I looked around, not sure what the plan was from here. I saw one road sign in both Chinese and English exhibiting the words "scenic access". Based on my extensive research before the trip, I knew I needed to take a scenic bus shuttle to the entrance of Huangshan mountain, so I surrendered to the conclusion that I must be in the right area.
The two girls gathered their belongings and seemed content on the whole arrangement as they made their way up the road to the gate entrance. I unfortunately did not have it so easy. I somehow needed to convey to the driver I first needed to get to my hotel "Pineridge Lodge" to drop off my main luggage before heading up the mountain with my day pack for the night. It took him a few moments to conceive my plans, but once he finally came around, he requested the hotel phone number as he needed the directions. I eagerly gave it to him...anything to help me along here.
He looked confused as he sat there waiting for someone to answer. He looked at me bewildered after concluding the very short conversion with what I could only assume was the owner of the hotel. Closed!
NOTE: I should mention at this time that several days earlier, I received an email from booking.com stating they could not complete my reservation for unforeseen reasons. There were two things going through my head at this point...one, he was lying, so he did not have to drive around so much, or two, he was telling the truth, resulting in booking.com not being able to complete the transaction based on the place being closed. Like so many other times throughout this trip, I was forced to put my full trust into this complete stranger. I agreed to follow him to a hotel literally 1 block from the gate entrance. If I was being swindled into something, at least this so called "friends hotel" was in a convenient location.
We walked into the hostel like hotel and were met by a young lady. Oddly enough, she had this honest look to her that instantly eased my skeptical nature. Her antiquated thick worn-out wool sweater, buck teeth under-bite, and frizzy hair in a bun, added to her trusting demeanor. In less then 20 minutes, I was able to book the following night for 120 yuen (cheap), and also book the bus to Nanjing two days from now for 110 yuen (just like my book had said). This was all facilitated by the cab driver as he was the only one who knew a lick of English as the lady behind the desk knew zip!
My complete faith in the cab driver and hotel lady was now officially solidified as I handed over my suitcase to her to store in the back for the night while I departed to hike the neighboring mountain. I grabbed my backpack, ready to hunt out the ticket booth for the scenic bus shuttle, but to my pleasant surprise, my driver was not done helping me get to where I needed! He escorted me all the way to a ticket counter, talked to the lady behind the window who again knew zero English, bridging the communication gap I would of struggled with. Once all was concluded with ticket in hand, I shook the drivers hand, thanked him in Chinese (shey shey), and jumped into the bus at 8am, all while wishing I could of properly shown him my appreciation. He was another random stranger going out of his way to help a foreign traveler…with no hands out for a tip…so refreshing!
|The line up into Tangkou bus station for the scenic shuttle. Notice the matching tour hats|
The short 15 minute shuttle bus ride cost 17 yuen, and was packed full of local Chinese tourist groups…each flaunting their matching tour hats which categorized each into their respective group. On the ride up, many were comparing their selfie poles, while others were comparing their $1000-$3000 camera lenses. I was equipped with a cheap waterproof Nikon camera, but I guess I never was a hardcore photographer.
|Once again, I found myself on a bus, not really sure on its destination. Not the most flattering picture I must say|
The conditions were not ideal. Not only was it hot (maybe 20C), but the humidity was unexpected, and I began to sweat like a dog (yes I know dogs don't sweat), but kept my demeanor relaxed while I followed the two girls pace. It was quicker then expected, but not long after, it slowed quite considerably. I was well prepared with my micro fiber t-shirt, breathable pants, breathable back pack, and light weight running shoes. On the contrary, everyone around me, including the two girls, dressed in anything from jeans, to slippers, to even high heels. It was to the point of laugh out loud funny. Leather pants and designer dresses were also observed on the trail.
|This is how the hotel receives all its supplies...hence the cost|
It wasn't even an hour before my companions stared to look worst for the wear. The humidity stared to catch up with everyone…even me. The girls began to take short breaks, followed by longer breaks, followed by sit down resting. I was recuperating quite quickly, and started to get a bit anxious. I decided at this point, it was time to wave goodbye to my new friends, slip on the headphones, and power my way up.
|The never-ending stairs|
|The much needed cucumber and Red Bull|
|They were all making fun of me, but apparently they did not want me to take pictures|
Xihai Hotel exceeded my expectations as I approached the grand lit up marble check-in counter. The lady was well versed in English which made the whole process that much more easier. I was informed I was a bit early as my room still needed to be cleaned, but they would do everything in their power to get me in sooner then later. I was completely cooperative knowing it was my fault for expecting a room at such an early time when normal check in is around 4pm. I waited in the fancy waiting room looking out to the extremely foggy views just outside the hotel. I was a bit disappointed to see the confining clouds dwarf all the potential views, and really hoped all the planning previously done to this point was not all in vain.
|Xihai Hotel...exceeded expectations|
I don't think 10 minutes passed before I was notified my room was ready. I made my way up to the upgraded mountain view suite located in the new wing, and was relieved upon entering. I was quite worried the $200 it cost me to stay on the mountain would be predictably bad as some have expressed on Trip Advisor, but this was NOT the case. The room was large and clean. The rain fall shower faucet and weigh scale I was accustomed to seeing in all previous hotels was welcomed, as were the 3-4 English TV channels. I think the most welcomed bonus I found in the room was the heated towel rack. This allowed me to rinse and hang my stinky sweaty shirt to dry while I switched over to something a bit more comfortable. I laid down for 20 minutes watching the first English channel I've seen in what felt like a decade, only to have a nagging guilty feeling build up in my subconscious. I knew I was here to hike, and hike I must. I peeled my weary body up off the bed and headed out to hike the quieter, yet much rewarding, West Grand Canyon.
|My room, worth every penny|
|Stuck in the clouds for the majority of the first day|
|This is what I was looking for!|
|Now and then, the mountains would appear out of no where|
|This picture shows the ingenuity on constructing this trail|
|My pictures just could not capture the feel that was present in this mountain range|
|lots of love locks on railings|
|A rare view without clouds|
|Sure, lets put the trail here|
|My Huangshan beer to finish off the day|
|Sunrise...my camera is crap!|
Morning came early…real early. The sunrise was apparently a highlight in these parts and was not to be missed. The resulting consequence was for me to hit the trail by 6am. I headed east of the hotel out to the numerous, much talked about, sunrise points. Many of the brave souls up to witness the sunrise with me conceded to the lower points at risk of over exerting themselves. I of course wanted the best view possible, so I hiked all the way to "Lion Peak" and "Stone Monkey Gazing Over Sea" point…the highest I could find. I plopped in my head phones and listened to the first song that came on…Chandelier by Sia. It really resonated with the intensity that was happening all around me. As the sun made its way up, I peered down into the valley at the clouds blowing through at an elevated speed, while also noticing the several other view points poking out along the forest canopy. It was a surreal feeling that is really hard for me to put into words. I never really got the absolute perfect picture, but the atmosphere at that time was worth the effort it took to get out of bed.
|I really like this picture. I would stand waiting for the clouds to break, while the entire time not knowing there was a peak there|
|That rock sitting on top of the ridge...thats "Stone Monkey Gazing over Sea"|
I left wanting more.
|On my way down...not cheap, but a great new vantage point|
My room was cheap…and deservingly so. It was dirty…so dirty to the point I never took my shoes off until I was officially in bed. The floor was discussing, hair, stains, and cigarette burns littering the entire room. Uncharacteristically, I took this in stride, took a deep breath, and headed out to see what this fine town could offer me….well, it appeared it wasn't much lol.
I walked with my headphones in, looking lost, having no where in particular to go. I got lots of curious looks from the many local shops. The temperature was abnormally hotter then normal, and I felt my head burning. I decided to head into the largest fast food chain in the town…KFC.
The loud bustling restaurant was packed full of affluent teenage students indulging on greasy chicken. I tried not to stir up too much attention, which was pretty much impossible. I grabbed a weird looking chicken/shrimp sandwich and retreated to my chair to have some "me" time (I'm joking). I sat back, not really having anywhere to go, when unexpectedly, I again recognized two familiar faces looking for a table. Shockingly, it was the two girls I met earlier. They had met a guy from Taiwan on the mountain who was very outgoing, knowing a tad more English then the other two. He was immediately curious on every aspect about me. Questions rained down on me as I tried to keep up with his inquisitive nature. He then looked through my camera while the 2 girls giggled to themselves, something I had become accustomed to. He informed me the two girls were just finishing up in University, taking a Community degree…something I was unfamiliar with. Still going through my camera, the picture with my mountain top hotel room intrigued him. He was in shock learning it was my accommodations for the night. He then asked "Did you win a lottery?" I embarrassingly tried to explain to him why I stayed there with no success. Not quite satisfied with my answer, he continued to shuffle through my pictures, concluding with a concerned look on his face. In a somber voice, he stated the obvious observation... "You have all these pictures of you by yourself". I said "yeah, I'm traveling solo". He looked at me with a depressed look and without hesitation said "You must be so lonely". I laughed not able to catch myself on his sincerity. I reassured him I was fine and I took the camera back.
The tone was immediately changed when he spoke to the girls in Chinese for a few minutes, paused, and with a guilty look on his face asked "Do you like Chinese girls". Now…I am not the smoothest guy by any means, so instead of saying the obvious response "Of course", I preceded by saying "I like all girls in this world". I am such a moron!
We concluded our conversation, and after a brief farewell, we went our separate ways.
I was still bored, which forced me to continue walking randomly around town till the sun disappeared. I took this opportunity to head to bed for another early night. I was ready to take on tomorrows excursion (or so I thought!)...first by bus to Nanjing, and then from there by bullet train to Beijing…
WATCH MY SHORT VIDEO:)…its a bit lame, I know