When I started planning our trip to China I knew the last two cities we visited were all about getting back to nature, but I honestly didn’t expect them to be quite as beautiful as they were.
After being in busy Beijing we headed to Hangzhou, to the south. The purpose of coming was to explore the West Lake, a massive expanse of water surrounded by causeways, pagodas, temples and bridges just begging to be explored on foot or on bike. We booked into our very budget accommodation, went to sleep and woke up the next morning ready to get amongst it.
The only problem was, we took a wrong turn. Instead of turning right outside our hotel, we turned left, because we ‘sensed’ there would be more to eat toward the left. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. We walked for hours trying to find somewhere to get something to eat and kept coming up short. Either the place was closed, we couldn’t read the menu or it was a meat-fest (I’m vegetarian). This is the sad story of how we came to be in a line, waiting for a table at Pizza Hut, next to a Walmart in the middle of China.
Later that afternoon we found ourselves in the place we should have ended up, had we turned right outside the hotel. It was so close to the hotel and had everything we’d been looking for. Coffee shops, corner stores, dumplings, restaurants…. everything. We grabbed a coffee and nabbed up a spot along the Lake. It was magical.
The area has, apparently, inspired poets and artists for thousands of years and it’s easy to see why. After being in so many busy places and big cities and leaving little pieces of myself everywhere, it was really nice to take some time to sit and just be still. The beautiful blue-green water, boats lazily gliding past, mountains in the background and huge trees lining the water… it was perfect. So serene.
The next day we hired an electric bike and doubled on it, with Matt whizzing me around, through and in the West Lake’s pathways. If people had been staring at us before, we were causing an absolute spectacle on the bike. My big blonde mop of hair and Matt’s shaved head were the centre of attention for most of the day, making us both feel even more awkward than usual.
Our time in Hangzhou passed really quickly and before we knew it was time to get on the bus to Huangshan. I was a little worried, totally unsure of what it could be. Turns out it was the best bus ride in the history of bus rides. Allocated seating, heaps of space and a great bus driver. We arrived in the little town of Tunxi 2 1/2 hours later, ready to hit the streets.
Matt had chosen our hotel, an absolutely incredible place straight out of a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was tucked down a backstreet and opened up into a beautiful open-air courtyard filled with trees. A big chocolate labrador was running around and antique furniture sat throughout. A tiny winding staircase took us up to our room, filled with more antiques. It’s hard to describe the place, but it’s safe to say it is one of the coolest places I have ever stayed.
We explored Tunxi’s famous Old Streets, a myriad of winding alley-ways and shop fronts that have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, dating back to China’s famed dynasties. The Old Street has that ‘touristy’ vibe to it, but it’s a tourist scene that’s aimed at Chinese tourists, so for us it was still completely novel.
The next day we were back on the road and up to Huangshan. Everyone had warned us that the weather was bad and it would be no good, but you can’t come all the way to China, make it all the way to Tunxi and not drive the extra 45 minutes to see the famous Yellow Mountain. So, we did.
Our hotel was one of the cheaper ones of our stay and yet, was one of the better ones! I think it was around USD$140 for 3 nights, a hotel room which would easily cost you AUD$150 per night in Brisbane. We were up bright and early the following day, wolfing down congee for breakfast before catching the shuttle bus up to the base of the mountain.
We hopped onboard the cable car and set off. Just as everyone had said, the weather was not ideal. There was a very thick mist, making it impossible to see, but also making it completely awesome. Our cable car felt like it was gliding through a weird under-world and we would pass other cable-cars like ships in a pirate movie.
Once we reached the top we set off, prepared to hike our butts off. Turns out, the hiking is dead easy. I’ve had more difficult walking experiences trying to do my Christmas shopping.
The mist was everywhere, but it was beautiful. We walked through paths like an enchanted forest, the mist would sweep through the trees and sit heavy in the air then a rush of air would come and it would disappear. It was completely eerie and so magical, I’ve really never seen anything like it before. We climbed up to the peaks and tried our best to see what we could. Even though we couldn’t see the stunning views Huangshan is famous for, it was still amazing and it has just inspired us to come back when the weather is better.
Our last day in Huangshan was spent with a quick road trip out to Hongcun, the little town where parts of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed. This was a place that I had always dreamed of seeing and it completely lived up to my expectations. It looks like it might crumble at any second, it is so old. It is beautiful and delicate stone paths and homes, with winding pathways and small alleyways just begging you to explore them. We wandered around and no matter how we tried, we couldn’t really get lost.
The town of Hongcun, Mount Huangshan and the West Lake in Hangzhou all completely blew my expectations for China. It was like seeing a totally different side to the country and it was something I never expected. It has also totally changed my view of China and how I think about. Now when it comes into my mind it’s of huge trees and wide open spaces and tiny little towns, not of sprawling cities and skyscrapers.
We’re back in Hong Kong for a few days and were supposed to be flying home on Tuesday, but our plans have changed thanks to the lovely people at Air Asia. Instead, we’re flying over to Bangkok this week and staying until mid-June.
For the first time in our lives, we’ve been able to be completely free and change our plans at the drop of a hat. With neither of us having office jobs pulling us back to Brisbane we’re free to shuffle our plans and do what we want. It’s a weird feeling but also the best feeling! So, stay tuned for some Thailand adventures this week.
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.