It amazed me in Wuyi Shan (the Wuyi Mountains) — the No. 1 must see of China’s Fujian province — how many Chinese travellers we met from Shanghai, 1000 or so kilometres away. They had come, they told me, to see the beauty of China and get away from the city. I couldn’t help but agree.
You see, China is a land of both intense ugliness and beauty. Where treeless concrete slums lean up against towering pagodas. Another turn and you cover your nose as you pass a putrid landfill site. Another, and you’re in the gardens of a magnificent temple. Surrounded by the essence of burning sandalwood. Kumquat trees and towers of turtles dotted around the grounds.
Yet wherever we wandered in Wuyi Shan, I found it difficult to see the ugly side of China. The stunning views of sandstone crags towering above the pristine Chongyang Brook are delightful and can be enjoyed even if you don’t want to fork out for a ticket.
In fact, although the Wuyi Shan Park Resort is stunning, the area has much more to offer for free. Here, we’ve condensed some of the best things to do in and around Wuyi Shan into a short and easy-to-read guide.
1. Exploring the tea-terraced valleys of the Wuyi Shan Park resort
Most visitors to China come to see the Wuyi Shan Park (Wuyi Gong) resort. This gigantic 56,000-hectare national park contains ninety-nine crags and a stream that bends nine times… Very significant to practisers of Chinese Buddhism who hold the number nine sacred.
Whether you believe in this or not, the park’s sheer size allows for plenty of exploring.
My favourite hike followed the valley from the Water Curtain Cave to the Dong Ha Pao tea gardens (approx. 2.5km). This takes you gently up to (and then underneath) a waterfall and through fields of tea terraces between tall black and red sandstone bluffs.
It passes an ancient cave system high in the rocks, where inhabitants would lift resources from the valley using a pulley system. Finally, the path leads up an ascent of a hundred or two stairs up to the famous Dong Ha Pao tea garden.
This is the name of a 350-year-old tea variety, of which only six bushes remain from the original crop, cloistered on outcrops from the rock face behind low hewn stone walls.
There’s a tea shop there, where they serve teas from re-transplanted bushes (so not the originals). It costs 15 yuan for a sizeable trial cup of this smoky tea. But if you want to buy the leaves, they’ll cost you around 8,000 yuan per 500g.
You can also eat tea eggs boiled in Da Hong Pao tea (the best I’ve ever tried), baked sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, or zongzi (Chinese packed rice and filling stuffed in a pandan leaf).
2. Climbing one of the 99 sacred peaks
Numerous hikes lead up to the top of the crags in the resort. We climbed Da Wang Peak, that looms over Wuyi Temple and the tourist area.
Like most Chinese hikes we’ve been on, the stairs were steep at the bottom. But they levelled out further up and then led around the rock face and over deep crevasses.
The peak and the path along the rock face offer great views of the Nine Bends stream, Chongyang Brook, and the tea terraces on the hillsides beyond.
Like the Chinese tourists, we ignored the sign at the bottom that said Da Wang Peak is now too dangerous to climb.
Most of it seemed safe, but we recommend sticking to the guided path. There are milestones along the way that mark this out clearly, though watch out for the arrows pointing to the “No Tour Path”.
We followed one of these on the way down and came across a cave with steps leading down of only around a foot in width. An overhang at around chest height hung over this, slimy from mountain water and with no handholds.
Needless to say, we had to turn around and climb all the way back up again.
These peaks are part of the tourist area and so, to climb them, you’ll have to pay the entry fee and show your ticket.
3. Travel in style along the Nine Bends Stream in a Traditional Bamboo Raft
We didn’t manage to go bamboo rafting as we visited during a public holiday (Qing Ming) when all the rafts were booked out. However, we’ve heard reports of travellers who had a great time on these.
I’ve heard the art of rafting is to keep completely still as the boat moves, so as to not get your shoes wet. But they do sell plastic shoe covers, or you can just take off your shoes and socks.
To book, get to the north entrance early and pay the extra 130 RMB to book a raft. A little Chinese or Baidu translate might make booking easier and help you verify your booking time.
4. Walk or cycle along the Chongyang Brook
You don’t have to pay to go into the resort to enjoy the splendour of Wuyi Shan. Nor do you need to travel far from the town.
Just before entering the resort’s east entrance, you’ll encounter a bridge over the Chongyang Brook. Below, locals wash clothes in the fresh water and bamboo rafts pass under the arches of the bridge.
The embankment has a cycle path running along where you can hire tandem bikes for 20 yuan an hour. Alternatively, the path goes far enough that you can amble along while savouring the fresh air.
Try to get here before sunset, for silhouetted views of Da Wang peak over the water. It’s also a great place to eat baozi (steamed buns) or zongzi (rice in pandan leaves), that you picked up in town, for breakfast before entering the resort.
5. Shop like a Chinese tourist or just drink coffee in the mountain fresh air
Wuyi Temple is the built-up tourist area of Wuyi Shan. Song Street, a street of cafes, restaurants, juice bars, and souvenir shops leads just from this.
It’s a great area to hang out and get a coffee or rehydrate after a hike.
Conveniently, this is situated just past the entrance from the Nine Bends rafting trail and lies at the base of Da Wang peak. It’s a little pricey, of course, but when in Rome…
6. Explore the origin of one of the most famous teas in China
Da Hong Pao is the second-most famous variety of tea in China. It has a rich and cultural history and in fact made Wuyi Shan famous.
I’ve already explained where to see the original Dong Ha Pao bushes. However, just outside the resort, opposite the Home Inn, lies the Dong Ha Pao tea museum.
We didn’t have much of a chance to look around, but we’ve heard you can see a night show about the origin of Dong Ha Pao. It’s in Chinese. Apparently though you can find translations of the story online (if anyone knows where please let us know and we’ll paste a link).
Also, well worth a visit, is Xiamei village. The story goes that traders from China’s Shaanxi province migrated south and set up this village so they could ship Wuyi Shan tea up the river to Quanzhou and sell it to the British.
The wealth these traders accumulated was passed from family to family through generations, until Xiamei became the tourist village it is today.
It’s a small place, wooden awnings leaning over two cobbled streets running on either side of the canal. Clear water runs across the bottom and swallows flit around between their nests in the wooden rafters of the high buildings.
Like Chengcun (see below), there’s a range of architectural styles here. But Xiamei is more manicured and somehow retains a sense of antiquity, with one building dating back over 400 years.
It’s 60 yuan to get in and a taxi there cost us 30 yuan. Our taxi driver actually recommended we got our ticket from an agency in town. When we arrived, a tour guide stamped our ticket and then led us around the village.
After visiting the tourist village, take a right and wander up the road towards the bridge. Underneath this, is the site of the original wharf where traders would load the tea onto boats towards Quanzhou and other ports on the Tea Road.
The views from here are stunning.
7. Hunt for 2,500-year-old Han Dynasty Ruins, for free
A taxi can take you out to the 2,500 MinYue ruins for around 90 yuan. They’re on a wide road with rice paddies in the valley below leading out to a blue lake.
Looks like this lake will become a reservoir soon, as a half-completed dam blocked our path to it.
The ruin site itself was free to enter when we visited. A wooden water wheel greeted us at the entrance, spinning slowly between two ancient red walls, paint peeling from them.
There are some ruins to the right, and around the grounds you can find stones with oracle Chinese script engraved in (kind of like hieroglyphics).
To our surprise, when we climbed the hill, we found a ‘No Entry’ sign and the Min Yue palace under construction. I guess they’re reconstructing the palace for the BRICS convention in Xiamen in September, so perhaps the whole thing will be ready after that.
Worth seeing, is Chengcun village, just down the road. This is another traditional village, less touristy than Xiamei and it’s quite possible to interact with the locals there. There’s a similar mix of older architectural styles (packed earth houses, wooden buildings, hewn stone etc.) with some concrete buildings thrown in.
This is a little more of an off-road adventure and, with no local buses, we had to hike back an hour to the main road. From there, it’s possible to flag down a taxi or to walk back along the road to town until you find a bus stop. It’s on the K1 bus route back to town.
I should warn you about the smell, however. The whole area around the rice paddies and the road before the main road reeked of manure.
8. Sample Smoked Goose (served only in Wuyi Shan), Soft Shelled Turtle, and local Smoked Plum Wine
Wuyi Shan’s speciality is smoked goose, a dish the locals claim cannot be found outside of the town. This has got to be one of the best things I’ve tried in China.
Also, although not quite local, but cheap to try at 88 yuan, is soft-shelled turtle. It tastes good, but admittedly, it’s hard to get at the meat beneath the shell and there isn’t much of it.
Look out too for local Wuyi Shan wine (in a bright yellow opaque bottle and shaped like a rock). This smoky plum rice wine compliments the smoked goose well.
How to get there and around
Wuyi Shan has an airport with flights in from Shanghai.
Recently, fast trains have started running from Fuzhou to Wuyi Shan Dong train station. This is far out of town, but you can take the K1 bus to town for 80 yuan.
The Home Inn is a decent enough place. It’s right next to the Tea Museum and just a stone throw away from town. The beds are a little hard, but manageable.
There’s also a Jinjiang Inn in the centre.
Avoid the Wuyi Ramada like a plague. We stayed there a couple of years ago and had hornets and a queen crawling through the closed window to get inside the heated room. Plus, the beds there are rock hard.
Thanks for reading. Ola and I have been a little busy the last few weeks and unfortunately we’ve not had much time to post to Being a Nomad.
We’re back in action though, and expect a post from us next week.
If there’s anything you want to know about Wuyi Shan, feel free to leave a comment below. We’ll get back to you ASAP.
Hope you’re all doing great!