The trip to Wuyishan took me about 300km to the north west, a decent journey by most standards. To give you an idea of how big China is though, this didn’t even take me out of the province. I was still in Fujian, just about. It didn’t take long to get there though, especially the train part. It turns out China’s superfast trains are perfect for the weekend trip. Having booked the 19:50 (after work finished), we’d arrived by quarter past 9. Imagine how long that would take in the UK!
Admittedly we weren’t quite done. Wuyishan’s two train stations have somehow conspired to be equally far from the scenic area everybody comes for. Taxi drivers mobbed us outside the station, but in British tradition I ignored them and ordered a Didi to navigate this foreign landscape. There was but one problem – he couldn’t find us. It turns out getting into the station to pick up arrivals is harder than it should be, and we had to trek around for a while with the Didi GPS to find him. Eventually, safely in the car, we made our way to our destination. 45 minutes later, we finally arrived.
The hostel wasn’t quite what we’d expected. Well, I’d sort of suspected, but still, it wasn’t in the usual hostel vein. More a budget, but still nice, hotel. We lucked out though. When we first got there, organising our stay was a Chinese language only affair. Later however, another guy (possibly the owner) appeared who spoke some English. Now knowing what we were actually doing (sort of), we were ready for the weekend.
Early in the morning we headed straight for the scenic area. Well, kind of. It had been a late night after a long week, so it was after 9 by the time we’d left and sorted out some breakfast. We opted for some baoze, a kind of doughy ball filled with meat and vegetables. Surprisingly handy things for a hike. Eventually arriving at the entrance, all we had to do was navigate a big, empty hallway and find where to get our tickets. We knew where we were going first. To the mountain.
Buses take tourists to and from all areas of the park, so we set about figuring out which one we were looking for. After a quick look, ours didn’t seem to be in the regular parking area. We spent a few minutes searching before realising that the pretend train that Casey-Lee had eyed up straight away, was what we needed.
Tian You Feng, or Heavenly Tour Peak, is known for its views, but honestly the views were everywhere. Before we’d even gotten to the base of the mountain, we’d had the opportunity to look over Nine Bend Stream and the mountain from a little pavilion standing over the river. We’d also stumbled onto possibly the greatest find of the trip, a beautiful Chinese building dedicated to the great Zhu Xi. I’ve no idea what he did (aside from being big into Neo-Confucianism), but what a name! Juicy…
Eventually, after a bit of a walk through the mountain splitting chasms (and some under mountain caves), we arrived at the base of the mountain. From there, it looked pretty tall. And those steps looked pretty steep, too. Still, when parents are managing to coax little kids up the knee high stone slabs, how much can you really complain?
We slowly trudged our way to the top, taking every opportunity to stop and gaze at our surroundings. Mountain peaks and troughs, stone slab pedestals, the green of the river and trees set back against the rock. Everywhere, there were crazy looking paths. On the vertical mountain opposite, there was an impossible (and awesome) looking trail that had been blocked off. On our mountain, tiny stone steps had been carved into the rock face, with nothing to hold onto, just perched on the edge. If you misplaced your footing on one of those, there’d be nowhere but down for you to go. Nothing was stopping anyone from taking one of these paths though.
When we reached the top (to Casey-Lee’s relief) we took one final glance down over the famous Nine Bend Stream view. Two small boats were just making their way around the apex as they fired off several volleys of fireworks. Several other people watched with us. They weren’t regular boats. They were Dragon Boats. This was Dragon Boat Festival.
From the top of the mountain, we had a quick pitstop before heading to what we only knew as Peach Blossom Cave. Well, that and the other half a dozen names we thought for it, because we couldn’t remember the real thing. Nevertheless, we set off for a place we knew nothing about.
There was, at least, more downhill than uphill. Slightly. On the way down, we came across a small cabin where a man was painting scenes from around Wuyishan. After watching him for a few minutes, Casey-Lee bought a traditional Chinese fan and I bought a painting, and set off again. It sounds nice and simple, right? Unfortunately not. Further down the mountain, we came to the conclusion that Casey-Lee definitely wanted another fan for her mum. So we walked all the way back up again…
Some time later, after a thirsty walk through the forest (we’d run out of water by this point), we found Peach Blossom Cave. What a find it was, too! As we strolled down the path, we came to the giant statue of a bearded man. He sat at the top of a flight of steps leading into a courtyard, as if guarding it from intruders. And there it was. Secluded in a small opening in the mountain landscape was a small temple with beautifully manicured grounds.
The place was so serene and peaceful that we just stayed for a while, despite our thirst. The few other who’d made it seemed to think the same, too. A couple of painters sat on the steps, brush in hand, while several people sat in the pavilion, sheltering from the sun. Eventually though, thirst got the better of me . It was time to go back.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to go all the way back up the mountain. We exited through a small alcove in the mountainside, and a short while later we were back at the river. It took only a moment of pondering whether we could make any of the other park attractions before dark. We decided against it. The night wasn’t over yet though. We had a show to get to.
Impression Da Hong Pao is a story about tea. Yes, the tea that you drink. Well, probably not actually, because Da Hong Pao is a very special tea from the Wuyi mountains, where only six trees, wedged in a remote mountain slope, produce it. So venerated is it, that it can apparently sell for up to $1,000,000 a kilo. Still sounds thrilling, right?
Well, it kinda is, thanks to the amazing production of a show designed by Zhang Yimou (of House of Flying Daggers and Hero fame). Set against the backdrop of the Wuyi mountains, a rotating stage shows you around a giant cast of colourful actors and dancers. From solo speeches and tales to mass dances (with everyone in unison), the story is told. There is one sort of hitch. Predictably, it’s all in Chinese. Any fears about this are soon allayed though – the theatre and beauty of the show more than makes up for that small hiccup.
In the morning we headed back to the mountains, this time not to climb one. This time for a boat trip. After a short bus ride through the park, and some follow the crowd and hope they know where they’re going, we found our way to the boarding point. We were shuffled along with others who had deemed part of our group, toward the boats.
The boats themselves were pretty nice, though some could definitely be described as fairly rickety. Bamboo poles had been lashed together to form a base, with surprisingly nice wooden chairs strapped on top. To be fair, I may be doing them an injustice – our boat floated beautifully – but several other rafts seemed to be steadily sinking into the water.
I suspect the people on them didn’t notice too much. The mountains and sheer rock faces almost littering the side of Nine Bend Stream, forcing its rather looping route, surely provided enough distraction from any water woes. Or our navigators, complete with bamboo poles to push us steadily downstream, and conical hats to protect them from the sun. As we floated dreamily, they would occasionally think of another query about our lives on which to quiz us.
We were a couple of hours on the river before we got the end, by which point things had gotten a bit warmer. A short street we had to walk through to get to the next bus stop, with some stalls, provided an opportunity to eat two ice creams (!!) before heading to our next destination; the Da Hong Pao tea trees.
Looking at the little map I’d taken a photo of on my phone, it was pretty hard to tell how close things were to each other. We wanted to go to the Ever Happy Temple too, and it seemed to be on the way from Da Hong Pao to Water Curtain Cave, but we couldn’t be sure. There was definitely a path to the cave though, so we set off anyway.
In theory, the path to Da Hong Pao was only short, but it seemed to take a fair while to get there in the heat. We did get sidetracked occasionally to be fair, jumping across some little stepping logs (where Casey-Lee almost fell in), or climbing over some slightly unnecessary hills. The tea plantations, hidden in the sheer rock valleys, were stunning.
When we finally reached Da Hong Pao though, it was slightly disappointing. All that build up, and all there seemed to be was a small (but very expensive) shop that took up a good portion of the valley floor. It wasn’t even one of the nicer looking sections. For six trees perched on a mountain slope (which we did see), it seemed very commercialised and under-utlised all at once.
The path continued on, and so did we, swirling up and down, around and through the tea plantations. Despite my impression of Da Hong Pao, the trek was beautiful and it was lovely to be in the middle of nowhere, barely seeing a soul. Even when it started raining, and then absolutely chucking it down, we were having a blast. For a while it was relentless, but as we reached the hill to the bottom of Water Curtain Cave, the rain started to slow. For a place that’s usually pretty wet, we got pretty lucky that that was all we got caught in.
Water Curtain Cave itself was less a cave and more a curved rock face, though an impressive one nonetheless. Slightly less impressive was the volume of water coming over the side of the cliff. More of a dribble than a curtain! It was a pretty dribble though, and that dribbly aspect allowed us to pretty much stand behind it without getting wet, which was pretty awesome. I even managed to not slip into the pool.
We climbed up to the cave too, skirting the inside wall and marvelling at the views of the tea fields and mountains all around, before making our way around the ridge. By this point we still wanted to go to the temple, but having done the trek and seen no sign of it we weren’t quite sure where to look next. Our only guess was that it was back near the entrance to Da Hong Pao.
After a bit of help from a man in the bus shelter, we got on the (correct) bus, but as we stopped at Da Hong Pao, we again saw nothing. No sign of any way to the temple. Our bus was ready to continue on the main bus station, so we decided instead of getting off and risking just having to wait for another, we continue with it. Just as we left though, I spotted a path up the mountainside, and a sign to the temple. Too late…
There was one last plan. Our final stop was at the Thread of Sky. A narrow chasm in the Wuyi mountain range rocks, the Thread of Sky is home to damp walls and chittering bats. Oh, and its as little as 30cm wide at points. My favourite.
The path to the entrance was short, but once inside it seemed to go on forever. I could see the bats flitting around above, as my shoulders brushed the sides. Before long, as the path started uphill, I had to turn sideways and hold my bag ahead of me to fit through. By the end, the steps were sufficiently steep that I had to use my hands to climb up. When we finally emerged into the light and fresh air of the forest, I was pretty relieved.
From there, we decided it was time to go back to town. we were just in time, too – as we got in our final bus to the entrance, the downpour began. It even stopped long enough for us to walk back into town to find some food, a deserved end of weekend McDonalds, before beginning again, this time for several hours. Somehow we’d gotten lucky again.
Then, back to Fuzhou. Back to life.