Wulingyuan, Hunan Province, 26-28 October
We finally make it to Zhangjiajie, where we will be visiting the famous National Forest Park, a geopark also known as the Avatar Mountains for its resemblance to the floating mountains seen in the movie Avatar.
Zhangjiajie was the first recognized national forest park in China, with an area of 4,810 ha, and it’s part of the wider UNESCO listed Wulingyuan Scenic Area. We’re staying right in the middle of Wulingyuan, a short walk away from the park entrance.
With a little help from the hotel we get on the last bus from the train station and arrive at Wulingyuan in total darkness. After the debacle in Yichang it feels pretty good to be able to check in to a clean and comfortable hotel room and the girl at reception even speaks perfect English which is a nice bonus!
The next morning we jump right into the action. A local bus drops us off at the entrance to Zhangjiajie’s Grand Canyon (persistently written as Grant Canyon on signs), home of the tallest and longest glass bridge in the world.
At 430 meters long, the glass bridge is suspended 300 meters above the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so not for the faint of heart. Although it’s still early morning the tour groups have beaten us to the punch. The amount of people on the bridge combined with feelings of vertigo do not make for an enjoyable walk across, but I’m glad to report I did not scream like a baby nor did I refuse to let go of the barrier. I walked it like a man. A careful and safe man.
It’s a rainy, foggy morning, but the views from the bridge on the mountains and the gorge are still pretty spectacular.
Now the problem with tour groups in China is not that they break glass bridges while you’re on them, but they are extremely noisy. Some of it is produced by childish excitement and easily forgiven, but by far the worst offenders are the guides, who, armed with a mic and an amp, have a constant battle to be the loudest. Once we’re across the bridge and the big groups march for the elevator descending into the gorge, we jump at the opportunity to instead take the so-called Sky Ladder along the steep cliffs and ridges down to the bottom for a rather more relaxing time and a few nice views to boot!
Upon reaching the gorge the crowds have dispersed, which allows for a pretty pleasant, quiet walk by the river. Slowly but surely it’s becoming a nice day with little bits of sunshine to break up the clouds and brighten the beautiful surroundings. The water of the lake is just about the bluest I have ever seen in my life!
After a great day at Zhangjiajie’s ‘Grant’ Canyon we’re excited to see what other things we’ll discover at the Forest Park.
Our next morning starts at the crack of dawn with a trip to the bus station to reserve tickets for our next journey. Then it’s off to queue at the park entrance for opening time at 7.30AM. Yesterday evening the hostess from the hotel was very kind in helping us prepare today’s itinerary, because the park is enormous and a lot of information is only in Chinese, we couldn’t have done it without her.
When the entrance gates open it’s an actual mass sprint of tourists all wanting to be the first inside. We see a couple of them run off to the side to buy tickets, which is pretty funny since the ticket office actually has been open for about an hour while they were queuing up to get into the park..
Thankfully we’re all prepared. Our hostess booked our tickets for us in advance and even wrote a list of instructions in Chinese we can show the park officials throughout the day to keep us on track! We stroll past the people inside the entrance hall looking around panicky for the way in, bypass the queues forming for the buses and go straight up to a steward and show him our piece of paper. The steward shouts at his colleague who walks us right up to our bus and we’re on our way. Thanks to our wee legend Yun today we’re beating the Chinese at their own game of skipping all the queues!
Our early start and preparations pay off big time as for the first two hours it feels as though we have the park to ourself, which is pretty crazy since it is notorious for overcrowding. While we follow the river deeper into the park we catch a first glimpse of the Karst-like rock formations Zhangjiajie is so famous for.
After about an hour we begin our long climb up to reach the top of the mountain range. At every turn the path gets steeper and steeper and it seems like it’s never ending but in the end we conquer the steps and reach the first viewpoints. The reward: some excellent views.
This part of the park is now filling up rapidly with visitors, so we’re making a quick move by bus to another place which is not yet currently developed for tourism. With the sun well and truly up in the sky the colours are becoming super vibrant.
At the top of one of the mountains you get a idea just how big this park actually is. Besides eagle eye views, there’s also a McDonalds here (shock..), and both a puppy *and* a kitten?? Awesome times!
Our boots are filled to the rim with floating mountains, so it’s time to begin our three hour long climb back to the bus, with plenty more to see on the way down.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has been a huge hit with us, we’re glad we stopped off here, but our poor feet need a bit of rest! The next stop is Fenghuang, one of China’s watertowns.