Wuyuan is ferociously well loved by Chinese tour groups. Fortunately, however, they attribute little or no value to any of the so-called ‘scenic spots’ that you don’t have to pay to see. The best way to enjoy this stunning region, then, is to head to the nonetheless picturesque villages which don’t appear on the visitor maps (and, as an added bonus, are free).
Set in a valley surrounded by brooding, green, cloud-topped mountains, Lingjiao is one of these villages and has a suitably remote, end-of-the-line feel to it. The only accommodation here is a single homestay (around 50RMB/night; negotiable). With two beds, the room is basic, but very clean and there’s a hot shower downstairs (no towel).
Follow the road from the homestay and you can walk a loop around the village, with its rice paddies and well-preserved white-washed houses bisected by a clear-water river. There are no restaurants here but there’s a buffet-style meal provided at the homestay (10RMB) with a choice of good-quality dishes, tea and plenty of baijiu
You can ask anyone in the village for directions to the route that takes you to Guankeng (官坑), but chances are your hosts will walk you to its beginnings, only about 50 metres from your base. Paved entirely with slates, the path is straightforward with no forks or left-right calls to make (with one exception, see right). That said, at a minimum of four hours (with half of that in ascent) it’s by no means an easy walk and some fairly steep inclines would certainly test anyone in poor health. For the fit and willing, though, the quietly life-affirming views are astounding and, at times, almost exhaust contemplation.
Well into the descent of the mountain, which follows the river, you’ll come to the fourth in a series of man-made shelters. Just to the left, down the steps, is a grassy shelf next to the river (good for a picnic) and a small waterfall (for a paddle), making it a good rest stop. The shelter marks the only time the route splits however, and you need to take a right – through the hut – to continue, following the subtle painted red arrows.
Alternatively (or additionally), press on until the first set of Guankeng’s rice paddies and take a left along the ridge to the water where, for the really brave, there’s a very accessible part of the river with a just big-enough space for a swim.
Continue along the river through the village until you reach a shop with two red lanterns, crack open a (cold-ish) beer (3RMB) on the outside bench and it won’t be long until you’re offered both food and shelter. The homestay here (20RMB/night, with hot shower) is clean but basic in the extreme. The food, though, (12RMB) is superb and your host can set you an outdoor table by the babbling river.
Depending on the time, either continue chugging beer by the river or take another walk into the surrounding countryside: the road out of the village eventually comes to a huge lake while, in the opposite direction, follow the river to another part of the village deeper in the valley. In the evening, just past the row of shops over the bridge, there’s a small organic tea processing house where you can watch farmers exchange their daily harvest for credit.
The only bus from Guankeng to Wuyuan (30RMB) is at 6am (make your intentions known to your host and she’ll make sure it doesn’t leave without you). This offers two possibilities: either head straight back to Wuyuan bus station and take the first bus back to Shanghai (9.50am/194RMB) or check out Little Likeng (李坑, 60RMB) before taking the later bus at 3.30pm.
Little Likeng is Wuyuan’s most visited, fussed-about village, but it’s loud and over-subscribed, with the composure of a theme-park and a shortfall of spirit that lands well below the beauty of anything you’ve seen already. But, if you’re still keen, the bus from Guankeng will drop you at the entrance gates and a motorbike taxi back to the bus station is around 20RMB.
If you’ve got real time, though, or if you can do a three-night trip, visit Tuochuan (驼川), also known as Big Likeng. There’s the standard entry fee but it’s well out of reach of the tour-group catchment area and is perhaps the most beautiful part of the county (buses to Tuochuan from Wuyuan: 8am, 10am, midday and 2pm; from Tuochuan to Wuyuan: 6am, 10am and 2pm; 20RMB, around two hours).
The best way to get to Wuyuan is by bus (twice daily from Shanghai South Long-Distance Bus Station: 9.28am and 6.45pm; 180RMB/one way). Take the morning service which should get you to Wuyuan town by 3.30pm. There’s an English-speaking tourist information desk at the short-distance bus hall on the left should you need it, but motorbike taxi touts at the entrance of the bus terminal will take you to Lingjiao (岭脚), one hour away, for around 70RMB.
The ride, which courses north through the county and takes in the village of Zheyuan (折源) with its skinny, six-storey riverside pagoda, is one of the highlights of the trip. Upon arrival at Lingjiao, the driver will take you to the village homestay.