Monday, August 24, 2009

Aaron's Visit Part 2 - Yellow Mountain (Huangshan)

The second weekend of Aaron's visit, we decided to do a trip to Yellow Mountain. This was my third trip to Yellow Mountain, but before neither trip had fully lived up to the reputation because of rain or a poorly executed tour group visit. I won't go into as much detail about the trip since I've already written about Yellow Mountain quite a lot, but I'll post some pictures since this time the weather was perfect and everything worked out pretty well.
We left Hangzhou on Saturday morning and took the bus to the little city Tangkou, which is right next to Yellow Mountain. The best part of going to the mountains is that we were able to escape the terrible heat and humidity of Hangzhou. Even though it was still a bit hot hiking around, it felt really great to have some fresh air and less heat.
When we arrived in Tangkou, we were confronted with the normal hawkers selling hotel rooms, tours, etc. However, one of the guys spoke English quite well and we ended up talking to him. His name was Mr. Hu and had a restaurant and hotel that caters to foreigners. He runs quite a racket and seemed to have connections with all the other shops in town. He would just direct foreigners to go to the shops of his friends to buy tea, souvenirs, massages, etc. and I'm sure he got a cut of the business. To build trust, he showed us a book with a bunch of comments from previous people who had stayed with him and also mentioned he was in the Lonely Planet guidebook. He definitely knows how to work the business, because mostly when traveling you just assume those hawkers are out to pull some kind of scam. He helped us book our bus back to Hangzhou for the next day and we promised to eat at his restaurant after hiking the mountain.
After talking with Mr. Hu, we headed up to the entrance gate of the mountain and started our hike up. As I had done before, we hiked up the eastern steps, since it is a little bit shorter to go up. If you hike up the eastern steps and then back down the western side, you can see most of the main sites of the area and limit the amount of strenuous hiking you need to do.
A Very Chinese Red Banner at Entrance: "Ceremoniously Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Comrade Deng Xiaoping's Remarks in Huangshan"
The hike up is pretty tiring since it is straight up the entire time. It's just one long set of stairs after another. If you hike steady you can climb to the top in less than three hours, so it's not that long, but still tiring. Even though it wasn't that hot, both of us were sweating a lot by the time we made it to the top.
View of The Peaks on the Eastern side
These Guys are a Little Sweaty
After making it to the top, we still had about an hour before the sun went down. We had these bowls of instant noodles, but the store at the top tried to charge us for hot water. Some nice Chinese guys saw that the store turned us away and invited us into their hotel, where they boiled some water for us and gave us some other Chinese snacks. I thought it was very nice of them to do that on their own without us even knowing them or asking for their help.
Since the last two times I went to Yellow Mountain it was rainy or we weren't at the peak at the night or morning, I hadn't yet seen the sunset or sunrise, which is the most famous part of Yellow Mountain. Luckily, this time the weather was perfect and the skies were clear enough to give us some great views. I think between Aaron and I we must have taken a hundred pictures because it was so beautiful. After compressing the pictures and then uploading them to the blog, the crispness and colors have kind of faded, so it's hard to show how beautiful it really was to see it in person.
Sun Going Down Behind the Cloud
Sunset with Yellow Mountain Peaks
Sunset with Peaks and Blue Sky
Sunset Closeup
Right Before Sun Goes Below Horizon
Sea of Clouds and Color After Sunset
After seeing the sunset, we went and checked into our hotel. We had booked two beds in one of the dorm rooms with six or eight beds in one room. When they first took us to a room, it seemed very crowded and chaotic, but luckily it seemed they overbooked and they took us to a lot more quiet area of the hotel and gave us a new room by ourselves. There were five beds in the room, but luckily no one else checked in that night. There were still plenty of Chinese dudes standing around in the hall smoking, checking their cell phones with annoying ringtones at full volume, and hacking their throats. So we still got the authentic Chinese experience, but had our bubble of privacy in the room.
The next morning we had to wake up around 4 am so that we could catch the sunrise. It wasn't supposed to happen until 5 am or so, but we had to get up, get ready, check out of the hotel room, and hike for about 30 minutes to the "Bright Summit" where we could have the best view. Unfortunately, even though we arrived early, there were mobs of people around with limited space to see. Aaron was tall enough to get his arms above the crowd and take some pictures as the sun was coming above the horizon, so at least we got to see it through that. Also, most of the people were content to see the sunrise for a minute or two, take a couple pictures, then move away from the viewing area, so after it cleared out a bit we were able to see the view as the sun was still coming up.
Crowd at Bright Summit
Sky Before the Sunrise
Sun Coming Above the Horizon
Sun Above Horizon
Sun Rise Closeup
After finally seeing the sunset and sunrise, I think all the hype around Yellow Mountain is justified. If you can catch it in person, it's worth dealing with the crowds of people and expensive entrance fee and hotel prices. During both the sunset and sunrise, there are certain times where it is hard to tell where the sky ends and the earth begins, with bands of red and orange blending it all together. It's really amazing to see in person and I'm happy that I was finally able to see it. I guess the third time is the charm for me.
Aaron and Sunrise
Wes and Sunrise
Wes and Mountains Near Bright Summit
Building at Bright Summit
After spending some more time at the Bright Summit, we started hiking our way down the mountain. There are a lot of great views on the hike down from the western side. Since I've already described this before, I'll just post some of my favorite pictures from this trip down.
View of Mountains and Valley
Wes and Aaron with Celestial Peak
Wes and Celestial Peak
Mattress Rock
Long Stairway to Celestial Peak
Mandatory Picture of Guys Carrying Packages
Western Steps Entrance
After hiking down, we got some lunch at Mr. Hu's restaurant as promised and also had enough time for a foot massage before taking the bus back to Hangzhou. This trip to Yellow Mountain really turned out great. It was great to have Aaron visit and hopefully the last two posts will convince more people to come visit, with the lure of eating strange foods and seeing nice sunrises.
Here are some more pictures from Yellow Mountain: