but on the other hand it gave us some uncertainty as we didn't know if we could actually get back to Shanghai this day. Our back-up plan was to visit one of the smaller villages around Huangshan which is said to be a real local and real China experience. Due to our wet hike we were still partly soaked so we couldn't think of anything but getting back to Shanghai and civilization.