Having had a terrible night’s sleep, quite unsure if it was good enough to qualify as “terrible”, we exited our hotel and went down to the bay where the crowd was steadily growing delivered by a long line of “free” buses. We went to a outdoor restaurant type place that advertised breakfast, breakfast turned out to be dumplings in water instead of soon a plate as we had eaten the previous afternoon. That was OK as those dumplings were even more delicious than the ones we had already eaten. All the snack stands were open, so I smartly bought as many snacks as I could possibly want, packed them into my backpack (enough, as it turns out, for 2 people for 2 days!).
Finally having acquired the much sought after snacks and distended our bellies with delicious dumplings, we made our way through the gates to the ticket booth outside our section of the “scenic spot”. Having paid another 40rmb for the “free” bus, we attempted to go through the ticket and fingerprint check only to have our scans rejected. Apparently, having entered once already, the system couldn’t admit us again, even though we held 2 day pass. So, off we went to another queue where we had to sign our names on a sheet of paper before we could be allowed in.
After getting back in we went to queue for the bus back to the main gates of the scenic area where we had arrived by taxi the day before. As with the first trip, this return journey also involved a 30 minute traffic jam, but at least we hadn’t waited long for the bus, and were finally on our way to the actual mountain known as LoaShan. Arriving in the dusty car park about an hour later we were told that because of the erroneous stamp on our tickets we’d have to pay to renter the park. Thankfully, as the amount of our tickets were for 2 days stay, the ticket seller selling us another ticket 25rmb per person, for another possibly “free” bus acknowledged the error and let us through without further expenditure. To the gate we went, fingerprint scan, picture taken, and once again hustled onto a waiting bus we found ourselves being driven roller-coaster style up the side of a steep mountain.
The driver of this bus drove with gusto and the snake like road before him obviously excited him as he wrenched the wheel left and right so sharply as to nearly send the vehicle on two wheels and undoubtedly over the nearby cliffs. I was seated next to the door which meant that there was nothing between me and the side of the bus but a large space and a couple of steps. The whole way up the mountain from one hair raising curve to the next I had to keep my left hand fully grasping the bottom of my seat and the other firmly planted against the door to avoid being thrown down the steps. Those behind me safely away from the door sat three abreast and whooped and hollered like they were on a roller coaster as they slid from side to side mashing each other against the windows. In the end, I found the trip was rather fun even though I’m sure there was no point during the climb that we weren’t perilously close to death. As near death experiences go, the trip to the base of the hiking paths and cable car line on LaoShan is top notch!
Arriving at about 9am, suited out for a real climb, hiking boots, camel pack, moisture wicking underwear, etc., I was a bit disappoint to find that the whole way up the hill had been paved in granite stones so basically the hike up the hill resembled for a really long hillside sidewalk than a trail at all. Still, it was a beautiful day, and even with the tedious steps and smooth surface, really felt greater to be ascending the heights. Shanghai, as you know, is unredeemingly and boringly flat! The climb was easy and we completed it in about an hour. At the top, it was exceedingly crowded but the lovely views and the cold Tsingtao sold there made up for it.
From the top of LaoShan for just about as far as you can see in 3 directions, smog permitting, are the somewhat jagged mountain tops of multiple mountains that look less like sold rock than piled yellow stones. Never had I seen this type of rock formation before and I found eminently beautiful to behold. The other direction, east, gave a view of “V” shaped valley and the sea beyond, or at least I think the sea was out there somewhere, as the haze kind of hid it from view.
We walked around the summit for an hour or so and spied a somewhat more challenging approach to the hill which we had not known about, one without steps. I don’t know if it’s just me, but any time I find myself climbing up or down steps for more than 10 minutes, I feel it becomes more physically tiring than doing the same distance and grade on natural terrain. There is something about the repetitive movement, the joints moving the same path over and over and the muscles contracting and relaxing to the same points repetitively that makes the whole process unnecessarily tiring. Too bad we had to descend the same way we had come because that was where the roller coaster bus was waiting to take us down the mountain.
We climbed down as far as the cable car station part way down the mountain and immediately decided our aching legs deserved a rest. Tickets bought, another few rmb, we waited in line to jump into a moving car. China is not known for its serious track record in safety and maintenance, but this system looked new and hopefully not Chinese in origin, in fact it seemed to be brand new which was reassuring. The view was the same on the way down as when we had been climbing up, but now we could really see how long and step filled a journey we had made in the morning and were thankful not to be painfully trudging down the slope now. Also, we didn’t plummet to our deaths which was a nice bonus and arrived safely at the base where a bus was waiting to whisk us down the hill back to the dusty staging area.
Well the ride down wasn’t nearly a perilous or fun as the one we had on the ride up. You’d think going down a curvy mountainside road would be more exciting, but sadly, it wasn’t Since we weren’t being tossed from side to side on the way down I had much more time to take in the multiple rock carvings that decorate the cliffs at the sides of the road. Some were creatively carved from the natural rock formations while others were clearly carved elsewhere and stuck on the side of the road. The whole way from top to bottom is lined with carvings and other artwork depicting many Chinese fairy-tales and legend. It’s a pity that when you are on the bus, even on a relatively slow bus like the one that took us down, that you barely get a chance to see them, let alone snap a picture of anything. As our bus rounded one of the final curves in the road it hooked a curb and started to slide sideways down the hill. Luckily the driver regained control and we did not become a tumbling ball of flame bouncing down the mountainside, and I was immediately thankful that this driver had been taking it easy the whole way down!
Back at “refugee centre”, which is what the tourist bus terminal came to resemble the more that I saw it with its teaming hordes of Chinese tourists, we again had to queue to board the bus back to where our hotel was located. Being only about 3 in the afternoon, we rushed in hope that we could, once there, board another bus for the “caves scenic spot”. When we finally arrived after the inevitable and seemingly scheduled traffic jam, we were disappointed to find easily a couple thousand people queued up and waiting for that bus. So we walked over and took our place in the longest queue I’ve ever been a part of and hopefully asked a tourist helper person (I’m not sure what their title actually is) how long of a wait we could expect. “Two hours” was the response, “with an additional hour of travel and bus transfer to get there”. Basically, if we went, we’d arrive around closing and never get a bus back to this part of the tourist area where our noisy hotel room was waiting for us. Seeing our less than happy faces at the news, the tourist helper person cheerfully informed us “There is a boat ride you can take instead. It’s only 100rmb a person”.
Duped by this seemingly good advice we followed this person across the large bustling parking area towards the dock. Along the way he chatted happily with my girlfriend and I thought things were looking up. “He said we should pay him 50rmb for guiding us here” my girlfriend whispered in my ear. “Well, OK, if we have too” I returned even though we could have easily walked the straight line to the clearly visible ticket station ourselves. “Where are we going exactly?” I asked in a hushed tone. ”Oh, to some Island, I think…” she responded in a similarly hushed way.
Arriving at the ticket office that clearly had no one present that had ever thought about queuing, our guide took our money and pushed to the head of the throng of money wielding half crazed tourists and emerged a few seconds later. I told my girlfriend to pay him his 50rmb as getting to the head of that mass of people was clearly worth the expense. She did, right then and there while we were surrounded by dozens jostling to get their chance at a ticket. He blushed and quietly refused saying it was his pleasure and quickly made his exit towards the car park we had just crossed. I guess we could make our way the other hundred or so meters to the boat without a guide…
At the boarding area for the boat we joined another queue and started to get a bit excited about the coming voyage, mostly because we had no idea what we were in for. We boarded and the boat, probably the least hydrodynamic craft ever created, motored out into the bay and along the coast. From the time we sat down until and during the entire voyage, Chinese pop music was blaring through blown out speakers in an attempt to make the “cruise’ more entertaining I suppose. About 4 or 5 minutes out to sea the captain came on the loudspeaker giving us a brief reprieve from poorly executed pop music to tell us to look at the rocks. Then about 30 seconds later he came on again to say we should look at the lighthouse, that the cruise was over and we would be returning to port. And with that said, the boat turned around pushing more water than your average oil tanker. It took more than 10 minutes total, and if everyone on board, about 50 tourists, oh I mean “suckers”, paid as much as we did, then this boat tour company was making a killing. Probably our little helper friend that had guided us there gets a cut of the profits I am sure.
Back on dry land after our brief sea excursion, we decided to take a walk along the boardwalk to see what there was at the other end. It was nice walk along the edge of a road built on steel and concrete pylons. The tree tops were at arm’s length and the view was stunning. One thing you should be warned about if you do decide to take a stroll through the woods in and around LaoShan is the spiders! The tree tops were positively crawling with the most colorful and venomous looking spiders I have ever seen. After viewing all he spiders we cared to see and walking for only 20 minutes or so we came out at the base of another “scenic spot”. This one promised views of an amazing waterfall.
Heading towards the steps, yes more steps, in fact thousands of them, we were once again scanned through a turnstile giving our fingerprints and other vital information as if we were visiting the Pentagon or something and were on our way to the promised waterfall. We may have also been relived of another sum of money for this stair climbing experience, but after a day and a half of paying additional fees for anything we wanted to do despite our “all inclusive” admission ticket, I am unable to recall now. Either way, if we paid or not, climbing steps seemed to be our penance for visiting LaoShan and its assorted attractions, so climb we did.
For over an hour we climbed steps that at the top of every landing there were merchants selling the exact same thing as the next one down the line. From the bottom, past a dammed lake half way up the hill to the “glorious’ waterfall there were literally dozens of nick-knack sellers selling the absolutely same crap a widely variable pricing. I bought a little Buddha statue for 15rmb have negotiated it down from 25rmb at the start of the journey. The old woman who sold it to me assured me it was a stone carving, which of course it wasn’t a fact I was fully aware of. All along the way stands were selling the exact same “carving” so I stopped and inquired as to the price of this item as we drew closer to our destination. One shop gave me the low low price of 35rmbm, while another charged 68rmb. Feeling pretty good about the great deal I had gotten I proceeded to ask two or three more shop keepers what the little guy cost until one told me 10rmb, at which point I ceased congratulating myself on my street smarts and asking what the thing was worth.
We passed the dammed lake, climbed another long set of stairs and came finally to the promised waterfall… so unbelievable small it looked as if a common garden hose were hid somewhere above a rocky cliff providing the weakest stream of water imaginable. However, it was water and it was falling, so I couldn’t really claim that it was false advertising on the part of the attraction’s promoters, but clearly it left much to be desired in the realm of what a waterfall constitutes to the average tourist, even a Chinese one. As I stood there contemplating how many stairs I had forced myself to climb to behold a mere trickle, a passerby loudly commented that it was probably someone up there taking a piss over the side. He may have been right.
Disappointed to see what I had climbed all that way to see, I bought a cold Tingtao Laoshan beer and sat down on a step to quickly drain the half liter of deliciousness. There was a sign proclaiming a temple farther up the trail, and after my beer was complete, my girlfriend and I decided that as dusk approached perhaps we could climb just a bit higher and see what the temple was all about. For another half hour we climbed along the side of the hill as the sky quickly drained itself of daylight and started to wonder just where the temple might be located. The sellers that infested the trail sides were beginning to pack up and leave so I thought we had better ask just how far the temple was. “Oh, you are about 1/5th the way there” a helpful seller informed us and we decided perhaps we had better go back whence we had came.
On the way down, as the darkness grew, well, darker, it became clear that the attraction was closed for the day. Almost without a seller of overpriced crap or fellow tourist (sucker) in site we went down the winding stair cases until we came to the dam holding back the considerable mass of water that made the mountainside lake. On the way up, I had wanted to enter the footpath across its top, but the entrance had been gated off, signs posted as warnings, and a seller’s stall planted firmly in front. On the way down however, the stall was closed, and with almost no one around to see me I hopped the fence and went out on the dam or a look see, and I’m glad I did. The view of the ocean and the small area of tourist trap shops below were amazing. It was also pretty cool to have a look at how rickety and un-kept this massive damn looked up close. I could see why it was closed off as I got the impression that it could collapse at any moment. With that cheery thought in mind, I made my way back to where I entered, hopped the fence, and we continued on our downward trek.
It was just about dark when we reached the bottom and everything was shutting down for the night. One of the ideas we had had when we decided to come this way was to see if there was a better place to eat nearby than in our hotel’s dungeon like restaurant. In a slight panic that I’d be forced to eat under-cooked potatoes and leftover innards that may or may not have come from a cow again, I quickly jogged over to the one indoor restaurant that had looked quite promising when we arrived. Of course, it was closed. Six pm, and closed for the night. Now there was good timing I thought. I’m sure they’re making a fortune with those hours…
Just then the lady that was running a hole in the wall eatery which was latterly “a hole in the wall” came over saying the restaurant was closed, but that they were all the same family and if we really wanted to eat there, she could get her cousin, son, aunt or whomever to open it up for us. Contemplating her kind offer we instead decided to see what she was selling out of her hole in the wall, and what she had on sale looked mighty tasty. Dumplings, squid skewers, pork skewers, rice, soup, a really great fried bread and noodles. They were just about to sit down for their own dinner, but seeing how hungry we were, they didn’t mind preparing dinner for us. We bought some of everything and a couple Tisingtao Laoshan beer too of course.
So we spent a quiet hour happily stuffing our faces with some of the best tasting cuisine I have had during my 3 years in China all for the primly sum of about 80rmb. For a hole in the wall, it certainly turned out a fantastic feast even if its décor was less sophisticated than I am used to. With our hunger satiated and stomachs distended we bid the happy proprietor adieu and made our way in darkness back to our hotel. Thank goodness we had our flashlights with us this time or we may have fallen into the sea. I’m not sure why, of all places, a tourist area where people are expected to walk around, is so mysteriously devoid of outdoor illumination making any sojourn after dark a life risking adventure, but at least it meant a clear view of the night’s starlit sky.