Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Huangshan and Hongcun March 2013

It took a bit of time but we eventually got through to the girls on reception at the hotel in Hangzhou to get us a taxi to the bus station. They were attractive but not the ‘brightest buttons in the box.’ We caught the bus no problems and finally ended up in Huangshan township. I probably didn’t read the information about the location of our hotel properly as it was actually in Tunxi which we had already passed through on our way. A Mr.Hu was summoned by our bus conductor. He spoke English and explained how difficult it was to get the bus etc. etc. but he would get a taxi for us which would cost us ¥150. We felt we had no other real options so took the taxi.
We arrived at our hotel which was right at the beginning of Old Street; the girls in reception were very helpful and spoke some English. Old Street was delightful it had been there since the Song Dynasty and the shops facades exuded the character of that era. It should have really been called ‘Painting or Art’ Street as the majority of shops sold brushes, ink stones and paper. We loved wandering up and down in and out of the laneways looking in the various shops. It was surprising to see a number of Europeans around as they were in very limited numbers in Hangzhou. I guess as there were more westerners around so there were more coffee shops. I bought a map of the mountains which gave us something to work with for our trip.
Old Street Tunxi

As we were here for such a short time the first full day saw us make our way to Huangshan mountains. The most magnificent scenery with misty clouds can be seen at sunrise. Unfortunately we missed this by hours but the mountains and scenery were spectacular anyway. We took the bus to the bus station of Huangshan town then another bus to the entrance to the mountain area. The trip up to the mountain was around hairpin bends and not much tolerance of space on the road and the drop down the side of the mountain quite terrifying. There are so many walks and places to hike in the mountains that you would need several days to do it justice. Our trip was more Huangshan light. Even though it was a Saturday it didn’t seem that extraordinary crowded as many places can be at the weekends or on holidays in China.
Realizing our time was limited we took the cable car from Yungu Temple station to White Goose Ridge station. The ride itself was amazing and could be frightening if you suffered from vertigo as it definitely a very long sheer drop from the cable car.
We walked along the well- marked and maintained paths to White Goose Ridge, Beginning to Believe Peak, with views of Pen Rack Peak and back to the cable car station passed Lianli Pine. While on our walk we were asked a number of times to pose for photos with fellow Chinese walkers. I always bemuses me that they would want to have a photo taken with some unknown European. Robyn said it was my white hair  that stood out, but I didn’t think it was just that.
  Everywhere you looked took your breath away. The sheer mountains pine trees growing in impossible places and angles. Many traditional Chinese landscapes feature this mountain scenery. My camera worked over time, as an amateur painter in the Chinese style; I have painted scenery like the one I was viewing.
A Huangshan Mountain View
‘Stunning, stunning!’ was all I could say about the views no matter which way I looked, and this was only such a small part of the whole.
It was getting late so we caught the cable car back down and looked for something to eat, there was not much on offering so we had what everyone else was eating, two minute noodles. At least they filled an empty stomach. Then we passed the inevitable array of souvenir shops on our way to the bus to take us back to town. The bus took us back to the bus station where buses to Tunxi left on a regular basis. At that moment we realized that Mr. Hu, our’ helper’ from the previous day was a bit of a con man as he had insisted how difficult it was to catch the bus as they weren’t regular etc. etc.
We were glad we left when we did as it was getting late by the time we arrived back at our hotel. While we were here the first two nights we ate at the fabulous restaurant where you can see the chefs cooking and can choose what you want to eat that way. It is located at the end of Old Street on the corner near the square. Look for a large crowded place. It is a rather frantic system as you get a number and paper and pen, go to where the dishes are displayed, they have names and numbers. The numbers help, because you only need to write down the number. Our first experience there we were helped by a young fellow customer who spoke English, so we learnt the system. The next night we felt quite confident negotiating the system by ourselves. The whole thing seems quite disorganized but the guy who is in charge of the numbers is all powerful and keeps things under control. The most important thing however, that the food was delicious.
Robyn was looking up information about the area on the internet and came across a place called Hongcun, 85km from Tunxi. So instead of going back to the mountains we decided to go there the next day. We managed to catch the right bus and a young Chinese student guided us to the entrance when we arrived.
Hongcun was established in the Song Dynasty but many of the buildings date from the Ming and Qing Dynasties and regarded typical of the Anhui style. It is an extremely picturesque village which is crisscrossed by canals which flow into the central moon pond and southern lake. Mainly Chinese tourists visit here and it used to be free but now it costs ¥104 to enter as it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list, so they want to preserve it.  
We enjoyed walking around looking at the buildings and places of interest. We watched a woman make a varied coloured type of pancake. It was fascinating watching her add the various colours to form swirls. I bought one just to try it. It was rather yummy. Just next door was a coffee shop and we had a coffee plus the pancake.  As usual we wandered around for ages.
The inhabitants get about their daily business without bothering much about the visitors Chinese or otherwise. Though there are some of the usual tacky souvenirs about nobody bothers you to buy them. We eventually found a little place to have lunch and as luck would have it there was someone at the next table who spoke English helped us negotiate the Chinese menu.

View across the lake of Hongcun

Hongcun is not on the westerners tourist map, but many may be familiar with it via the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as a number of the scenes in this film featured this town. After spending most of the day here we luckily went to the bus station just in time to catch the bus back to Tunxi. We were keen not to arrive back too late as we were leaving that evening for Beijing. We decided to eat somewhere different to our previous nights as we didn’t want to be waiting around too long for our dinner.
Our plane was leaving at 9.30 p.m. so we didn’t have to rush. After dinner we collected our luggage, grabbed a taxi to the airport.