Thursday, February 6, 2014

Guide to Traveling to Huangshan, China

Located just a few hours from the largest city in China is one of the most beautiful natural tourist attractions in a country so full of them. Huángshān, or Yellow Mountain, is a mountain range in Anhui province, China, about 330 kilometers west of Shanghai. The mountains were formed when granite rocks rose from the floor of an ancient sea and were then carved by glaciers millions of years ago. The national park, often referred to as Huangshan Scenic Area, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

China: Huangshan, Anhui
Huangshan served as subject for many Chinese paintings (for very obvious reasons).

Before planning my trip to Huangshan, I never realized how relatively easy it was to travel here. We trekked to Huangshan in winter through snow and fog. As difficult as that was, I found that every freezing minute we spent up in those mountains was completely worth it. Especially since we were granted sunny skies the following two days we were here.

To help other independent travelers and backpackers travel to these magnificent mountains, let me present a guide to traveling to Huangshan, China.


Travel Itinerary for Huangshan, China

It is possible to do a day trip from towns near Huangshan like Tāngkǒu or even Túnxī, an hour away. However, since you're already paying the tickets, and going through the trouble of traveling here anyway, my recommendation is that you spend a night or two in one of the hotels on top of the mountain, like we did.

Day 01: We traveled from Shanghai to the Huangshan Scenic Area. We arrived at the gates at 2 p.m. and reached our accommodations on top of the mountain at 6 p.m. We had to trek through snow and freezing fog during the trek and we got lost more than once. It was already dark when we got to our hotel. You can spend a night in Tangkou or Tunxi, so that you can begin to make your way up the mountain early in the morning.

Day 02: We spent one whole day exploring scenic areas and walking trails up in the mountain. We stayed at Baiyun Hotel. The hotel being centrally located, we were able to reach many spots easily: Haixin Pavilion, Turtle Peak, Xihai Grand Canyon, and along the way to and from our hotel, Bright Summit Peak.

Day 03: We made our way from our hotel, through the mountain trails, back down to Tangkou via one of the cable cars. It was a quick and easy trek because we did not need to contend with snow and fog this time, and we already knew the way! From Tangkou, we hired private transport to take us to Hóngcūn, an UNESCO World Heritage ancient village. Thus ended our trip to Huangshan, China.

Related Posts: A Wintry, Snowy Mountain Trek to Huangshan, Photos from Our Winter Mountain Trek to Huangshan

China: Huangshan, Anui
One advantage of spending a night or two in Huangshan is you get treated to sunsets like this.


How to Go to Huangshan, China

Shanghai is the largest major city closest to Huangshan and is the best city to fly to when coming from another country. Once in Shanghai, follow these steps:
  1. Shànghǎi to Túnxī: From Shanghai South Long-distance Bus Station, get on a bus to Tunxi, a major town close to Huangshan. Confusingly, Tunxi is also sometimes called Huangshan (the town wanting to associate itself with the tourist attraction). Bus ride is 135 CNY and takes five hours.

  2. Túnxī to Tāngkǒu: From Tunxi Long-distance Bus Station, take a bus to Tangkou, a small town outside Huangshan Scenic Area. Bus ride is 16 CNY and takes an hour. Inform the driver or ticket collector to drop you off at the gates of Huangshan Scenic Area in Tangkou.

  3. At Huángshān Scenic Area: Buy yourself a bus ticket (19 CNY) at the counter by the gates. This bus takes you to any of the two cable car stations: Yúngǔ or Yùpíng. The ride takes twenty minutes. Incidentally, the stations are also the starting points of the two trails heading up to the mountain: Eastern Steps and Western Steps. You need to take this official bus because there is no public transport within the national park and the cable car stations/mountain trail starting points are very far from the entrance gates.
China: Yungu Cable Car, Huangshan, Anhui
Rising up, up, up in the Yungu Cable Car

Whether you choose to take the cable car or trek up the mountain is entirely up to you. Trekking up or down easily takes five to seven hours. The views, many say, are worth the hike. Also, which cable car/mountain trail to choose depends on which is closer to your hotel. Make no mistake about it though. If you are staying in a hotel up in the mountain, there will be some walking involved. Most of the hotels here are still a distance away from the cable car stations on top, anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours.


Tickets for Huangshan, China

We visited in the off-season (winter) and the Huangshan Scenic Area entrance ticket cost 150 CNY per person. When traveling outside winter, i.e., high season, ticket cost rises to a hefty 210 CNY. Hey, this is after all one of the top 10 tourist attractions in all of China. If you are a student, present a student ID, so you can get some discount.

Huangshan, Anhui, China
Ticket for Huangshan Scenic Area entrance and for a one-way cable car ride

The counters at the cable car station are the same counters for the Huangshan Scenic Area entrance ticket. At least, that was the case for the Yungu Cable Car. For those taking the cable car, you will need to buy separate tickets for the ride. Off-season, a one-way cable car ride costs 65 CNY. Outside the off-season, the one-way ride costs 80 CNY. (See how doing a short day trip isn't really worth all the money you are shelling out?)

Related Posts: A Wintry, Snowy Mountain Trek to Huangshan, Photos from Our Winter Mountain Trek to Huangshan


Best Time to Visit Huangshan, China

I honestly think each of the four seasons offers something special for those traveling to the Huangshan Scenic Area. Whichever season you choose for your visit promises an experience unique to that time of the year: powder-white snow in winter, colorful flowers and mist in spring, etc. That said, as with most mountainous areas, weather is highly changeable. Sunny today, foggy the next. That's just how it is in the mountains.

China: Huangshan, Anui
Fresh white snow in Huangshan, China

We traveled in winter. It was sunny, a little bit cloudy, in Tangkou when we arrived. However, from inside the cable car station, we found ourselves being slowly enveloped in fog. This freezing, snowy fog accompanied us the entire two-hour trek from the cabl car station on top to our hotel. The next day, and the day after that, it was sunny and clear all the way. It was still freezing cold, but sunny.

Lonely Planet recommends traveling during the autumn months. Spring can be foggy, it added, while summer can be rainy.


Things to Bring in Huangshan, China

Whichever month you visit, you will want consider something very important: layers. This applies to those spending a night or two up in the mountain. Elevations up in the mountain vary from 1,300 to 1,800 meters above sea level. Expect that even in summer, temperatures will be chilly, especially at night. According to Lonely Planet, night-time summer temperatures rarely go above 20°C.

For those visiting in the colder months, it is imperative that you have cold weather gear. I recommend base layers, thermal socks, fleece jackets, down jackets, winter parkas, gloves, beanie, and scarves. We visited in winter, when midday temperatures were only a few degrees above freezing and night-time temperatures dipped to 20°C BELOW ZERO. Having those layers really helped.

Huangshan, Anhui, China
Author all layered up for a morning walk in Huangshan

Trekking equipment is not so much a requirement, more a recommendation. The mountain trails are paved and made of concrete. However, again, for those visiting in the rainy or colder months, shoes with traction are strongly recommended, especially since trails become slippery due to water or ice. Steel crampons easily strapped to shoes are sold at the entrance of Huangshan Scenic Area. If you have a trekking pole, bring it.

Those doing more than a few hours of trekking at a time may want to bring water and snacks with them. There are shops up here but they are few and far between. Also, because of the need to haul merchandise and supplies up here, prices will be double, triple than those at the foot of the mountain.


Accommodations in Huangshan, China

Accommodations up in the mountain include three-star to four-star hotels. These are full-service hotels, mind you, not cheap and rustic mountain lodges. There are around six or seven of these hotels up in the mountain (less if some are closed in the off-season for maintenance). Hotels can also be found in Tangkou and Tunxi.

The hotels on top of the mountain are not all bunched together in the same area. Some are a few hours apart on foot. The same goes for scenic spots and mountain trails. It takes a bit of walking to go from one point to the other. Thus, your choice of accommodations will decide which scenic spots and mountain trails you can easily, or reasonably, reach.

China: Huangshan, Anhui
Situated on a ridge connecting Bright Summit Peak and Turtle Peak, Baiyun Hotel provides access to many of Huangshan scenic spots and mountain trails.

As can be imagined, room rates of hotels up here in Huangshan are on the expensive side. An en-suite twin or double room costs anywhere above 400 CNY, with some rooms reaching up to 700 CNY. There are only two or three hotels which have en-suite dorm accommodations. I myself booked a bed in a dorm at Baiyun Hotel and it cost me around 100 CNY a night. The room had six beds and it was a little cramped, but I would say it was sufficient. I was out most of the time anyway.

To find and book hotels near or within Huangshan, I used Ctrip.com, one of the most trusted travel booking sites in China. When booking a room, you will need to input a credit card, but you will not be charged for it. Instead, you will pay cash when you arrive at the hotel.


Treks in Huangshan, China

Day trippers coming from Tangkou or Tunxi have a full-day's trek through Huangshan Scenic Area if they want to make it down the mountain before dark. It can be very tiring and unnecessarily quick that you may not get to enjoy the place. That is why it is recommended to stay a night or two in a hotel up in the mountain. That way, too, you can cover many areas with some ease, taking it easy climbing up the mountain trails and taking lots of time snapping photos (and you will want to snap many photos). Wikitravel has maps of the entire park which you can access here.

China: Huangshan, Anui
Looking back on the trail leading to Bright Summit Peak (1,860 meters above sea level)

One of the best parts of staying at Baiyun Hotel was its location. We had easy access to many scenic spots taking only a few minutes to a little more than an hour to get there and back. From Baiyun Hotel, you can head south towards Turtle Peak. Here, you get magnificent views of Lotus Flower Peak, the highest point in Huangshan Scenic Area. Also from Baiyun Hotel, you can head north ascending towards Bright Summit Peak, or descending towards Xihai Grand Canyon. So many options!

Related Posts: A Wintry, Snowy Mountain Trek to Huangshan, Photos from Our Winter Mountain Trek to Huangshan

Lotus and Turtle Peaks, Huangshan, Anhui, China
Panoramic view from Bright Summit Peak. From left to right: Lotus Flower Peak, Turtle Peak, and Xihai Grand Canyon.


Food and Drink in Huangshan, China

Because supplies have to be hauled up in the mountain, food and drinks are naturally quite expensive. It can be double or triple the amount you pay in Tangkou or Tunxi. A bottle of milk tea or orange juice, for example, costs 4 CNY in Tunxi. At the grocery store attached to Baiyun Hotel, the same bottle cost 10 CNY.

Additionally, your dining options are often limited to the expensive meals served in your hotel's restaurant. I had the pleasure of traveling with a group of fellow Pinoy travel bloggers. This means, dinner was a little more affordable (just a little) on my part because I can share with members of the group. Still, for a meal which covered rice and three to four meat/veggie dishes, we paid about 50 CNY per person. Expect to pay more or less the same amount when dining alone. Just for scale, in Shanghai, 50 CNY would afford you two and a half meals.

China: Huangshan, Anhui
Eating at Baiyun Hotel's restaurant felt like eating at a wedding reception every single time, only you're paying, and it's not cheap.

Another option is eating at the few snacks stores and small grocery stores dotting some parts of the mountain trails. Fresh food comes in the form of spicy tofu soups, zong zi (rice dumpling), small hotdogs on a stick, hard-boiled eggs, corn on the cob, and fresh apples. Then, there's grocery store fare like packed biscuits and cookies, potato chips/crisps, or instant ramen. Personally, I would have been able to live on zong zi (15 CNY) and hotdogs (4 CNY).


How to Get out of Huangshan, China

From your hotel, you can walk to either Yungu or Yuping cable car station, or you can trek down the mountain, if you prefer that. From the cable car station at the foot of the mountain, you will easily find the ticket counter for the "required" bus ride back to the entrance gates in Tangkou. From here, you have the option of heading back to Tunxi, and then to Shanghai.

However, since you are already in the region, why not spend a night in one of the UNESCO World Heritage villages here? These ancient villages were constructed by the Huīzhōu Chinese, native in these parts. The Huizhou were particularly known for their architecture featuring white-washed walls accented by dark tiles, and inside, intricate wood carvings as furnishing. Huizhou villages here include Xīdì, Hóngcūn, Chéngkǎn, and Tángmó.

Hongcun, Anhui, China
Located about an hour from Tangkou is the quiet and laidback, if a bit touristy, ancient village of Hongcun.


Budget for Traveling to Huangshan, China

Covering three days, two nights, here is a sample budget for traveling to Huangshan, China.

Item Cost in CNY Cost in USD
Round-trip Bus from Shanghai to Tunxi 135 x 2 = 270 45
Round-trip Bus from Tunxi to Tangkou 16 x 2 = 32 6
Round-trip Bus from Tangkou to Yungu Cable Car Station 19 x 2 = 38 7
Round-trip Yungu Cable Car Ride (Off-season) 65 x 2 = 130 22
Entrance Ticket for Huangshan Scenic Area (Off-season) 150 25
Accommodation for Two Nights (Dorm Bed in Baiyun Hotel) 100 x 2 = 200 33
Food, Drinks, and Miscellaneous for Three Days, Two Nights 100 x 3 = 300 50
TOTAL 1,090 CNY 188 USD

This is more or less the budget I went with when I traveled to Huangshan, China. You can always, of course, add a few more kwai to your budget to give yourselve more allowance. If you're a true-blue budget traveler, you can always take out optional items like the cable car ride, or tighten your belt further by bringing your own food and water.

Related Posts: A Wintry, Snowy Mountain Trek to Huangshan, Photos from Our Winter Mountain Trek to Huangshan

There you have it. A simple guide to traveling to Huangshan, China. Hopefully, I have provided all necessary details to help future travelers experience this scenic mountain range, too, which, trust me, is going to be worth it.


Was this guide to traveling to Huangshan, China any helpful? How does it compare to your experience?


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