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Having two weeks to kill in China, my group of friends and I decided to brave a train/backpacking trip from Shanghai to Huangshan National Park in Anhui province. We took an overnight regional train (about $10) to Huangshan City, where it's easy to catch a truck/bus to the foot of the mountain.

I had no idea what to expect from a national park in China. I had no idea the "hiking" to the peak of Mount Huang (Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain) would actually be 8 kilometers of concrete stairs going straight up. I also didn't know that for about $15 there was a funicular that would have saved me the intense cardio workout and awkward passings of porters carrying twice their weight to and from the luxury hotels on the peak.

If I had known these things, however, I still would have braved the 6-hour climb with my backpack crushing me – because the higher you climb, the more surreal and beautiful Huangshan becomes. You know the medieval Ming paintings of mountain peaks and pointing pines that disappear into floating clouds? That, but real.

It was an exhilarating experience to stand above clouds at the edge of a ravine, the bottom of which you can't see at all, and the sunset from the peak was among the most spectacular I have ever seen.

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