Bingyu Valley and Tianmenshan: The cartographer was drunk

The Chinese phrase says, "We hope you return to Bingyu Valley," but I think the English translation has a nice ring to it.

We recently had a three day weekend in honor of DUT’s school-wide sports day. As tempting as it was to see what the day consisted of, I decided it was a good opportunity to take a weekend trip somewhere nearby. Bingyu Valley is rumored to be a  “Little Guilin” (for its mountain peaks and cliffs) and or “Oriental Miniature Switzerland.” I  haven’t been to Guilin or Switzerland, but I’m pretty sure it can’t compare. It was, however, a nice place to get out of the city and see a little bit of nature.

Our group consisted of myself, Margaret, Zhizhi (Margaret’s friend) and Kat and Jason (our PiA buddies from Shenyang). We set out on Friday morning with a three hour bus ride from Dalian to Zhuanghe (庄河), the town nearest Bingyu Valley. At the bus station in Zhuanghe, Zhizhi had an aunt who was kind enough to pick us up and drive us the additional 45 minutes to the Bingyu Valley (冰峪沟) area. We were concerned about finding a cheap place to stay, but ended up in a hotel right outside the park entrance that cost us each 10 kuai (a little over $1) a person! (It might have been that cheap because we sent Zhizhi in to ask the price, while us foreigners hid under the seats inside the car.) We had a quick lunch, dropped off our stuff, and set out for the park. The entrance ticket was a bit steep at 120 kuai a person, but Margaret and Jason were able to use their expired college IDs to get a student ticket for 90 kuai.

We entered the park on a small ferry. Margaret's unadulterated love for the outdoors is clear.

This is it!

Can you spot the "wildlife?" Some fake deer statues to greet visitors as they enter the park...

Why did Kim cross the river? To get to the other side

Beautiful Bingyu. Inside the park there were all kinds of buildings, amusement park rides and random other pieces of infrastructure that disturbed the tranquility of the place. The blaring techno music didn't help...

Of course the entire way up the mountain was paved steps, as "hiking" usually is in China. At the top of the first mountain, we reached this cute pagoda.

Obligatory self-timer shot. Me, Zhizi, Margaret, Kat and Jason

These flowers smelled amazing and were blooming all over the park.

Taking some time out with a random tiger

After an afternoon of hiking around the Bingyu park, we had some traditional countryside food and fell fast asleep. The next morning we decided that we would climb another nearby mountain, Tianmenshan (天门山) or “heaven’s gate mountain.” The road sign outside our hotel clearly said that Tianmenshan was 10 km away. However, when we tried to get a taxi to take us there, they scoffed and said it was at least 40 km. (Side note: I have asked Chinese people about how far something is, and their response is usually, “Oh, sooooo far.” Really, it turns out to be a 15 minute walk. Experience has taught me to take their advice with a grain of salt.) Thinking that they were trying to rip us off because we were foreigners, we decided to set off walking in the right direction and see how far we could get.

We walked past some of the Chinese countryside homes and family farms

We walked past some chickens. (The Zhuanghe/Bingyu area is know for a special dish called "big boned chicken" so I guess that's what these guys get turned into.)

We walked and walked (for over an hour), and didn’t see any mountain ranges in sight. A random van pulled over and offered us a ride to Tianmenshan. Without any other options, we reluctantly agreed. It turned out that the mountain was way more than 10 km away. Probably more like 30. As we were driving, we saw another sign with the exact same distance marker “Tianmenshan- 10 km.” Zhizhi’s response to the errant signage was, “Well, maybe the cartographer was drunk.” Oh, China. I guess we should have trusted the locals. But in our stubborn Western minds, we believed that the official road sign was an empirical fact. It seemed ludicrous to us to assume that the sign was incorrect. Lesson learned: road signs should not be trusted in China.

As we got dropped off at the “back entrance” to the mountain, our driver told us we could enter for free. Then two dudes on motorbikes with ID cards around their neck demanded an entrance fee and threatened that if we didn’t pay, we would have to pay more at a different ticket booth when we entered. After way too much hassling, we finally got a hold of the real entrance tickets (that were marked for 60 kuai– 20 kuai less than the guys were trying to charge us). Satisfied that we didn’t get ripped off, we set out to hike the mountain. We had the whole place to ourselves, and in a little over an hour we had made it over the top and back down to the main entrance. Then we had to walk for another two hours to the main road where we hired another random van to take us back to our hotel. It was a long day of walking, but the weather couldn’t have been better.

I didn't really take pictures while we were hiking. This is as we are walking away from the mountain.

Kat and the mangy mutt that followed us for an hour (yuck)

Despite being exhausted, we got back to Dalian, showered and rallied for for a big night out to show Kat and Jason our favorite Dalian nightclubs. It wasn’t the most relaxing weekend, but was definitely a worthwhile way to spend some time off.

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3 thoughts on “Bingyu Valley and Tianmenshan: The cartographer was drunk

  1. I was thinking about this place the other day when somebody asked me what my favorite spot in China is. This place is definitely near the top. I went in 2007 and never knew the name until now. Definitely cheesy and incredibly touristy, but also gorgeous! Glad you had such a good time. When do you head back home?

  2. Hi Tom! I’ll be traveling around northeastern China for July, and then in August I’ll be in the US. In September I start teaching at Yunnan University in Kunming. You’ll still be in Yunnan, right?

  3. Hi Kim,

    Thanks for the information. I am planning to go there with my family at the end of Sept. We will just leave Dalian early in the morning and come back on the same day.

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