Wuyi Shan Fengjing Qu

Most visitors are herded onto a bamboo raft (zhufa or zhupai) on Jiu Qu Xi (Nine Bend Stream). To do the same trip, take one of the many mini buses up to Xing Cun from Chongyang Dao or Wangfeng Lu for ¥3. Alight at the main traffic circle next to the vendors that sell a local type of pita bread so fiery that it ought to come with a government health warning. Walk up the hill to the post office and turn right heading down into the village proper, through wooden houses where weavers work bamboo the same way they have done for hundreds of years. Take the first major right turn down toward the river. The ticket office is down on the right, about 5 minutes' walk altogether. The overpriced zhufa depart in groups intermittently between 7:30am and 4pm. Tickets are so popular that they have to be booked at least one day in advance; they cost up to ¥180 depending on how gullible you look. The river ride of about 9.5km (6 miles) takes an hour and 40 minutes, a lot of it right next to the main highway. The river is only a meter deep in some parts and is clear enough to let you see the bottom. It's at its highest in July, and if it rises to a 2m (5 1/2-ft.) height, trips are suspended.

When the first edition of this guide was published, the river wound sinuously around its nine bends, bird song echoed between the cliffs, the metal tips of the bamboo poles rattled against the river bottom, and flights of wigeon whirred past, with the occasional brilliant flash of a kingfisher. These days there is an almost continuous stream of rafts. Tourists engage mostly in water fights and shouting matches, scaring away what little is left of the wildlife. A much better way to appreciate the scenery is on foot in the park. Tickets are currently priced at ¥75 for a half day, ¥140 for one day, ¥150 for 2 days and ¥160 for 3 days.

Climbing Da Wang Feng officially takes 1 1/2 hours, but it can be scaled by the moderately fit in an hour. At the top, the views are principally over the confluence of the rivers and the not particularly attractive sprawl of the resort. As you climb, you have several choices of route, which all lead eventually to the top; the routes include two horizontal galleries cut into the rock, the higher of which involves slightly less bending. It can be slippery when wet. The lower stairways wind wonderfully, but in some cases they are only wide enough for one -- awkward when you encounter tour groups. At some points, the only thing that will catch you if you fall is a stand of bamboo. Nearly all the tour groups climb Tianyou Shan first thing in the morning so leave it until the afternoon. The paths are more solid, are broader, and have more handholds than the paths of Wuyi Shan. Views are pretty, and you look down to the loop of the river's fifth and sixth bends, around which might drift some rafts. Halfway up, a pretty waterfall, multi-threaded and glued to the cliff face, seemingly moves in slow motion. Near the top are a house built for Chiang Kai-shek's wife, Soong Mei-ling, and a flat open space with teahouses. As you jostle your way to the top, the views show you why you should consider extending your stay. The turnoff is about halfway to Xing Cun, and the entrance to the mountain about 5km (3 miles) from the resort. A miandi will bring you here for ¥10, dropping you a 10- to 15-minute walk from the gate. If you're fit, the climb will not take more than about 30 minutes.

Wuyishan End to End for Free

The Wuyi mountains deserve a lot more time than most people give them, usually because they tire quickly of the mercenary resort or the endless streams of tourists at the main attractions. Independent travelers are so unusual that incredulous locals will constantly ask, "Ni shi yi ge ren ma?" ("Are you traveling alone?"). I have only ever met a tiny handful of foreigners on my visits to the area and without exception, their first question is always the same: how can we avoid the ridiculous ticket prices. Overseas tourists have already had to pay through the nose for visas as well as continuous markups on everything else simply because they are not Chinese, and so inordinately expensive tickets that only go to line the pockets of greedy officials simply add insult to injury. Therefore, here is my quick guide to enjoying the best of Wuyishan without spending a penny.

Get a bus up to Xing Cun but instead of walking down to the river, cross the large bridge and turn right into the fields and you should see the launch ways for the bamboo rafts on the opposite side of the river, known as Xianfanjie Wharf. Take a moment to revel in the fact that you are well away from the throngs of package tourists and look for a small footpath inset with river stones. This winding way reveals much of the same spectacular scenery that mainstream tourists pay up to ¥200 to look at from the discomfort of a leaky bamboo raft. There are numerous offshoots to explore to the right but eventually you will pass by an unmanned ticket office and gate, and shortly after a sign and stairs leading up to Tao Yuan Dong cave. (Confusingly, this is mistranslated on all the signs as Eagle's Rock Cave). This turns out to be a beautifully isolated Daoist temple, and the lawns are a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch.

From here continue onwards and upwards past the giant god of longevity, taking a little time to explore the maze of pathways that snake down through natural rock crevices and climb up to sheer precipices. Eventually you need to bear left following the signs for Heavenly Tour Peak, which will lead up the side of a deep valley to the beginning of a small tea plantation. Look for the magic words NON TOUR ROUTE as this will take you though a back route up into areas that most tourists never see. Numerous paths continue up through the small tea plantations, each one almost begging to be explored. Along the way are caves, waterfalls, and the occasional tea farmer to greet. The paths are sturdy rock steps and are sometimes carved into the very cliff faces themselves. All the time new vistas and views appear, each one seemingly more spectacular than the last. When you eventually tire of all this magnificent exploration, find the stream and follow it back down until you come to a very steep-sided rock corridor with steps leading up and away to the right to the Da Hong Pao tea bushes. Look for a sign that points out an alternative route to the water curtain cave (Shui Lian Dong), as well as those magic words NON TOUR ROUTE from whence you came. Head down into the gorge, and if you still have time, you can turn left and go explore the water curtain cave. Otherwise take a right and the path will deposit you at the rear of the newly constructed Ever Happy Temple (Tian Xing Yong Le), populated with even more grabby vendors, this time posing as monks. (From here, you can also follow my directions to the "Forgotten Gorge," below.) Follow the stairs that lead down to the parking lot and ticket office, and you have inadvertently discovered a sneaky back entrance where you can avoid the exorbitant ticket prices.

Forgotten Gorge

Another favorite place I like to take first-time visitors is what I call the forgotten gorge. Guaranteed, no herds of local tourists -- only perhaps an odd tea farmer if you are really lucky. From the main resort area, cross the bridge and turn right. A 30-minute walk will take you to a left-hand junction marked with a large stone gate. A moto-taxi will bring you here for ¥5, and you might even be able to persuade a sanlunche to come this far for ¥10, which is a much more relaxing way to travel. From the turnout on the left, follow the road up past the huge laughing Buddha until you reach the parking lot for Da Hong Pao. Just opposite are some stones steps leading up. Follow these up to the Ever Happy reproduction temple, although even on this short climb there are a few gorges leading away that are tempting to explore. Walk straight past the temple complex and follow the road up, passing between the memorial on the right and the traditional wooden house structure on the left. The road leads up to even more construction, but there are some stone steps leading down to the left, which lead down to the forgotten gorge. Due to the path's disuse, the footing can be tricky in places, but it is well worth it. From just a few yards down you can see all the way down to the resort. There are plenty of caves and extra staircases leading away to be explored and thanks to the wonderful perspective lines of the walls of the gorge, photographers will be snapping away like Ansel Adams. If you hot-foot it down the trail, you can be back on the road in under an hour, but my advice is to bring a book or a picnic or a sketchbook, and spend some time in the solitude offered by these magnificent mountains.

Yu Nu Feng

Hop off one of the many Xing Cun bound buses about halfway to the Tian You Feng at the signs for Yu Nu Feng, and you will see a small path leading down to the river and one of our favorite spots in the area known as Shui Guang Du. Few domestic tourists stop here as they are ferried between sights and so the grassy banks are ideal for a picnic lunch or a lazy afternoon. A small bridge leads away to the left, which is a great spot to take a picture beneath the iconic Jade Beauty Peak (Yu Nu Feng). (This is the one that is featured on the covers of all the maps and other promotional literature.) Just behind the bridge is a charming little set of stepping stones that leads under the main road and off to another set of steps just begging to be explored.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.