December 1, 2017


Experiencing a beautiful Chinese ancient town in appealing, hilly surroundings.

After visiting the nearby placed Yellow Mountain, I spent two nights in Hongcun. Arriving by bus in the afternoon, my plan was to take it slowly to recover from the millions of stairs I walked over the past few days. However, as soon as I got through the gate, I had doubts about achieving such a thing. Too many pretty, narrow, and crooked streets to admire.

The place looked like I was time-traveling. So, instead of napping in the room I booked, I just tossed my backpack there and started browsing the village corner by corner. As there were plenty to catch my eye...

...the remaining hours of sunshine were gone in a moment. No complaints; visual goodness was all over in big doses anyway. I just focused more on people aspects than architecture.

I also tried some street food. Namely, the local version of the Chinese flatbread tasted great. And the cookies this guy sold did too.

A thin crust of dough with sesame seeds and a poppy seed filling. Mmmm.

The fruit wasn't overpriced, and the green tea was delicious. Good times!!

But, by the time I made it back to my accommodation, sleep was really needed.

I started the following day early, visiting some of the local ancient halls before they got cramped with crowds.

Once that happened, it seemed like a good opportunity to get out and explore some of the surroundings. I wanted to see the jungle behind the town. To reach it, I crossed a new part of the village, which was also an experience.

Then, I continued west and passed some agricultural land...

...and eventually, I got to a thick wall of trees. It was like approaching a fort. Here we go!

My map displayed that there should be a road leading inside. Indeed, something like that was in place, so I entered the woods. It was apparent, though, that the road didn't get any maintenance for some time — the further into the forest, the less of the road. The road is dead; long live the jungle. You get the idea.

The path soon disappeared completely, leaving thick layers of vegetation all around. Still, I tried to wade through for a little. The progress was slow; yet loads happened meanwhile: dragonflies bigger than the palm of my hand flew around me, inch-long ants and an earthworm thick as an arm, roughly a yard long crawled on the ground. I was about to move a tree branch in front of me, and it suddenly jumped away. "What the..!"

Usually, I'm not very keen on cancelling my plans, but considering my preparedness for this environment, that's what I did. Maybe if I had a better knowledge of the possibly poisonous stuff that live here and a machete, it could work. (The aspect of getting poisoned had an ironic twist later, but let's not skip ahead.)

Now, I felt like turning around was the best I could do. I was making my way back to civilization when I stumbled across a different road. It wasn't on my map but looked maintained. "Well, that would do." Curious about what's behind the bend, I went deeper into the wilderness once again. As a kid, I used to dream about experiencing a jungle (probably an "Indiana Jones syndrome"), and here I had it. That felt warm on my heart. Or maybe it was just the surrounding air. With the humidity around, pfff, it was hot! Good that I had water with me. The road led to some reservoir with a farm.

Fishes, ducks and chickens.

As I quenched my desire regarding the jungle, I went back to the village.

Meanwhile, the sky cleared, and the direct sunshine brought the temperature even higher. So, I planned to get inside for an hour or two and let the highest heat pass. But before getting to my hostel, l stopped for lunch. That was, however, a moment when the luck wasn't with me. The food might have been a tad salty, but it tasted good. But by the time I returned to hostel, my head had hurt as if there'd be a glass splinter inside. I realized that the food had some seriously nasty surprise. Dammit! It took good five hours (but thankfully no longer) between my bed and bathroom to put myself together. And when I did, a storm came. As I still had vivid memories of the insane downpour I experienced in the Yellow Mountain, I had no appetite to get soaked again — I waited a bit. But as the rain showed no hints of quitting, I grabbed my jacket and went out anyway. I just couldn't justify staying indoors when being in the middle of China.

I left the village and walked north towards the mountains, with anticipation of some good views. The rain stopped, and I felt better. Between the village and the slopes are a few small settlements, but mostly, there are arrays of rice fields.

These, together with the peaks in the background, created picturesque scenery. Once the terrain started to incline, the sky played with many colors, and the rice fields changed to tea gardens. The outlooks were amazing.

Eventually, when tea got replaced with a bamboo forest, the paved road converted to a narrow (and a tad suspicious) footpath. Never mind that, I kept my direction.

Good that I did! It didn't turn into impenetrable terrain this time; instead, it revealed more of this:

Keeping uphill, I got on a local highway, which led to more neat views.

The dusk was in full swing, and darkness thicker each minute. "Time to return," I thought. I was some five miles from my accommodation, and the day's past events caused me that I didn't have the energy to waste. Still, I was confident that I'd make it back on my own.

Lights on the right are the village.

However, there was an option I wanted to try instead: hitchhiking my way back to the village. Hitchhiking in China was on my secret wishlist, and now was the best chance to do so. The thing is, hitchhiking here is not a common practice, so while I had hope, my honest expectations weren't any big. After all, it was a pitch-black night by now. However, it took only rough 10 minutes, and I, even with my crappy Chinese skills, sat in a car heading to Hongcun. Gosh, the level of excitement went through the roof — what a way to turn a potentially miserable day into a massive victory! And it didn't end there. Once back in the town, I got some (sterile) food from a supermarket, ate ice cream while listening to local musicians, and then I stumbled upon an unattended fancy swimming pool to relax by. Happiness and gratitude; that is what I was full of.

The next morning I repeated an early stroll, but I went out earlier than yesterday. This offered a chance to see many locals using the canals that follow the paths to wash their clothes and dishes. It was an interesting but disturbing sight: The same water is used as a dump for all sorts of junk and for cleaning things, including food for local restaurants.

A standard street in Hongcun — a stone path lined with water canals. A guy cleans his motorcycle in one corner, and a block away, some lady prepares a duck in the same water.

Ah, I wish I saw this before that meal yesterday.. Oh well.

At least, the weather was beautiful, shaping the ancient walls in a lovely light.

And when the place filled with tourists, I bought more of the local flatbread and went to catch a bus towards Xidi and Hangzhou...

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like my previous articles about China or browse my blog archives for more topics and places. Thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories