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Trip Report Awesome trip to Yellow Mountains and Hangzhou in China!

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I recently returned from a trip to Hangzhou and the Yellow Mountains, in southeast China. It was absolutely wonderful, including the best day of tourism in my life! These destinations are fairly convenient by bullet train from Shanghai – about an hour ride from Shanghai to Hangzhou, and then about 3.5 hours to Huangshan, the city at the base of the Yellow Mountains. (From Huangshan, it's about a 1 hour drive to the base of the gondola cars that take you most of the way up the mountain, where you can stay overnight in one of several hotels.) I booked my tour with China Highlights: I highly, highly recommend China Highlights, and my booking agent Robert. They handled everything flawlessly, chose nice hotels for me, and dealt with my numerous questions with great patience and friendliness. But the best part was the guides they set me up with. For each of the two destinations, I had my own personal guide and my own personal driver for the whole day! (In the case of the Yellow Mountains, for two whole days.) Although this might seem like an indulgence, it was not that expensive, and it provided an incredible experience. I was able to get to know each of my guides quite well, to the level where they were talking with me about their thoughts about the current politics of China, religion, and philosophy, in addition to the topics you might expect, such as ancient and modern Chinese culture.
If this is your first visit to China, be aware that rather few people speak English. While you’re with your guide, this is no problem of course, but you may occasionally be on your own. It’s smart before you leave home to get an app for your cell phone that can translate from English to Chinese, preferably one that doesn’t require connection to the internet to do so. Then, you can type in what you want to say, and show the written Chinese translation to the person you’re trying to talk with.

My tour of the Yellow Mountains with my guide Libby was _the_ most amazing day of tourism in my life! (I’m 56 years old, and moderately well-traveled.) The views of jutting granite peaks, “giant bonsai trees”, and swirling mist and clouds were simply jaw-dropping. Turn after turn we came on the most amazing views I had ever seen. This is an absolute must-see for any visit to China. Many people go to see the Great Wall, but far fewer go to the Yellow Mountains, so I think it makes for a more interesting story to tell your friends and family back home.
But, even though the scenery was unbelievably spectacular, the best part was talking with my guide Libby. She is an absolute delight! Her English is excellent. She is upbeat and utterly charming. She is very well informed about ancient Chinese culture and history, and loves to talk about it, as well as current Chinese culture. She is a native of the area, and has given hundreds of tours of the Yellow Mountains, so she knows the best places to go, and can tailor the tour to your fitness level. (However, be aware that there is significant walking and stair climbing involved in this tour – probably 500 stair steps up and down at a minimum.) Libby and her driver took excellent care of me.
I stayed at the International Hotel in Huangshan, and the Beihai Hotel up on the mountain. Both were quite nice – clean rooms, friendly staff, everything in good working order. If you have time in the evening in Huangshan, there is a fun show you can go to, involving the history and legends of the area. The show includes lots of acrobatics, dancing, large moving parts of the stage, elaborate costumes, and other special effects, so I found it quite fun even though I don’t understand Chinese.
You should bring a light waterproof jacket for the mountain tour. It’s fairly cool up on the mountain, even in the middle of summer, and often rainy. (The Beihai hotel provides down jackets, but these may be too warm, and there’s a bit of a hike from the top of the gondola cars up to the hotel.)
I’m pretty scared of heights, but I had no problems on this tour. All the walkways have extremely secure railings, and good footing even when the ground is wet.
I recommend this tour, especially with tour guide Libby, in the strongest possible terms. It will be one of the high points of your whole life – really!

For Hangzhou, my guide was David Hu. He was filled with interesting stories about the history and legends of the city and West Lake, which is immediately adjacent to it. We began our tour with the lake, which We also visited Linying Temple, which is not to be missed in a visit to Hangzhou -- the best part for me was the ancient stone carvings outside the temple. Another highlight was the home of Hu Xueyan, a powerful businessman from the 1800s; it is truly lovely, including a Koi pond and garden and a specially-built limestone cave. David was able to arrange a brief tour of a green tea farm (followed by sampling some of the tea with the owner), which was delightful, interesting, and relaxing. We also toured the museum of traditional Chinese medicine. This is important for understanding the culture of China (since something like 70% of Chinese rely at least in part on traditional medicine), but I recommend not spending too much time on it, unless it happens to be a particular interest for you. We ended the day by climbing a hill up to the City God Temple, which is no longer religiously active, but has splendid views of the city and the lake. David and our driver took excellent care of me.
I stayed in the Dragon Hotel in Hangzhou, which is very nice indeed. I especially recommend the breakfast -- it's a little pricey for restaurants in China, but has a fantastic buffet of Chinese and western style foods, including lots of fresh fruit and many, many types of freshly baked pastries. Plus the view from the restaurant looking out on their little garden with long-tailed birds flitting about is very soothing and peaceful.

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