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Avoiding the 'Crouching Tiger' tourists and seeking out tranquil villages and lonely trails

Towering skyscrapers are replaced by ancient trees, the blaring of horns by the soft gurgle of a mountain stream.

Following a winding path as it meanders through the lush bamboo forests that carpet the sides of Anji's numerous mountains in Zhejiang Province is just the tonic for the stresses of Shanghai's concrete jungle.

Despite the crush of tourists over the Dragon Boat Festival last Thursday, the quiet stillness, broken only by the wind rustling through the bamboo, is just a small walk away along any of the many trails in Anji.

Most tourists are concentrated at popular lookouts and tourist sites with vehicle access, so the travelers wanting to get away from the crowds have their pick of virtually deserted mountain tracks.

This is where the climactic fight scene was shot for Ang Lee's Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000). While the site has become a popular tourist attraction, most visitors find it underwhelming, with better natural scenery in other places around China's largest bamboo forest.

This is also where famous Anji baicha, or white tea, is grown and many walks take through the tea plantations.

Anji is four hours by bus from Shanghai, and it is advisable to get out of the neighboring city's bustling and head for the mountains and bamboo forests further south.

While some may chose more luxurious accommodation in Anji, those willing to go for the clean, simple hotels in and around the smaller nearby villages will find a quieter pace of life and nature on their doorstep.

One of the more picturesque choices is to go for a hotel around the town of Tian Huang Ping, about 25 kilometers south of downtown Anji.

There are many inns to choose from and ours was on the outskirts of the town. Backing onto a bamboo forest, the Jin Dian Jia Ri had clean twin rooms with a television and attached bath for 100 yuan (US$14.63) a night.

It also served wonderful food from its kitchen staffed by village women.

Their chicken soup is a well-known favorite and ordering is as simple as walking into the kitchen and picking which of the locally grown fresh vegetables one wants prepared.

More accommodation options present themselves during an afternoon walk along a path that links two of the villages near the hotel.

Local villagers seem more than happy to put up travelers for a night, allowing visitors to gain a slice of village life.

The walk to the village is a charming afternoon excursion up a quiet country road and then cutting up a small mountain track to a small village.

Kept company by a local dog, we took in various scenes of village life - a farmer tending his crops, a couple plucking and dressing a chicken for the dinner.

Along the way one can marvel at the intricate irrigation systems, with their concrete canals crisscrossing the mountain, a testament to China's astounding manpower.

While basic mountain tracks are accessible, it is advisable to seek a local guide before setting out on anything ambitious.

Most hotels could organize a local to take you on some trails for about 300 yuan a day, but some Chinese language skills may be necessary.

While mobile phone coverage is generally good, the bamboo forests can be disorientating and GPS would be advisable for hardy walkers looking to set out without a local to show them the way.

For those who would like to access the more isolated walking trails but whose feelings about tours conjure up images of flag-toting, megaphone-blaring tour groups, Xcape Tours presents a refreshing change.

Run by business partners Zhan Wei and Amjad Hamid, the weekend tours pack in some stunning walks that the pair discovered from local guides.

Leaving on Friday night and returning on Sunday afternoon, the tour - including all meals, free flow of alcohol and drinks and transport - costs 1,750 yuan.

Hamid and Zhan have been running the tours since July last year and take groups as small as four, but tours are usually around 15 to 20 people.

On a typical tour, the group will travel down Friday night and then set out on Saturday morning along a walking trail that starts from the top of Chonglong Mountain.

The trail winds its way down a bamboo forest before coming across a tea plantation, with stunning views down the valley.

The walk follows a mountain stream as it cascades over several small waterfalls, before arriving at a small Buddhist temple nestled in a rocky crevice. The quiet temple is next to a 10-meter-high waterfall and the stone path eventually winds its way back to an entrance gate at Jiulongxia Village.

In the afternoon, the group takes the demanding walk up the steps at Cang Long Bai Pu, a main tourist attraction. While it is busy it has numerous beautiful waterfalls.

After a grueling climb many walkers seek the respite of the mini van for the descent. But one of the day's best walks is the path that winds down the mountain.

With tea growing between the rocks on the path, it follows the course of a small stream. The trail crosses the stream as it broadens out to become river and eventually pops out just a short 15-minute walk back to the hotel.

"You don't see anyone on these walks, it is very quiet and the bamboo forests are some of the best and well preserved in the region. It is such a beautiful spot," says Hamid.

Unlike Moganshan or Hangzhou, Anji is only lightly populated with tourists on most weekends and even during a busy public holiday it is still easy to escape the crowds, says Hamid.

"What we like about Anji is most of the time we go there is hardly anyone there. We have selected the walks with the aim of getting people away from other tourists because when they leave Shanghai they don't want to go to crowded spots," he says.

How to get there

Six buses leave from Shanghai for Anji, with the first going at 7am and the last leaving at 2:30pm. Buses leave from Hutai, Chuansha and Beizhan bus stations.

There are seven buses that leave daily from Anji for Shanghai with the first leaving at 6:25am and the last at 1:25pm.

Xcape Tours can be contacted via their Website at

Where to stay

Jin Dian Jia Ri

Tel: 135-6727-0220, (0572) 511-2105

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