Second article about our five week trip in China.
After having spent almost 2 weeks between Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Xian and Huashan mountain (see my last article “North of China at its best”), we were eager now to head South!
But we first made a stop in Shanghai! We still have friends who work there that we wanted to visit. Unfortunately for me, I fell ill and became allergic to something as soon as we arrived… I was feeling really bad! I was condemned to stay at the hotel for almost three days. But fortunately for me, this happened in a city that I know very well! I much prefer that kind of thing to happen in a place where I don’t need to be in a good shape to visit… So the only thing I could do was to meet with our friends at night for dinner, and small walks nearby the hotel.
Therefore, photographically, I just shot what was going on in the street from our hotel reception. And this is what these three days looked like…
Well I exaggerate a little bit but still, we didn’t do as much as we planned to. Except small city walks, these three days have been boring. I was also bored because I was too craving for being in the South already! I feel much more comfortable in the Great Nature, that Southern China has, than in such big cities… We would soon be there so I couldn’t wait to recover and leave!
However, there was at least one shot I wanted to take from this stop over. The Bund is an incredibly large promenade alongside the river, with astonishing views on the Pudong district and the highest skyscrapers of China! So I eventually made the effort to walk and bring my tripod to the best viewpoint!
It is absolutely splendid at night and everyone who comes to China should at least see that! There is no scale in this picture, but the highest tower in the clouds is nothing more, nothing less, the second highest in the world! It’s impressive, trust me!
This is what modern China looks like at what dozens of Chinese cities tend to become. Shanghai has for many years become the economical showcase of the country…
Well. Feeling better after three days of antihistaminic, it was finally time to go! Twenty hours of train was ahead of us, and the next destination was… Zhangjiajie!
ZHANGJIAJIE NATIONAL PARK
If you haven’t heard about this name, it’s quite normal. However, you have certainly seen images of it already… Indeed, this Chinese National Park has inspired the directors of the famous movie “Avatar”. The geological rock formations are unique and speechless! It does not really seem real when you see them for the first time…
Our plan was to stay at least three days to discover this wonder. There are many trails and stairs to hike and the entrance ticket is valid 4 days. And all the Chinese tourists take the cable cars to reach some of the best viewpoints. So we were most of the time alone in this nature and the reward was much bigger when we physically deserved the panoramas!
So after having found a hotel in WulingYuan, a city that I recommend to stay in, we packed our bag with our photo gear and went trekking, with a rain-poncho!
The weather was indeed humid. Even if the rain was thin, we were wet quite rapidly… There was a cold and foggy atmosphere on the trails, which was not so nice for the hike, but perfect in my opinion for photography (as you’ll see in this article, we actually had a humid weather during almost two weeks in Southern China ; that was sometimes a little depressing, however this weather suited very well with the sceneries…)
Apparently we were not the only one to suffer from the weather! Isn’t it so cute??
We’ve come across so many monkeys on the way and that was a really nice surprise! I personally love them. Their behavior is so interesting to look at and I often notice some similarities with us, humans beings! There were dozens of them on the trails. Unfortunately, many stupid Chinese feed them with junk food, so they’ve become used to our presence. They always try to steal what’s in your bag when you have a moment of inattention… So be careful!
Aren’t they even more cute when they are two begging for food?
As I said, we saw lots of monkeys on the way. There were many good photographic opportunities, so my goal was to show one surrounded by its natural environment. I think I did pretty well with the next picture, which is the cover of the article, because it best represents how wild this place must have been, with these impressive peaks, before humans turned it into a touristic destination!
We’ve trekked during three days… And so was one of the most iconic scenery we’ve come across from down in the valleys :
As usual, I don’t want to show you too much in case you plan to visit this place. Spoiling you is not my goal here… So I’ll just show you my favorite viewpoint and the best shot I got from this whole “Avatar journey”!
At the beginning, it was absolutely foggy! So I was able to see only few peaks emerging from that fog…
And suddenly, after a long period of rain, fog, and an hour and a half wait in a warmer and dry place, I finally came back to that viewpoint and… WOW!
The magic took place! The rain stopped, the fog started to vanish and the light completely changed! It’s amazing to see how light, and conditions in general, can change so quickly! I also had no idea about what was hidden behind that first rock! What a surprise! These conditions are definitely the best if you want to have the real feeling of being in “Avatar” movie !
There is finally a last photograph I want to show you. Its is about the most iconic mountain in the area which really inspired the filmmakers… It’s the “Hallelujah” mountain. It is so high and big… You must see that from your proper eyes!
We totally fell in love with the region! We’re happy to come back this year in October to see it in Autumn! And we really hope that the weather will be the same or quite similar! Next stop… Guilin and the region of Yangshuo!
I’ve been there 4 times already since I love this region so much! I can’t tell you with words how surreal this place is so I hope my photos will be as close to the reality as I see it… Iza and I stayed 5 entire days riding a scooter in the countryside, surrounded by hundreds of karst peaks which characterize the area. There are also few hills that you can actually climb to get stunning views from above!
So the first thing I recommend is to rent a scooter (for quite cheap) in Yangshuo. It costs around 10 USD per day and it’s for me from far the best way to discover the region. It is so easy to “get lost” in the countryside, to go off the beaten paths and see the real China… The area is full of tourists, sometimes you can’t avoid them. But having a scooter allows you to escape from them!
So this time, we drove until the old and touristic village of Xingping where we had a hotel booked for the first 2 nights. It’s a very convenient town to stay for several reasons : at night and in the morning, there are very few people in the streets. Tourists come here only during the day. Also, it is close to some of the most iconic places the region has to offer!
Therefore, every time I come here, the first thing I love to do is to climb a nearby mountain called “Laozhai”. See why below!
What better than this view to start the trip! Laozhai Mountain is easily accessible and can be climbed in half an hour. I took this photo on the 1st or 2nd morning, I don’t remember. And I came back the day after to shoot something different, to see also if the weather was going to be better.
I just love all these endless layers…
But since this mountain viewpoint is in the city, I decided to go there everyday, as a little physical training. And of course, always with my camera in my bag, “just in case”…
And I did well because on the third day, we finally had a wonderful sunny afternoon. It was amazing to be there almost alone, and too enjoy such a view with a different atmosphere and types of weather.
You’ve probably seen already many photos of the Chinese « traditional fishermen » that we can find here in Xingping for example, or photos of the Mongolian eagle hunters or, as a last example, photos of the fishermen from Myanmar, balancing on their small boats… These are actors who pose for tourists now. The problem is, to me, that all the photos of them do look absolutely the same. There is, in my opinion, no authenticity anymore…
And here in Yangshuo, I came across them along the river. They were just resting and waiting for tourists to pay them for a private photo session. At the beginning, I was not considering taking a picture of them as I’m personally not interested in this kind of tourism. I didn’t feel like having the same photos as everybody. But then, when I saw them like this, I wondered… Why not just documenting the reality? There were, after all, beautiful not-staged images to take with a zoom…
Then I saw another one resting on a shore. And from the bridge where I was, I just thought that this scene, with the reflections and this cool blue atmosphere, was too beautiful not to be taken!
So with a zoom again, I could easily take that photo of him which is, to me, more original and authentic than what I’ve already seen !
The other advantage of staying at Xingping is that another famous mountain viewpoint is not that far… I’ll now talk about “Xianggong Hill”.
This is in my opinion the most impressive panorama that I’ve ever seen from that region. Few years ago, this mountain wasn’t known. There was no trail neither stairs to go up and have that view – that you’ll see very soon…
However, I came to know that hundreds of photographers come everyday to that viewpoint for sunrise. Many tour agencies now offer a one day trip there. They leave very early in the morning (like at 4am) and photographers have to battle to get enough space to put their tripod! As we’ve had very cloudy days and no sunrise neither sunset since the day we arrived, it made no sense to go there early in the morning like everybody. And honestly, our decision has been pretty wise! It was an overcast day, like everyday, and going there in the middle of the afternoon was the best decision we’ve made.
First of all, we wanted to get there by ourselves. So we took our scooter, and drove until the river. Then we parked it and crossed the river on a little boat like this…
Foggy… What an atmosphere! Then we hiked for about an hour surrounded by incredible mountains in a beautiful countryside, completely alone. We met some local people who were so surprised to see two foreigners hiking. One man was really happy to meet us and started a little conversation. He made our day!
The idea was to hike 2 more hours to get to Xianggong Hill, but a driver suddenly stopped by the road and nicely offered us a ride. So we accepted! There is an entrance ticket of 60 yuan to the mountain (because they built stairs…) and the ascent is relatively short (like 20 minutes). The panorama is absolutely stunning and we were barely 5 people on the platforms. It first looked like that…
With such a weather, definitely no need to wake up early for a sunrise with no sun… I LOVE this light! It is really soft and mystical!
Iza and I enjoyed this view during a long time until it started to rain. So we waited under a shelter until it stopped. And once again, it turned out even more beautiful after… So I took out my telephoto lens and zoomed at 135mm (200mm equivalent on a full frame camera) to get a completely different shot!
I was really happy to have spent so much time on top of this mountain, almost alone I repeat… with an awesome weather! And really happy about my two images! The atmosphere was unbelievable!
The way back has been easy and short again. A nice Chinese man took us in his car… We crossed the river again and the atmosphere again was more than magical…
Then we got back on our scooter for a late afternoon ride. And we made a stop on the way as I liked the landscape during that blue hour. I tried a long exposure..
I’ve finally come across a last interesting scene, just 100 meters away from our hotel. I definitely loved this weather conditions. It has looked absolutely atmospheric the entire day!
The last mountain viewpoint that I want to talk about is “Cuiping Hill”. Once again, this mountain wasn’t known years ago so it was new for us. It is unfortunately way further than these two mountains I just showed you. But for us, that was a good news! An occasion to jump on our scooter and ride for hours to find it! It’s been a real adventure to reach it : we got lost, the main road was destroyed, we had to find a different way to get around…Etc The mountain itself was just the final reward of this trip! So I really recommend to go there by yourself… See what you’ll get from one side :
And from the other side…
It could have been better with a sunset, I know, but Hey! Did you see the sun even once on my photos? Okay, just once… We were there during the month of March and the weather was like this, that’s all ! It was beautiful enough for us, and this 5-day adventure around the Yangshuo region was more than perfect! We did of course more things, and I could write much more, but I think it’s better now if you come here and see that with your own eyes 😉
If you enjoyed this article and these photos, feel free to leave me a comment below and share it with your friends! It will definitely help me get some more exposure, which is really not that easy nowadays with all the photographers around!
The next article will be about the Guizhou province and the biggest wooden village of the Dong minority, in China again. So stay tuned!
Bye for now 😉
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