A Travellerspoint blog

China – Zhangjiajie

Confucius say, stupid man no match for smart monkey

overcast 26 °C

When James Cameron was planning the scenery for the movie Avatar, he or some of his crew apparently came out to Zhangjiajie and had to look no further for inspiration. That’s what the tourism agency and the government are saying anyway, with the area recently being named the Halleluiah Mountains after the film. We figured we would come and have a look for ourselves.

It was our first experience of a Chinese sleeper train, but only after spending 2 hours on a normal seat taking us to the town of LiuZhou before making the change to the sleeper train. On both occasions, we waited in the waiting area of the stations as the large crowds gathered. When an announcement comes over the speaker, everyone gets up and pushes forward. The Chinese don’t like to queue at the best of times, but taking a train is an invitation for a mosh pit that any rock concert would die for! Much pushing, yelling and barging follow as a crowd of what seems like 400 people try to fit through 2 single person gates in the fence. It seemed a bit pointless to us, given that we had allocated seats anyway but maybe in the lowest class carriages, there are no allocated seats or something and that’s why they all try to get through fast.

Once through the gates and walking to the train, there are the ‘runners’ that you have to watch out for as you try to find your carriage. The sleeper carriages have a lower, middle and upper bunk with a table in the middle of another 3 making a cosy 6 person alcove. As we were booking this trip rather late, we were stuck with the cheapest beds of the 3, the upper bunk. True, headroom is an issue, but actually we liked the top as it gave us access to our big backpacks on the luggage rack above the walkway, and it felt a bit more private without having people looking down on you. We had some pot noodles for dinner, which everyone seems to have as their staple dinner while on a train.

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The train was pretty good in all fairness, a comfy enough bunk and when you first hop on the train a lady comes and collects your ticket and puts it in a folder so that she knows what stop you need to get off at and will come and wake you 30mins before you get there. The worst thing though, is having no restriction on people smoking in the carriages... smoke rises, and I felt like I had smoked a whole pack by the time we got off.

We hopped off at Zhangjiajie station and had directions to walk to the bus stop in front of a big hotel. We found it a bit further away than we were expecting carrying our big bags, then got the number 10 bus around to our hostel. We found the building straight away, but it was a big complex and we walked the whole way around showing a number of people the address in our notebook before eventually finding the hostel. We got lots of looks on the bus, maybe foreigners are less common here, but it felt like being a zoo exhibit

After dumping our bags, we thought that we would head straight out to the park to make the most of the high entrance fee that we knew we would have to pay. As we got to the hostel desk to ask for help a German couple also were hoping to get the same information. The receptionist said that she would tell us together and after getting the lowdown on how to get there, we decided to go out there with Ferdinand and Lisa. We had a good chat on the 40 minute bus ride out to the entrance and got some good tips from them as they had got to Zhangjiajie from Beijing, so had been to all the places that we would visit on our way North.

At the national park, we paid the 246 Yuan ($40) per person park fee, but were happy to hear that it now lasts for 3 days, rather than the 2 days we had read. Stepping though the gates and the first thing we encountered was not the amazing scenery, but the monkeys, loads of them! We had gotten a couple of banana’s from a kiosk on the way in, and were carrying them in a plastic bag. One monkey looked particularly interested in us, and we figured that he was maybe after our food. We put them away in our backpack only to see 5 seconds later a couple of monkeys snatch plastic bags from the Chinese tourists walking behind us. The things is, everyone saw it happen and had a good laugh as the monkeys took all the food, then it happened again, and again. As the title of the blog suggests, these monkeys were definitely smarter than some of the stupid tourists walking around this park!

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The monkey happy with the fruits of his labour...

We climbed up the 3900 steps from the entrance up to the top of the mountains. There is a cable car that makes the journey up to the top, however with all the Chinese tourists taking this easier option, the walk was much more peaceful and quite. We stopped at many look outs on the way up and could tell when we were nearing the top as the noise from the crowds got louder.

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Over the course of 3 days in the park, we must have been asked for our photo’s taken nearly 100 times. Ferdinand was asked the most thanks to his blue eyes and fair hair! It was pretty funny, as you would see the Chinese girls particularly whisper to each other then get the courage to ask for a picture, and then when we said yes, they would all scream and run around to get in the picture. But it wasn’t restricted to girls either, on the way back to the bus on the first day two blokes started chatting to Ferdi and me. When we got to the parking lot, they asked for a photo with us both. One of them said, ‘You are very handsome’ when we were getting the picture taken, and then the other said ‘you are very tall’ when it was his turn... After 3 days, you kind of get a bit tired of it and just want to get on with your own sightseeing, but we always had a chuckle between the 4 of us!

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At the top of the walk, we quickly left the cable car crowds and went for a walk around the circuit path. Around every corner we got to a new lookout and another wow moment, as the sheer cliffs and towering limestone karsts looked down into the forest below! The pictures simply don’t do this place justice!

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Ok then...


We ended up having to rush down the path again to make the last 6pm bus for what was a great first day and we were only able to see one little bit of the whole park! Looks like we will need to make the most of the 3 day pass! We had an average dinner at one of the places in town that night and made plans for what to see the following day.

We picked up some great street food in the morning for our breakfast and to take out to the park for lunch and started off on the Golden Whip stream walk.

Rubbing feet makes you fit, apparently.

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I don’t think this lady is rubbing her feet...

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It was a nice walk by the stream, once we got away from the tour groups and the stupid ones who go and stand in front of the monkeys for a photo and are surprised to have their bags ripped from their hands (even despite us telling them that the monkeys were after their food). We ended up at fork in the road and decided to head uphill via the steps, as this usually means you get away from the crowds. It was a lot more humid today and after a sweaty climb, we reached the top for more great views.

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I’m not sure Lisa is so keen on being carried up the mountain

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We circled around at the top of the walk to take in the views and the natural bridge (named No 1 Natural Bridge in the World on the maps). Although this area is also accessible to the tour groups thanks to the newly built elevator (which might mean that the park loses its UNESCO classification) so the paths around the top were heaving with other people, somewhat making us rush around to avoid the loud annoying groups.

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The Avatar branding was evident around the place, although I doubt that any rights were obtained from the studios!

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The Number 1 bridge!

We ended up getting stuck at the top as we thought that there would be a path down to the bottom of the elevator, where we could get a bus from. It turns out that the elevator is the only way down, and out of principle we didn’t want to take a ride in the elevator, so we had 1 hour to get back to the entrance retracing our path that took us all day to come up... We walked at a pretty quick pace and got to the buses at 6:10, but luckily there were still a couple of buses waiting around. We had a great dinner that night in town, at a shop that looked pretty dodgy from the outside, but these often tend to be much better when it comes to their food!

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We made better plans for a final ½ a day in the park as we both had trains to catch that night and didn’t want to be like the last couple of days where we almost got stuck. We went to a different part of the park in the north, and had a great day with the 4 of us seemingly having the path to ourselves.

Spot the newest recruit to the local fire team

We loved messing around in front of this waterfall getting a few martial arts shots for Ferdi

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We had a quick last meal back in town at the same place that we found last night, they made great handmade noodles fresh for each dish. Having made some great walking buddies over the last couple of days, we wished Ferdy and Lisa all the best and got a taxi out to the station for our train (although the taxi driver didn’t seem to know where the train station was, even when we were showing him on the map!!)

Daniel – Another great stop off, the landscape around here was out of this world. Wether or not Zhangjiajie was used to inspire Avatar, its pretty hard to ignore the similarities when you see the pictures of this place when the low clouds make the peaks look like they are floating. Had some great laughs with Ferdi and Lisa which made the 3 days even better. This is one of the most highly visited places by the Chinese, so it’s inevitable to share it with lots of people, but taking the harder options always got us some reprieve.

Tanya – Zhianjiajie was a very worthwhile addition to the itinerary. It really was indescribably beautiful and when we managed to avoid the heaving crowds and locate our position on the very not to scale map, it was very enjoyable.

Posted by dbgomes 06:30 Archived in China Tagged china round_the_world

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