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Journey to Wudangshan, the Location of the Karate Kid Temple in Wudang Mountain

I write about travel, my experiences in China, psychology, culture, recipes, and other random subjects.

Huang Jing Tang Temple Near the Golden Roof

Huang Jing Tang Temple Near the Golden Roof

Wudang Shan

Wudang Mountain is both the name of a small mountain range in northern Hubei Provence as well as the name of a specific group of peaks within the mountain range. The entrance to Wudang Shan is located in the Dan Jiang Kou district within the city of Shiyen. The highest peak of Wudang Shan is the Sky Pillar Peak which measures 1,612 m.

There are two main roads that lead up into the mountain. These two roads terminate in different locations. One takes passengers to a cliff called Nanyan. From here tourist can climb to a cliff called the Golden Roof which is built on the highest peak of Wudang. The second road leads travelers up to the Five Dragon Palace, which is there earliest built structure in Wudang Shan.

A View from the Top; Looking Down from the Golden Roof

A View from the Top; Looking Down from the Golden Roof

Visiting and Accommodations

Entrance into Wudang Shan is about 140 RMB for a three-day pass depending on the time of year. Travelers can pay an extra 3 RMB for a map of Wudang Mountain. In many ways, the map is useless: It is an approximation of the two roads leading up the mountains, and the writing is in Chinese. It does, however, make an inexpensive souvenir. There is an extra charge of 2 RMB for insurance.

Travelers who plan to stay for more than a single day have two options for accommodations. It is possible to get a hotel room outside the gates at the foot of the mountain. It is also possible to get a hotel inside the gates. The hotel rooms inside the gates are more expensive than the ones outside. However, even after purchasing a three-day pass, every time a traveler leaves and then wishes to re-enter the gates, it will cost another 30 RMB. Because of this, it may actually be cheaper to stay in a hotel inside the mountain park.

If you've never been to China before expect the hotel rooms in Wudang Shan to be roughly the equivalent of a low budget motel back home. If you have been in China for a while, you will be pleased with the conditions of the hotel room. The accommodations will have some western features such as a western-style toilet. You may find that hot water is available only at a certain time of the day. This will probably be in the evenings between 6:00 and 9:00.

Photo of the map that I bought at the entrance to Wudang Shan

Photo of the map that I bought at the entrance to Wudang Shan

Seven Tips for Visiting Wudang Mountain

Take Plenty of Water

It is possible to buy water at little stops along the trails; however, it is slightly more expensive. Also, it isn't a good idea to solely rely on these shops. You may find yourself wanting some water and not being near one of these shops.

Take Plenty of Food

It is possible to buy food on the mountain if you need to. However, this is usually limited to instant noodles and other kinds of junk food. Also, you may want a snack while you are exploring some isolated cliff and you will not be near one of those little shops. A good suggestion is to take fruit with you. Apples and bananas are easy to find in China. You can load up on these in the shops at the foot of the mountain. Some of the shops you find on the mountain will have other fruit as well. Trail mix would be ideal, but you may have to make your own before you go.

Wear Shoes That You Can Walk in

An odd thing about Chinese women is that they often dress inappropriately for outdoor activities. What is perceived to be fashionable is often more important than what is practical. Wear comfortable shoes that you can walk long distances in. You'll be glad that you did. Your feet will thank you. Additionally, you'll be able to secretly laugh at all the people you see stumbling and struggling up the stone steps in high heels and mini skirts while you're able to climb more easily.

Pace Yourself

The signs lie, and the locals often lie also. You may hear that it takes three hours to climb the 4 km from Nanyan to the top of the mountain. Don't let this fool you. The trek to the top can easily take all day. Even for people who are in good physical shape, the climb may take much longer than three hours. The path that leads up to the Golden Roof is often deceptive. It goes up and up for a while only to descend again before climbing back up. The climb to the top will be more satisfying and less aggravating if you take it in stride, remember to breathe and most importantly take time to enjoy the views that surround you.

Be Patient With the Locals

The local people living on the mountain will try to sell all kinds of things to you. This ranges from fake little Taoist trinkets to swords, wooden staffs and even rides in “hua jiao” (fourth tone). This last is a chair that a person can sit in. The chair is supported by two bamboo poles that extend front and back, allowing for two men to carry the person in the chair on their shoulders. If you are interested in any of these things, then feel free to haggle. If you aren't interested, then usually you can simply say “Bu Yao.” You may have to say this two or three times. It sometimes helps to keep walking. Only once did I have someone persist in trying to sell me something I didn't want while I was resting. I kept saying “Bu yao,” and she kept lowering her price. When she reached five RMB, I responded with “Yi jiao bu yao” (ee j-ow bu y-ow). This is basically saying that I wouldn't buy it for a penny. The woman was not offended but was actually impressed that I could say this.

Be Careful With the Restaurants

If you spend the night or several nights in the mountain, you might want to eat at one of the restaurants. The restaurants here are nothing special. Every hotel has a small restaurant attached to it. The food is slightly more expensive in the mountain than in the surrounding area. This is largely because of the remoteness of the location. However, don't be fooled, ask about prices and look at a menu before you sit down. Expect to pay around five RMB for a bowl of rice with your meal. This is what most places charge. At least one however will charge twenty RMB for the same amount of rice. The rest of their prices are overly inflated as well. Look at the menus of a number of restaurants before making a decision.

Bring an Umbrella With You

Take an umbrella when you go to Wudang Shan and keep it with you everywhere you go while you are on the mountain. If you don't have one or if they can't see that you have one the locals will try to sell you an umbrella when you pass by. There is a good reason for this. It rains intermittently in Wudang Shan. Some days will be mostly sunny with infrequent bursts of rain. Other days it will rain more often. If you see a lot of mist around the mountains, you can expect it to rain at some point.

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Places to Explore in Wudang Shan

  • The Golden Roof: This is the highest peak of Wudang Shan. There are two ways to reach the top of the mountain. A traveler can ride a cable car to a pavilion near the top of Wudang Shan, or more adventurous travelers can climb up the many stairs that ascend to the golden summit. The climb is daunting, but reaching the Golden Summit yields a great sense of accomplishment. Getting into the Golden Roof will cost an extra 20 RMB.
  • Nanyan Palace: One of the more important Taoist temples. The path that leads to Nanyan Palace offers a challenging alternative to climbing to the Golden Roof. The Nanyan Palace path completes a circle that leads back to the main path that leads up the mountain.
  • The Purple Heaven Palace: This temple was a filming site for the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The courtyard of this temple is used in the mornings by the Tia Chi school that is located within the mountain. Getting into the Purple Heaven Palace will cost an extra 15 RMB.
  • Care Free Valley: Though it is much lower on the mountain than most of the other sights, Care Free Valley is probably the most beautiful location in all of Wudang Shan. Dragon Spring Lake is located at the beginning of the trails that lead into Care Free Valley. This lake is one of the locations used in the 2010 film The Karate Kid with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. The path that leads into the valley follows a small peaceful stream that cuts between the mountains and winds through forest-covered hills.
  • Five Dragon Palace: If you speak Chinese, it is possible to hire a guide who can lead travelers from the trails around Nanyan to the Five Dragon Palace. It is a 12 km hike from Nanyan Palace to the Five Dragon Palace. The other alternative is to take a bus from the bottom of the mountain up the less traveled road. This is the oldest temple built in the Wudang Mountains. It was first constructed during the Tang Dynasty. This temple suffered some damage during the Cultural Revolution but has since been repaired. Though it is separate from the other locations mentioned here, it is well worth the visit.
View of the temple leading to the Golden Roof

View of the temple leading to the Golden Roof

History of Wudang Shan

Beginning in Tang Dynasty in AD 627 the Five Dragon Palace was ordered to be built by Emperor Taizong. Successive emperors continued to fund building in Wudang Shan culminating in the construction of nine palaces, 72 temples built into cliffs, and 36 Taoist monasteries. The construction of these temples, palaces, paths, and more than 100 bridges that support them was completed mostly during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.

According to legend, Wudang Shan is the birthplace of Tai Chi and the Wudang style of martial arts. This style of martial arts includes Tai Chi and is distinct to southern China while the Shaolin school of martial arts is much more prominent in northern China.

The Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 resulted in damage to many of the monasteries located within Wudang Shan. In 1994 the site of Wudang Shan and the temples, palaces, and monasteries located within it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Since the recognition of UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, money has been funneled into Wudang Shan for the purpose of repairing and preserving the architectural structures located there. Because of this Wudang Shan has also become a major tourist attraction within China.

Portions of two movies have been filmed in Wudang Shan. The 2000 film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon used a location called the Purple Heaven Palace. The 2010 film The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan included scenes filmed in some of the temples as well as the Care Free Valley of Wudang Shan.

Dragon Spring Lake in Care Free Valley

Dragon Spring Lake in Care Free Valley

Why You Should Go to Wudang Shan

The attraction of Wudang Mountain for western travelers is slightly different than the reasons that most Chinese people journey here. Wudang Shan is an important location for Taoists. Many Chinese journey to the mountains to pay respects to Taoist beliefs in the many temples that are dotted up and down the mountain. They buy candles to light in the temples. They bow before the Buddhas there to show respect. Many seek the chance to talk to one of the Taoist monks.

For both Chinese and western travelers, Wudang Shan offers a momentary escape from the urban sprawl of the major cities. Wudang Shan offers the opportunity to view the architectural delights of the temples and palaces. These are architectural styles that have been mostly lost in the modernization of China. For westerners, the Wudong Wushu schools, the architecture of the temples, and the myriad hiking trails leading between them cutting through the splendid mountain scenery of trees, flowers, streams and the gently rising mist that lingers between the hills and slopes of the mountains are the main attractions of Wudang Shan.

Any westerner who has been living in a major Chinese city, encumbered by the high-rise apartment buildings, the countless malls, the unending traffic and the complete absence of nature should seek refuge in the hiking trails of Wudang Shan. Also, anyone who is interested in mountain traveling will not regret visiting Wudang.

Purple Heaven Palace

Purple Heaven Palace

Wudang Wushu Schools

Many people go to Wudang to explore the trails leading up the mountain. Many people also go for the purpose of studying Wushu or martial arts. Most of the foreigners seen in Wudang Mountain are actually there studying Kung Fu or Tai Chi in one of the Wushu academies. There are three martial arts schools that I've found around the mountain. Only one of these is in the mountain itself.

The Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy is located in the middle of the mountain near the Purple Heaven Palace. The Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy teaches classes in Tai Chi, boxing, weapons, and basic exercises. They have several packages to choose from. There is a daily rate of 350 RMB (a little over $55) for up to ten days. This amount includes tuition, accommodations, and three meals each day. There are three different levels of accommodation. The other packages range between 6,900 to 90,400 RMB depending on the type of room and the length of time you wish to stay. The 6,900 is for an older single room for one month while the 90K will put you in a "luxury" single room for one full year. If you'd like more information about the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy, you can visit their website.

The Wudang Chuan Zhen Wushu School has two locations. The main location is near the town of Shiyan. The other location is at the foot of Wudang mountain. They also teach Tai Chi, boxing, and weapons. The Wudang Chuan Zhen Wushu School has similar packages compared to the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy. Their prices start at about 5,339 RMB for one month. This is about $846.50 though for some strange reason they actually list this information in Euros. The Wudang Chuan Zhen Wushu School also has a website that you can find more information on.

There are many other schools in the area including the Dao Jiao Tai He Wushu Yuan.

Leaving Wudang

There are two ways to get back to the train station from Wudang Mountain. Travelers can take a taxi, or they can ride a bus. My advice is to take the bus. A rule of thumb for me is to never take a taxi in China that doesn't use a meter. There are many private taxis that operate illegally. These do not have a meter. They are just private cars. There are also a few “legitimate” taxis that have a meter but would rather not use it. In both of these cases, the driver will often try to negotiate a price with you. If the driver is ever a different person from the one who negotiates the price, the price may change once you arrive at your destination.

In my experience, every time a taxi driver tries to negotiate a price instead of using the meter, I have paid more than the trip should have cost. I've been told the same by other people as well. If you get into a taxi and the driver does not want to use the meter then simply get out and find another. Often they will stop you and acquiesce to using the meter.

To an extent, this overcharging is because we are foreign. They see a foreign face, and they assume that you are rich, and this gives them all the reason they need to try to rip you off. However, I've learned from some Chinese friends that it isn't just because you're foreign. These unscrupulous people will often overcharge other Chinese people just as quickly as they will foreigners. Some may think that this is part of the tradition of bartering. While this tradition is alive and well in China, it isn't completely pervasive and really doesn't apply here.

The taxi driver tried to charge me 50 RMB. Though I do consider this to be overcharging, I have to admit that others have tried to charge me much more in the past. Additionally, I was traveling with a Chinese friend. Sometimes, but not always, this fact alone lowers how much they think they can get from you. The bus only cost 5 RMB. The bus ride might take slightly longer because they will stop a few times along the way to pick up more people, but this is a negligible amount of time.

It doesn't hurt to talk to the taxi driver, especially if you are traveling in a group of four. In this case, if you can talk him down or talk him into using the meter, it may be worth it. Otherwise, I would advise taking the bus.

© 2012 Wesley Meacham

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