Monday, May 11, 2009

Huangshan with China Windey

A few weekends ago, I went to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) with my department from China Windey. I already went to Huangshan last September, but last time the views were not that clear and I figured it would be a good chance to go with my coworkers and get a different view of traveling in China. The biggest difference was that this time I would be going with a tour group, something that I previously avoided like the plague. Normally, tour groups are a little annoying to me when I've been traveling with a small group or alone. The tour groups are filled with gawking tourists wearing matching hats, clogging up walkways and blocking views, all while being led by a tour guide blabbering away on a small speakerphone creating a lot of noise in the tourist areas that might be better off with a sense of peace and respect for either the nature there or for the monuments of the past. When a bunch of groups get together in a small space, the noise and crowding reach critical mass and lead to an unpleasant experience. However, the tour groups are how the majority of Chinese people seem to travel, probably because they offer cheaper rates, similar to buying in bulk for a discount. The groups are just a fact of life in China and impossible to avoid. Soon, I would be joining their ranks. This trip would also be different from my first trip to Huangshan in that we would not stay the night at the top of the mountain, but instead we would go up and down in a single day. To do this, we had to stay the night in the city about one hour away from the mountain. We woke up really early to try to beat the crowds, but unfortunately a lot of other people had the same plan. Before when I went to Huangshan, we went during the week, so there weren't as many people there, but this time we went on the weekend and the crowds were huge. In order to see the mountain in a single day, we took the tram up to the top instead of hiking, but we still had to wait around one hour to take the tram because there were so many people. The good thing about this trip, though, was that the weather was perfect the day we went to the mountain, with the sky clear and temperature cool. However, I committed one of the most egregious errors I have ever done while traveling and forgot my camera battery in the charger at home. Since it's a special camera battery, I couldn't buy a replacement. So I only have a few pictures that my coworkers gave me from the trip. Too bad, but it was kind of nice to just sit back and enjoy the view without trying to take a bunch of pictures.
Wes at Huangshan with Tourist Hat
Despite the perfect chance to see great views, the tour group somewhat stifled our opportunity. Once we got to the top of the mountain, where some of the best views are, we only stayed about 15 minutes until the tour guide made us move on. I think we waited more time at one of the bathroom areas than at the top of the mountain, which I thought was pretty ridiculous. Since there were so many people at the top of the mountain, we didn't really get a chance to see everything that was there. That's another problem about going with a tour group. Even though you don't have to make the plans, reservations, or worry about the details of the trip, you can't control where you go, what you see, and how much time you spend at each site. I also like to do the research because then I tend to learn more about the place I'm going to and after the trip is over I'll remember more about the places I've been. Oh well, sometimes you just have to roll with it and enjoy the time. After our brief stay at the peak, we headed down the mountain and hiked the whole way down. All together, we were only on the mountain five or six hours and we finished by 2 pm. Lame. After our time at Huangshan, we did another one of the mandatory group tour activities, namely being herded around to several shops to buy tourist goods. The first place was a tea shop and they had a presentation and sampling of some of the local teas. Despite my initial reluctance to get sucked into any tourist trap and buy overpriced items, the prices for the tea were pretty good and I bought some of the red and green tea. I'm kind of a sucker for different kinds of tea and I always like to buy the local specialties when I'm traveling to new areas if the price is ok. During the presentation, they even made promises that if I combined the red tea 50/50 with beer, that it would get rid of my beer belly. Get rid of my beer belly by drinking beer? Now that sounds like a solution I can get on board with. The next place we went was basically a traditional medicine shop, except I suspect that this place sold mostly placebos. They had a poisonous snake in a cage and every hour for the presentations they rattle the snake's cage, pull it out, and smack it on the head so that it will shoot some venom into a cup of baiju, or the white/clear alcohol that is popular in China. They said that this combination was especially good for your health. They also claimed that the testicles of the snake had magical healing powers and when they displayed some during the presentation, there were more than a few people who rushed to the front to take a closer look. At one point, they even tried to sell some snake oil, but I remember the English phrase of "snake-oil salesman" and resisted buying anything at this shop. They even gave small massages with the snake-oil that produced a burning sensation, but that still did not persuade me. At the end of the day, we went to a historical street with a bunch of the typical tourist items for sell, such as scroll paintings, chopstick sets, tea accessories, and much more. The street itself was pretty cool with the old style building and street food vendors. The next day, we went to an ancient village nearby Huangshan called Hongcun. It is surrounded by a pool of water and is filled with small alleyways, buildings with elaborate interiors, and a lot of other interesting sites. Even though it was raining that day and it was pretty crowded, I thought the village was pretty cool.
Bridge and Water Around Village
Pond Inside Village
Old Buildings
Little Girl at Shop
Inside a Building
After the visit to the village, we headed back home. It was definitely an interesting experience going with the standard Chinese tour group to Huangshan, but I don't think I'll go with a tour group again any time soon. It's not really the sort of traveling that I like to do, although for some people it might work out. For those coming to China with limited time and no knowledge of the language, it could be a good option. Despite the hassle of the tour group, it was nice to spend some time outside of work with the people from my department and see Huangshan on a clear day. While I was pretty negative about the trip in this post, I was mostly just being sarcastic and I had a lot of fun hiking around, eating the meals, and seeing the tourist shops and presentations. Although I've already been to Huangshan twice, I might have to make one more trip to attempt to have a complete visit with good weather, a working camera, and plenty of time to see the sites. Hopefully, the third time will be the charm. While I don't have many pictures, I have posted those I have on picasa: