Article by Malcolm Aquino
City life was getting to us, so we decided to get out and see some of the natural beauty that Shaanxi province has to offer. After some deliberation, we decided to go to Red River Valley, a lesser known area of the Qin Ling mountain range. To get there, we needed to catch a bus to Mei Xian county. The trip was an uneventful two-and-a-half hour ride that cost us about 35RMB each. Mei Xian is a small farming town made up of your typical shops and restaurants common all over China. There were no local foreigners so the usual curious looks and stares were a bit more frequent and with a lack of foreigners comes a lack of English. Luckily for us, there was no hassles since all of us spoke some Chinese. For all its lack of charm and amenities, the town was good stop to stock up on supplies for our hike.
Red River Valley is a little way out of town, so we had to grab a cab. Initially, the driver gave us a 50RMB price tag and after some brief negotiations, we got her to run the meter. It turned out that the drive was indeed 50RMB, so don’t agree to any more if you decide to go. The driver dropped us off right at the entrance and we paid the 60RMB entrance fee. The entrance had a big arch in front leading into the park and to the right there was a lot of historical information about the park.
At the entrance, there were electric carts waiting to take you to the main crossroads leading to the more scenic places.We decided to walk, which was nothing strenuous, even for soft city dwellers like us. There was a bit of climb but there were a lot of cool sites along the way. A couple small temples built into the mountains, two natural rock formations, and a nice bridge park with some pearlescent white statues of anancient scholar teaching children were the highlights of the initial journey.
As we continued walking, we encountered some beautiful creeks with lots of rocks that created some stunning backdrops that accompanied our hike. The river was dry when we were there so there wasn’t much to see on that side. About a 90-minute walk later, we found ourselves at a crossroads with a large parking lot. This turned out to be the main travel point to get to the other sites and the destination of the electric carts. There are a few food stalls and a restaurant next to the parking lot, but don’t expect much in terms of quality or price. To our left was an imposing staircase built on the side of one of Tai Bai Mountain, something I took a mental note to come back and do. We decided instead to walk right. After about another hour or so of hiking, we made it to a stunning waterfall. There was also a set of benches built on a tree, just a quick climb up some rocks near the base of the waterfall, where we sat down and had a picnic.
The way back was a bit of an adventure. Once we hiked back to the main parking lot, we decided that we needed to get back to Mei Xian before the last bus left (we didn’t know when the last stop was). The walk itself did not take a long time. However, it took us almost 45 minutes to find one of the electric carts to take us back to the main entrance. After another 15 minutes, we made it and found that there was a local bus that goes from Mei Xian to Red River Valley for 3RMB. We decided to take it, as there were no taxis in sight. Being a bus, there were a few stops that slowed the drive back down to about an hour. When we arrived at that bus station (nothing but a parking lot with a few buses in it), we were informed that buses ended at six o’ clock. It was 6:45.
Mei Xian, being the small town it is, had barely any hotels and none that would allow foreign guests. The next option we had was to take a taxi to Bao Ji, the next closest city at 60 kilometers away. We could then hop on a train to Xi’an from there. Unfortunately one of us (the writer) didn’t bring his passport, so a train ticket was not an option. We decided that the only way back would be to hire a taxi. We found a willing driver, as it is quite a drive to Xi’an. After some negotiation, we booked a taxi back to Xi’an for 400RMB. The driver said that he couldn’t go too far into the city because it was out of his jurisdiction and he had to pay 100RMB just to enter. I could neither confirm nor deny the validity of his statement, but when you’re stuck in a small town in rural Shaanxi, sometimes taking somebody on their word is the best decision. He dropped us off at Zao Yuan station.
Would I recommend Red River Valley? Absolutely. The air was clean and clear and there weren’t any large crowds to ruin the ambience. We only covered a small part of the park and it was a full day of walking. There are many parts to explore and many things to see at a reasonable price. Just remember to be back in town before six o’clock.
Malcolm Aquino has been exploring China for the last two years. If there is beautiful scenery and delicious food, chances are he’s been there.