Imagine this… you know that while you will be visiting China, all 1.3 billion inhabitants will be going on vacation for one week. What do you do? Do you pick a nice hostel in a large city and wait for the holiday to end, assuming that people will be more likely to leave the big cities and venture out in to the countryside for their vacation? Or do you escape to a rural getaway knowing that any festivities drawing large crowds are likely to take place in a metropolis such as Shanghai or Beijing?
There is no correct answer. Either way you’re screwed. However, in our ignorance, Jamie and I were confident that option B) was the better choice and so planned on heading to Huangshan Mountain for a relaxing hike and an escape from the big cities. It soon became apparent that this may not have been the wisest path, as tickets from Shanghai Railway Station to Huangshan City were all completely booked. However, there were still bus tickets available to trek from Shanghai Long Distance Bus Station to Huangshan Mountain. Perfect! But wait, our hostel said that it was located in Tang Kou, Huangshan. So would we have to hop in a taxi to our hostel in Tang Kou from Huangshan Mountain? We had read that you can stay in various hotels located on the mountain, so surely the bus to Huangshan Mountain would take you directly to these hotels. But hold on, we had also seen places to stay on hostelworld located in Tunxi, Huangshan. So what the hell is the difference between Tunxi, Tang Kou, and Huangshan Mountain? If your hostel is located in Tang Kou, would you have to taxi from the bus station at Huangshan Mountain to your hostel? How far away is Tang Kou from Huangshan Mountain bus station? Would there be taxis readily available if we needed? I posed all of these questions to the concierge at our hostel in Shanghai, and although they were native Chinese, they had no more idea about how this whole Huangshan thing worked than I did.
This is where our friend David comes in to play. David works in Shanghai and is originally from the town of Tang Kou, located at the base of Huangshan Mountain. He just so happened to be on the same bus as us from Shanghai to Huangshan Mountain, and that might just be the luckiest thing that has happened to Jamie or I in all of our travels.
The first stop that the bus made was at Huangshan City. Everyone piles off the bus, leading us to believe that this must be the end of the line. It is now up to us to flag down a taxi and negotiate a reasonable price for transport to our hostel. As Jamie and I head down the corridor of the bus station toward the exit, when suddenly we hear a desperate “EXCUSE ME!” from behind. We turn around and a nicely dressed Chinese man, roughly the same age as Jamie and I, is running after us. “Are you going to Huangshan City or Huangshan Mountain?” We think about it for a few seconds and reply, “Honestly, we have no idea. Our bus ticket was booked to take us to Huangshan Mountain, but we have this map of where our hostel is located.” We proceeded to show this man the map that the hostel had provided us. “Ah,” says the man. “That is in Huangshan Mountain. You need to wait with the rest of us. This is Huangshan City, and you want to go to Huangshan Mountain. Another bus should be coming along shortly to pick us up.” If it wasn’t for this, we would have hopped in to a cab for an hour long ride from Huangshan City to Huangshan Mountain, wasting a good amount of cash in the process. We learned that the man who had flagged us down, David, was from Huangshan Mountain, which he informed us is also known as Tang Kou. Therefore, you can walk from Huangshan Mountain bus station to Tang Kou, as it’s located directly in Tang Kou. This is not to be confused with the hotels that you can stay in that are located AT THE TOP of the mountain (including a Best Western). The only way to get to the hotels at the top is to hike the mountain. There is no railway or bus station that will take you there, but there is a cable car (which closes at 4:30pm). Furthermore, the bus will take you to Tang Kou, whereas the train will take you to Huangshan City, also known as Tunxi. Both Tunxi and Tang Kou are located in Huangshan district. Sound confusing? That’s because it is. Painfully so.
Now, to give you a bit more background on this newfound savior of ours, David is the kind of friend that everyone wants, the kind of son every parent hopes for, and the kind of employee that every boss dreams of. When we boarded the second bus to Tang Kou, David proceeded to look through our Lonely Planet book and translate the entire section on Huangshan Mountain in to Chinese characters (on a hand drawn map that he created), so that when on our hike we could locate how far along the path we had gone as the signs at the mountain were only in mandarin. Furthermore, he offered to walk us to our hostel in Tang Kou since he knew the area so well. We were thrilled, as we had no idea where the hell we were going.
When we arrived at our hostel, we were treated to the wonderful news that the owner had given our room away, as we did not arrive by 11:00am. Apparently, this is a policy that the hostel has put in place but is frequently overlooked by those who book via hostelworld. In fact, there was a large group of westerners in the lobby (which looked more like a conjugal visit room than anything else) who were in the same situation as us. The hostel is called Mr. Hu Hotel. Unless you plan on arriving prior to 11:00am, an impossibility if traveling from a spot such as Shanghai (it’s about a 4-5 hour bus ride), do not book a room at this hostel.
Well, as this was National Week and Huangshan Mountain just so happens to be one of the most popular tourist attractions (among Chinese tourists) in the country, every hotel and hostel was completely booked. This is when David stepped up to the plate and offered a room in his parents house for us to stay. We literally would have been out on the street if it was not for this offer. We took him up on it and didn’t look back.
When we arrived at his parents house, his mom had cooked up easily the most delicious (and healthy) meal that Jamie and I have had since arriving in China. His mom was a very sweet woman, constantly insisting that we eat as much as possible so as to avoid waste, and also expressing her intrigue in our larger than life backpacks that we carried in to her abode. After dinner, David helped us to arrange a hostel in Huangshan City (Tunxi) for the Friday, as we had a train to catch from this location to Guilin that left early in the morning. He also drafted up a note that we could give the the attendants on the train that basically said something along the lines of, “I am from Canada and my partner and I are traveling in China. I do not know Mandarin, so if you could please let me know when I have reached Guilin, I would very much apprecite it.” Exhausted, Jamie and I passed out from a long day of stress and travelling in preparation for our hiking Huangshan Mountain the next day.
Around 6am, I heard a knock on the door. “Kyle?” I walked to the door, still half asleep and likely showing a bit too much morning wood to be considered polite in any culture. “Kyle, I know that you wanted to get up at 7am to hike the mountain, but there are too many people waiting in line for the buses, you’ll never make it. C’mon, get dressed, eat, and then let’s go!” Jamie and I quickly put on the nearest clothes we could find and stumbled out in to the living room. David’s mom had put together a hearty breakfast for us, including fried eggs, steamed pork buns, and many other traditional Chinese breakfast delicacies. It kept us going right up until dinner, and was quite possibly the most nourishing breakfast I’ve ever eaten.
“Ok, let’s go!” David whisked us out the door and toward the bus station where we were to catch a shuttle to the Huangshan Mountain gondola. Thousands of people were lined up to hop on one of the many local buses, and at the front of the line we noticed that a gate was being opened, which had been blocking the front of the line from actually getting on the buses. As the gate was opened, a literal flood of people raced toward the buses, not dissimilar from the spectators who rush the 18th green at the British Open. Needless to say, the two of us were a bit overwhelmed. Taking notice of this, David tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Follow me.” He spoke in mandarin to more than a few people, and before we knew it we had been propelled from the back of the line to mere steps away from boarding the bus. In two minutes, David saved us two hours of waiting.
Later that night, David picked us up after we had finished hiking a portion of the mountain trail (we could only hike about 1/50 of the entire path due to the crowds) and lead us back to his parents place. His mom had made another spectacular meal and David introduced us to Chinese Rice Wine. Made with traditional Chinese herbal medicines, this drink was delicious and flammable. I believe he said the alcohol volume was about 65%, so one glass will pretty much get you. And it got me. This rice wine made the beer that I picked up for David – as a thank you for letting us stay with him – taste like kool-aide.
The next morning, David flagged down a local taxi heading to Huangshan City for Jamie and I, negotiated with the driver and got as a pretty good deal at 20 RMB per person for the ride. We said our goodbyes, and that was that. We made sure that David knew if he (or his mom) was ever to visit Canada, he could stay with us for as long as he wants. To be honest, I don’t know if there was anything we could have said or done to express just how grateful we were.
A genuinely nice guy, David had stated to us that he often does this for Chinese nationals visiting Huangshan when he comes back to visit his family, as we wants to ensure that anyone seeing his home town for the first time enjoys themselves. Well David, thanks to you, we did. Meeting this guy was easily one of the highlights of our trip so far and just goes to show how friendly and hospitable the people in China can be.