Zhangjiajie (pronounced Jang – Jar – Jay) is located in the Hunan Province, about 1000km (1 hour flight) north-west of Guangzhou, China. It is surrounded by huge scenic mountains which make up several different national parks within Zhangjiajie. Each morning, as a way to welcome travelers and bring good luck to those travelling through, fireworks are set off in the near distant mountains all around which is just one of many beautiful things about this city.
Zhangjiajie National Park
One of the first things you must do when you visit Zhangjiajie National Park is make your way to the Ten Miles Art Gallery. In actual fact, this is an open air monorail ride that takes you through the greenery of the surrounding mountains where you can view the natural beauty of the rock formations which are said to have inspired many famous Chinese painters.
One of the most famous things about Zhangjiajie is the scenery around Yuanjiajie- a naturally formed platform mountain which is surrounded by high summits and deep valleys. The reason Yuanjiajie is so famous is that these mountains, otherwise known as the Hallelujah Mountains, are what inspired James Cameron for the scenery in the blockbuster movie Avatar.
Located within Zhangjiajie National Park is Suoxiyu valley. To get here you need to take a 10 minute cable car ride, which hosts some absolutely breath-taking views. The ride is very high up so it is definitely not for the faint-hearted. One of the downfalls of visiting Suoxiyu Valley is that there was a lot of waiting in line to get tickets to see the different areas (even with a guide who had pre-booked everything, we had about a 45 minutes wait to get on the cable car). To exit the valley you can either get the cable car back down, or take the Bailong Elevator, which was a huge downward elevator around 360 levels high that stuck out off 3/4 of the face of the cliff. Again, there was a bit of a wait to get in to the elevator, but the experience alone was worth it for the panoramic views you were able to see.
Yellow Dragon Cave
Yellow Dragon Cave is about a 15 minute drive from Zhangjiajie National Park and my first reaction was innate awe of the beautiful serene landscape. I was reminded of pictures I had seen of stunning Zen Japanese gardens, and feel as if I actually had my breath taken away.
All the gardens leading up to the cave entrance are so tranquil- perfectly manicured and complimented with lovely water features and little wooden bridges over calm streams. The cave itself is eerily beautiful, with naturally formed decorations and man-made coloured spot lights throughout which cast delicate shadows over the limestone walls. I would recommend catching the boat inside the cave which shows you parts of the cave you can’t access on foot.
Yellow Stone Village
Yellow Stone Village is around a 30 minute drive from the centre of Zhangjiajie. The grounds of Yellow Stone Village were so picturesque I had to metophorically pinch myself to remind myself I was not dreaming. I visted in Spring and was lucky enough to be blessed with perfect weather to explore. The day was warm, but the surrounding cliffs and mountains casted the perfect amount of shade (great for my pale complexion). All around me was lush vegetation, picturesque mountain cliffs and visually stimulating waterfalls.
You could easily spend all day here, exploring the many different paths throughout the village, though I opted to hike uphill to the centre, where I caught a boat throughout the huge basin in the middle. This trail all up including the walk there and back only took me an hour and a half. At both the entrance and exit there were little market stalls where you could buy anything from little trinkets and purses, through to hand crafted jewelry- you can barter with the shop keepers, though the language barrier can be a bit of an inconvenience (fortunately my tour guide bartered in Chinese on my behalf).
Tianmen National Park
My experience at Tianmen National Park was bittersweet, though more sweet than bitter. To get to the mountain tops, you need to catch a 35 minute long cable car ride which is essentially all glass and travels up and down with the mountain range below. I am not afraid of heights per se, but riding in these cable cars undoubtedly tested my limits with heights to the point that I found it hard to keep my eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time to begin with. After about 10 minutes I got over my initial (and completely unnecessary) fears and was able to appreciate the amazing views around me. At some stages the foliage below was only a few feet away, and at other times we were taken over cliffs where you could barley see the tree canopies at the bottom.
Once you get to the top and are safely on solid ground again, you get to wander around the top of the mountain and take one of the many scenic treks through out the park. I chose the glass bridge walk, and as the name suggests, the bridge was made of super thick and super see-through glass. Being able to look down at your feet and see the views hundreds of feet below you makes it feel like you are walking on air and is strangely invigorating- even after the ride in the cable car. If you can handle the heights, I would definitely recommend taking your time along this walk so you can seriously appreciate the magnificent views around you.
The Woodman and the Fairy Fox
If you decide to travel to Zhangjiajie, then seeing a show at The Mount Tianmen Valley Grand Theatre is an absolute must! The Woodman and the Fairy Fox has been playing since 2009 and is a beautiful musical-drama about a Woodman who falls in love with a Fox Fairy. I won’t go in to too much detail about the plot, but it is very easy to follow through the song and dance- even though it is all in Chinese. All of the singing was done live as it is illegal in China to use pre-recorded vocals because it is seen as fraudulent and deceiving.
The director of this show also directed the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics, so I knew was in for a treat when I was first told I was going to see this show. The set of the show has actually been built into the mountains and valleys of Mount Tianmen, and along with an extravagant set, spectacular lights and enchanting waterfalls, the show is unparalleled to anything I’ve ever seen before and such a memorable way to end my trip to Zhangjiajie.
The Woodman and the Fairy Fox set- Photo courtesy of Explore Zhangjiajie
Zhangjiajie is such a beautiful city, and is great if you are looking at something slightly off the beaten track. It is different enough from your more common Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Beijing to make your itinerary interesting, but also laden with culture so you can still experience China. I would 110% recommend travelling with a tour group, as even in the tourist areas and hotels, English is not very well known or spoken so it can make communicating hard. Having someone who speaks the language and is familiar with the way the city and the parks work is a real advantage and easily takes the stress out travelling to a foreign place.
Where are you planning on going, or where have you been, that is a little bit off the beaten tourist track? I’d love to hear about it, so feel free to comment below or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories 🙂
Happy travelling- Kat xx
Please note- A big thank you to Enjoy Going Tours PTY LTD for hosting me in Zhangjiajie.