After a pretty uneventful few days in Guiyang, it was time to head to our next stop on our six week adventure through China! Our train was scheduled to arrive in Zhangjiajie around 4.30am, but luckily there was a delay in the evening which allowed us a few extra hours kip, arriving at 6am instead. Our hostel was actually based an hour away, in Wulingyuan (where the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is based), so we had to hop on one of the first minibuses heading in that direction. It was pretty straight forward – a bunch of minibuses leave whenever they are full from the main bus station, so it wasn’t too long before we were on our way.
The train into Zhangjiajie made quite a few stops, with people getting on and off each time, so we arrived at our hostel exhausted and wanting to crawl straight into bed. Unfortunately we hadn’t thought about check-in times and when we arrived, the hostel was in complete darkness with no one around! After rustling about for 10 minutes, knocking on the reception door etc, a blurry-eyed lady emerged in her PJs looking very confused! She told us that we couldn’t check in until 12pm and we realised there was no way we could wait that long… we wanted to get on and explore the park but would definitely need to grab a few hours rest beforehand. We decided to pay extra and upgrade from the dorm room we’d booked to a private room so we could check-in straight away. After a quick nap and a shower, we were ready to get going!
Everything in Wulingyuan is within 10 minutes walking distance, so it wasn’t far for us to go to reach the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park entrance. This one probably the most expensive thing we did throughout our whole trip – the entrance fee was 245RMB (£28.34/ US$35.50) plus an optional 3RMB for insurance. The entry card lasts for three days and you can come in and out as much as you like within that time. The insurance only covers you for loss of the card within those three days.
Looking at our map, we planned out a route we wanted to follow. There is the option to take various cable cars around the mountains, but these were pretty expensive in our opinion (£8.30/US$10.40 one way) so we avoided those! There is also a rather large glass escalator that runs up the side of one of the mountains, but that was even more expensive and we’d be told to expect large queues and up to three hours waiting time – no thanks!
Our route began at the Wulingyuan Gate (entrance) where we hopped on the free shuttle bus to the Hundred Dragon (Bailong) Elevator. There are free shuttle buses that run through all the main roads throughout the park and to all cable cars. So if you want, you can see quite a lot of the park without having to move your legs much!
From the elevator, we walked for an hour along the Golden Whip Stream; a lovely, easy walk which follows the river downstream along a forest path lined with trees and surrounded by huge, looming mountains. The map above isn’t as detailed as the one we were using, but after the stream we ended up following a trail to the Hallelujah Mountains – the famous floating mountains from the film Avatar. This trail wasn’t so easy! It involved 2 hours of climbing steep steps up the side of the mountain… OUCH.
I was completely knackered and SO sweaty by the time we reached the top! We continued our walk, passing a natural bridge that joins two of the mountains and various viewpoints. Our aim was to trek back towards the elevator, where we would walk down the mountain instead, picking up a shuttle to take us back to the entrance. Unfortunately after walking all the way there (another hour or so) we were told the only way back down was to pay £15/US$19 for the vertigo-inducing glass bottomed elevator. We were trying to be good with our money as we still had another six months of travelling to go, so couldn’t face parting with that much money for a three minute ride! It seems kinda tight looking back, but at that time it was the equivalent of 1.5 days daily budget…
After chatting with a member of staff, we were disheartened to learn that the only way out of the park by foot was to trek our entire route in reverse – back one hour to the Hallelujah Mountain, two hours of walking down steps to the Golden Whip Stream then another hour along the stream to the shuttle stop to take us back to the entrance. To say my legs were like jelly would be a massive understatement! After eight hours in the park, we were relieved when we made it out and could rest our tired legs whilst refuelling on some tasty Chinese food!
We had planned to head back into the park the following day to trek up to the Tianzi Mountain but unfortunately we were hit with torrential rain which didn’t stop all day. Watching other tourists head towards the mountains with their ponchos and waterproof booties on, completely soaked and shivering, we decided we’d seen enough of the national park and we’d prefer to stay warm and dry!