20.05.2016 – 23.05.2016
A beautiful national park, second to none. A must visit. (especially Avatar fans).But is completely overrun and inundated by Chinese tourists. We’ll get to that later though! Zhangjiajie (pronounced jang-jar-jyeah) was another overnight train ride from Chengdu. Being a weekend made it hard to get tickets, so we had to leave Chengdu a day earlier than anticipated, didn’t bother us though, as we didnt speak to highly of Chengdu. We first caught a sleeper train to Huaihua (14 hours) and then a connecting train to Zhangjiajie (4 hours) – a long journey. Upon arrival we were greeted, with a sign, by our hostel owner and walked to the hostel. We felt like royalty for a few moments!
The two major reasons to go to Zhangjiajie are Tianmen Mountain and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (to see the Hallelujah Mountain; scenery made famous by James Cameron’s Avatar). For our budget, going to both was out of the question, as is costs $50AUD per person to just get in to either area. This price doesn’t include all the add-ons on the mountain or inside the park. After a 24-hour journey to get to Zhangjiajie we spent the afternoon orientating ourselves and getting information about the national park. On the second morning we took the public bus to Wulingyuan (small town on the east side of the park, with easy access to most areas. The town is FULL of Chinese tour groups, tour buses and hotels, but on the outskirts of town there are a few hostels! Other options included staying in town or the national park itself.
For 250Yuan, you get a 3-day pass to the park and you could spend every moment trekking around and not see everything. It’s important to be realistic! There are free buses that have plenty of drop off and pick up points to make moving around easy, but still be prepared to walk a lot. Our hostel owner showed us the three best areas of the park; Yangjiajie (to the west, tough hiking, but quiet), Yuanjiajie/Golden Whip Stream (to the south, easy hiking, beautiful view from the forest floor) and Tianzi Mountain (to the north, tough hiking if you don’t take the bus, super busy, but has all the key view points).
From Wulingyuan, the west side of the park is impossible to access unless you’re willing to spend hours walking or taking transport, so we gave it a miss and decided to tackle Tianzi Mountain first. After almost 3 hours of steep climbing we nearly reached the top! All the way up we couldn’t work out hundreds of Chinese tourists were going down. We later worked out that they caught a cable car up and walked down!! Silly us! The views were good, but the climbing was tough and we were not prepared. We found a route down (going through the Southern Heavenly Gate) that was less steep and much quieter.
On Day 2, it was time to check out the Hallelujah Mountain. A again climbed from the very bottom of the valley to reach the top, spectacular view all the way. The scenery in this park is something to behold. When we reached the top, we were blown away by the mountains. Jagged formations for as far as the eye can see. It was beautiful, picturesque and magical…….until……..we got to the very top and literally bumped through crowds of Chinese tourists (thousands of them) and the tourists knick-knacks that go with it. Fair to say it ruins much of the experience. Avatar the movie was based off these mountains, and they really look incredible in real life.
On Day 3, we caught an early bus in to explore the Golden Whip Stream before taking the bus back to town and the overnight train to Hangzhou. Zhangjiajije, is an incredibly beautiful place, not much comes close, but the constant annoyance of pushy Chinese tourists is really off-putting. I hope our photos give some insight into the beauty of this place. If not, Google goes alright!
OUR FAVOURITE BITS
- Hallelujah Mountain (super crowded) was nice, but we felt that the terrace just to the east had better views.
- The scenery. Incredible.
- Having an amazingly patient waitress at dinner who helped translate the menu.
- Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and Tianmen Mountain both cost around 250Yuan per person to experience. Both have extra costs associated with them like cable cars and elevators etc. If you are pressed for time and money, like we were, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is by far the best option, especially as your ticket it valid for 3 days.
- Staying close to the park to maximize the time you can spend enjoying it. We stayed in Wulingyuan (Eastern side) which made getting to the eastern and southern part of the park easy, however it was difficult and/or expensive to reach the western side.
- If you arrive to Zhangjiajie after midday, staying in town is the best option.
- There is no escaping the Chinese tourists, so try and find enjoy the views and paths if they are quiet!
- Not paying taking the tram up the Natural Gallery. Just walk it!