Getting to Huangshan
Disclaimer: This may be a bit boring but this is is the real face of travelling. We spend more time getting from A to B than we spend in the destinations and it takes far more effort. So here is a (not so short) account of getting from Hangzhou to Huangshan.
We had bought bus tickets from Hangzhou to the town of Tunxi the day before. We usually avoid buses because bus stations are always located on the edge of Chinese cities which is usually miles away from the centre. Bus stations are rarely (if ever) connected by metro to the centre, so that means either finding a local bus or getting a taxi. To get a local bus usually requires a lot of research to get the bus number, fare, where to get on and how many stops till we get off. So few people speak English we can’t rely on been given information at the station. Bus stations (well any station really) are the hunting grounds for touts! They are very aggressive sellers and they always have what you want; a bus ticket or a taxi. And it always ends up been a huge ripoff with fares many times the correct price and journeys which can take forever for any number of convoluted reasons. Tunxi could be reached by train but it was a long and very indirect journey and none of the times were great. The bus was cheap 90 RMB each and direct, 3 hours. But the clincher in this deal was the fact that a hostel had been opened a few hundred metres from the bus station. And we needed a bus to get us from Tunxi to the foot of the mountain. The pros outweighed the cons on this bus journey.
The bus was at 9:40am and it was about 30 minutes by taxi. We left the hostel at 8:45am to catch a taxi. Standing by the main road every taxi that passed us was occupied. Very few taxis were coming down the smaller street and those that did were always occupied too. After 10 minutes we decided to go to the other side of the pedestrian zone and try and catch a taxi on restaurant street. As we approached a few empty taxis passed, this was promising. Then nothing. We stood there is disbelief. Where are all the taxis? A taxi turned onto the street. Yay! Then it was hailed by someone standing 30m along the road from us. Argh! Then another taxi turned in. I ran to get it but it was hailed by a guy on the opposite side of the street. It was now almost 9:10am and we weren’t sure we’d be in time. Annemarie was walking down the street towards the main road and she saw an empty taxi in the middle of a 3 lane road, stopped at a red light. She hailed it and we ran into the road and jumped up. The driver either sensed our urgency or always drove like a nutter but he made good time and we pulled up at the station at 9:37am. The taxi had put the meter on without having to be told and even though Annemarie tried to just give him the change, he refused and ensured we had the correct change and a receipt of the journey. Our faith in Asian taxi drivers went up a notch. Hangzhou taxis are the most regulated in China.
We ran into the bus station, ran around like headless chickens and gave our tickets to the first person we saw wearing a uniform. She pointed which gate to go through. We ran to the gate and got on the coach. It left a few minutes later. The coach was pretty nice, very modern and comfortable and clean and the driver had told everyone to fasten their seat belts. The only worry was just how often and intensely the driver was yawning. Every 30 seconds and mouth wide open. Let’s hope the road isn’t boring!
As we drove it started to rain. We’d looked at the weather forecast and it predicted heavy rain Tuesday, sunny Wednesday and Thursday then rain again on Friday. Today was Tuesday, a travelling day. Tomorrow we’d climb the mountain and spend the night there and come down on Thursday. Then Friday we’d travel to our next destination. Isn’t it great when the weather works out right?
At Tunxi we got off the bus and were greeted by many taxi drivers. Saying no doesn’t work with these people. Maybe their brains are just full of street names and the best routes through town. Maybe not… But when one finally gives up another will immediately try. They shout and follow us and usually won’t go away. Finally we were near the road and it was peaceful again. Well, as peaceful as it can be besides a 4 lane road. The hostel description was accurate, and with only a few minutes of walking we were there. This was very good because the humidity was awful. If the humidity had been any higher I’m sure the air would have just turned to water!
The hostel was more like a hotel. Albeit an aged hotel decorated in the 90s. It smelt of stale smoke but we had a huge bed in a huge room. All carpeted and lots of dark wood furniture. For £11 a night it’s not bad. We ate lunch downstairs. The food was fine but the air con wasn’t on and we were sweating just sitting still.
In China the rail network is incredibly busy. It’s very risky (and usually impossible on the popular routes) to buy tickets on the day of travel. All train tickets have to be bought in advance! We wanted to get the overnight train from Tunxi to Suzhou on the Thursday evening, after walking down the mountain. The hostel could book us tickets for a fee but they couldn’t reserve specific bunks. In hard sleeper on Chinese trains the bunks are three high in rows of two. We usually pick the two middle bunks (the bottom can be shared by people from the higher bunks and the top have a lot less height). The train station was easy to get to, just follow the road, no need to even cross. It had started to rain so we huddled under the umbrella and set off. The humidity was probably off the scale and even walking slowly left us feeling like we’d got dressed immediately after taking a shower and not drying with a towel first.
We reached the train station and bought the tickets. Next to the station was a reasonable sized shop selling drinks, snacks and lots of other food. We estimated how much water we’d need to climb a mountain in this heat and bought 4×1.5L bottles of water. Carrying these back to the hostel was painful, as well as hot!
Because the hostel was on the edge of the city there was nothing nearby. No shops, no restaurants, absolutely nothing! So we ate in the hostel again.
The next morning we went to the bus station and found the bus to Huangshan. It was 20 RMB each and took about 40 minutes. It dropped us off in front of a shop on a road on the edge of town. No signs, no information, no guidance. We followed a few others down the road. After a few minutes there was a large concrete area, possibly a bus station. We asked another Chinese couple (a young couple who spoke . English) and they said they thought this was the ticket office for the shuttle bus to the entrance of the mountain. We bought a ticket with their help. Then we stood around for 15 minutes waiting. Finally a bus came, we went to get on but the attendant looked at our tickets and shook her head. This bus must go to the other entrance. Luckily another bus came a few minutes later and we could get on, but it was almost full. We don’t know where all these people came from or how they got on the shuttle bus before us. Obviously there’s another station before this one but we don’t know how to get there. The bus was driven by a true psycho! The mountain road wound up the hill through 180° corners and the bus driver never touched the brakes before each corner. He threw the bus into the hairpins and everyone almost fell out of their seats each time! We had to hold just to stay in the seat. The shouting of the passengers seemed to spur him on and the bus somehow made it around each corner. Only once was a bus coming on the other direction and we had to do an emergency stop to avoid a head on collision.