Sometimes a lucky traveler will end up in a place that seems to far from everywhere, and so unknown to tourists, and so mesmerizingly appealing, that you think it must exist only for you and that you’re the first outsider to ever have seen it.
The teeny town of Tangkou, in China’s Anhui Province, became such a place for Masayo and I, who arrived here from Hefei on Day 23 of our adventure. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across a place like this from time to time. A destination unspoiled by… anything.
Tangkou (汤口) lies at the foot of famous Huangshan Mountain, a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site that has loomed large in the psyche of China for centuries. Many people come to visit Huangshan every year, but a very small percentage does so from Tangkou.
Update, March 2016: As of this writing, the town of Tangkou still doesn’t have its own English Wikipedia page (only a Chinese one). I’m quite proud that I got to know a place that remains such a secret all these years later.
In Hefei we’d bought bus tickets to Tangkou and (after some guy tried furtively and unsuccessfully to take Masayo’s camera out of her pocket in front of the station) left about 9:00 am for the four-hour journey into deep, rural China.
When we arrived, we weren’t even dropped off in Tangkou proper: the bus just stopped on the side of a winding mountain road we were on, and the driver smiled and motioned for us to get off. I objected, since we weren’t near anything, and showed him our tickets: we paid for a ride to Tangkou! You’re not going to scam me, Jack.
They resisted my objections, though, and insisted we get off. In a friendly way. So we did.
Someone got off with us, a guy who carried Masayo’s bag for her. The three of us climbed through some barbed wire and down a steep hill… at the bottom of which was a waiting minivan.
Ah, so it was all merely a transfer! It turns out that driving directly to Tangkou is too roundabout a route for the first bus, so the rare visitor to the town must climb down this hill to catch a second ride on another road. Fair enough. And I was so suspicious.
The minivan took us into the town of Tangkou and we checked in to a small, cheap hotel. There didn’t seem to be any other tourists around – just a few locals in the chilly, overcast March weather strolling through the town’s few streets.
Diabetes report: Keeping insulin cool
I’m not super-strict about keeping insulin cool while traveling – I’ve never had a problem, even in hot countries, with insulin going bad or losing effectiveness. Still, it’s a good idea to keep it cool when you can.
In a chilly mountain town like Tangkou, leaving insulin wrapped up in my bag in my room always keeps it plenty cool. In the bag I carry around with me, the air is certainly cool enough to refrigerate it.
Mountain air was made for traveling diabetics.
The mystical, ancient feel of Tangkou
Tangkou is dominated by the mountains that tower above it, and even moreso by the river that slices the town in two. Bridges cross overhead and grimy white buildings line the sides of the river, which has been channeled into a deep concrete waterway. Stone steps lead down to the water, for those who want a closer look at the frigid mountain stream.
While we were there, the sky was cloudy and the mountains were hidden in mists. Tangkou seemed to be comprised of cold stone, ancient trees, and the kind of clouds and sky that city dwellers never get to see. It felt like nobody else could possibly have ever heard of Tangkou, much less visited.
In fact, of course, there are tourist facilities for those looking to climb (or take the cable car up) Huangshan. People weren’t shocked to see us or anything, although it was a little unusual for us to be here out of tourist season.
But having a secret little mountain town all to yourself is a feeling like no other. Picking a tiny spot on a map and getting there by hook or crook can lead to such rewarding experiences.
I hope when you travel, you find your own personal Tangkou-type places: destinations that have always existed… but are here just for you.
Where is a place you’ve visited that seemed like it was made just for you?
“Striking out on your own as we did on the Huangshan Mountains in China is much more rewarding than the comfort and stability of package tours.”