I'd like to believe it was the 10rmb donation we made at the 800-year-old Sanqing Temple that got us back on the right path.
We cut a right, immediately landed back in the Lush Pine Forest, then hit the West Coast Scenic Spot trail – a path no wider than a Honda Accord that snakes around the mountain at 1600 meters high, peering out into peaks and valleys filled with white clouds like dragon smoke.
Suddenly, the clouds burst open and sunlight crashed through, revealing the granite peaks, waterfalls, forests, trees and every other element I'd seen in classical Chinese paintings but never really understood.
Some aunties and uncles with nice cameras gasped, "We're SO lucky to be here today! But we can't capture it in a picture – it's no use." Indeed, Sanqingshan is probably the most beautiful place I've ever seen. It's like the Disney opening sequence, meets the Bible, meets the Jungle Book, meets the Yin and Yang posters in your hippie uncle's house. I'm no longer worried about virtual reality or augmented reality after going here. Heaven is a place in Jiangxi.
Also, their sign game is great.
Within five minutes, the clouds returned and we raced down the steps back to the cable car, passing "Guanyin Delivering Children", "Blue Dragon Explore The Sea", "Rabbit Marching on the Moon", and "Laozi and Shuangzi Contemplating Taoist Scripture."
Some grandmas in outstanding physical shape shouted, "You won't make it!" but we caught the last cable car down, right at 5:31pm.
These mountains are only about four hours from Shanghai, in eastern Jiangxi Province – a place that doesn't get much love in English travel books. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a "AAAAA" tourist destination, Wikitravel only has two sentences about Sanqingshan. Taoists have been chilling up here for thousands of years, making immortality medicine from plants in the forest, staring at rocks, and contemplating life and the way.
Now, in 2016, the Hilton is opening a hotel at the southern end of the mountain. Within ten years, this place will be super crowded like Huangshan, so you should go now while it's fairly empty. The air is luxurious, everyone is friendly (expect a lot of "Hello, you're not from around here!"), and the whole trip will cure any of your inner-city blues. Highly recommended.
The Sanqingshan FAQ
How Do I Get There?
Super easy. First, take a three-hour train from Hongqiao Railway Station to Yushan (Jade Mountain). That'll cost 216rmb. From there, hit a 20rmb cab to the bus station – or take a private car straight to the mountain for about 200rmb. Mini-buses to Sanqingshan run every 40 minutes from 8.40am until 5.05pm and costs 17rmb. The 50-minute ride around the mountains and through villages is slightly intense. Buckle up.
Park admission is 150rmb the the cable car costs 70rmb up and 55rmb down.
Where Can I Sleep?
On the south end of the mountain, hotels range from super cheap 88rmb joints with peeling wallpaper to 650rmb at the Hilton, including breakfast buffet access and the sounds of waterfalls outside your window. The Hilton is actually a local hotel that's transitioning into being a Hilton. It's more like a local four-star hotel right now. I think I was the first person to ever use the steam room, which was pitch black. It's friendly and clean though.
You can also stay on the mountain – either in the middle, near the cable cars, or at the top – though supposedly the cheapest room you can find is around 400rmb. You can also camp, and some people were doing so inside the Taoist temple.
How Difficult Is The Climb?
Let me start by saying I saw an eighty year-old couple walking up the steepest part of the mountain, holding hands. That's love. In fact, the elderly were raging this mountain all day. That said, some of the passages are extremely steep – like, 60 degree angles. Luckily, some of the flat passages last for several kilometers. The toughest part was the "ancient trail", whose sign said, "The ancient trail is difficult to walk. Use extra care."
Is It Safe?
All the walkways have really sturdy railings. The construction is pretty incredible. I didn't see anything that looked sketch, though I would worry about getting to a hospital if any emergency occurred. That said, there is a police station by the cable cars that seems to have a heliport, and emergency numbers are posted around the park.
How Much Time Do I Need?
We managed to cover 80% of the sites at the top of the mountain in about seven hours, but that was moving fast. If time isn't an issue, your best move is to get to the town, stay a night, take the cable car up first thing in the morning, stay a night on the mountain, catch the sunrise, wander the rest of the top, then come down at sunset and stay another night in the town. So, three nights is ideal, two is solid, and one is doable but pushing it. If you're in a hurry, definitely hit the area around the Sanqing Temple in the northwest of the park. The mountain lake is unbelievable.
If you wanted to make an extended Jiangxi vacation out of this, you could take a cab to Wuyuan from here for a few hundred RMB.
How's The Food Situation?
Little shops and restaurants appear throughout the mountain, though everything is cheaper and better in the town at the base. Jiangxi food is spicy and underrated. Go for the dishes made with lima beans (bai yu duo) this time of year. Also, there are at least two Dico's fried chicken restaurants in the mountains. Apparently Dico's is the key to immortality.
The English translations on the maps around the park differ wildly. Just pay attention to the Chinese characters. Pack some water and peanuts / trail mix.
Don't look at your phone and fall off a cliff...