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[Outbound]: Zhejiang Mountains And Rafting On The Cheap

China's Grand Canyon and that Nong Jia Le life...
Last updated: 2015-11-09
Outbound is SmartShanghai's travel features series dedicated to fascinating and wonderful places, nearby and far-flung, around China and sometimes not.
Escaping Shanghai doesn't have to involve buying a plane ticket to South-East Asia or Europe. Just a few hours from the mad city is a magical area around Hangzhou called Lin'an -- a place filled with mountains, rivers, and canyons to help reboot your lungs with fresh air from the countryside. Here's how to go there on the cheap. You'll need a bit of patience and some basic Chinese skills.

There's at least 48 attractions in Lin'an City(临安), which is located in the northwest part of Zhejiang Province. Nowadays, Lin'an is considered part of Hangzhou, but back in the Southern Song Dynasty, in order to get away from the chaos and war, people migrated to Hangzhou and changed the name to Lin'an. The name loosely translates to "where you can temporarily settle down and feel safe and peaceful". After the P.R.C. was founded, Lin'an was changed back to the original name, Hangzhou. And Linshui, a place about 50km from Hangzhou, where it is more suitable to spend time in isolation, was renamed as today's Lin'an City.

Let's zoom in on Lin'an. The area contains 13 towns, and the most popular attractions are Tianmushan (天目山), Damingshan (大明山), and Zhexi Grand Canyon (浙西大峡谷), which are all located within 20km of Changhua Town (昌化镇). In fact, Huangshan (The Mountain All Laowai Know) is just two hours away from Damingshan.

Just like the first time you stepped into McDonald’s, everything looks good in the pictures, and it's hard to choose. On this trip, I ended up going to the Zhexi Grand Canyon and Damingshan because they have rafting. Yeah, there's good rafting in Guangdong, but that's too far. Luckily Lin'an has it all.

Now, there's a few ways to get to Lin'an from Shanghai. The most direct way would be the daily 3.15pm bus from Shanghai South Railway Station to Changhua, or riding the nong jia le (farmhouse) bus that leaves from People's Square at 7am. The next easiest option would be taking a train to Hangzhou Railway Station (杭州东站), then hiring a cab to take you to any of these places, which will cost at least 300rmb, possibly more (you will want to bargain).

Any of those options would prove far easier than my route, which involved taking a train to Hangzhou, a cab to the West Hangzhou Bus Station (杭州汽车西站), then a 25rmb bus to Changhua.

Looks fun, right?

Dude, so much fun.

I left Shanghai at 6.30am and got to the Grand Canyon by noon. A big crowd of people with vans were waiting, offering places to stay and rides to tourist attracts. Out of all of them, I chose Xiao Feng, who seemed the most sisterly. I mean, how could you say no to that face?

Xiao Feng operates what's called a nong jia le (农家了, farmhouse), which is where you'll be staying and probably eating on your trip (try the eggs -- they're fresh). There's dozens of nong jia le in the area, you'll need to scope them out and trust your instincts. If you know how to use Dianping, you can find a bunch that way, and call ahead to see if they have vacancy.

1st Stop: Grand Canyon (Zhexi Daxiagu, 浙西大峡谷)

Entrance Fee: 110rmb on Qunar, 160rmb at the door. The ticket fee includes all four attractions (白马崖、剑门关、拓林瀑、老碓溪) and the sightseeing bus fee; tickets can be used for two consecutive days.
Opening Hours: 7am-5.30pm
Time Needed: 3-4 hours

Since the White Cliffs (baima ya, 白马崖) are the prettiest of the Grand Canyon's four attractions, I hit this up first. Private cars are not allowed to drive up the mountain roads, but there's a sightseeing bus at the entrance to each attraction. That's the only way to get up the mountain -- you can't miss it.

It's a pretty intense ride...

After that, finally here.

Can you swim there? Some people do in the summer, but this time they were just chilling.

After the White Cliffs, I called up Xiao Feng and she drove me 15 minutes to Longjing Xia for some rafting. Now, there's also some rafting at the Grand Canyon, at a place called Jian Men Guan (剑门关) for 100rmb/person, but it's only a 30 minute ride -- pretty weak, compared to Longjingxia.


2nd Stop: Rafting at Longjingxia (龙井峡)

Entrance fee: 130rmb + 20rmb transportation on Qunar app, 180rmb at the door.
Opening Hours: 8am-5pm; rafting hours: 10am–4pm (July–Aug is the peak season)
Time Needed: 1.5 hours
Rafting Season Ends: Mid-October

People were having a rad time.

This was an hour of non-stop rafting, going up and down, with water whipping into your face a thousand times over and over again. You'll definitely want to bring spare clothes to change into after this. You'll be sitting in the inflatable boat filled with water for about an hour. They provide lifejackets, but there's no helmets.

For an even more intense rafting experience, you could also visit the nearby Liangyuan Xia(凉源峡. Unfortunately, it was damaged from a storm on my trip, but now it's all fixed.


Time for some rest, so I hit up Xiao Feng on her cell. I had left some clothes with her earlier, and thankfully, she didn't run away with my stuff.

3rd Stop: Resting At The Nong Jia Le

One Night With Dinner & Breakfast: 100rmb
Xiao Feng's Number (Chinese-language only): 132 2181 7782

By the time I got to the nong jia le, which was a five minute walk from the Grand Canyon's entrance, Mr. Feng was in the kitchen prepping some dinner. Xiao Feng said to go check out the canyon by the farmhouse, a five minute walk down the road. Real fresh air over there.

Back to the farmhouse and Mr. Feng had laid it down.

Food coma time. For 100rmb a night, not too bad...

Of course, this isn't the only farmhouse in the area. Again, you can search for nong jia le on Dianping and you'll get a bunch of options. Xiao Feng is also on

If you wanna catch a sunrise or sunset, have the nong jia le peeps drive you to Tian Chi (天池), where the highest altitude is about 1000 meters. This one is 20km from the Grand Canyon. I didn't have time, but this picture from the internet can give you an idea.


Last Stop, Da Ming Shan (大明山)

Entrance Fee: 87rmb on Qunar, 135rmb on the door.
Opening Hours: 8am–5pm
Time Needed: Four hours

When I woke at 8.30am, it was raining, and Xiao Feng's family wanted to check out Da Ming Shan: "My parents and parents in law have never been to this mountain, they wanna go." The place is 40km from the farmhouse, and I threw Xiao Feng an extra 50rmb for the ride.
These are the kind of adventures you'll get into when you stay at nong jia le.

With the rain, fog, and slippery climb, the fam opted for a cable car, but I got myself a raincoat and hiked up the mountain.

The highest altitude here is about 1489 meters, and it's damn cold. Bring some extra layers and some new friends.

Also, if you're into snowboarding, they do that here from December–March, for 250rmb per hour on weekdays and 320rmb/hour on weekends, including equipment.


Getting There

Again, this is really a "Choose Your Own Adventure" kind of trip. Just get yourself to Changhua and figure it out from there. There's no way you could hit up all the attractions around Lin'an in one weekend, and your story will depend heavily on who you meet and where you stay. The area is safe, but use common sense and don't carry a ton of cash and valuables.


1) You may want to pick a nong jia le first, because they can arrange a bus for you, including buses from Shanghai. Here's a Dianping list of several in the Grand Canyon area. In general, these places only speak Chinese.

2) The only direct public bus to Changhua from Shanghai leaves at 3.15pm at the South Railway Station bus depot and takes four hours. That's a bit late for a two day trip, so maybe leave on Friday and return on Monday. Get to the station early in case you get lost.

You can buy bus tickets on the spot, or by calling 962168 (Chinese language only) for Shanghai South Railway Long Distance Passenger Transportation. They will deliver the ticket to your door within a few hours. Tickets are 108rmb, and the delivery fee starts at 35rmb.

3) There is another, smaller bus that leaves from People's Square daily at 7am for around 80rmb/person, but they need at least five people to ride, and you'd need to book that two days in advance by first booking a nong jia le, then letting them arrange the bus for you. They're the middleman here. Kind of complicated. You could also call the bus driver directly at 189 1780 6969, but then they might act as the middleman between you and the nong jia le.

4) Other options include just taking a train to Hangzhou Station then taking a cab to Changhua (maybe...300rmb?), or taking a series of public buses, which will be cheaper and take forever.

Getting Home

Again, lots of options. And if money isn't an issue, the nong jia le can always arrange a private car back to Shanghai. Bargain hard.

1) You can go from Changhua bus station to Hangzhou, then back to Shanghai. The bus leaves every day at 3pm sharp.

2) The other option is taking a direct bus from East Lin'an Station (临安东站) to Shanghai South Railyway Station. Those leave daily at 7.20am, 9.30am, and 2.10pm.

Speaking of home, I released this guy into the wilderness.