August 21, 2010
Guangdong Province is famous for its lack of worthwhile attractions. Open any guidebook on China, and the chapter on Guangdong will invariably begin with a line like this, “Guangdong is one of the economic powerhouse of China, and its cuisine is world-famous, but Guangdong trails far behind its poorer neighbouring provinces when being ranked as a traveling destination.”
With the opening of the much hyped Wuhan-Guangzhou High-Speed Railway in December 2009, the remote northern part of the province suddenly became much more accessible. On a very hot August weekend, I decided to try out the new railway to Shaoguan, the hub to the recently named World Heritage Site, Danxia Shan. Danxia Shan is famous for its Danxia Landform, a unique type of landscape consists of a red bed characterized by steep cliffs that is only available in southern China.
Guangzhou’s High-Speed Railway station, the Guangzhou South Station, is a long way from the city centre, located in the suburb of Punyu. To get there, I had to first take the train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou Dong, then rode the subway to Changlong Station, and finally hopped on a bus to the high-speed railway station. Just typing out the route reminded me how much effort was required to get to the station.
It took around 40 minutes to cover the 183 km journey. Several reports of mechanic malfunction and frequent delays had been reported on the railway since its inception, which we experienced firsthand at the electronic ticket booth. We found out the entire electronic ticketing system of the rail-line from Guangzhou to Wuhan had gone haywire when we arrived the station. Without any backup plan from the railway management, every passenger was forced to wait in two lines. The system resumed service after half an hour, but it felt much longer because the staff was totally inept in handling and explaining the situation to the stranded passengers. This event highlighted what China is – a country with impressive hardware that is poorly maintained and managed.
We arrived Shaoguan to find out that, once again, the high-speed railway station was in the middle of nowhere. After negotiating with several drivers, we hired a taxi for the rest of the day. We first check-into our hotel in Shaoguan, then we were off to Danxia Shan, 50 km northeast from the city.
Along the way, our driver shared with us changes in Shaoguan since the opening of the high-speed railway. He told us the price of real estate had soared over the past year and many people from Guangzhou had come to buy second homes. Shaoguan, for better or worse, was undergoing a hasty overhaul. He recalled fondly the sleepy Shaoguan he grew up in, although he acknowledged it was necessary for his hometown to continue to develop, like everywhere in China.
The midday sun was shining brightly in the sky, casting its blinding light and smoldering heat over everything on the ground. Our driver dropped us off at the entrance of the park. From there we bought the entrance tickets, then boarded the park’s shuttle bus to our first stop – the Yuanyangshi Scenic Area.
Yuanyangshi (陽元石), loosely translated as the Rock of the Male Origin, is like the name suggested a giant piece of reddish sandstone that very much resembled the male sex organ. The peculiarly-shaped rock had a stimulating effect on the approaching tourists. Adults giggled while pointing at the rock as their kids, who seemed to sensed their parents’ unease, began asking all kinds of questions. Many tourists seemed to believe the rock was not merely a natural coincidence, but in fact a mythical object that could grant mind-blowing reproductive abilities to those who worshiped it. An altar was set up for worshipers at an overlook with a clear view of the rock.
On the side of the trail to Yuanyangshi, many local farmers brought along their goods to sell. We bought a piece of cucumber from an elder lady, who suggested us to visit his son’s restaurant for lunch. She led us back to the outskirt of the Yuanyangshi Scenic Area, where there were many small restaurants and lodgings. We made a turn from the main road, and there it was, the second building on the alley, our place for lunch. The utilitarian-looking white concrete building had two floors; the ground floor served as a restaurant and the upper level had several rooms for accommodation. Three simple dishes of chicken, river snails and vegetable cost us RMB 150.
The ground was scorching hot after several hours of direct exposure to the midday sun. Bracing the heat, we caught the shuttle to our next destination – Changlaofeng Scenic Area. Reaching the Changlaofeng (長老峰) lookout would take an ascend of around an hour from where the shuttle dropped us off. To shorten our time under the sun, we focused on reaching the lookout as quickly as possible, without taking any breather.
Finally at the lookout we had a clear panorama view of the Danxia Landform. I wouldn’t say the scenery was spectacular, especially after traveling to Huangshan early in the year. However, Danxia Shan’s distinctive terrain does merit a visit, especially since it is relatively close to Hong Kong.
We stayed for an hour at the lookout before returning to our hired car and called it a day.