According to popular Chinese belief, Nanxi River is the birthplace of landscape painting, redolent of the water-and-ink prints of hatted fishermen hoisting long bamboo poles. During the peak travel season beginning in April, busloads of students and seniors make their way to the scenic quadruple A-rated attraction in Yongjia County, but this month the 150km river lies quiet. It’s a gruelling journey, but getting there crosses off a spot on any China travel bucket list.
The jump-off point to Nanxi is the bleak metropolis of Wenzhou. From the dimly lit train station, it’s a half hour by taxi to the ferry port which takes you to Oubei bus station. From here, it takes an hour and a half to arrive at the foot of the Nanxi River Valley, and the rutted roads are akin to an Indiana Jones expedition. The rickety bus doesn’t seem like it will survive the many lurching turns and fording streams. Roads are meant to be repaired by the end of the spring, and many other signs of commercialisation indicate that Nanxi will soon be an unexacting tourist trap, but for now, at least, it’s an adventure.
By the time you alight at the second-to-last stop on the road, the driver is likely to have rung a friend to coerce a stay at his family-run hotel. There are five or so on the main road. Don’t expect five-star accommodation, just bare pallet beds and pillows (and inconsistent hot water) for 100RMB/night. Inn owners are happy to arrange a driver to see the sights for another 100RMB/day.
From here, Shiwei Rock Scenic Area is a 15-minute drive. Full of craggy boulders resembling animals such as Lion Rock and Chaotian Turtle Rock, it’s a hike with mountain and forest landscapes pierced by turquoise waters. There are stops along the way where you’ll have to cross submerged stone footpaths, as well as slow rides down the river. Trekking through the entire parkland takes around five hours, not including stops to wring out wet clothes and trainers.
Leaving the Shiwei area, Furong Cun is a local village that’s a popular stop offering bamboo rafting down the river, but there’s not much to see in the town itself other than winding cobblestone streets and giant trays of drying fish.
Drifting down the river is undoubtedly the highlight of the trip. Dusk is the best time to go, when rafters are off duty and the mist casts an ethereal filter; this is the substance of painting and poetry, but catching it is just as dependent on inclement weather as the fabled yunhai (sea of cloud) everyone wants during a visit to Huangshan.
Tickets cost 70RMB/person, but some rafters try to shorten the slow meander down the river by using a motor. Seeing the serenity of Nanxi is a potholed scheme, but once there, postcard-perfect views await. Just don’t forget that you’ll have to go back the way you came.
High speed trains leave from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station to Wenzhou South Station every hour from 7am, a journey that takes around five hours and costs 161RMB. From there, take a taxi to Wenzhou Gang (ferry pier) for around 50RMB. The 2RMB ferry takes you across the river to Oubei bus station, where you can get a bus costing 11RMB to the Nanxi River Valley.
Alternatively, Juneyao Airlines offer return flights from 880RMB from Hongqiao Airport to Wenzhou Airport, where private cars can be hired from 200RMB to drive directly to Nanxi.