Anji Bamboo Forest: Crouching urbanite, hidden paradise
Hangzhou, some Chinese people say, is China's heaven on Earth. Suzhou, they’ll continue, is a close second. Both of these cities offer dramatic lake views, with the latter boasting a seemingly endless maze of gardens and statues. They're lovely. We get it. We agree.
They're also crawling with tourists.
Just an hour or so southwest of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, however, lies a natural wonderland that's actually been seen by more people worldwide than the two destinations above combined. The Anji Grand National Bamboo Forest (one of eastern China’s last remaining) was used as the backdrop for the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” But it is still rather hidden itself.
To be fair, it has gained some notoriety among local tourists. That said, it's almost completely untapped by Shanghai residents, for whom its endless greenery and perennial calm will provide a feeling of escape that far exceeds its distance from the city center.
This urban jungle is where your bus will drop you off. Do not panic: serenity is less than half an hour away, either via minibus (RMB 5) or taxi (no more than RMB 50, negotiable).
The only thing more alarming than the lack of noticeable tourists as you enter the forest is how unaffected the locals seem by the few that come. When asked how much she was charging for the bamboo she was peeling, this woman seemed surprised. “You’re welcome to take a piece, but I’m doing this for my own enjoyment,” she said.
Before you enter the park, it might be a good idea to stop at the restaurant by the entrance and enjoy some of the local specialties. The range of offerings on the menu is wide, but just tell the waitress (there is also only one) you’d like to sample the 竹子 (zhuzi), or bamboo.
Then enter and see what the stuff looked like before it hit your plate. As you walk in, you'll probably be afflicted with the feeling that you are days away from the city. Look out for master kung fu practicioners flying over the bamboo as you walk. OK, that’s only in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” but the bamboo fight scenes were filmed here.
Hey, who installed that rollercoaster in the middle of the bamboo forest? More importantly, is it safe? All we’ll tell you is that passengers ride in individual cars and control their own speed -- and we survived our ride. The brave can also control their own expenditure -- the father and son operating team will negotiate the listed price of RMB 40 per head.
Anji’s not just for tree -- we mean bamboo -- huggers, mind you. Water lovers can hop, skip and jump their way across one of its many lakes.
The concrete now reinforcing the ancient watchtower at the peak of the mountain is less than charming, but will ensure that you don’t meet your maker while you’re on top of the world.
After watching the sunset over the sleepy village at the base of the mountain, it’s possible to spend an evening with one of the families who live there. Not the best Mandarin speaker? These people are patient -- just make a “sleepy” gesture.
getting to anji
- Direct buses depart Shanghai South Railway Station’s south square bus terminal at 7:10 a.m., 8:10 a.m., 9:10 a.m. and 10:10 a.m. The journey takes about four hours.
- From Anji city take a minibus or taxi to the bamboo forest, which should take around 30 minutes. If you choose to cab it, try and negotiate a return journey with the same driver.
As the last Shanghai-bound coach leaves the town center at 2:30 p.m. it’s advisable to stay the night with a local resident and head back early the next morning. Adventurous travelers can do this Anji Shanghai day trip in a single day, taking one of the hourly buses to Hangzhou and transferring to Shanghai via train or bus.