Towering sandstone columns, bubbling rivers, dense forest with monkeys climbing through the branches, Zhangjiajie National park is beautiful.
When it came to us wanting to take the Trans-Siberian train from Beijing, we knew we should start our time in China here. A place I had dreamed of visiting, since learning it was the inspiration behind the Hallelujah Mountains in Avatar.
We stayed inside the park for our four days to get the most from the experience. This gave us the opportunity to avoid the crowded areas and explore in our own time.
Where to stay:
Zhangjiajie National park and Zhangjiajie are not the same place. Confusing, I know. The national park is 45 minutes bus ride away from Zhangjiajie city. The city contains the main bus and train stations and airport. It is likely to be your entry point.
Zhangjiajie City is also the cable way entry point for Tianmen Mountian.
The bus for the National Park leaves from the main bus station, go through security, then the doors to the buses and turn left. (We spent over 20 minutes trying to find out where the bus was) Unless you know the route and the Chinese characters for the destination, it is easier to catch the bus from here, rather than along its route. Tell the driver “Zhangjiajie park” and they should stop close to its entrance.
Wulingyuan is the main entry for the National park. It is located to the East of the park and is where the bus from Zhangjiajie city will drop you. You can stay in the many hotels offered in Wullingyuan. Or like us, stay within the park. It is quite the hike (20 mins) from the bus stop to the entry of the park. Prepare yourself if you are carrying all your belongings.
Pro’s and Con’s of staying in the park.
Pay entry fee once, stay for however long you want.
Open “all” hours. The buses etc do not run after a certain time. Perfect for beating the crowds, catching a sunset or simply having the park quiet and to yourself.
Very limited amenities within the hotels. We are talking no towels or toilet roll! Check the facilities of the hotel and make sure you have all that you need.
A small and limited selection of restaurants. There are local eateries, KFC and McDonalds within the park. Bring your own food that only requires a kettle, such as oats and noodles.
Being in the mountains means it is a lot colder than in the city. Bring warm clothing.
To save money, one would need to walk. Everywhere.
Although the walking in itself can offer some amazing views, the park is huge. Expect tired legs and wide eyes.
Maps are located throughout the park. Some have (very bad) English translations. They make for a good laugh. We made a habit out of photographing the maps so we knew what path we were on.
Bus: Included in your entrance fee is the use of all the parks buses. The larger purple buses operate on the lower levels of the national park and start at the entrances. The smaller brown/gold buses operate the more winding roads in the upper levels. The buses sometimes do not go as far as you would expect. Follow the crowds off one bus and on to another. Once again, unless you can speak Chinese, this will be confusing. The main advice for this area, go in with no expectations and no time limits. We let the bus choose our destinations sometimes and just went with the flow. The buses are frequent enough, just check the operating times for the season you visit in.
Elevator and cableways: Although using these facilities can be time (and leg muscle) saving, the cost adds up quickly. The cost per trip per person is between 70 to 90 yuan. And so does the time queuing. The Chinese enjoy a good lengthy queue. We chose to walk the long distances downhill, then enjoy a ride amongst the clouds back up to our accommodation. This option can easily be reversed if staying outside of the park.
We discovered early on, the Chinese do not walk very far. They get off the bus, walk a short distance to the “must see’s”, then return to the buses. Very often if you chose to walk down the many paths of the park, instead of ride a bus, you will hardly see another person. Those that you do see are other western tourists that have come to this same conclusion.
What to see:
All of it. Easy answer. But in reality, this is not necessarily possible.
Get on the cableway up to Tianzi Mountain to be amongst the towering columns.
Walk the area of Tianzi Mountain. We visited in very foggy conditions, so went back multiple times.
The “First Bridge in All the World” has a huge tourist draw. Try to get there early before the park opens, or risk running into the crowds. Cross the bridge to see the red ribbons and gold locks. But the area is best seen from a viewing platform.
Follow the main tourist trail, through the viewing platforms of the Hallelujah Mountains. See the height and vastness of the columns from above, but veer off and head downhill.
Walk the 1-hour ascension downhill to join up to the walkway along the Golden Whip Stream. The towers columns give a new sense of scale. If anything, seeing them from beneath is more impressive.
General advice for China:
Download areas offline in Google maps. You will have no access to Google (unless through a VPN) in China.
English is uncommon. You will need to figure everything out by yourself. Learn the correct pronunciation of place names (Youtube) and ask people if you are lost. People can be very helpful. Download a Chinese translation app or the English/Chinese offline on Google Translate.
Use Ctrip to find and book hotels in China. There is more choice, especially in the Zhangjiajie National Park.
Print off your hotel confirmation with its name and address in Chinese (and English). Handy for using a taxi and checking in.
As said in a previous post, China is quite tough to travel through. See our Survival Guide for some more advice on traveling through China.
And remember, Watch Your Steps. The paths in this park are slippery!