Huangshan or ‘Yellow Mountain’ is located in Anhui province in eastern China. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mountain is famous for its sky-reaching granite peaks and rich biodiversity. Artists throughout China’s history have taken inspiration from Huangshan’s dominance and energy, featuring in many Chinese paintings and prints.
I found Huangshan to be the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of ‘nearby’ Shanghai and the perfect end to my China tour.
I purchased a return plane ticket from Shanghai to Tunxi, which is near to Huangshan, and a popular choice for many tourists looking to explore the wider area. The flight takes 1 hour and you can also get there by bus, which takes 5 hours from Shanghai. Tunxi is also accessible by air from many other cities in China.
Having previously explored Tunxi the day before, I was keen to climb Huangshan. My hostel arranged for an early morning bus to take me to Tangkou, which is located at the foot of the mountain. I was fortunate to make friends on the bus with two other travellers from Northern Ireland and the United States. We stayed together for most of our time on Huangshan and it was nice to share our experiences as we were all travelling solo.
On arrival in Tangkou, I recommend stocking up on essentials such as water and food in the nearby shops. Whilst amenities are available on the summit, prices are more expensive.
The summit is accessible via two walking routes (Eastern Steps and Western Steps) and via cable car. In my opinion, one cannot fully appreciate the size and height of Huangshan without first ascending by foot.
Most tourists stay for a day or two, so pack lightly and only take what you need. Your hotel or hostel in Tunxi will be more than happy to look after your main luggage whilst you take on Huangshan. Of course, one could also use the cable cars, but that’s too easy!
Of the two walking routes, I recommend taking the Eastern Steps (7.5km) to ascend and perhaps the more challenging Western Steps (15km) on the way down. Despite the paths being very accessible and in good condition, one mustn’t underestimate the willpower and strength needed to reach the summit. Indeed, one must march through hell in order to reach heaven.
… one must march through hell in order to reach heaven.
As you climb via the Eastern Steps, you will pass many other tourists clambering up and down the path. You will also encounter workers that are skillfully balancing supplies on their shoulders for the hotels and shops aloft. These men were incredibly fit and had calf muscles the size of rugby balls! Be courteous and don’t push through; every so often an overtaking opportunity will appear or they will let you pass.
After a couple of hours, you will reach the summit. Spend as long as you like exploring the many pathways and precariously perched bridges – time ceases to exist on the mountain. The vistas are truly breathtaking. Rolling clouds and oddly shaped granite peaks create an atmospheric and mystical environment. It is easy to forget that you are in China and not some fantasy world such as Pandora or Rivendell.
As you explore the many peaks, you will find amusement in some of the signposts and their almost poetic and literal Chinese to English translations. Some of my favourites were: “The mountain is inspecting your behaviour while you are appreciating its beauty.” (see image below); “Fish bring us fun. Please don’t feed them.”; “Don’t disturb the bird who is singing on your way.”; “Look out for your step while looking about for your admiration.”; “With safety in mind, you have the views in eyes.”; “Stop climbing the cliff.”. You will also encounter some local inhabitants – monkeys, which despite the popularity of the mountain with tourists, are very wary of humans.
If you are staying on the summit for just the day, I recommend taking the Western Steps back down or if you are exhausted or short on time, take the cable car. As alluded to earlier, many tourists choose to stay on the summit for at least one night. There are several hotels to choose from with varying grandeur, prices, and room types; including dorms. Prices are more expensive than what you would like to pay, but that’s just down to the location. Prices vary throughout the year and it is best to book in advance if possible.
If you do choose to sleep on the summit, try and see sunset and sunrise at one of the many vantage points. Unfortunately, this idea is also popular with other tourists and as a result, the crowds may somewhat ruin your detachment from the world and moment of serenity.
I decided to take the Western Steps down and I found the route to be very forgiving and not as difficult had I perhaps decided to go up this way instead. One of the benefits of taking the Western Steps downhill is that it gives you the opportunity to appreciate some really spectacular vistas and rock formations. Once back at ground level, I boarded one of the regular buses back to Tunxi.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Huangshan and will treasure my experience and the people that I met along the way. If you have some flexibility with your visit, I recommend checking the mountain weather forecast before ascending. Too much cloud cover at the summit can mar your experience and you’ll miss out on some spectacular vistas. This said, the weather does change frequently so hopefully you won’t have to wait too long!
Check out the YouTube video below that I made on Huangshan following my return to the UK.