Bushwhacked: Camping in Dongguan


Trailblazing Dongguan Campsites

This is what it is. It’s a small thing, and we can categorize it easily into a form fitting, group-dictated configuration of streets, taxis, factories and KTV bars. Your life here is a regiment, long established, and your entertainment options are limited to the local nightlife, park systems and shopping outlets.

These are all facts that some might accept in Dongguan, and with the substitution of a few words here and there it could be transposed upon the attitudes of many of the world’s cities and their populations. But there are no limits on how you spend the most valuable of life’s commodities – time. Not with the inclusion of a little imagination and good old fashioned gumption and resourcefulness.

Surrounding the city and in the province, is the pimple pocked face of an adolescent modern metropolis. When we look at a topographical map of China, the entire country seems to be a jagged mountain range as it works up to the Tibetan plateau for one moment of calm and rest before as- cending the world’s highest peak, thinning the air of the Himalayas. So, to you with children; those that desire exercise; and those of you who squeeze bare toes into the sandy beaches of adventure, because you are the same who notice veins of green within the sprawl of cement, glass and tile, we say, “the paved path is not the only attribute of this city. It does not exist at the whim of any city planner or bureaucrat. We go where no expat has often gone before.” We have found the camp sites you desire and the destinations that make them worthy of scraped calves and mosquito bites.

And it has been made evident that there is a group of Dongguaners interested in just such an activity. So after the desires for campsites were brought to the attention of HERE! Dongguan’s editorial staff by readers, luck and happenstance brought to our attention during an outing to nearby Yangshuo, the existence of a start-up known as Zen Quest, Ltd. After the chance meeting, co-founder Eben Farnworth put us in contact with his colleagues Ed Lau, a graduate of The University of London Law School and the company’s General Manager, and Senior Instructor Mai Ruinan, a Dongguan native and Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA) instructor.


On an overnight expedition with two of the avid outdoorsmen who run Zen Quest, a company that applies a three pronged business model of package adventures or expedition consultations and also uses active outdoor training as a tool for university or corporate management development, they explained to HERE! a little about China’s mountaineering history and the developing citizen movement for outdoor sports.

“The Chinese outdoor community is based much on an online community,” said Lau. “They exchange a lot of the information, everyone comes up with their own route and they get together to run it.” Because outdoor sport in China is so new to amateur adventurers there are few trails in many areas, but that hasn’t stopped people like Mai from making it their life’s goal. “It was because I realized my health was not so good. I decided to walk and relax in the nature. Since then I was addicted to it,” Mai said.

Mai has been passionate about outdoor sports for almost three decades and has reached the CMA’s third degree of training. What started as a political organization to summit the immense peaks and treacherous terrain of China’s western provinces is now used “to promote the na- tionwide fitness campaign and folk outdoor activities, and to organize and train athletes and mountaineers to attend international compe- titions,” said Mai.

Gaining most of its training from Soviet Russia, the CMA, a quasi-governmental organization founded in 1958, challenged the world in the search for high peaks, closing access to foreign expeditions for mountains higher than 8,000 meters until the country could claim first summit for themselves. In 1985 it would become a formal member of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation. “After they succeeded, the mountains were opened. There are two sides you can climb up to the Mt. Everest, but the Chinese side is more difficult to climb. To mountaineers, they’d like the challenge, so they’d like to climb from the Chinese side,” Mai said.


But Western China isn’t the only place to enjoy the rush of nature, mud and exhaustion followed by nice views and fresh air. And the much smaller, but greener mountains of subtropical Dongguan offer their own challenges. “You don’t know where you’re going. You need to be constantly using your compass and your map to be getting your bearings,” said Lau. “It’s very dense, bushy areas, so it is very hard to tell how far you’ve veered off. There is no way of telling if you have actually reached your spot, not unless you have a GPS device.”

The difficulties have not slowed the popularity of the sport in China, however. “The total revenue of the Chinese outdoor industry in 2012 was 5.4 billion, with 4 billion devoted to outdoor clothing and equipment,” said Lau. The rest is generated by the tourist industry, transportation and admission fees. “Several clothing companies are doing well, which popularizes the sport. And there is growth every year.”

“Really this is a public movement. It’s a popular movement, and Mai and people like that, when they go to a new place, they will make their own maps. They would check out these forums and they would call various people to try to ascertain locations,” said Lau.

We asked Mai to suggest treks in two categories – two-day and three-day hikes. According to Mai, it had been two years since his last trek through some of the places we were to travel, but to hear him speak about the place upon our arrival one would think that it had been generations. “This dam wasn’t here before,” said Mai. There were a few challenges along the way, but we decided that it was worth it to catalogue some of the area’s desti- nation sites rather than focusing on accessibility alone.


Two Day Hike: Pangu Taoist Temple

  • Distance: Day One 9.3-10 kilometers, Day Two 11.5-12.5 kilometers, Total 22 kilometers
  • Starting Point: Qingxi Lake parking lot
  • GPS Coordinates: Longitude: 114°17’44’’ Latitude: 22°87’56’’

Day 1

  1. Starting point
  2. Along lake side turn northwest
  3. Along the valley step road upstream to the Fenshui Ao (a gully) direction
  4. Go north from Fenshui Ao, then ascend 1.45 km
  5. Cross by peak 700 m above sea level – take eastern line
  6. Walk by the Shuangfeibin (a small peak)
  7. Along the fire trail (a clearing for prevention), walk 4.5 km by a small valley. Ascend 20 m, reaching first day’s camp (Water supply available)

Day 2

  1. Walk east to Shaiheshi Ao (a gully)
  2. Along fire trail, go east 1.8 km
  3. Reach 720 m elevation peak
  4. Go south then after 700 m, turn east
  5. Walk 202 m, then turn southeast
  6. Walk 1.3 km, then turn northeast along the ridge
  7. Walk 2.5 km, then walk up to the peak of Yinping Mountain (898 m)
  8. Baiyunzhang (a peak)
  9. Pangu Taoist Temple


Two Day Hike: Yinping Shan Forest Park

  • Distance: Day One 9.3 kilometers, Day Two 8.2 kilometers, Total 17.5 kilometers
  • Starting Point: Qingxi Lake parking lot
  • GPS Coordinates: Longitude: 114°17’44’’ Latitude: 22°87’55’’

Day 1

  1. Starting point
  2. Follow northwest road along the stream (go upstream in direction of Fenshui Ao (a depression), see Heque flowers
  3. Go north from Fenshui Ao then ascend north 1.45 km
  4. Cross by the peak, 700 m above sea level, then follow eastern line
  5. Walk by the Shuangfeibin (a small peak)
  6. Along the fire trail (a clearing for prevention), walk 4.5 km by a small valley. Ascend 20 m, reaching first day’s camp (Water supply available)

Day 2

  1. Campsite
  2. Shaiheshi Ao (a gully)
  3. Walk south 1.8 km, then turn southeast
  4. At Tiechang Chuankeng (Iron Ship Pit) reservoir, follow the path to the Tiechang New Village

Note: Bring daily drinking water (2 liters in Summer-Autumn, 1.5 liters in Winter)


Three Day Hike: Yinpingzui (the highest peak in Dongguan)

  • Distance: Day One 9.3 kilometers, Day Two 9 kilometers, Day Three 9 kilometers, Total 27.3 kilometers
  • Starting Point: Pangu Taoist Temple
  • GPS Coordinates: Longitude: 114°25’36’’ Latitude: 22°87’72’’

Day 1

  1. Pangu Taoist Temple
  2. Reach Baiyunzhang (a peak), then go southwest 3.1 km
  3. From Yinpingzui (highest peak), along the ridge go west 1.5 km, turn north 2 km
  4. Reach Niuweizhang Ao (a campsite)

Day 2

  1. Campsite
  2. Go west 2.4 km, pass by Chanken Ding (a peak)
  3. Shaiheshi Ao (a gully)
  4. Walk west 800 m, find a small stream (water supply)
  5. Along ridge, walk 800 m, reach Sanbijia (a peak)
  6. Turn west, then southwest 2 km
  7. Reach Fenshui Ao (a gully) for campsite

Day 3

  1. Campsite
  2. Walk west 2.5 km to Baoshi Hill (Blast Rock Hill)
  3. Along the ridge line, go west 2.5 km (510 m above sea level)
  4. Turn southwest and go 800 m, turn south and walk 3.2 km
  5. Arrive at Tianshenghu Village

Zen Quest, Ltd. provided research and information for this article, they are an experiential and outdoor education company “founded under the guiding principles of quality and enlightenment, embodying the best of Eastern and Western education philosophies.” They offer unique outdoor education programs that are delivered by a team of top-tier professionals, combining cutting edge academic knowledge, real life managerial experience and deep expertise in the outdoors, to construct specially tailored courses for their client’s specific needs. Visit their website for more details.


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